Uppacut is a recognised and ridiculously good turntablist and producer who was also part of the critically-acclaimed hip-hop band Fleapit. He has successfully worked with a number of artists over the years and is currently preparing his debut solo album, as well as a joint EP with rapper Frid.
In this interview, Uppacut talks about his new project, his collaboration with Frid and Wenlock Music and his musical beginnings, and makes a strong statement about today’s hip-hop.
1. Your Twitter page reads "Producer, Turntablist, was in Fleapit, now reppin wenlockmusic to the nuts." Speaking of the first, you have an extensive career as a producer, and recently produced Frid’s Serving Time EP. Besides, your work as a turntablist was highly recognised in the past. What is the necessary experience you had to gain before getting to this point, musically speaking? Do you have an academic background or did you do your own research? And what sort of advice would you give to the young people who want to become turntablists and/or music producers?
Firstly thank you for this interview.
I have no musical academic background at all. In a way, I wish that I had paid more attention in my music lessons at school, but it all started as a huge love of HipHop in the late 1980's. The sound of a record being scratched just grabbed me, I heard the rappers rapping but I was always waiting for the chorus to hear the sounds that the DJ’s were scratching, and from there I was hooked. I knew that I wanted to play HipHop in pubs and clubs but my mind drifted into battle mode and I started to think that I could stand up against the best turntablists in the country, but with this came practice; a lot of practice. I hardly saw any of my friends for around 2 years, I became a bit of a hermit and I split up with my girlfriend at the time to concentrate on turntablism. Obviously it’s not just the scratches or juggles that make a DJ good, it's also the choice of records you use, so I spent a lot of time at record fairs and markets digging through records to get the sound that I wanted in my routines. I'm not saying that this is the way to learn, this is just the way I learned. If I was to give advice to any budding DJ’s/turntablists, it would be this: Firstly, buy the correct equipment. There are some fantastic deals on turntables and mixers nowadays, cheaper inferior products will only hinder you. Secondly, use other turntablists/DJ’s as inspiration, don’t hate them and see them as competition, build your skills by studying your influences closely, practice, practice and more practice, and when you learn the scratch patterns you can build them and adapt them into your own patterns using your own choice of records, putting in your own twists. Thirdly, don't get frustrated, persevere. These skills are not going to appear overnight, it takes time; it will come with practice. As for advice for anyone getting into producing beats, I guess it would be that in ways it’s the opposite of turntablism as it doesn’t matter what programmes or equipment you use, you could use all live instruments or use nothing but samples, but if you have the aptitude, capacity and creativity to make good music then it will shine through regardless of how it was done.
2. Let’s go back to the beginnings. You were part of the critically acclaimed hip-hop band Fleapit. Your debut album Music from the Ditch even reached the No. 1 position in the French hip-hop charts and it is still considered as the 12th best British hip-hop album ever made. What have you learnt on the road since those years, particularly in musical and business terms?
I would say that the thing that I've learnt the most is that no matter how successful I thought I was, it can all be taken away so quickly, so work hard, have pride in my own work, enjoy myself, and if the haters hate, fuck it, let them hate. This is MY experience and I intend to do the best that I can and have a fantastic time while doing it. I mean, being part of Fleapit was a fantastic experience and I'm so happy to have lived it, along with the secondson&task force project, and doing the cuts for Goldie Lookin Chain's “Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do”, but that was then and this is now. I can't dwell on the past, I need to keep building and working towards new goals, and this is where Wenlock Music comes in. I personally see the future of this label being big, and it all starts for me with this next project. I just hope you all enjoy it!
3. You have recently signed with Frid’s label Wenlock Music. In your own words, “this label is what the UK scene is in dire need of.” In what aspects does Wenlock Music differ from other music labels?
Wenlock Music is a label that smashes down doors that are leading to things other than just UK HipHop. I can’t think of another UK HipHop label that is trying to appeal to more fans of music in general than just HipHop heads. Most UK HipHop labels are created in the underground and they stagnate there because there is zero drive. I mean, if I'm being honest, the majority of people listening to UK rap at the moment are HipHop artists themselves, so why should we limit ourselves and try to sell material to other artists only? We need to sell to fans of music in general who are into a bit of boom bap - it's the only way the scene can expand and create more interest in what we're doing. The population of this country is ever expanding so why can’t the interest in our music expand with it? If nobody has the courage to poke their head above the ground, nobody will ever know we're down here. There is a false image that portrays UK rap and it's so bogus it's unreal! If the surface is scratched by Wenlock Music and fans of good music can see what REAL UK HipHop is about, then it will make the massive effort that myself and Frid in particular have put in all worthwhile.
4. Your collaboration with Frid has even gone further and you two are currently working on the joint EP Not Tonight Lads. Besides, you are also preparing your debut solo album. As far as I know, the joint EP will be released first though. What can we find in this album?
Not Tonight Lads is a mild-mannered and often humourous attack on the image that Frid and myself don’t fit into. In the UK, if we want to go for a few casual beers in a commercial city centre, but we want to go dressed as we usually dress (jeans, trainers, t-shirt), the doormen/security will stop us from getting into the pub and usually say: “Not tonight lads.” So this is a bit of a 'FUCK YOU' to the rules that have encompassed our genre/style. Apart from that, we've got a fair amount of tracks recorded for this project, and a few still in the pipeline. Frid is writing the best material he has ever written and my beats are off the hook! The irony of this project is that we do think these pubs that won’t let us in for a beer will be playing some of our tracks to their clientele, and they'll love it too!
5. To what extent do you think that hip-hop has an impact on young people? And have you noticed a decrease in the hip-hop audience in the last decade? If so, what do you think are the reasons for this?
I think HipHop has a massive influence on today’s young people. The way people talk, dress, the whole way of life, and especially now that the people that grew up with HipHop as kids have children themselves, this is officially the second generation of world wide rap. But I do indeed feel like the audience has changed, mainly because music has changed so much. I don't want to say HipHop has changed because I feel that REAL HipHop has remained true to itself. I personally think that a new sub-genre has emerged and adopted the name of HipHop. So, nowadays, when the young heads say they're into HipHop, they mean Chipmunk, N-Dubz and Drake. If you ask someone of the first generation of HipHop: “What is HipHop?,” they will give you a hundred names of true HipHop acts that today seem no longer credible to the youngsters. It's almost gone full circle. Way back in the early 1990's you would get a HipHop crew who would put out a track with an R&B singer on the chorus to edge towards the mainstream; nowadays it's the R&B artist who has a token rapped verse on a track to make it more 'underground'. So to answer your question in brief, I think the audience has GROWN but in sub-genres collectively labelled - rightly or wrongly - as 'HipHop'.
6. How does the comeback feel? Is there an old Uppacut sound and a new Uppacut sound? Any big changes in style and/or inspirational motifs? I am sure that all Fleapit fans will be looking forward to listening to your new material – is there anything that you would like to tell them about the new Uppacut?
Awww it feels fantastic to be out there again! I don’t really have an old sound or a new sound, but my way of producing has progressed through the last 10 years having learned to play a few instruments, using new programmes and m-audio midi keys, but the biggest thing is, having been digging for years for records, I have discovered a whole world of music that has influenced me to keep my production fresh. My scratches and live performances are technical but simple enough for people to relate to. In a way I feel that a lot of juggling and scratching has lost its soul so I'm remaining old school enough to relate to the music I produce, so there is no contrast between what you hear on our records and what you see and hear when you come to see our show. I do feel that working with Frid has found a new drive in my production though; I've never been so busy on different tracks all at once. This EP is so much of a fun project and I'm so happy to be involved in it.