OK, so there are two of you in the group is that right? Charo and Esely. Together you make up London I, or London Intelligence. First off can you introduce yourselves to the readers and explain what you aim to achieve with the group? You are taking the intelligence term seriously aren't you? |
Esely: Basically, me and Charo known each other since we were about 4, and we been best friends on and off since then. We've always had similar interest music wise, but when we first started realising we had similar goals as far as hip-hop was concerned, that's when we decided it would be live for us to hook up to do some tracks. We both started out as kind of netcees. I still flowed my verses, but with an American accent, and not as much of a sense of rhyme as I have now. Basically, as far as I'm concerned, all I hope to achieve is to produce this music and let people hear it and judge for themselves. I got a lot of hunger for this, and I just got a lot of things to say that I want people to hear….simple as that. As for the term intelligence, I think that's fundamental if you want to gain any type of real respect. It doesn't have to involve talking about subjects you feel you have to to make yourself seem clever, but just knowing how to be yourself, and think about what you say before you say it.
Charo: The Intelligence was really just for the I to represent something, and intelligence seemed to go perfectly with our aims as a group. But we don't try to be smart-asses or anything, just make hip-hop that's relevant to our lives.
Right, so that is the introductions done. Can you break down what each of your roles are within the group, who does what, or does each of you turn your hand to everything? Does it break down as simply as Charo is the rapper and Esely is the Producer?
Esely: It's not as simple as having defined roles because I rap and produce and so does Charo, although most of the tunes so far have either been straight produced by me, or co-produced with Charo.
Charo: I haven't had the means to produce for long, but soon I hope to have some of my own London I beats ready soon. I think it's fair to say that neither of us produces on our own as well as when we make tunes together.
Esely: Which is the same for our rhymes, because as emcees we communicate really well too. So your likely to hear something special when you tune your ears to our inter-linking verses.
OK, so Esely do you prefer to MC or produce or does each help with the other?
Esely: Basically, I spend a hell of a lot more time producing than I do emceeing, so it's easy to assume that is what I prefer. But I make beats that I want to rhyme on, not the other way round. I produce a lot, but at heart I'm an emcee.
I've heard about the RAF, Rhyming Arts Foundation and the Fluent Influentials, but I'm not sure how it all breaks down. Can you explain who is in which crew and how it all fits together? The Criminology Crew and The Elements was just you guys before you decided to become London I right?
Charo: Yeah that's right. But those were names that we felt didn't represent our lives and music and perhaps just chosen at the time because of the image we thought hip-hop was attached to. The RAF situation is slightly more complicated! The Fluent Influentials are London I, Souljahs and Sinna G, basically six like-minded North London artists. The RAF is a crew of ten members, the Fluent Influentials, Isotope Phluxx and Dis-Kuss.
So you have built up quite an extensive posse around yourselves. Are there any other producers, DJs or MCs in your crew that we should look out for?
Esely: Not to be big headed, but everyone in our crew has something individual to look out for. For example, DJ IQ (who is in the Fluent Influentials) has created a lot of interest, and has been asked to perform at some quite major places, but you'll have to wait and see on that one. Isotope Phluxx are also coming with their own style, and they have some proper hot stuff coming out. Check out for a track of theirs called Hollywood, or another one Oximoron, you will NOT be disappointed. Souljahs have been working on an EP/Album, which I have been recording with them and on which me and Charo both feature, and is definitely one to get once it comes out. They are more on a soulful, chilled vibe, and they got a lot of interesting ideas that I personally can't wait to hear. And then there's Sinna G, who I've been producing for his solo tracks, and they are sounding nice, and Diskuss who I hope to be producing for in the future, both of who I am excited about working with, also check for Diskuss on Isotope Phluxx's Oximoron, and our track Get Up. Of course all of these artists are on some RAF tracks that are finished, but you'll have to wait for those…..
I've heard that you have worked with ToddlaTee from Sheffield, another producer with not much to his name who is trying to break thru. How did that come about and do you have any plans to work with other better known artists?
Esely: I worked with Toddla on his mixtape but most of our attempts to get a full London I track with him have never worked. In the future however there will be a London I track featuring Toddla hopefully and other underground heads including Blood and Jonez, Konshus, NoItAll and Noz. There is a huge wealth of talent waiting to come through and another artist I've enjoyed writing with has been A-Man who is known by many of the RAF.
