Peace to Ryan Proctor of http://oldtothenew.wordpress.com
Interview Taken From Old To The New – Ryan Proctor’s Beats, Rhymes & Hip-Hop Nostalgia
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about a generation gap that’s developed in the Hip-Hop world between older heads who still adhere to true-school ethics such as creativity and originality, and younger artists and fans who have grown-up with Hip-Hop as a mainstream genre, often placing simple lyricism and shallow materialism before a genuine love and respect for the art.
But whilst there is some validity to that way of thinking, it’s also a very simplified and somewhat distorted version of the debate which would suggest there are no younger artists out there who have anything worthwhile to add to the culture of Hip-Hop, which, of course, is far from the truth.
Meet Nottingham, England’s Juga-Naut. An emcee in his early-twenties who cites the likes of Raekwon and Big Pun as influences, this talented lyricist has spent the last decade working on his craft, cultivating a passion for rhyme that developed at a young age thanks to musical family connections.
Drawing inspiration from both golden-era greats and local Notts artists who’ve released plenty of quality material over the years, such as Cappo and Outdaville, Juga-Naut is now determined to leave his own mark on both the UK and global Hip-Hop scenes, having already collaborated with upcoming Bronx emcee Tommy Nova.
Recently releasing the “Marvelous Wordsmiths” mixtape with fellow Nottingham lyricist Vandal Savage (the follow-up to last year’s “Juganautology”), the project finds the pair delivering vivid verses packed with lively wordplay and creative imagery over instrumentals from the likes of MF Doom, Ghostface Killah and LL Cool J.
With numerous future releases in the pipeline, Juga-Naut, who also produces some of his own material, is keen to show the world that some young artists who make up rap’s new generation do still care about bringing skills to the battle when it’s time to grab the microphone.
Here, the proud Nottingham representative discusses his early exposure to Hip-Hop, going against the grain of popular trends and his favourite Wu-Tang album.
Remember, age ain’t nothing but a number.
How did you initially become interested in music?
“It was through my parents really. My mum was an artist and my dad was a poet and a drummer. I was literally born into it, hearing groups like Tribe and De La Soul and just good, good Hip-Hop. I was also hearing other music in the house and a lot of family friends were deejays, emcees, stuff like that. So from the age of about five or six I was writing poems and knew every word to Tribe’s “Scenario” (laughs). Obviously at that age I didn’t really make the connection between what I was doing with words and the music I was hearing, it was just one of those things where, as a child, you want to do what you see others close to you doing. So because I saw people around me who were poets and lyricists, that was just something that I did. At the time, I wasn’t five-years-old thinking, ‘Yes, I want to take this to the next level as an emcee’ (laughs). That didn’t happen until I was about eleven or twelve-years-old when I was around a proper scene and realised that it was possible for me to actually do something with music.”
So it was at that point that you started to become involved in the local Nottingham scene?
“Yeah, definitely. At the time, there was a lot of garage and grime stuff happening when I was in my early teens and I was listening to some of that as well as the Hip-Hop I’d grown-up with. But I realised quickly that what I wanted to do was different to what people around me were doing with music. Obviously, as a kid you want to be involved with what your friends around you are doing, which was the early grime stuff. But while everyone was doing their A-B-C- rhymes and listening to So Solid Crew, I was listening to GZA’s “Liquid Swords” album (laughs). I’m a huge Wu-Tang fan. So I did do the grime thing for a bit because everyone else was, but as a lyricist I wasn’t getting any sustenance from it because I couldn’t make any connection between what people in that scene were doing lyrically and what I’d grown-up listening to and was aspiring to be as good as. Don’t get me wrong, I still do like some garage and grime now, but as an emcee back then that wasn’t what I was about.”
Aside from rhyming you also produce your own material – when did you first start getting into making beats?
“That happened when I was around fourteen-years-old. From the age of about twelve, thirteen I was just a super Hip-Hop head and spent every last bit of money I had on vinyl and was working out where all the samples came from, sitting down reading the credits on old album covers. I’m not trained to play an instrument, but I could always play drums and percussion from watching my dad play the drums. So the first time I sat down in front of a computer with Fruity Loops and realised I could actually chop something up, that was when I started putting it down and playing around with ideas. I’ve always had a good ear for sounds and I used to listen to a lot of old records, look at what they were sampling and try to work out how they made it sound the way it did. I really love that crunch that a lot of those old Hip-Hop records had, but a lot of the music around the time I started making beats in the early 2000s sounded super clean, so I wanted to play around and get that sound I liked. I grew-up hearing a lot of Jimi Hendrix in the house and I used to love that distorted sound on some of his records, so that was really an influence on me as well.”
