Interview: Tinchy Stryder

Having predicted his future with his first number one single, the aptly titled ‘Number One’, 26-year-old musician, music executive and CEO of Takeover Roc Nation, Tinchy Stryder is currently prepping the release of his fourth studio album ‘Full Tank.’ The Star in the Hood sat down with The Wrap Up’s Alya Mooro ahead of the release of the album to talk expectations, pressure and what the next step entails…

The Wrap Up: Your first studio album was released in 2007. How do you think your sound has evolved since you first began?

Tinchy Stryder: I was actually listening to my first album ‘Star In The Hood’ the other day… it feels more raw, you can hear some held back anger, you can hear the fire and the hunger in me. From that to the next album ‘Catch 22’ I had grown more as a person and as an artist; I’d been through different things in life and [was] working with different producers. That was the most successful album I’ve had and that’s where I got all my chart hits. People might have been like ‘woah he’s actually changed’ but that’s like telling someone, ‘I remember you when you was this year old’, and a few years later you’re exactly the same. It doesn’t make sense, you have to grow and evolve.

TWU: Can you tell us a bit about what we can expect from your next album?

Tinchy: I feel like I’m starting again. It feels fresh and I feel that how I’m delivering and what I’m speaking about… I’m more sure of myself now. I’ve learnt, I’m still learning. Every time I’ve been in the studio recently I feel it is something powerful, and sometimes it’s a good problem because we’ve got too much to pick from. But I’m going to be real harsh with myself this time.

TWU: Where did you draw inspiration for your tracks for the upcoming album?

Tinchy: I’m talking about things like when everything looked down in music… where people are doubting and thinking ‘well, he’s done, what’s he gonna do now?’ Or even relationships. I’m opening up because a lot of people might think, ‘oh, what’s happening with you and her, what’s happening with them, what’s happening with music?’ I’m just laying it out and letting people know that we can all relate to each other in one way or another.

TWU: Having already had quite a few number ones, do you feel a pressure with your upcoming offering?

Tinchy: I did on my third album. I feel like it is not just me personally, but a lot of people on the team. Say I had a track and my first single got to number 10, they’d be like, ‘okay that was cool but maybe we need to do something else’ and I’m thinking ‘whoa! Where I come from we don’t even dream of top 40’s…’ You learn more from failure than success, which I’ve been told and experienced.

TWU: Having already achieved so much, what’s your next goal?

Tinchy: One of my main goals in my music career is to have a world arena tour. Just going around the world and everyone knowing your music… That’s one of the biggest goals I’d love to one day hopefully achieve. I don’t know how long it will take but you never know. Hard work pays.

TWU: You’ve worked with many artists. Who has been your favourite artist to work with so far?

Tinchy: I’d have to say Dappy. My first number one was with him; we did another track, ‘Spaceship’ and that got to number 5… it’s just fun. We’re friends, we get along, we speak about things other than just music. The connection and the natural chemistry is there when we work together. People keep asking us ‘maybe you should do another track or do an album together…’ you never know. Maybe we should get in the studio again.

TWU: If you could work with anyone in the future, who would you want it to be?

Tinchy: I’d have to say Kanye West. I think he’s just a genius – everything he does. When I listen to his tracks I feel like I’m watching a movie. Not many people can do that.

TWU: Who’s your guilty pleasure, music wise?

Tinchy: Ooof! I don’t know if it’s a guilty pleasure, maybe some people wouldn’t expect me to like it but… Taylor Swifts’ latest song. I saw her performing it and I was like ‘oh! This is your song I’ve been singing along to on the radio.’

TWU: When’s the last time you were star struck?

Tinchy: I don’t really get star struck but when I saw Jermaine Jackson, I guess you could call it star struck… I was in a hotel in Dubai, everyone was talking normally but it felt like the place went silent. Everything felt like it was in slow motion then I just turned and I see him coming through. When he came and shook my hand I felt like ‘whoa!’ Some people just have that presence… I guess the only person who I’d have been star struck in front of would be Michael Jackson; rest in peace. When I was young I didn’t think he was human, everything seemed too perfect.

TWU: It’s pretty hard for urban artists to chart in the UK. What do you think makes you so different?

Tinchy: I think when I first came through I was doing something no one else was really doing. People love music but they have to like you and your whole character, your image. I was just being myself and people naturally connected; I’m just showing that it can be done; you can go from nothing to something. People can have great songs that might not chart, or songs that might not be as good that chart and it’s like ‘what’s happening?’ But it’s deeper than that. Everyone’s special in a way but not everyone’s chosen. I’m still trying to work out if I’m chosen or not.

TWU: What can we expect from your upcoming tour and what are you most excited by?

