Interview by Rick Thorne. Photo by Brian Bartholomew
From Murder Dog Vol 9 #2 (2002)
What's the different about what you're doing compared with other U.K. hip-hop groups?
Part 2: This is hip-hop, but all we done is kicked the boundaries, kicked them out the flat. All the boundaries that were layin' around the flat, it was oppressing the vibe and we kicked it out. And said hang on, hip-hop started with this, it was inner-city culture, the New York people just did it, there weren't no hip-hop, that came later as a media term. And all these old-school pioneers, all they did was take elements of soul, jazz, latin, funk, reggae and just mix it up on two turntables to do their rhymin' over it. And the thing is people forget, people like Cold Crush Brothers, people look at them as like old-school rap. They were bloody R n' B singin' really. So somewhere along the line shit just moved well away from that. All we're doin' is bringin' back what it was originally about, doin' it in the modern way. There is a kinda separate urban culture,whether it be garage, drum n' bass or whatever, it's all been there.
Has that approach been lacking from U.K. hip-hop in the past?
Juice Aleem: There's a certain set of formats that appears to have arrived.
There's the kinda '89-'93 format, DJ Premier soundalike, Souls Of Mischief
wannabe, Gang Starr tryna sound like format. There's the even older retro
format where you make out you were in the Bronx from '74 to '79.
Part 2: Or there's a Lord Finesse kinda '94, '95 thing, David Axelrod sample and whatnot.
Juice Aleem: There's quite a lot of formats and some of the music from here has fitted into those formats. Once upon a time everybody out there used to do something different. Chuck D will tell you, Kool Herc will tell you, Bambaataa will tell you, all these kinda mans will tell you that they used to come here and be kinda inspired. 'Wow, he's doin' that and he's infused reggae' and remember Longsy D and all them, ska-cid, ska with acid and rappin' on top of it and all kinds of madness, but that kind of stopped. I don't know when or why but it stopped and people started to fit into these genres that've already been made.
Where are you all from?
Toastie Tailor: Thirsk, North Yorkshire. Small, small town. Not a lot
of hip-hop at all. Moved there, my dad being in the army from livin'
in Woolwich (London) to livin' in Germany. It was madness in Germany
from when you're younger and shit and livin' in Grenada, which is where
I'm from. I was back and forth to Germany when I was really young until
about six. I've been back to Grenada every few years, stayin' one or
two months, come back. Woolwich, about 10 and then Yorkshire about 13
upwards. In a way it's been good because although I've been able to see
other things that've been going on, I haven't got caught up too much
in it, so it's given me a clearer perspective. When I've gone to Grenada
the water's got cut off at a certain time of day, damn I've got to go
get water and ting, alright no streetlights, shit! I've got all night,
it's 8 o'clock and it's dark as fuck. My first day there I come off a
plane, fell asleep with my boxers on, got bit up and shit, mosquito bites,
feet swollen, can't wear jeans, fell in the drainage on the side of the
road and stuff. It was just good to see different ways of living and
shit. And then movin’ and sayin' 'alright, I have to take advantage of
things that are here that weren't over at home before.’
Juice Aleem: I'm from Birmingham, West Indian parents. Dad's from St. Kitts, mum's from Jamaica. Actually I never got the full story of where my dad's from. Every time you ask him you get the next story like 'oh yeah, this man, and then she went over to Dominican Republic but then she come back, but that was the Portuguese side of the family and then they went to Panama for a few years'. Okay dad. But we come from an inner-city part of Birmingham, that's my beginning. Birmingham's about a third of the size of London. It's a big city, so-called second city.
Is there a big ethnic mix there?