Charo: Yeah it's basically all about linking other artists if they're safe and wicked! We also been working with crews like Def DFyers from the Underground Alliance and Green Buddha. If we know someone and they're working on a tip that we're feeling then we'll try and work with them, because we just want to make the kind of music that we like.
Esely: I want to say a special shout out to Konshus who I mentioned earlier as I recently rhymed with him in person for the first time and he's set to rip things up, trust.
So you are both from London. Which part? Can you tell us a bit about what it is like there, and what is going on down there? Who are the other main acts, DJs, clubs and radio shows that come out of there?
Esely: We both come from NW10, which is also where most of FI come from. I think the area around here ain't the best for hip-hop coz there ain't too much going on, but it's only a train ride to Camden where they have some quite nice acts. Itch FM I think is definitely the station for hip-hop and you can listen out for my man DJ IQ on that, Tuesday's 8-10pm 105.15. Other acts that have come out of here are people like Def D-Fires and Underground Alliance who are making a bit of a name for themselves at the moment.
Charo: There's a few heads around the area like Harry Love, Man Friday, DJ MK and others. There's not many clubs around but, yeah, Camden's not too far off, and Ladbroke Grove is just down the road too. So we don't have to travel too far to get some action.
So you are both quite young, and relatively new on to Hip Hop. What do you know of the Old Skool (I'm talking pre '84) and artists that came before you? Do you think it is important to know the history and politics of the artform? Personally I find it hard to accept many of the new artists who sometimes think they are being original not realising someone did what they are trying 10 years ago!
Charo: I definitely enjoy Old Skool but I ain't going to say that I know much about it. I do think it is important to understand the kind of music that you're making but as the music develops as much as anything else its more important to address the current issues in both politics and the music. We don't try and claim we're original, if we have an idea we do it and if someone's done it before we just have to have confidence that we've pulled it off in the best way we can, because at least we're still giving something to the culture.
Esely: Following on from what Charo said, I don't think you necessarily have to be totally original as long as you are expressing yourself in the most original way possible. From a personal perspective I have to say, with my hand on my heart, that there is a lot of Old Skool that I really don't feel, but I'd rather be honest about what I liked and didn't rather than listen to something I felt I needed to because I wouldn't be part unless I did. That isn't to say there isn't any Old Skool I like, but to say pre-84, that's talking about the years before I was even born, and it's hard enough to find that shit on vinyl, let-alone when you ain't even got a turntable.
Charo: I think it's more important than anything else to just respect the artists from that far back because they brought us the music that we're making. You don't have to love or hate them, just remember what they did.
When did you first really get into hip hop? Who were the acts that opened you up?
Esely: I'd always been into hip-hop, but without knowing what it was. I mean by that that I never bought anything, but just whenever I heard it I loved it. I really started getting into hip-hop only a few years ago, and it was mainstream shit like Dre and Wu that got me started. But the ones that really opened me up to the level of lyricism I appreciate today were people like Black Thought and Talib Kweli. Those for me were what started me on the path to true hip-hop.
Charo: I came towards hip-hop more from the soul side, I listened to the Fugees and started to appreciate hip-hop as well as soul and RnB. The first group probably to show me that lyricism went a lot further than Fugee style rhyming was probably Phi-Life Cypher. Before I heard them I was buying Coolio and shit!
Esely: Phi-Life and specifically 'ABC' is probably what first got me heading towards the UK side of things, the flow on that tune still blows me away.
Being that there are so many different avenues open to the youth these days, what were the reasons for you turning to Hip Hop rather than UK Garage for example, where there might be more chance of success?
Charo: Garage has never been something that has attracted me as a style of music. I think you can dance to it easily but I find it less of an art form and I'd much rather spend my time creating rhymes that mean something to me more than just get rago on the dance floor. Both me and Esely are pretty good at English and I think that hip-hop is a more interesting way to use language.
Esely: However saying that, the first brer I was really into was Snoop, and looking back I've heard garage emcees with better lyrics than him…
Charo: Haha. Obviously there are more opportunities in garage right now, but we'll just have to be hopeful that the garage scene opens doors for some deeper garage emcees and maybe eventually hip-hop emcees.