Did you ever experience resistance from your peers when as a young teenager you were trying to do something different musically to what was becoming popular in the UK amongst the youth of the early-to-mid 2000s?
“Well, the garage and grime scene was the music of my generation and that’s what most of the people around me were listening to, so there were times when it was hard for me to move away from that because people around me didn’t understand what I was trying to do. But I had to do what was in my heart and it didn’t make sense to me to be listening to an album like Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” and then sit down to try to write some simplified lyrics that would fit easily into a standard double-time flow to spit on grime beats. It was almost like I was living a double life (laughs). So I had to go with what was in my heart and as an emcee I felt confined by what people were doing with grime at the time because I wanted to experiment with metaphors and really be free with my lyricism like the Hip-Hop artists I grew-up listening to. That’s why, even now, some people who’re a similar age to me will describe the music I make as “old-school” because they don’t understand what I’m trying to do and didn’t have those same influences as me.”
How crazy is that, that you’re being described as old-school for actually trying to be creative and challenge yourself as a lyricist as if that’s now an outdated concept to some artists today?
“It blows my mind and I’ve had this same conversation with so many people. It seems that if you consider the music you make to be Hip-Hop then that’s considered to be old-school to some people because the music has changed so much that people my age who rap don’t even connect what they do with Hip-Hop. I did some youth work recently and the kids kept referring to what they did as being “that rap ting” but then they’d say to me ‘You do that Hip-Hop stuff don’t you?’ because they consider it different to what they do, which shows how much the perception of the music has changed amongst the youth here in the UK. Over in the States, young artists will still consider what they do as being Hip-Hop, regardless of what style it is, but here in the UK young artists seem to want to distance themselves from being described as that because they see the term Hip-Hop as meaning old-school. I mean, I’m a young guy and I’m not trying to live in the past with my music because that wasn’t my era. I’m just doing it the way I think it should be done.”
When you’re writing do you ever think that the rhymes you’re putting so much effort into might be going over the heads of people who aren’t prepared to put the same effort into really listening to what you’re doing?
“Everyday (laughs). I’m actually glad you asked me that question because it’s a conversation I have with friends and people around me all the time. Some of my friends tell me that what I’m doing is being wasted because I’ve found it hard to really get exposure so I’m putting all this effort into music that’s only being heard by a small amount of people. But I can only make music the way I feel I should be doing it, regardless of how many people hear it. But I hope that as I become more well-known, people will go back and listen to the early projects I’ve done and still be able to appreciate them because I want my music to be timeless so that you can always go back and take something from it.”
Nottingham has always had a rich history of producing quality Hip-Hop artists and it definitely feels like you’re one of the next generation to be passed the baton from those who’ve come before…
“With the Nottingham scene, because it’s such a relatively small place with a lot of people doing the same sort of thing, there’s no way you can’t pass the baton to those that are coming up. If you do local gigs and open mics there will always be people there who’re connected with the generations of artists who came before. It really is one-degree of separation here and everyone knows each other (laughs). So it’s almost become like a tradition in Notts for those in the Hip-Hop scene here to pass the baton to the next generation. There’s a lot of help here from those who’ve done it before for artists who’re coming up who have something credible to offer.”
It would be incredible to see someone write a book about the history of the Notts scene from the Rock City days of the 80s up to the present time because the place definitely has its own unique story…
“That would be amazing. There’s always been a pureness and rawness to the Hip-Hop that’s come out of Nottingham. It’s always been about coming correct or you don’t bother coming at all. The Nottingham mentality is about being fresh and having your own style. Whether you listen to a Cappo or an Outdaville or someone else, we’ve all had our own style but we all come with that same authenticity and passion in our music.”
Are you constantly aware of that need to add something worthwhile to the Nottingham legacy when you’re recording?
