‘Men is hungry out here’: out to lunch with Tranqill
Here comes another interview from London, catching up with one of the city’s hardest-working MCs / producers. Location: a little park near Brixton’s ‘The Fridge’. It’s an autumn afternoon, a few hobos are milling around the trash-filled pond in the park. The sun is shining. Later on we grab a bite to eat, one of Tranqill’s friends joins us (Ten Mill from the Morpheus Soul Show).
If you read the interview, you’ll see that this man doesn’t mince his words. Tranqill’s very pragmatic, he’s very busy and you can tell he’s dead serious about getting somewhere with his music. There’s talk about why life is hectic in London, the beef between different area codes…influential producers such as Pete Rock and Count Bass D. Another question that crops up, and we still need an answer to: why have some South London record shops been turned into nail parlours…
Pictures by Oddisee
(Shouts from across the park) You can hear the people that I roll with out here – crack heads (laughter). We’ve been profiled by the local crack heads, it’s like ‘The Wire’ out here…
Q: What’s happening with your new album, how far done is it and what’s it sound like?
A: The album has got my own production on it, some tracks with Oddisee and I’m doing some stuff with this girl called Renae, who’s a soul singer. I’m just trying to get my stuff out there and just want to bring out that raw hip hop shit. I’m not eclectic, I ain’t trying to go into your brain or anything like that. I just want to give you that raw boom bap shit, that’ll make you spin out and say ‘What the hell is that?’ Obviously there’s MCs out here that have raw talent and I’m not even trying to say that I’m the best out here. I’m just saying that I’m coming out with something that most people ain’t coming out with at this precise moment. There’s a lot of funny music out there that makes me wonder ‘What happened to your drums, what happened to that raw shit?’ That’s what we came or and that’s what I understand hip hop to be – I know that it changes but keep the element as it is.
Q: What made you become an MC and also produce your own music?
A: I started making music when I was about 12 years old, making beats with my boy back in the day at college. We would get two tapes and then put the vocals on one tape, rewind it, then over-dub it. Stuff like that. We used the headphones in the microphone socket – the same old shit that everyone does to get their stuff out there. Then suddenly you see people doing their thing and you see that some people are actually making money out of this. So then I started to get more serious.
I’m going to be honest: I’m not the MCs MC kind of cat. I’m not the guy you’re going to see doing the battles. I’m a street dude and I’m trying to make dough, that’s it. I’ll dress smart if I need to. But the music ain’t about the dough, the dough is already there – this is just about what I love doing. There’s thousands of us, millions of us out here and we’re just not getting the light that we need to shine. I’m rooting for them, all the dudes that never got nothing and have to travel to get theirs
Q: How are you finding juggling your music with work and being a dad as well? Are you planning to go on tour?
A: I’ve got mortgages to pay and kids etc, so it’s not as easy for me to uproot and go somewhere. I’m living real life so I’ve got to make dough for certain things, put that aside and probably later this year I’m going to try do some shows around DC and spread some love. I’ve got a whole lot of family out there anyway, so it’s cool to connect. I need to come out of this town, get the hell out of dodge.
Q: What sort of UK music inspired you, anything in particular?
A: That’s a good question. I’m going to get hated on when I say this. There’s a lot of raw talent in England that’s on a different level. The grime scene and everything is cool, but that’s not something that I can say influenced me. I don’t follow the grime scene or the house scene – it’s just not me, because I’m a hip hop head.
When you come to my house you’re hearing Diamond D, you’re hearing the UN, you’ll hear Capone and Noreaga and all the stuff from that type of time, of course times have changed now. Then you have people like Little Brother, Count Bass D, the Dillas but there’s nothing like that anymore.
Everyone is biting off Dilla, let’s be real here. If someone says to me: ‘Who do you like in the UK?’, I find that hard to answer because my ears are not tuned there. Don’t get me twisted, there’s some great stuff. Who’s that dude? GR 32 there’’s Craze, Dig, Mitchell Brothers all them cats – but if you want to know my preference: they ain’t like Pete Rock, they’re ain’t no Count Bass D. Those are the people I look up to. In that sense, there’s no one I could say has influenced me but they’ve definitely got talent and they’re working hard.
