UK Hip Hop: Artists & Discographies
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Tom of Zebra Traffic Records
Zebra Traffic
Zebra Traffic - Zebra Crossing
Zebra Traffic is the name of the label. Is there any significant meaning behind the name? It is a bit off the wall...

Not really, Rob (ert Luis) decided on it. I guess its just something a little different from other label names.

What were the main reasons for starting up the label? Was it initially to put out your own, or friends stuff?

It has been something Rob has wanted to do for a while, and only recently has the money, music and business been right.

So, what would you say was the ethos or philosophy behind the label? I mean what are you trying to achieve?

World domination, ha, ha, ha. No, seriously we're just trying to release and promote good quality music which enables our artists to make a living and enables us to do a job that I love.

Where is the label based? What is the music business scene like there? Is it a problem being based outside London, where most of the action seems to take place?

Based in Brighton, there is a decent music scene here (clubs, record shops and labels) but there's not much here in terms of industry. I think there are pluses and minuses to this, it means that jobs in music are few & far between but conversely there are no real fake industry types 'cos everyone involved has worked so hard get where they are.

What are your qualities that make you qualified to run a label? What skills do you need and what is your background personally?

I think that a love for the music is essential as at times it can be unrewarding financially. Apart from that, I guess you need to be organised and have a decent overview of how the industry works (even if you don't necessarily agree with it). Personalitywise, I think I'm fairly laid back but really just a love for the music is most important.

OK, so was it hard to set up the label? What were some of the initial problems you encountered?

It wasn't too bad as Zebra Traffic is linked to Tru Thoughts, which had already established itself and the systems necessary to maintain itself. So really we just applied the Tru Thoughts template and went from there.

Where did you get the funding? Was it a case of saving up hard, or do you have some benefactor behind the scenes to help out?

Again, due to the links with Tru Thoughts, we didn't have to raise much start up money. TT had a P&D deal that carried over to Zebra Traffic and we aren't really into getting artists big cash advances, so costs were kept to a minimum and the leg work was put in. 

What advice would you have for someone starting up their own label? 

Its hard to make a living just from selling hip hop records, so patients are pretty important. Maybe think about other income streams that can tie into promoting your artists. But I guess the trick is to build solid foundations and go from there.

Now that you have been running for a while, what have you had to change in terms of business process in order to run smoothly? What would you say is the most useful process you have put in place, and what, in your eyes remains the hardest task to complete satisfactorily?

The business process changes on daily basis (as we are all still learning as we work). The world of music is ever changing so we must be ready to react. The most useful process is getting the music to your audience (whether its promoting acts through live shows, getting your records in the shops or getting Disorda to sort you out!). Distribution is pretty damn important too and as far as I can see the hardest thing to get right, as you rely on so many others (who are not necessarily interested in what you are trying to do) to promote your music.

Zebra Traffic - Life - Everyday Life Is running a label what you expected?

I didn't really know what to expect, but it is enjoyable.

Who do you press and master with? What are the reasons for this? Are there price issues?

A company called Elevate manufacture our records and the Mastering is handled at Masterpeice. There are always price issues but generally there doesn't seem to be much of a price difference among the top mastering houses.

Would the artists supply their own artwork as well as music, or do you have a graphic designer who works with the label?

A bit of both really. Some artists have contributed to their artwork, we have an in-house designer and a mate who also works on the design. 

What sort of advertising can you afford to do, and what have you found most effective? Classic Hip Hop avenues to take, would be to do stickers, print flyers, or take out adverts in magazines. I guess you would love a full page ad in HHC every month, but that isn't really going to be cost effective is it?

We have done some stickers and got a couple of low key ads but really we rely a lot on the music to do the talking. It is tempting to splash out on big advertising campaigns but it doesn't necessarily translate into sales and can spell the end for many a label. Best to keep it a bit humble and make the music is good, then you cant go wrong.

What other promotional activities could you undertake? Artists getting out and gigging must be one of the most important things?

Sure, live shows are the best way to promote the music, especially when they perform like Phi-Life Cypher! Those guys do at least one or two show every week, up and down the country and into Europe. Its just the best way to raise your profile.

And getting tracks on Mixtapes?

Again, if the music is good then Djs will support it.

As an indie label, how do you feel about the Majors? Are there certain things you are locked out of, like radio play?

Majors are so bloody big these days that its hard for them to keep up with what is going on with UK hip hop. They just operate differently to small indies. They can afford to pay Radio DJs to play their music and afford huge promotional press campaigns, but really what they are trying to do is something completely different to us. They wanna sell a lot of units and making a lot of money fast, whereas (esp. with UK hip hop) smaller labels, understanding that there is isn't a lot of money to be made, are content on putting out good music that will appeal to a smaller more loyal fan base.

Do you have an online presence? What do you achieve with that?