Esely: I've got a mate, MC Koaster who's a garage emcee into both hip-hop and garage. Since he's been listening to taskforce and shit like that I've seen his lyrics adapt towards a much better style of rhyming, while keeping the core rhythm in garage. Hopefully this will light the way for next garage brers to start writing more meaningful rhymes.
How do you feel about the current state of UK hip hop? Do you object to being categorised in this way?
Esely: I really feel that hip-hop from the UK has a lot to offer people that those with power just haven't realised yet. Although attempts to break into the charts haven't been as successful as hoped, I think we have to keep chipping away at the public until they realise the full commercial potential of artists such as Roots Manuva and Blak Twang, and this will hopefully oopen up the way for other less mainstream artists like Jehst and Chester.
Charo: Sometimes I think, but this is just hip-hop made by British heads, but I also like to have that title sometimes, because it shows that the UK is trying something original. The categorising I dislike a lot more is that general view of hip-hop and violence. I saw Blade on Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Mark Lamarr was just cracking jokes about drive-bys and shit.
Esely: The term 'UK Hip-Hop' is in it's way quite good because like 'Independent' or 'Rap' our music has a lot of it's own traits which define it into a separate category from the rest. Having said that, within 'UK Hip-Hop' you'll find divisions similar to many categories that already exist in other areas of hip-hop.
What effect do you think the new BBC 1Xtra channel that will start in the summer might have? Excalibah is on it. I think that it'll be a good thing, especially for the rural areas, but may have perhaps come 10 years too late for places like London where there is a already a 24/7 Hip Hop station, and countless pirates too.
Esely: I think regardless of the fact that stations like itch already exist you can never have to many stations. The fact that it is a mainstream channel and there is much media interest in it cannot harm the reputations of any artists that make their way onto the playlist. However, although it will probably turn out to be a good help, because it is only on digital radio this may not happen for 2-3 years when everyone has access to the station. As for Excalibah….DJ IQ from our crew battled him and won so hah…..jokes..
Charo: I just hope this 'Letter to Tony Blair campaign' works out, and I'm giving it full support because without it, this station might still not help British artists because all them adverts have only US Hip-Hop on them.
What directions would you like UK Hip Hop to take in the future? What do you think is necessary for this to happen?
Charo: We just want to take our hip-hop in the direction that we're going. I think that as long as there are artists doing their thing that's all that's important. I'd like it to blow up definitely and I'd love to see a lot of British artists doing well but I don't think it's in our hands. All we can do is make a few tunes that appeal to the masses, like Rising Son told me, and hope that they'll just get excited about it and buy more UK Hip-Hop. I don't think people should be faking but if you need to adjust your style I think that's fine if you want to get big.
Who are the UK artists you listen to and admire?
Esely: There are a lot of artists I listen too, but fewer I admire. When I started listening to UK shit a lot of stuff I liked purely for the novelty of them being from the same place as me. But the artists that have really stuck through are the big names which I suppose is why they are big. Artists like Roots Manuva, Blak Twang (Although to be honest Trixta is wack!) Taskforce, Jehst, Tommy Evans, people like that. Especially Tommy Evans and Jehst who I think are both immensely talented and write rhymes that make me think, which is what I love. A lot of the people I really listen to are people I know though, because trust me when I say that these underground artists we're working with will be the Jehsts and Chesters of tomorrow.
Charo: I really enjoy Phi-Life Cypher and Taskforce but like Esely said, most stuff I listen to is from people I've met myself who might not have anything out in the form of demos or releases. I can keep myself pretty contented listening to stuff from RAF squadrons and other artists in our generation.
It is all too easy to get sucked into Hip Hop as a total way of life. To keep sane, what do you like to do when you are not making Hip Hop? Maybe you are real film buffs and go to the cinema all the time, or you are total football fanatics who are on the terraces each Saturday?
Charo: I tend to immerse myself in other types of music really. I like to play, write and listen to loads of different music and although I'm not an expert in anything really, I still get a lot of enjoyment out of a lot of different genres.
Esely: I do spend a hell of a lot of time making hip-hop, but I love the English footie team and I used to watch them all the time at Wembley. I'm less into football right now, but if I had anything to keep me sane I'd say it was that.