Q: What about people like Roots Manuva, producers and MCs from that generation?
A: Roots is crazy and I like him to death – if you call yourself a UK MC you kind of making yourself sound shit. You look at Roots Manuva and you see an MC, not a UK MC right? So you’re putting him in the same realms as other MCs who’ve produced and spit lyrics. If I get put down in a category as a UK MC I’m cussing and pissed off.
I’m a rap artist and I’m making music – I’m not trying to do UK rap, just rap. I guarantee there are enough people that are doing UK stuff but that’s cool for them – but I’m trying to be broader and go out there to see what’s happening around the world. You can stay doing your Channel U or whatever, that’s cool for you. But me, I’m trying to go a bit bigger than that.
I had a talk a while ago and someone said: ‘What ends are you reppin’?’ ‘I said: fuck that. If I die today, is anyone going to be putting flags out for me? No. The only people that will put flags out for me are mum and my dad and my people. So fuck the area code, I ain’t repping no area, I’m repping hip hop. Point blank. That’s all it is. Fuck the area code, fuck the colour, fuck the tie – fuck all that shit. Just that raw shit is what I’m repping for – excuse my French… (laughter)
A: Hell yea, I’m a jazz wham. Herbie Hancock and all that music I love. I love my soul, old school stuff from the 60s and 70s where you get the two steps rolling, that’s my shit. Forget even about sampling it, that’s what I like listening to. The Marvin Gayes, the James Browns the Curtis Mayfields. I’m into that stuff. I’m also into jazz, reggae and I’m not even talking about dancehall, but about roots reggae and dubs.
Even certain house songs I’m into. Flying Lotus I like – music has become very manufactured and the way they make music has changed. When I’m going to a club I want to dance with a girl and I want to listen to some of the hardest bugged-out shit I can find. It so happens that that kind of music isn’t out there anymore so I go back to Wu Tang or Illegal, remember them from back in the day? I don’t care if it’s old.
Some of my people have said ‘You need to free your mind from that.’ But that’s the stuff I like, it’s what I relate to and it’s what I want to giddy up on. I’m just trying to put out that kind of music. A bit different, maybe with a little English slant to it but it’s still the same type of shit. So on a music front, my eyes and ears are open to all sorts, there’s no limit. Even Go-go music or Salsa, German Jazz, Polish Jazz, Japanese music. Whatever.
Q: London is a great city for music, especially for record shops. How did you grow up with that and what do you think about everything going digital?
A: Well, a whole lot of my people were on sounds back in the day. Obvioulsy we went to carnival. Rampage and all of that. We used to listen to drum‘n’bass, MC Det and that’s what we used to vibe to. In terms of record shops, sales have started slowing down – Red’s Records down the road just closed down and it’s turned into a nail parlour, there’s a lot of nail parlours around here. Maybe that’s what we need to do, start selling records in nail parlours. Everything is changing now and going digital, but when you come to my house you’ll see a whole lot of vinyls.
I also download and buy things on the web, but whether I like your sound decides whether I buy your vinyl. A lot of people think downloading has killed music, but I don’t think so. If your shit is shit then that’s a problem. People will download it anyway, but if your shit is great people will buy it.
I’m buying your stuff on vinyl if it’s really hot and it’ll come into a nice clean cellophane package. A lot of people don’t see life how I do but I say: if it’s rife you cop it, if its shit you download it. It’s that simple.
Q: What about your approach to production, how would you describe your sound? Have you got a philosophy when it comes to making music?
A: I like real drum sounds and I want everything to sound real – I come from the days of sampling from MPCs, but obviously times have changed now. It’s changed from MPCs and reel-to-reel tapes to software like Reason and stuff like that. It’s having an effect on what the music sounds like, which is a good thing and a bad thing at the same time.