Juice Aleem: Not 'til recently to tell you the truth. Back in the day it was just like white obviously, black West Indian, Irish and Indian. Then as times changed you had Pakistanis come over, then you had Punjabis come over, then you had Chinese come. Before it was like black, white, Indian everywhere you went. And every black person was from West Indies. If you met an African person that was weird. Most Africans would just come to London and I know now if you go study in Manchester there's like a heavy African population. It's funny 'coz Africans have been in Liverpool and them kinda places for like 500 years and shit like that. But yeah, grew up, heavy influence of reggae, all that kind of stuff, ska, rocksteady, calypso and then we moved out to get a bigger house. A lot of people started to go and live on these estates, built on the edges of these cities like Leicester. What you didn't realise is you was already a minority but now you're an even bigger minority. So that might be like two families on our whole estate of 150 houses. So yeah, 'wog, coon, chocolate man, nigger' all day long. I remember one time I stopped people givin' me grief by sayin' I was American-Indian. They're like 'I won't beat ya then, I like ya 'coz I watch cowboy films'. You had a big mix of a lot of things because even the white people that were there, they were as mixed heavily as well in their own way. Once upon a time there used to be them signs, '50s, '60s and that when a lot of non-white people came to England from the Commonwealth countries and all that. There was 'no blacks, no Irish, no dogs.' Some places it was 'no Irish, no blacks, no dogs.' So Irish people always had an affinity and a lot of Celtic people to this day, even now I get on better with Scottish, Irish, Welsh people, I've always found that. So you might have a fight Thursday with a big Irish guy at school but then you both kinda get on with each other because they don't like him as well. Then as hip-hop came that kinda saved me. Anything that it was cool to be black you got saved. When it come to reggae, come to dancin', jumpin', sweatin', anything it looks good bein' black, y'know wearin' a bandana! So hip-hop came at my time and I'd be the best popper in my school and I'd kinda start freestylin' and that kinda blended with the reggae and everything that was in the house and the blues parties we'd go to, and we were constantly in and out the inner-city anyway so it wasn't like you were cut off 'coz you'd have to go there to get food and stuff. I didn't know about Marmite and beans on toast, that was news to me. It was weird, right in the middle of this area where you've got 'NF' (National Front) sprayed on walls I'm livin' in Jamaica in my house even though I haven't even been there. The smell of the house, the food that's cookin', the music that's playin', the type of furniture that's in the house. And you go to someone else's house and they'd have the same thing, so you had this affinity straight off. 'Oh you got the Blowpoint sideboard’, certain doylies that all the English people got rid of but West Indian people are like ‘this is the best piece of furniture'. The paraffin heaters as well, everybody's like 'Hingland cold, cold, cold'. Come in your yard like 'it's hot in here, what's wrong with you man?' Even though I wasn't born there I used to feel cold, probably 'coz I was in a hot house all the time. The English kids would be playin' out in the rain and that, they'd call for me 'come out and play', I was like 'it's raining'. Let's go and have a snowball fight. I'd come out for a bit, snowball would sting me in my face, that's not fun, my hands are droppin' off I'm goin' in.
So through hip-hop you became accepted?
Juice Aleem: Yeah, if you was into reggae as well, deejayin', chattin'. If you was a reggae deejay you'd get girls. There was a few ways - dressin', dancin', and being musically creative in some way.
What if you were outside of that?
Juice Aleem: Then you was a nigger who couldn't dance.
Part 2, how does a white guy from up north get into hip-hop?
Part 2: Very similar but without the racial boundaries or whatever. It was more of a class thing I think with me. Where I grew up it was like a suburb of York. There was a place nearby made toward factory workers so a lot of factory houses were built. Where I was born was built probably around the same time but was originally like old houses, real working-class labourer type people. Then what happened was they started building them new estates and shit, so my life has been kinda constant conflict with people. It's weird 'coz when I go back there now these people ain't really middle-class, ain't really upper-class, they're just like 'let's settle down with the driveway, car, house that looks the same as a thousand other fuckin' houses'. When I go back there now you sit on the bus, they’re the commonest people I've ever heard in my life, more common than me. Like 'fuck off mum, I'm goin' out with me mates, fuck off' and the mum's just like sayin' nothin'. My dad was like a factory worker and he was like goin' to work in the factory, comin' home, layin' down on the couch, didn't wanna go to his bed. So I never saw no children's TV or nothin'. I'd go 'I want the telly on dad' - 'piss off I'm watching telly' or 'piss off I'm having my nap'. So I'd get confined to the kitchen and my mum was an epileptic and didn't talk much. So I used to have to go out at five for things to do so I just fell in with all kinds of people. The area I lived in they'd be the people who've settled down but really they're a football hooligan at the weekend. There was this one area near me, it was like a real old ex-gypsy kinda street. Most of the people I knew were from there but everyone used to say 'oh, he's from that fuckin' street, the gypo'. I spent most of my life gettin' into fights, all kinds of stuff. There was times when I built a fuckin' chemistry lab in my bedroom, I just used to nick everything from the school chemistry lab and make bombs and stuff. Later on in the years I fell in with just other nutters from out the area. I was just doin' the graffiti thing back then, I got into the football hooligan thing, then I seen hip-hop and stuff, got into the breakin'.