Tinchy: I want to keep it intimate. I like when it’s closer and they’re few venues. As the year is ending I was like, ‘you know what, there are a few shows I want to do but no more than a certain amount… and after that I’m not doing anymore.’ Next year everything’s fresh so I thought I might as well do a mini tour and just have fun with it. [I’m most looking forward to] being on stage. I actually love performing.

As written for MTV WrapUp

Tinchy Stryder x Alya Mooro

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Use of the ‘n word’ in hip hop music – Does it perpetuate racism?

“A word is only harmful when used to intentionally offend someone,” wrote Jay Z in “Decoded” – a book that accumulated the lyrics of many of his most famous offerings, and the meanings behind them. “Words are only as powerful as the context you place them in.”

But does this apply to the use of words such as “n*gger?” One that for years has been used to denounce black people – in particular African American slaves? Many – shockingly perhaps – argue that yes, it does.

The prevalence of the use of the word in hip-hop music has arguably greatly increased over the years. And with the crossing over of hip hop culture into the mainstream, one in which the majority of its consumers are white, middle class kids who in attempting to sing or rap along will undoubtedly use the word their ancestors would have once used to castigate the proprietors of the music – the question of why and how and should it be so prevalent, is an increasingly important one.

KRS-One, an American rapper that prides himself on his brand of conscious rap supports Jay Z’s ideology that a word only means what you want it to. “You’re confusing ‘nigger’ with ‘nigga,’ he said at a recent debate in London which asked the question of whether hip hop, as a genre, enhances or degrades society. “Nigga in the dictionary comes from the word negus – which means King.”

But not all agree with his point of view. “The whole issue of the n word being a term of endearment is asinine,” argues journalist Chris Williams. “It is not a term of endearment. It is the continuation of a 500 year old racist ideology.”

Dean Atta – a London based poet who recently went viral with his poem ‘I am nobody’s nigger,’ – a piece inspired by the death of Stephen Lawrence – agrees. “I just think it’s regressive,” he argued. “Using that word I still think most white people will hear you and just think you’re stupid. Because you’re still referring to yourself in a derogatory way. And a lot of black people will hear you use it and think you’re stupid because you are disrespecting the pain and suffering that our ancestors have been through.”

Dean goes on to liken the word to “bitch,” or “faggot,” adding “if a woman wants to call herself a bitch, if a black man wants to call himself a nigger, if a gay person wants to call themselves a faggot, that is their choice… but I wouldn’t really think they understood the extent of the word.”

DJ Snips – a hip hop DJ who also hosts his own, supremely popular hip hop club night in London disagrees with Atta on this aspect of the word and its usage. “I think that essentially in anything if you try and demoralize somebody and are derogatory against them, eventually people take ownership of what you threw at them. For example if you call a fat person fat for so long, eventually she’ll come out and be like ‘ya fuck it I’m fat, I’m proud to be fat.’”

But the question of who is using the word and the intentions behind it is an issue that was raised time and time again. “I have white and Asian friends who grew up around black people – some of whom actually act blacker than me – so can we blame them for using it amongst their peers?” argued music journalist Joseph Patterson.

Fem Fel – an up and coming UK based rapper who often uses the word in his own music, argues the same: “If I was to meet another group of friends and be like these are all my niggers and that’s Tom… you can’t do that,” he explained, “… my niggers are my niggers in that kind of sense.” But how each individual’s intentions could possibly be assessed is a question that cannot be so easily dismissed. And if the doors are left open for the word to be used in every day language, where are the locks that can stop its progression into other realms?

This is particularly poignant in light of the case of Iggy Azalea – a white, female rapper and her use of the n word in “Hustle Gang.” “Obviously it’s not a problem for rappers to use the word,” argued Snips, “but to a certain extent you have to look at the industry and think well, what did you expect? If you’re going to use the word so freely and acceptably and then target a majority white audience to sell your music, you can’t really be that surprised when they retake that word and think it’s acceptable to use it.”

Snips went on to argue that when he was younger and listening to the likes of A Tribe Called Quest he would never even have thought of utilizing the word, “because the music itself educates you in a way that you knew the origin of certain words and why you couldn’t say them,” he explains. “Nowadays I don’t think the music educates people.”

In speculating on why the word is so inherent in todays hip hop music, Chris Williams suggests that for many rappers who grew up in some of the poorest urban communities in the United States, the word was being used “ad nauseum,” infiltrating itself into their natural vernacular, this then trickled down into younger generations of rappers who followed their lead.

“It’s just what we grew up listening to,” agrees Fem Fel, adding “we grew up listening to it when we were having good times, when we were in a club… and 50 Cent or whoever else is talking… it wasn’t used in a derogatory way.” The rapper justified its use in his own music, arguing: “I don’t know who it offends anymore… It doesn’t offend my peers, I don’t know how it could offend white people… so that’s why I use it.”