People need to remember where they come from but at the same time change with the times that we’re in. For me, I ain’t going to lie to you, I keep it rugged and raw. I take my samples from my records, chop that shit up and I’ll flip that tune to make it sound crotty as hell. When it sounds crotty and reminds me of something, I’ll get into a vibe and will start spitting on it. That’s how it works. Soon coming to a neighbourhood near you!
Q: What can you tell people about London?
A: London is gully. It’s not similar to any place that you’ve been to around the world. It’s not slumified like some places in Africa or anything like that, but it’s gully. At certain times you could be walking around and the next minute lose your life. It’s that simple. But at the same time, we’ve got nice things. We’ve got health care, you can get your teeth sorted out for free, NHS is beautiful bruv. You can even go and get dough for free, if you go on the dole (laughter) It’s there! But at the same time, if you check the wrong dude, things will happen. The weather is crap and it’s nothing like Miami where you get beautiful women and palm trees and things like that. It rains all the time, but that’s just how it is.
Q: Does that inspire people to get creative you think?
A: I guess it does, the shitty weather comes with my music, you can hear that straight away. Don’t expect no blingbling, no girls. The weather is shitty and we’re all trying to get dough, I’ll be honest with you. I call people grim-faced Gremlins, this is what we have out here. Everyone is trying to make the better for themselves and the weather ain’t making things better. It’s a kind of crabs-in-a bucket mentality. Women don’t walk around in their bikinis or low tops, they’ve got their hoods zipped up and walk around with their pants hanging down. It’s not nice…there’s a certain attitude there (laughter). The pound is strong and if you know how to make money, you’re laughing but if you don’t, you’re not. Simple as that.
It does inspire creativity and if you know how to shift and blend it, it’s all good. I also think there’s a certain climate right now, there’s a recession in the economy. Men are hungry out here. That’s what’s coming through in my music.
Q: Any collaborations that you would like to do, have you got any artists in mind?
A: There’s one cat out there that I would love to work with, producer 14 KT from the US. His music is inspirational. Kev Brown is tight, Pete Rock for me, there’s no one above. He’s still knocking out them hits. His new album is not as good, not like Soul Survivor.
Q: What’s it like working and making music at the same time?
A: It’s shit (laughter). For me it’s the 9 ‘til 5 grind at the moment and I don’t want my kids to be seeing me at home doing nothing. I’m trying to show them the right way at the end of the day. My kids need to know that you wake up every morning put on your shoes and get that extra dough. If you’re just hustling on the streets, you’re going to get caught sooner or later and you need to figure out how to make that dough come through the bank. You need to be smart about your stuff. I’m always in and out – I’m one of those cats who’ll have an event happen, I’ll go home and write about it. I’m one of them life time rappers, I’m not one of the people who want every rhyme to sound perfect.
Q: What do you write about?
A: Anything. What my people have been through, what my girl has been through, what I’ve been through. Anything I might have seen or heard. In certain times you can’t put everything down on paper and it won’t be as descriptive as you want it to be.
Q: What music are you listening to at the moment? Is there anything on constant rotation at your place at the moment?
A: At the moment, I’m listening to that UN album, and a lot of old school stuff, Kice of Course I like, Raekwon…but my boy Chris from the Morpheus Soul Show has got me to listen to some new stuff.
Q: What about Danger Mouse, what do you think of him?
A: He’s too clinical for me, he’s got crazy shit but it’s a bit too polished. It’s got to be raw, it doesn’t have to be mixed even. Jay-Z’s first album is one of my favourites. I had this debate with my people about who’s got the best debut album. Jay-Z for me was that up-and-coming hustler who was getting dough, very smart too. He was big-pimping and he still is. And I also really like Common’s ‘Like Water for Chocolate’. Common lyrically was inspirational, before his new wave of stuff. I wish he could come back, but he’s doing movies now. But the best album for me would be if Jay-Z did an album with Madlib and Pete Rock. Imagine if that came out…