“Definitely. The people that I work with now, like Scorzayzee, Cappo, Joe Buhdha, they’re people I grew-up listening to and who I consider to be legends in this. So the fact that they’re working with me and considering me to be an artist capable of carrying that torch, it blows my mind. So it’s not a joke to me and is something that I’m very aware of. It’s all about pushing forward, flying the flag for Notts and keeping the scene going.”
So how did you hook-up with Vandal Savage for the “Marvelous Wordsmiths” mixtape?
“He’s a childhood friend who I’ve known for years who also happens to be Joe Buhdha’s nephew. I grew-up with him as a kid just playing around. We started working together on a project a couple of years ago, but at the same time we also started working on stuff that ended up on the “Marvelous Wordsmiths” mixtape, which was just us having fun with it. The mixtape was just meant to be something to keep a buzz out there while we were working on other projects and also something we could use to pay homage to different artists like Ghostface and Pete Rock who’ve had an influence on us and who we listened to growing-up. We called it “Marvelous Wordsmiths” because both of our names come from comic book characters. Even down to the cover art, which is from a Terry Pratchett book, the whole concept of the project was about us paying homage to creative individuals who’ve influenced us in some way.”
You supported Rakim when he performed in Nottingham last year and he went on record with some extremely positive comments about your performance – how did it feel to have one of the most influential emcees in Hip-Hop history giving you props like that?
“That was incredible, man. If you were to ask some of the most famous emcees out there who their favourite emcee is most would say Rakim, so for the ultimate emcee to say that about me, I can’t even explain to you how that felt. Just talking to him was incredible, but for someone of his status to have really listened to what I was saying onstage was an unbelievable feeling. For a legend like Rakim who has influenced so many people to acknowledge me as being a talented emcee was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was like Michael Jordan telling you that you’re a good basketball player (laughs).”
You mentioned earlier in the conversation that you’ve found it hard to get exposure – why do you think that is?
“It’s a difficult one and I’m trying to think of the best way to explain it. The Internet is one of the best tools in the world, but it’s also one of the worst. It’s a catch-22 because the Internet is instant and available to everyone, which means you can potentially reach such a wide audience, but at the same time it means the music game is so saturated that people consider music easily disposable nowadays so they skim over a lot of things. Back in the day, you could have a two-page spread in a magazine and people would see that and because you’d been given that platform it singled you out and people would then want to find out more about you and listen to your music to see what the attention was about. But now with the Internet, you could be featured on a blog, but because it’s so instant people might just skim over you because they’re not familiar with your name and they’ll just look at the posts about artists they already know. So even though the Internet is a readily available tool, as a new artist it can actually make it harder to get noticed because the scene is so saturated. I do my own promotion and it’s hard to build relationships with websites and bloggers as a new artist because they’re getting blasted everyday with hundreds of emails from other artists all saying the same thing. I’ve got a lot of love from those people who have taken the time to listen to my music, but there’s still a lot of people to reach.”
So what other projects are you currently working on?
“In the near future I’ve got an EP that I did called “Battle Of The Bulge” which is a concept-based release. There’s seven tracks on the EP and they’re all self-produced and I mastered the whole project myself as well. That’s the first official release I’m putting out following the “Marvelous Wordsmiths” mixtape to really show people the direction I’m heading in as an artist. This EP isn’t just me throwing rhymes over beats, it’s a really well thought-out, conceptual piece of work. I’m also currently working on an album with Scorzayzee which I’ve produced, and hopefully we’ll be pressing that on vinyl towards the end of the year. Then the major, major project in the pipeline is an album that myself, Vandal Savage and Scorzayzee are doing with Joe Buhdha as a group. We’re not putting any more details out there at the moment as we’re still working on the project, but we’re looking to make this a really special release with some major features. We’re really trying to work on this music thing as a family unit, do it ourselves, build something and really come with quality product.”
Random final question, you mentioned that you’re a huge Wu-Tang fan – which Wu-related album would you consider to be your personal favourite?
“Ummmm….(laughs). I think I would have to go with “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)”. I love the solo albums that came out of the Wu, but I think I’ve got to take it back to that first album that started it all because the whole group had such an influence on me not just as an emcee but also on how I approach music in general. Plus, I got my copy of the album signed by Ghostface when I met him (laughs).”