How do you view the Internet? Do you think it is a useful promotional tool and a good way of getting out there and breaking the strangle hold the major labels have on the marketplace, or are there too many idiots too willing to spout a load of rubbish with no control over them? So far it has probably been good to you, and is where most people will have herd of you from.
Esely: Obviously from what you've just said there are good and bad parts to it, but overall if used in the right way in can be a useful ally. The many pricks out there who chat shit or whatever on the net don't really matter coz at the end the true artists are the ones who will shine through it all, and I think we crossed that line when we got our demo out and proved, no matter how badly recorded, we actually had something to offer.
Charo: Without things like Napster and our website, a lot of people still wouldn't have heard of us, especially people outside of London, a lot of whom need the internet as their source of UK Hip-Hop. So its done us nothing but good so far really.
So you have your own online presence. Who put that together for you? Is that something you would like to develop further?
Charo: Yeah, I put the site together. At the moment there's just biographies and shit but we hope to get more photos, tracks and lyrics up there soon. We also want to expand and
buy a domain name possibly.
How do you feel, as artists, about distribution systems like Morpheus or Kazaa that are out of your control and for which you don't get any money? Do you think that seeing as the free music genie is out of the bag it could create problems in the future for you as artists to get paid for your work?
Charo: Obviously there are a lot of issues about that, and we may feel different about things if we ever become established artists. But as far as I can see there is still a market for music and as long as money's still being made there, there isn't too much worry. It's a 'problem' that won't ever go away because no-one will ever be able to get rid of it so I think its more important to try and work with people making such software so that it can benefit the artist.
So, you had your CD demo which featured the Blitz, Call Out My Name, Renaissance and Extinction tracks on it. Who did you send out copies to and what was the reaction to it been like so far?
Esely: Well we mainly sent it to labels and important heads in the industry (yours got stuck in the post…ahem…) and the feedback was relatively positive, although any responses from labels were along the lines of 'we need to see more tracks before we do or say anything'. But other good things came out of it, such as getting our first airplay on
Itch FM, and also having a track played on Choice.
What came next for you guys? Have you got anything out yet? Or featured on anyone else's stuff?
Esely: Like I mentioned before I was on Toddla's mixtape but besides that we've just been concentrating on our own stuff. This obviously includes crews and affiliates, and we do have a lot of projects on the go, the main one being the release of our 12".
OK, so soon you have you first proper 12" to drop. When will that be and can you tell us if there was a concept behind the record, or have you just collected together the tracks that you are currently most proud of? Can you talk us through each of the tracks and tell us a bit about the effects, moods or messages you were trying to create/pass on?
Charo: There ain't really a concept behind the whole thing but two tracks are on the subject of things being bad or destroyed and Renaissance is a kind of contrast showing that things can be reborn and become better. The tracks were actually chosen by poll on our website. We put up about 10 tracks and asked people what they thought. Blitz and Renaissance came clearly top. I've Seen Things was added afterwards as a bonus because we made it later and a lot of people were feeling it.
How do you plan to take things forward from here? Are you looking to get signed, or do you have a plan to grow the business yourselves?
Esely: It really depends on which way the industry takes us. It would be useful to get signed as funding for future projects would be useful because we have a lot of ideas for things we want to get out. However, we are happy to continue without a label for however long because it gives us a lot of freedom, it might be that if we never get signed and set up our own label, I know there has been some discussion over a joint RAF one.
Where will people be able to pick up your stuff?
Charo: It's available in London from Bongos in Soho and MSM Records in Camden. It's also going to be available nation-wide at
suspect-packages.com and directly us at
londoni.cjb.net. We may get it in Sound Source records in South London and a few other places but that's being sorted out soon.
Can you let off some of your production techniques? What sort of equipment are you using both to make beats and to record?
Esely: I produce with Cubase and record in Wavelab, there aren't many other special techniques other than my own personal ways of producing which I can't really describe here. Many people think I should get a sampler but I just stick to what I know how to use and I'm ever finding ways to get exactly what I want from what I've already got. My mic is an expensive but not really professional model, and I've recently acquired a spit shield, so although when first recorded it sounds messy I can master it to a sound that is very close to perfect.
