A great MC is hard to come by. They host the night, curate the vibe and whip the crowd into a frenzy. A great MC can seamlessly blend their own rhymes with vocals already present on a track, without crowding the DJ’s selections or being overbearing.
To do this well is a feat, actually. This is because to be great, you have to work immeasurably hard. You have to have an understanding of so many musical genres and bpms, cadences and tones. It’s not about being seen and heard, but about being committed to making the night unforgettable to the people on the dancefloor.
We’ve all experienced the night ruining effects of a person in it solely for the incomparable high of being the centre of attention and the focus of the spotlight. Unfortunately these people often taint the landscape of the great MCs putting in the work on their craft by influencing show attendees to think they hate the entire culture. These abrasive fame loving bellowers do however serve a purpose. They help define those that set themselves apart from mediocrity, and love and breathe their music. The “cream of the crop” so to speak.
One such artist that has fought through the ranks to achieve greatness is Rhymestar. Some may know him from his early work back in the days of pirate radio appearances, or from the multitude of guest appearances on tracks throughout the years. Likely most know him as the official voice of Matrix and Futurebound, repping the Viper sound on tours and live shows. However you may know him, it’s clear he’s established himself as one of the front runners of MC talent today.
Ahead of his appearance at 403 DNB’s Metropolis festival, I spoke to Rhymestar to get his take on where he’s been, where he’s at, and where he’s going.
Getting started, was there a single life event that inspired you to pursue MCing? I‘m wondering when you had the “aha” moment and it all clicked.
I’m not sure it was as black and white as that to be honest. During my early teens, amongst other things, it’s what my circle of friends and I did. We went to raves, bought records and wrote lyrics. We’d then record our own mixtapes, give them to our friends and play at their house parties. When we were invited on local pirate radio, we soon began to grow our following further. It was organic, before I knew it, I was right in the thick of it.
I guess if there was one moment, it would have been somewhere like Telepathy or One Nation at Stratford Rex in the late nineties or early naughts. I remember seeing my favourite MCs and DJs and thinking to myself … It all makes sense now; I reckon I’m ready for this.
Who was the first producer you wanted desperately to work with?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one producer. As a youngster I used to love Bad Company, Ed Rush and Optical, Hazard and the Ram Trilogy/Records camp. I guess the dream was to work with them in some shape or form.
Would you consider working with Matrix and Futurebound your big break? Tell me a bit about working with them.
Matrix & Futurebound got in touch with me towards the end of 2013 when they were looking for an MC to front their shows. They had just come back from touring Australia and New Zealand and whilst out there, realised they needed a front man to take their sets to the next level. After one or two sets together, we realised the combination just worked and since then I have been blessed enough to be their preferred MC. We’ve performed together on some amazing tours and shows worldwide. It’s great to be on the road with not only DnB legends, but two guys I consider family.
I have also written various ideas for them with the intention to collaborate as both an MC and songwriter. They’re always open to my ideas and input but it’s about finding the right track that encompasses both of our styles and works.
All I can say is watch this space…
I live in a place where MCing is relatively uncharted territory. The culture doesn’t really exist here like it does in the UK and other parts of the world. I think most people here would choose the DJ/producer route vs MC life. In your mind, do you think it’s harder to have success as a producer, or an MC?
I guess that depends on your philosophy of success and work ethic. You can be as successful as you want to be, irrespective of being an MC, DJ or producer. You get what you work for, not what you wish for. Unique talent, that connects to an audience will always do well.
I guess as an MC, at times you can be reliant on a decent producer but if you can produce your own music as well, you’re already one step ahead.
On the same tip as before, historically in my city we don’t have much MC culture. In fact, it can be hostile at times. When you’re going to perform in a situation where the crowd might not be as receptive as you’re used to, how do you approach it?
I’ve been faced with similar situations, where I have been booked at shows in places and told “They don’t like MC’s here.”
This isn’t always the case. Sometimes crowds or cultures are just not accustomed to a certain style, sometimes it takes time for them to absorb what you do and understand it. Once they have digested it, they can they appreciate what it is about.