Yeah we have a good website made by a good friend of mine for nothing. Its important just to have that information available to anyone, anywhere at any time. 

Can you explain to the readers some of the problems that labels encounter when their material is freely distributed over the net by fans who may be unaware of the law and how you make your money?

Yeah, this seems to be becoming more relevant by the day. More and more folk are downloading music, which is hard for everyone involved in selling side of the music business. Majors lose shitlaods of revenue by this and indies probably lose a similar proportion so it is relevant to everyone. 

Conversely, for small labels, there has to be some benefits too? What would they be?

I suppose its shows that the artists are popular, but if they aint making any money from it how are they supposed to continue? Both Life & Nappa are single parents who have pay for childcare when they are performing, so if theres no income for them, theres no shows for us! 

So, how does it work with your artists? Do you have people signed to the label? If so, without revealing too much confidential info, what sort of a deal would they be on? Would they be signed for one project, or an album and some singles, I guess it would depend on the particular act?

Yeah it does depend on the act. But we like to sign contracts before we put the music out just so as everyone knows where they are. Generally we have to look long term and put out albums, as it is so hard to survive on just putting out 12"s. We see 12"s as promotion for an album, so two single releases per album and hopefully a three album deal.

Do you expect any creative control over the artists output, or are they entirely free to come up with whatever they want? I would guess that you would try to come to a mutual understanding and agree on the level of commerciality.

Zebra Traffic - Phi Life Cypher I think that if you sign someone, then you are gonna have general idea of the musical output. Obviously, the label has to run as a business and the sell product, so there must be a mutual understanding in terms of direction as both parties want to sell as much music as possible. But generally this aint a problem for smaller indies as they tend to be involved primarily for the right (musical) reasons and not financial gain!

Realistically, how many units are you expecting to shift of each release? Have you found this disappointing and how do you see sales going in the future?

We would hope to sell upto 1500 per 12" and upto 6000 albums. Sales can look disappointing on paper, but if you have good music, get some decent press and have the right systems in place in terms of distribution you will do OK. I reckon its about covering all the angles, working hard and releasing music that you believe in. Surely you cant fail, right?!!!

Do you have a distribution deal? If so, who is it with, what do they do for you, and are you happy with the results? If not, how are you getting round this and getting your product out there?

Yeah we have a distribution deal with 3MV/Pinnacle. They manufacture and distribute the music, so as long as you have a good relationship and communicate well you should be alright. As distribution companies tend to be quite big, they don't necessarily cover smaller independent outlets such as Suspect Packages. Which are pretty essential in our scene. SO I think you must be aware of the limitations of distributors and plug the gaps yourself.

Has Disorda's helped the situation at all? He's doing a good thing there...

Hell yeah - Disorda is the boy! Without him, UK hip hop certainly wouldn't be where it is today. He just supports everything - Big up.

Are you actually making money out of this?

Not yet

OK, so what sort of return could the artists expect to see from any profit? Some indies split the money 50%/50% with the artists, whereas majors might only give between 5 and 15 points. What doe that actually mean in terms of hard cash?

I think most top UK artists make most of the income from live shows. I guess most rappers/crews who put a 12" out don't expect to see any financial reward from it. If you drop a good album and it gets some good radio support and you shift some copies you will start to see some money from sales. But there are also other ways to generate income other than sales. With the bigger radio stations playing more and more hip hop, there will be a rise in income from PRS, plus there seems to be an increasing interest in licensing quality music to compilations/TV shows etc. My advice to any artists would be to make sure their labels are members of PRS and that they have people pushing their music to a wider community.

What do you think of advances to artists? If acts don't recoup they can get themselves into a bad position. 

Zebra Traffic - Phi Life Cypher Yeah if I was to put an album out I would try to do it with little to no advance. Obviously each situation is different, but personally, the less money you have to recoup the better.

At present, who are the acts on the label and how did they come to be working with you? You have some recognised names on your rosta like Life of Phi Life Cypher and have just signed Cappo... 

Rob has had a good relationship with Diversion Tactics for a while now. They used to play for him at the clubs back in the day and submitted a track for inclusion on a Tru Thoughts compilation (When Shapes Join Together 2). So the Diversion lads were definatley the starting point. Mark B, then handed us a demo on tape from Life, which pretty much turned into his debut album, 'Everyday Life'. From this relationship with Life, we chatted to the rest of the Phi-Life crew, and since they had just finished their deal with JazzFudge they agreed to sign with Zebra Traffic too. Cappo was put onto us through the P Brothers and delivered us a wicked demo. So I think there was a lot of luck and faith involved!

What records have you put out so far?

So what has the reaction to them been like?

The reaction has been great. We've some real good support from radio Radio 1FM, Radio 1xtra, XFM, Disorda, all the Hip Hop press and some more mainstream music press, and of course the DJ's. Sales are on the up, so lets hope we can build on what we already have.