So, just starting out on this, I guess one of the most important things you can do is learn all about the business side of things and get everything planned out before hand. Have you learned any valuable lessons yet and for others in your position, do you have any advice to offer? For example, where did you get the funding from for your release?
Charo: Its basically my life savings along with a couple of loans off parents and stuff, bare in mind we're still at home. We're learning I think and I think next time round will be a lot more professional but its more lots of little things than any big advice you can really give. Just don't be too optimistic and plan for the worst.
Esely: The reason we could afford to attempt such a project as releasing a vinyl is because we both had strong belief that we could sell enough copies to make it back, so we are going to go all out to get our music heard.
I ask everyone about politics, because I think it is important that we have knowledge of what is going on, but most current Hip Hop heads decline to answer. I guess they don't want to upset anyone. Do you have anything to say on that? Any issues you think people need to open their eyes too?
Esely: I have a lot of roots in politics as my granddad is Tony Benn the former Labour MP, and my Uncle is now the junior home secretary. I do have a lot of opinions but nothing that hasn't been said before, but in short I don't like Bush, Blair or anything to do with the current 'War On Terrorism' because I find it is an excuse to take out heads that these people have been waiting for revenge against for years. Although I have to say there is a definite possibility that Sadam Hussain etc. may have weapons with nuclear capabilities, I think any evidence the government has should at least be shown before any action is taken.
Charo: There's a lot of things I feel strongly about, especially the race riots up north recently. The most important thing I think is that people mustn't forget things that have happened and should learn from what's going on. People need to just look around and see that shit is going on and try to do something about something just to try and make a difference.
So you are presently too young to vote. Do you think you could be voting in future elections? Or does politics simply turn you off?
Esely: I'm currently studying politics and plan to take it at University and it is definitely something I am interested in. I will vote at the next election, but which way I decide to go I feel will be heavily shaped by the outcome of events in the next year.
Charo: Although one person can't affect everything too much, the election is one thing where I have power to shape my world and so I'll take my chance and vote. A lot of people think they can't make a difference but they can do a lot more than if they just stay at home on election day.
Why do you think the urban youth and people in general are so pissed off with the government?
Esely: I think it is quite clear not just from the blatant media but from underlying issues in other stories that what the government is currently doing is not being handled particularly well. This is the reason most people feel disconnected, but as for urban youth I just think that a lot of people in hard situations are raised in such a way so that they feel that there is nothing the government or even anyone can do to help the problems.
Charo: There's a lot of frustration when there are problems and in urban areas there are more problems. Obviously the blame goes towards the people who have the most control and influence over their environment.
Do you think that there can be any justification for Ariel Sharon to go into a foreign county and put its leader under house arrest whilst he sends in his bombers in to blow up Palestinian government buildings and tanks to occupy Ramalla? Is he right to say that he is not a terrorist when Israelis have killed more than 10 times the number of Palestinians? I can't see why these atrocities are not reported for what they are. What do you make of this especially in light of the so called 'War of Terrorism' that the US and the UK are still perpetrating on some of the poorest people in the world?
Charo: I can't say I agree with a lot on this War on Terrorism thing. There's a lot going wrong and America and their allies, including the UK and Israel do need to be confronted.
On a lighter note, what is going to be keeping you busy over the next few months?
Charo: We got a lot of projects and ideas going right now. We've got Equal Writes, where we're doing a 5 track solo EP each. And then there's Urban Dialect our LP project. Esely's been producing for Mystro and we're also working with Malarchi. There's a lot going on, we're working with a lot of other people and just making as much good music as we can.
Esely: We're also doing RAF and FI shit as well as starting work on EP which London I and Isotope Phluxx will release together.
What are your longer term plans and objectives for you as artists?
Charo: Personally, I just want to do as much as possible and be able to look back and be happy. I want to experiment with a lot of styles of music, both as inspiration for hip-hop and as separate projects. There's a lot of people I want to work with and hopefully I can establish myself as an artist and so begin to work with bigger artists.
Esely: What I'm really looking forward to doing as we become more established is performing. I love it, and I know Charo is an expert at it and I think once we get to a certain level as far as recognition is concerned we'll be performing at some quite big places.
Is there anything else you'd like to mention?
Esely: Just big up to all hard working artists out there who are staying true to themselves.
Thank you for your time.