One school of thought is to gauge your audience. Be pro-active, do your research about the crowd you’re playing to, the area, the venue. Find out what they do understand and work out how you can use that, to help them relate.
There is another school of though … “I do what I do and if they don’t like me…oh well.” I guess it’s down to the individual to work out how they want to approach it.
Sometimes believing so strongly in what you do is a positive thing. We wouldn’t have DnB or other genres as we know them now, if it wasn’t for artists fearlessly pushing their own unique style and breaking boundaries.
I know you’ve traveled a fair bit. Have you been to Canada before? Are you looking forward to your visit?
I have been blessed enough to visit Toronto and Vancouver as a tourist, but this show will be special as it’s my Canadian debut as an MC. Even now, when I am told I have supporters as far as Canada, I scratch my head and think how? I always feel blessed to perform in countries I haven’t performed in before.
I’ve heard Banff National Park is beautiful. I’d like to visit it whilst I’m over and generally soak up as many local norms as possible.
Can you tell me a bit about your favourite road experience (or one of them)? We want to be able to have a chance to beat it here!
My first Australia tour last summer for Viper Recordings was pretty special. We did five shows in total in Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. I even helped organise a one off, private show where I did an exclusive DJ/MC set. The energy and receptiveness of the crowds at all the shows, along with the hospitality was unforgettable. As I said before, it’s always touching and bewildering to be welcomed by supporters of what I do, thousands of miles away.
I read you like to be in studio when you’re collaborating; you like to be part of the process. What barometer do you use for when something is working super well, versus not working at all? When do you scrap a project and start again?
I definitely I like to be hands on throughout the process. I usually know at the beginning of the creative process, whether or not the idea has potential. I start with an idea in my head that either stems from a loop a producer has sent me, or melodies and lyrics I came up with. One the initial idea has a skeleton, I usually like to work with the producer, giving my input where I can. If I don’t feel that instant chemistry in my mind, I usually bank the idea to develop again at another time. I never scrap ideas. You can always build on them, or re work them at some point…
I think we can both agree that grime is huge in the UK right now. We haven’t really seen the same popularity here in North America just yet. In layman’s terms, can you help us understand the difference between grime, traditional hip-hop and drum and bass MCing?
Grime is certainly having its moment right now on an international scale. The first generation of grime was very much a London thing but it’s great to see it having the global recognition it deserves. I think Drake’s support for Skepta and BBK has no doubt helped to spread grime to North America but you cannot take anything away from the great music that is being made right now by grime artists such as Skepta, Wiley, Kano and Stormzy.
Ok so to me, the fundamental difference is the tempo and arrangement of the beats of the genres. How you construct your flows and rhyme patterns obviously reflects this. Grime is traditionally 140bpm, hip-hop in its purest form is 85-95bpm and DnB of course is 174-175bpm. I guess the main difference between MCing over these genres, aside from the flow and structure, lay within the culture they originate. Grime and Jungle originated in urban London. It is essentially music from the streets that was given a platform through the rave scene. This definitely comes through in an MC’s lyrics. It’s very similar to the origins of hip-hop in North America.
As MCs, aside from our accents, I feel the ‘UK sound’ is one that stands out as unique and is quickly catching on around the world. As I previously mentioned, it is about connecting with new audiences and helping them understand the culture behind what we do. They’ll soon see there are actually more similarities than differences. It’s just about having an open mind…
Ending off, what else do you have going on for the summer? What are you excited for?
Summer is always a busy time for me. I’m grateful to say that in June I will be performing in London, Vienna, Ibiza, Barcelona and of course Calgary. This is pretty much the trend of the rest of the summer with appearances at various festivals in the UK and Europe. I feel excited and blessed to be in sunny destinations and performing at festivals., but then again who wouldn’t?
Once the summer is over, I’ll back in the studio working on new music for 2017. There is plenty in the pipeline, that’s all I can say for now.. More announcements coming soon…
Check Rhymestar at Metropolis this June 24 and 25 weekend 2016. For tickets follow this link.