Thursday, 15 May 2014

MTV IGGY: ICON: Rodney P On British Hip-Hop's New Posse

By Joseph 'JP' Patterson


What can one really say about Rodney P, other than absolute legend? As a founding member of seminal '80s to mid-90s rap group London Posse, the south London MC helped majorly in setting the tone for lyrical dexterity in UK hip-hop, which now boasts celebrated rhymesmiths such as Krept & Konan and Wretch 32. With a quarter of a century worth of experience behind him as an independent artist, in a somewhat fickle music industry, Rodney P has also upheld his relevancy in the urban arena by touring aplenty and regularly pumping out new records, to icon status. MTV IGGY recently chopped it up with the "godfather of British rap" about London Posse's influence, his long-standing solo career, the ever-evolving sound of UK hip-hop, and the future of British urban music as it stands. "If a book were to be written on UK hip-hop," he suggests, "I’m sure I’d get a whole chapter [laughs]." Yes, well, it would only be right.

Back in the late '80s, what was it like working your way through the British hip-hop circuit as a member of London Posse, and what would you say are the obvious signs of change when you compare the scene from back then, to now?

Back then, obviously, it was good — it was all brand new. There was no blueprint, there was no road map, we were kinda making it up as we were going along, but it was good times. It was creative times, and it felt like we were doing something new; it felt like we were doing a whole new thing. There was a lot of trial and error. A lot of mistakes were made. But, a lot of the paths that were laid then are still being used today as well. In terms of changes in the scene, there’s a lot more money floating about now. I wouldn’t say there’s more success, because there’s always been successful UK rappers in the charts and succeeding on the commercial end — well, since the '80s. I think there’s a lot more professionalism in urban music now, too.

In America, historically, you always had black music departments or a black music chart, or whatever, and England didn’t have that. England was geared up to sell rock 'n' roll music or folk music, it wasn’t geared up to sell black music i.e. hip-hop or reggae music — but that’s all changed. Now, business-wise, it’s come on leaps and bounds compared to what it was but I still think we have a long way to go before really succeeding with the music. A lot of the artists who are succeeding are doing well, but there always has to be compromise and I think artists doing black music always have to bend further than most to be accepted in the mainstream.

London Posse undeniably set the stage for the UK hip-hop artists of today. I mean, you guys were the first to spit in a London-and-proud accent — which, if you didn’t, I’m sure there’d be a million Tupac and Jay Z wannabes walking the streets of Brixton and Hackney as we speak. Have you ever thought what it would’ve been like if you all hadn’t parted ways, though? Do you ever think, 'We could’ve graced the cover of XXL and shut down Madison Square Garden, too'?

To be honest, it hasn’t really crossed my mind. It was never something we were clinging on to. London Posse was of a time and it served its time. It was never sitting there thinking of regrets for not continuing, but it would’ve been interesting to see where we’d be. I think we have definitely had an effect on the way the music sounds now. The last record we put out was Style and if you listen to Style, it was definitely ahead of its time. We were bringing drum and bass into hip-hop at a time when that wasn’t being done and I still think, as London Posse, we were still ahead of the curve when we quit. I’d like to think we would have an effect but it’s hard to quantify that sort of thing. As an artist, as Rodney P, I think I’ve had a big effect so, yeah, I feel good.

Where others may have fallen off over time, you’re still very much active in the scene after twenty years-plus. What’s been your driving force?

I’m just a big fan of the music. There were times in the '90s and early 2000s where saying you were a UK hip-hop artist meant you weren’t cool. I used to get funny looks, but I’m not a bandwagonist. I’ve never been a bandwagonist! I just do what I do, and no one can tell me otherwise. I found out a lot of artists were jumping, chip-chasing success. It was like, 'Drum and bass is popular? I’m a drum and bass MC now. 2-step garage is the new thing? Yeah, I’m on the garage thing.' Whatever the new thing was, man would jump about.

I’m a hip-hop artist, but I’m also a Londoner and a raver, so I go to drum and bass raves, garage raves, so when I do touch their thing, I do it out of love — not as a bandwagonist. I’ve stayed true to my thing and I like to think that’s kept me in good stead. Yes, I’ve made pop records, yes, I’ve made garage records and all of that shit, but, I do it as Rodney P — the hip-hop yout’ — and I remain credible. Credibility has been paying my bills the last 25 years and I feel like if I had of been a bandwagonist and jumped ship, I’d probably be working in the post office now [laughs]. No, seriously!

Call this a cheeky observation but, other than yourself, I haven’t really come across any middle-aged UK rappers on the frontline with the young cats. Why do you think that is?

