Blak Twang

TOUCH Magazine (2007)

He’s a veteran of the UK scene, a hip hop legend. A decade in the game, Blak Twang shows no signs of slowing down. Not only is he reissuing the hard-to-find Dettwork South-East album that didn’t get a commercial release back in ‘96, he also has a brand new disc of material on the way. Twang’s just set up his own label Rotton Product Records and has embarked on a UK tour. The future is most definitely Rotton…

Blak Twang is sitting in my front room. My flatmate who’s just got here from Poland asks to hear some of his stuff. As I reach for my laptop, wondering which anthem to hit him with first, Tony stops me. “I get self conscious hearing my own stuff”, he reveals. Despite his iconic status, you would be hard poised to find someone more humble than Tony Rotton. “I’m proud of my legacy and contribution to the scene so far, but I wouldn’t call myself the ambassador of UK hip hop”, he tells us.

It’s been ten years since we were first introduced to the unique sounds of Mr. Rotton. Back then he was sharing a Brixton flat with one Roots Manuva, who he remembers freestyling and writing with, in the days before they blew up. “There was never any overt rivalry”, he says of their formative years. “We had a mutual respect for what we did, but certain times his lyrics pushed me to wanna write some extra deep shit”.

Since then the adopted South Londoner has travelled and recorded all over the world, releasing four albums, and picking up a stream of prestigious awards, including a MOBO and a Kora, Africa’s equivalent to a Grammy. Not to mention producing and flowing on some of the most memorable rap gems ever.

In an era where most UK rappers sounded like they were straight out the Bronx, Tony embraced his British accent and paved the way for a generation of talent. Word play, clever conscious word play, has always been his forte.

Somewhere in conversation, my flatmate wants to know what’s considered ‘proper’ English. “It’s about how clearly you speak”, says Tony. “I might be speaking the same language as Prince Charles, but we don’t sound the same. Even so, we’re both articulating ourselves in a clear and understandable manner, and therefore it’s fair to say we’re both speaking proper English”.

If only they taught that in schools, I think to myself.

Mayor of Rotton City is coming soon on Rotton Product Records

South London Press (2008)

This month sees the release of veteran UK rapper Blak Twang’s fifth studio album, ‘Speaking From Xperience’. We caught up with the South Londoner to find out more…

“It’s different from anything you’ve heard me do”, says Twang of his latest work, much of which he self produced. “Lyrically I’d like people to listen to it so they can really hear what I’m talking about. There’s some real stuff that needs to be spoken about that I’m speaking about. Before it was a bit more about having fun with it but we’re living in serious times now so it’s time for some serious talk”. He’s come a long way from the days when he shared a Brixton flat with fellow wordsmith Roots Manuva, who he recalls writing and freestyling with.

Since then the one time Newcross-native has travelled and recorded all across the world, picking up a series of prestigious awards, including a MOBO and a Kora, Africa’s equivalent to a Grammy. Not to mention producing and flowing on some of the most memorable rap gems ever. Yet his roots are what define him. “South London has been influential in pretty much everything I’ve talked about, it really has influenced my music. South London, when it comes to black culture, is the mecca. The place even influenced me calling myself Blak Twang, it was based on South London because we had a certain way of speaking and we used a lot of slang”.

In an era where many UK rappers emulated their American counterparts, Twang, also known as Tony Rotton, embraced his British accent and paved the way for a generation of talent, never compromising on his clever use of wordplay. This is as apparent today as it was on his debut, collector’s essential ‘Dettwork South-East’, which is rumoured to be seeing a re-release due to label issues the first time around. Now 30-something and over a decade deep in the game, Blak Twang’s sound resonates today just as it did all those years ago.

“Not at all” replies Tony when asked whether having a family now makes it harder to maintain the musician lifestyle. “Although back in the day I used to go to bed at about six in the morning ‘cos I was writing lyrics, but that doesn’t happen anymore as I’ve got to do the school run!” He has two children, a daughter who is ten, and a seven-year-old son. “My kids are very supportive. My daughter’s probably my biggest fan, she can recite every single lyric!”

As well as his day job, Blak Twang also conducts workshops with young people and is often called upon to talk about matters surrounding modern day youth, with appearances on Sky News and the BBC.

“I think it’s really terrible” he says of the crime rife in his very own community. “I’ve got a track on the album called ‘How Long’ and it’s just asking, how long is this craziness, this insanity, going to last? Almost every other day we’re hearing about another person being shot or stabbed. I’ve even had family members who have been killed due to the whole gang war thing. It’s destroying people. That’s why it’s really important, as much as we all want to have fun with the music, to have some thought provoking issues as well. Music’s sometimes used by the government or the media as a scapegoat for the violence, but the question I ask is if the music is so influential, then why don’t you allow some of the other music, that might inspire the youth or influence them to do something really positive, why don’t you allow that to be given more exposure? And that’s the problem that artists like myself are facing right now. It only seems like they want to promote the ones that are talking stupidness. I have cousins and nephews who are at that age where their lives may be in danger, so I think it’s time that a lot of us stood up and really said something”.

Speaking From Xperience is out soon

Words: Anna Nathanson

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