Right, so what can we expect in the future from you in terms of releases and label development?

Releases to come include...

In terms of label development - we are certainly looking into some interesting avenues. DVD's and some nice presentation to try and combat the downloading, but mainly just concentrating on the quality control and the hard work. Life has finished work on his new album, Diversion have completed their new EP and we are looking forward to putting the Cappo stuff out.

Are you currently soliciting new material and demos from unsigned acts?

Yeah - we're always looking for new talent and music. We are starting to get more an more demos, which is a good sign, I think. Our schedule is pretty hectic for the coming year but there is always space and time to squeeze in a couple of 12"s & an EP here or there! (getting funny looks from our money man!)

If so, what approach would you prefer potential signees to take? Is simply sending you a poor quality demo and a hand written note enough, or do people need to make a better impression than that?

With the improvements in home recording most stuff comes in on CD. But you can send me a poorly recorded cassette tape with a scrawled note, & if the music is good it doesn't matter. 

What difference would it make if someone stepped to you with a fully recorded and finished LP? Are you going to look at them more favourably because you wouldn't have to do much, or maybe that wouldn't leave you the option to mould them or give them any direction?

Zebra Traffic - Diversion Tactics - Pubs, Drunks and Hip Hop Cappo & Life came to us with pretty much completed albums - which meant that we could get them out sooner, and the artists could get to work on the next shit quicker. So it does help to have that facility but it is not essential by any means. With artists such as these it isn't our place to try and mould them, they develop at their own pace and, I think, are better for it.

Do you have any studio facilities and in what ways would you be looking to develop artists if you take them on?

No we don't have a studio. Most of the guys on the label have access to some pretty good gear and manage to get most of the initial recording and mixing done themselves. Which means less spending - and that's better for all involved. The music is mastered when it gets cut.

Does the label do anything to either give back to the community or try and stand up and say anything political? If it is the case that you are too small and you finances don't allow you to do so, would you have any aspirations to do so in the future and if so, what would you like to achieve?

We try and get involved with projects that we feel are important. Phi-Life Cypher have done free shows for the Anti-Nazi League, Rob is involved with some Greenpeace stuff and we are getting involved with the Omniculture Festival down here in Brighton this summer. We have had a great response to the Bush & Blair 12" by Life, he was initially asked to perform at the Anti-War march in Hyde Park in February and has created quite a debate within the hip hop community, on the radio and further a field. Combining music and politics can create some powerful feelings and is quite a natural progression. Like someone told me, Chester P for Mayor and Life for Prime Minister!

You have entered what is becoming an increasingly crowded marketplace, with many new labels springing up almost weekly. Is this competition good for you? Do you think it is a fad that will pass, or will it continue to grow? Generally, what are your thoughts about the state of UK hip hop?

Labels seem to appear all the time but many of them seem to disappear as quick as they appear, so I'm sure there is a certain amount of survival of the fittest involved. I think quality will show through and that people do genuinely respond to good music, so the fact that there are so many UK hip hop labels isn't a problem. Of course it's not a fad! - people have been saying that for years now and we are now doing better than ever, with more and more dope artists coming through and more and more people supporting the scene, certainly there will be a drop off in terms of interest from style magazines and mainstream press but I truly think that we are making progress.

Apart from the people on your label, who are the UK artists you listen to and admire? Who would you like to sign if they were available?

Braintax, Taskforce, Jehst (Lowlife are still very much the heavyweights here!), Out Da Ville, Rodney P, Skinnyman, Yungun. We would like to sign all of the above!!!! No, really, I think that this list illustrates the depth and variety of our scene and shows that we have some of the most intelligent and skilled lyricists in the world. (maybe I'm just biased tho!)

Have you checked for Westwood's UK Hip Hop 2002 Vol.1 CD? What impact could someone as influential as him releasing this CD have on the scene? What do you think of the selection of tracks and the overall feel of it? Is it representative? Should it be?

Zebra Traffic - Blue Label No I haven't checked it - I saw there was P Brothers track on there tho.

To bring this to a close, do your marketing bit and tell the readers where
they can pick up your stuff?

Our music should be available in most good independent shops around the UK, also HMV & Virgin take some of our releases. Also the man like Disorda ( does wonders for us, Check the website for more details.

As an introduction the label, which records would you recommend the uninitiated to pick up first?

I think that we have a quite a variety of styles on the label. Phi-Life are very different from Diversion Tactics who, in turn are very different from Cappo. So I guess it's a case of buying them all and then deciding!

Thank you for your time.

Zebra Traffic Discography
Visit Zebra Traffic on the web: :: Email:[email protected] 
PO Box 2818, Brighton, BN1 4RL

Zebra Traffic
Intro Early Doors:
False Dawn:
Underground Years:
The Renaissance:
1995- 2000
The Future:
2000 & Beyond
Artists &

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