A lot of them got their hearts broken a long time ago and moved away from the scene. I still see a lot of the old school MCs doing a lot of live stuff, though, you’d be surprised. Why they aren’t on the frontline is probably because they didn’t stay relevant enough; they stepped away and when they came back, they didn’t get the reception they were waiting for. Me, now, I just never left. I made this hustle work for me. As an MC, I think I’m pretty fucking good! I don’t feel threatened by the youngers coming up — I just let them do their thing while I do my Rodney P thing. I’m not trying to fight a Scrufizzer or a Maxsta for the new hot-boy spot. I do my OG thing.

Speaking of the young cats, I want your honest thoughts on British rap’s current state: you’ve got the likes of Piff Gang, ItsNate with their cool, 'cloud rap,' all the way through to Blade Brown and Young Spray with their 'road rap.' Things are a lot less socially conscious than they used to be in London Posse’s day, that’s for sure. But, is it a problem?

For me, it’s a problem. We need social rhymes. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to write Public Enemy raps, but we need to have a balance. A lot of the conscious music can be quite boring and it needs to be entertaining to the youth, if you want to preach that. You can’t just come with a whole load of book science because I’m not going to be interested in that, as a listener. I’m not going to the club to listen to your raps about politics, I’m going to dance and look at gyal, so you need to find a way to make it all work in an entertaining way. The other side to that is there’s no light given to it. All we’re selling is ass, tits, and gunplay — that’s what we’re selling. That’s the market place right now.

In terms of lyrical ability, and rappers who are selling something more than what you just mentioned, for me, Wretch 32 and Krept & Konan are at the top of the tree. Are you a fan of their work?

Definitely! I’ve always been a fan of Wretch, before the buzz. That commercial tune he had, Don’t Go, it was a wicked tune but I’ve liked him from before that — it wasn’t just his commercial success. Krept & Konan now, see, I’m a south London man. One of my good friends, Danny Kelly, his son rolls with Krept & Konan. They used to rap about moving to man on the bus [laughs], so to see them come through, you can only be proud of that. There’s nothing wrong with road rap if you’re going to do it properly, like Blade Brown — who I think is a wicked MC. Krept & Konan come from the road rap thing, but they’ve got more to offer. Potentially, they could really blow this thing out. I support them fully and wish them nothing but the best.

And what about grime, are you into it? 

I like the energy of grime. If I was 18 at the time it was coming up, I would’ve been a grime raver. I can understand why the yout’ dem are on grime so much. Back then, though, I didn’t really rate any of the MCs. A couple of them had a few lyrics, but I didn’t really rate them, rate them. The raw energy of the MCs and the beats, that’s what I enjoyed about it most. 10-15 years later, some of the best MCs in the UK come from out of the grime scene. The evolution of grime has been healthy. It’s come a long way, and the hustle of grime has helped carry the youth forward in a business-like way so they can get some dough. As a genre, grime has learned a lot from UK hip-hop, in terms of structure; they took it and ran with it. Guys like P Money are hard! They can spit, and there’s no two ways about it.

As one of the most revered names in British urban music, period, where do you see it headed?

It’s going to be interesting, to say the least. Part of what has happened with this whole urban thing in the UK is that it got caught in the bubble. And when you’re in the middle of the bubble, it feels really real. I’ve been in a few bubbles over the last 25 years, myself. I think a lot of these artists now are living in the bubble and, eventually, it’s going to burst. There was a time when a lot of UK artists were signing to major labels and selling records; it was all good and the future was bright on a commercial industry level. But that’s reversing.

The industry that’s been showing so much love for this so-called urban music is about to show less love, but I feel like a lot of these youths have now got a bit of money and an independent mind, and the marketplace is open. The main industry players aren’t able to take that space, so there’s room for them to do that. There isn’t gonna be as many Dizzee’s, Tinie’s, Tinchy’s, and Chipmunk’s getting these regular outlets, but I feel like a lot of the younger acts with a stronger, independent mind, work ethic and understanding can push it forward. In the end, I think we’ll be in an even stronger position off the back of it.

And, what are you working on now? Is Sleepin' Giantz still taking up most of your time, or is there some solo work on the way?

I’ve got a dance tune out with Simian Frenzy called ILL Not Sick, which has got some decent remixes: Skitz and C, who did a lot of my album, they’ve done a wicked ska remix, and D Cline & Wizard made a nice remix, too — it’s a nice little package. The main thing I’m working on now is my solo album for Tru Thoughts.  We’re pretty far down the road now and I really want it done for summer time. We’ll have a couple singles out before the summer, though. It’s festival time soon, too, so I’ll be in a town near you! I’m still doing bits with Zed and Fallacy, and look out for more Dub Pistols collabs in the future too. It’s all coming, just wait for it ‘cos it’s going to be a fun time. UK hip-hop to the world!

This also appeared over at MTV IGGY: H E R E