Chris Williams goes on to explain that understanding where most of these MCs grew up makes it easier to understand why they use the word… “I can see why it’s hard for them to break a bad habit,” he adds, “but it can and must be done.”

The lack of education that is a common facet of much of todays mainstream, commercial hip-hop is part of an issue that is arguably inherent in the society itself. “What people think as black, what they want to be like when they say they want to be like their black mates is being niggerish,” argued Akala – an English rapper, poet and journalist who is most known for his positive influence within hip hop music.

“They don’t associate it with anything positive,” he went on to add. “So when they want to be clever they don’t copy the little Nigerian kids who get straight A’s… when they say they want to be like black people they don’t want to be like Malcolm X… they want to be niggerish. And we have to be clear on that difference.”

This discrepancy between being black and being ‘niggerish’ is something that needs to be tackled from the root up. The fact that there even is a distinction between the two arguably makes it all the more important to reassess the use of the word in hip hop music, and the argument that its use is reclaiming a word which once had negative connotations. In particular as evidently, to many, it still does.

Having grown up in the Southern states of America, Chris Williams reveals that the word stirs up many negative emotions for him. “I’ve been called that word to my face on numerous occasions,” he explains, adding “feelings of anger, frustration and sadness come over me when I hear the word.”

Its use is argued to be all the more baffling by the fact that no other ethnicities that are known by derisory euphemisms have ever turned one of those colloquial terms into something that they refer to themselves by. “No people in history have spoken about their children like hip hop does,” argued Shaun Bailey – David Cameron’s advisor on youth and crime – at the recent hip hop on trial debate. This is a stance shared by Akala, who argues that black people talk about killing black people all the time, whereas if a white person were to do it, it would be considered shocking, wrong and immoral.

“White terrorism essentially makes people scared, it make them nervous,” he argued. “But black deaths are entertaining. Rap music shows that.” He went on to illustrate by explaining how while in the studio with young black boys they often write lyrics the likes of “nigga, nigga, nigga, I’m killin’ ‘em, I’m killin’ ‘em.“ He goes on to explain how he’ll often ask these kids what the word nigga means, and what its origins are, to both counts they’d reply with the same monosyllabic response – “dunno.”

To this respect, many argue education to be an important aspect in changing attitudes. In particular if the word really is to be reclaimed. But the extent to which not all believe in that stance is evident in the response Atta received for his poem. “In a day it was like 8,000 people had listened to it and now its come up to 40,000… I’ve been written about in the Guardian, the Huffington post and been featured on the radio, as well as contacted by the Stephen Lawrence trust.”

So if so many people feel so strongly about it, why is nothing being done? “The music industry in general is all about what sells,” explains Atta. “And if it keeps selling then they’ll keep saying it.”

To those that argue that the word has been reclaimed, Chris Williams says: “that’s a complete cop out and bullshit for those who aren’t strong enough to change the environment that perpetuates this nonsense… enough is enough. The madness must stop.”

The Changing Face of Hip Hop: Are we moving away from gangster rap?

Drake is gay. At least that’s what he’s been accused of being, numerous times since he started making music. Accused of talking too much about his feelings, Drake epitomizes the change in hip-hop music, seemingly one that has taken us away from gangster rap.

“Then: Fat Joe, Biggie, Big Pun, Big Daddy Kane. Now: Lil Wayne, Lil Bow Wow, Tinie Tempah. When did it stop being cool to be big?” joked Christina, an avid hip-hop fan. As being tough and gangster is often associated with being big, this personifies the change.

A musical genre consisting of stylized rhythmic music that usually accompanies rapping; hip-hop originated within early 1970s block parties in New York City. A product of cross-cultural integration, rap is deeply rooted within ancient African culture and oral tradition. As a result, it originated in an effort to reveal the plight of the underclass.

To a certain extent, gangster rap has reflected US society. It is no coincidence that it is most common during the late 1990’s with the likes of Public Enemy and NWA. At a time where there was still severe racial dissatisfaction, gentrification and tension, these artists used the medium that was accessible to them, namely music, to express their anger.

As Sincere, a UK hip-hop artist put it, “hip-hop is a reflection of the streets,” arguing that the aforementioned aren’t really as much at play in society as they once were. “Its harder to be a gangster these days,” he went on to explain, citing increased police and technology as the main reasons behind this.

“Every niche has its day,” said Cynikal, another hip-hop artist, “and that day has come and gone.” This may help explain why over the years hip-hop, and rap, have become more eclectic, even borrowing from other genres such as soul, jazz and live instrumentations. Most recently, Kanye West championed the ‘soulful rap’ movement.