How did this lead to you forming the group?
Part 2: I became a graffiti artist, started like walkin' around 13,
14, 15, hustlin' in the city centre tryna get commissions, get bits
of work, takin' other peoples' work to blag it, 'we can do your wall
for you'. If they wouldn't let us we'd send someone to fuckin' tag
it up, then go 'ah, we can clean up this mess 'coz it's lookin' a bit
of a mess round here, we can do proper graffiti'. From there I got
into that scene on a bigger scale, got respect in the big world, U.K.
then worldwide, that's how I got my name. Then I started gettin' into
the music thing, started doin' this little side project which was me
and this other dude who was meant to be the producer but I ended up
doin' it. Then he was a deejay but he couldn't scratch so that kinda
parted! Then I started rhymin' with this other guy.
Toastie Tailor: I was studying in Middlesbrough for two years and one night met a guy who was called Out Of Order at the time. It's like 'you wanna come out, go get some pussy and shit?’ Ended up goin' down to York, met Part in a club down there through another guy, few other guys there and shit, decks out. I was like 'where the pussy at?' He's like 'so you've come down to do some rhymin'?' I don't really rhyme, just knew other peoples' lyrics in my head. From that day I went out with him on that night and every weekend. Had no money, jumpin' on trains, gettin' busted every weekend. Every weekend I used to get some money to go down to York, stayed there Friday, Saturday, Sunday, go back Monday. And then started rhymin' from there, started workin' on rhymes, and Part just coached me through it. We met Juice at Custard Factory in Birmingham.
Juice Aleem: It was a similar thing again, football was a big thing 'coz I had a football connection. Zulus was a big football gang of supposed supporters of Birmingham City, 'coz they was connected to the more black side whereas Aston Villa was more like NF (National Front) supporters, which is like a white power organisation. It was that thing where I wasn't really a big fighter, everyone I hit didn't always drop to the floor straight away. You get to take a few hits when that happens. I'd have a little ruck with people out in the street and that but when it's big like ‘we're gonna go to Leeds to kick some heads’ I'd be like 'you'll pay money to do that?!' I thought Zulu Nation was what all the people around me were. I didn't realise Zulu Nation didn't throw sticks and stuff at police, I thought it was kind of linked 'coz everyone was into hip-hop. So I just kinda picked up the rappin' thing, stay at home and write a rap. So it progressed from there and I met up with other people, into graffiti, taggin' and everything. I wasn't that good a graffiti artist but I liked to wreck buses and shit like that, trains. Met up with people, became a group called ReRun. ReRun kinda died down, became the Eight Drunken Immortals and then as my man went to the States to live in Miami, I went to one of the places that's very well-known in Birmingham for rap and met these guys, a group called New Flesh For Old. I was like these guys are interesting. That's like '93, then a few years later I see 'em again at the Custard Factory. They played some tunes, I was like these guy's are crazy, Out Of Order's crazy, let's do somethin' in the future. Then another two years later he hears the tune I put out on Big Dada which was the first tune on Big Dada Records, under the name Alpha Prime. And he doesn't realise it's me. When he finds out it's Juice from Birmingham we're phonin' each other and that's how I joined basically in like '98.
Your new album has received some really strong reviews in the mainstream press over here. Are you surprised by that?
Juice Aleem: For me it's about time.
Part 2: Yeah I'd say the same thing man, we ain't apologising for where we're from fuck it. We're here together that's it y'know what I mean, make some music and if other people can't stand the heat in the kitchen they can get out.
For more info: www.bigdada.com