This weekend sees the return of the Lingo Festival of spoken word – featuring such notable artists as Saul Williams, Hollie McNish and Abby Oliveira as well as as a host of other events. State is once again hosting a free late night hip-hop show on Saturday, taking place at the Meeting House from 11pm and featuring Dublin collective BackShed Inc and UK emcee Inja. We spoke to the latter about poetry, a distinct British musical identity and how he first got into rap….
“My older cousins were doing dance routines”, he remembers, “and I was dying to join in – but I was too little! It was like the House Party dance routines and loads more, but I just wasn’t allowed”.
Was it the music or the words that attracted you?
“Definitely the words and the sound of the music was just so different to what I was used to. I was brought up on reggae, reggae and more reggae. And my first music job was me pressing pause on my dad’s tapes listening to the radio and not allowed to record any of the talking in between the songs”.
When did you start performing?
“My first show was at my local community centre and it was a drum n bass set with one of my best mates at the time for someone’s birthday. I’m pretty sure I dropped a couple of Stevie Hyper D lyrics. You should look him up because most of the drum n bass emcee-styles are based on his content and flow”.
What were the opportunities at the time?
“I was a kid. I wasn’t allowed near the clubs but I would go and sneak into them, I don’t know how, cos I looked like a baby! Whenever any of the older guys were driving to London or Milton Keynes or wherever, I used to cycle quick as I could half hour to where they were, and whoever was there first got a lift to the club with them. I always got there! And at one or two of these raves I managed to get the microphone and say a couple words and the people didn’t mind. Which wasn’t bad, considering I was literally 15, 16 years old”.
Did you always work across so many different scenes?
“Yeah, I just love music. DnB for the energy. Hip-hop for the deepness. Reggae for the Vibes. Grime – cos to me that is Britain’s first fully original hip-hop. It’s our music with us rapping on it. It’s not us trying to be American. I know that statement is controversial and many would beg to differ but it’s just my opinion. And any other music with a heavy b-line”.
Do you see them as being connected?
“Yes. They are all vibrations, they are all frequencies, they are all sound. And humans connect very well with sound. People can pigeonhole them as much as they like but music resonates within us so to me they are all one”.
Has this helped give UK hip-hop its own identity?
“Yeah – drum n bass is British, garage is british, jungle is british, grime is british, dubstep is british. And the kids of today have grown up on all of that. And rightly so, all of them sounds and frequencies influence them whether they are making hip-hop or any other music because those are all the sounds that are local to us”.
How did you come into spoken word?
“By meeting some dope poets and feeling challenged by the fact that they did not need music to say something really, really good. And having lots of arrogant hip-hop emcees around me dismissing it because it was ‘just poetry’. But when asked to do an a cappella, the hip-hop emcees would not sound as competent or complete as the poets. I know they are two different things but they all start from the same place and that is pen to page or thumb to notes”.
Do you see much difference between it and rap?
“Yes and no – they’re the same things just executed differently with an ocean of styles that they can both call on. But the end product can be very similar – make people smile, make people happy, make people sad, make people dance, vibe out…”.
B Dolan told us he thinks the main difference is in the audience / scene – would you agree?
“I don’t necessarily think that’s true. I see rappers perform at poetry nights, I’ve seen poets perform at rap nights. I’ve seen mixed nights of them both. Yes, if you advertise a poetry night you’re just gonna get a poetry crowd and the same with rap, but if you don’t say what’s on the tin and just put on a party with them both and make it really good, everyone’ll enjoy it. A bit like Lingo…”
What can we expect from the Lingo show?
“Fun, excitement and massive smiles from me cos I’m just generally quite happy. Maybe a little taste of all the musics that I like and I hope to leave people with a smile on their face or an ache in their booty from shaking it!”