Hip-hop is also supremely bound up in its culture, one that used to (and sometimes still does) consist of baggy jeans, caps, expensive trainers and street slang. Artists the likes of Jay Z and Kanye West have however made it cool to dress well, with Kanye West in particular often suited up and present on the front row of designer fashion shows the world over.

This in turn reflects on how the youth and those who look up to him dress and feel. Perhaps it would not be too far fetched to cite Obama as an influence for black youth too. Perhaps it is harder to be angry about feeling excluded when the president of the United States is a black man who is immaculately dressed.

Not only have the aforementioned made it cool to dress well, it could also be argued that many of today’s idols are making it cool to be educated, with positivity often taking a front seat in much of todays music. This is exemplified in the way people find out about new music these days. Rather than artists selling their mix tapes on the streets, “out of da trunk,” blogging, hip-hop and music magazines, i.e. literary sources, have sprung up all over the Internet.

“The stereotype of rappers has diluted for the better,” said Cynikal. “We’re an integral part of society. Before we were treated a bit like pests, but now hip-hop rules the charts.” This may be both a cause and a consequence of the changing finished product.

Evolving away from a party art form and towards a recorded medium, hip-hop began to grow as a viable and profitable genre, so much so that both rappers and record companies could see the benefits of making it more accessible to a general, often white, audience. Research, in fact suggests that approximately 75% of the rap and hip-hop audience is nonblack.

Hip-hop has become so profitable, in fact, that many corporate giants the likes of Pepsi, subway and Hewlett-Packard have begun using rap music in their advertisements. Factors which undoubtedly affect how ‘gangster’ the music is. What mother would buy, or permit her children to buy a CD that she deemed to be a supremely bad influence?

DJ Whoo Kid recently stopped by Tim Westwood’s radio show to discuss exactly this. Arguing that hip-hop is “for the kids” he went on to explain that it’s all about dancing these days. “Dance music, snapping, and occasionally gangsterism.” “The gangsterisms [of today] are not defined as reality” he went on to say. “It’s like they’re in a movie, like Scarface… there’s no focus in hip-hop, but it’s cool. It’s fun for the kids, everybody’s happy.”

Having started off as a form of expression for the underclass, namely, black youth who felt disenfranchised, it could also be argued that today’s ‘underclass’ is not as easy to define. What with the social integration and cultural transitions taking place day to day, along with the rise of the ‘mixed race,’ the underclass could now be anyone, facing discrimination for anything and dealing with a variety of different problems.

This is exemplified in Drake and Kid Cudi’s music, to give just a couple of examples. Mourning the loss of love, the loss of oneself and exploring the search for a purpose in life, rappers such as the aforementioned are a lot more relatable to the mainstream, discussing issues that could be argued to be more current. And in an economic climate that is massively suffering, perhaps it makes sense that much of the subject matter these days refers to money. “Its all about money, fame and glamour” said Capri, a music blogger.

Everyone now listens to hip-hop, and everyone can make hip-hop. As a result these kinds of topics often ring true to both the artists and the audience. More so than guns, murder and drug dealing, a phenomenon which seems to have decreased exponentially.

So is hip-hop permanently moving away from its origins? The success of artists like Kanye West has proved that it is not necessary to be a gangster in order to sell records. Making room for artists such as Drake, Kid Cudi, B.O.B and Wale, who come from relatively comfortable backgrounds and rap about things which don’t include women, guns and all the illegal ways to make money, the shift would suggest that hip hop has moved away from what began it.

But that is not to say that there are no instances of gangster rap left, however. “Its still very much there” said Manny Norte, a well-known hip-hop DJ, “it’s just being delivered differently.” “Just because the mainstream have moved away from it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist anymore,” said Eduardo, an avid hip-hop fan, going on to cite Freddie Gibbs as an example of a current ‘gangster’ rapper. And with songs the likes of ‘National Anthem (Fuck the world) and ‘The Ghetto,’ he is arguably still producing gangster music. “Although he may never break out worldwide” he went on to add.

“Hip-hop is a reflection of the streets.” Therefore for as long as there are still ghetto estates, there will be gangster rap. It could be argued that once upon a time that was the only type of rap that was permitted, or expected, therefore until someone broke that boundary and made it okay to express other emotions, that was all music would receive from the hip-hop arena.

Therefore perhaps it is not that hip-hop has moved entirely away from gangster rap, just that, as explored above, a variety of different people from different backgrounds and expressing different issues are using rap as their medium. This, in turn, results in a more diverse expression to explode out of speakers. Added to this the focus on making money, and the pressure therefore to be accessible to the mainstream, it makes sense why rap may not be as limited to gangster rap as it once was. But that does not necessarily mean that there is no room for it any longer.