Lionheart: Tussle With The Beast
Klashnekoff is widely regarded as one of England’s most talented lyricists, and this, his second album to date, has been a long time in the making, coming three years after his debut. Originally scheduled for 2006 release, the agonising wait for UK hip hop heads has only made the anticipation stronger, but luckily it does live up to the hype.
Known for his conscious subject matter, Mr. K-lash takes us on a musical journey through his experiences, thoughts and frustrations with inner city living, documenting his life as a young black man growing up in modern day London.
The MC otherwise known as The Black Russian has a remarkable way of putting his razor sharp observations into skilfully constructed rhymes, drawing the listener in and forcing them to sit up and take notice to what’s being said. The first track ‘Revolution’ calls for societal change (“F*** the waiting, it’s a today ting”) setting the tone for the entire album, which is largely political in content.
Klashnekoff fires out watertight lyrics with ease, confronting the listener with reality and inviting us to challenge everyday perceptions. His lyrics are always provocative, urgent and fiercely honest, and his authentic East London tones are pleasing on the ear.
The stories told here have the power to touch you on a deeply personal level, such as the introspective ‘Rest of Our Lives’, where he talks of waking up one night to find his mother’s then-boyfriend holding a knife to her throat. The relationship between himself and his mother is constructed in such a way that the listener understands (or in the words of Klash, “overstands”) immediately where he is coming from, and as such, connects you to his pain at a gut level. Although the picture he paints of London living is far from rosy, there is an underlying message of hope and strength in the face of adversity.
The production here, courtesy of Nottingham based Joe Buddha, is faultless. Energy fuelled joints such as ‘Two Guns Blazing’, ‘Syonara’ and the Kool G Rap featuring ‘Terrorise the City’, make this an album of club bangers as well as conscious subject matter. The casual listener may be taken by some of the hard-hitting imagery depicted, but far from glamorising violence, the modern day philosopher’s words do what revolutionary rap is supposed to do- inspire thought, stimulate debate and hopefully incite change.
If you’re new to the UK scene, give this a listen- it may well be considered a classic not too long from now.
Joe Buddha Presents Klashnekoff: Lionheart: Tussle With The Beast is out February 26th on Riddim Killa
Klashnekoff Interview (2007) (www.allhiphop.com)
Klashnekoff is one of the realest MCs to come out of UK shores, and is set to take the world by storm with the release of his groundbreaking new album, Lionheart: Tussle With The Beast. It’s been a long time coming, and sees K-Lash progressing from his earlier work, 2004’s Sagas of Klashnekoff, the mix tape Focus Mode (2005) and last year’s The Foundation, released with his crew Terra Firma. We sat down with the notoriously elusive MC from Hackney, East London, to hear about his views on the world, the state of the UK hip hop scene and why maintaining sanity is such a struggle right about now…
With the current crisis climate of increased gun crime in London, you’ve been criticised for taking your name from a Russian gun. How would you respond to your critics?
I call myself Klashnekoff because the environment I’m coming from is kinda rugged, and the way I look at it, kids over here don’t need to pick up a kalashnekov like you see on the news, they can pick up my CD instead and bust lyrical shots. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you call yourself, it’s about your actions. Tony Blair, George Bush- they sound like lovely names don’t they? They wear nice suits but what the f*** are they doing? So to my critics, f*** you!
You have a lyric that says “can you relate to/living in this system that hates you and rapes you and strips you of dignity?” Would you describe yourself as a victim of the system?
I was a victim of it no doubt. I don’t call myself Klashnekoff for nothing. There was a lot of stuff that I was going through growing up, a lot of stress. I had my moments where I’d switch and bring knives to school and whip them out on teachers. Some f***ed up s***, I ain’t gonna lie, I was a troubled young youth. The truth of it is, my mom used to beat me loads…she was going through her own stresses. And so they put me in a boarding school that was like the last place you could go before jail. They threw all the gang members in there, all the kids that had been abused, all the kids with temper problems. And they left us with teachers that didn’t give a f***. It was run like a jail and the teachers used to beat us, I myself was thrown about a couple of times. But as far as the system goes, f*** the system, I’m creating my own system, straight up and down. You can’t function in the system- it will get you assimilated quickly and turn you into a happy shopper. Why do you think they made The Matrix? They’re telling you to your f***ing face!
How did you get through all these hard times in your life?
Because I had the music I was always determined and passionate so I got out of it. I love it so much, doing it is the s***, it’s the closest thing you’ll get to sex or the high of marijuana, do you understand what I’m saying? And when I’m in a creative element and surrounded by creative people, with no outside influences, just the organic growth of music, it’s the most beautiful thing in the f***ing world. I love it all day long.
How do you stay so focused on it with all of life’s stresses, as well as the hardships you faced early on?
I ain’t f***ing focused all the time, that’s the truth. Life is a big humongous dutty knuckle punching you everyday. But the bottom line is you being able to enjoy that pain. It’s not the problem it’s how a person deals with the problem. Also, music is my only option. Man used to work in Burberry, doing labouring, demolition, electrician jobs, and I did that because I didn’t have to think about the job, I could just do what I was doing and get to the studio in the evening. I fall off every other day sometimes and think “f*** this shit” but you just gotta keep on going.
Do you ever suffer from self-doubts?
That’s what I’m saying, yeah, of course I get self-doubts; I have bare (lots of) doubts but I don’t think they’re real doubts, they’re doubts I conjure up for myself. Insecurities about certain things- and when you go and do those things it’s like nothing, but you’re sitting there building up a picture in your head- like what are people thinking? There’s loads of fears that can come for you but the bottom line is, at the core of me, I know what time it is, I know I can do it. I’ve got the talent but it’s just the business ethic that I really need to get down to a T.
Is that something you struggle with quite a bit?
Yeah definitely. Because over here in England no-one don’t teach you, we don’t have any Roc-A-Fella or any big labels or any Jay Z’s to show us the way. We’re learning literally from trial and error and so I’m still learning as I go along and I’m making a hell of a lot of mistakes but it’s all about learning.
Who influences you more, American rappers or UK rappers?
Good question. It used to be American, all day long. Ras Kas, Killah Priest, MF Doom, RZA, Wu Tang…now it’s Terra Firma (Klashnekoff’s crew) and people like Smasher, Devlin, Ghetto, from over here. There are still a few American rappers I listen to. Right now I’m pumping Nas and Jay Z’s albums like it’s a religious prayer or something, ‘cos they’re the only ones who are keeping the hip hop that I love alive. There are a few more, Dead Prez, Saigon…I’m a Saigon fanatic- to me he’s one of the truest people out there, Papoose too.
Why do you think the UK scene is lagging so far behind the US?
There ain’t no infrastructure over here, there ain’t no labels who overstand the culture and overstand the music and where to put it and how to maximise it. They need to stop signing people for two singles and one album. These record companies are trying to bang out shit like crack in a f***ing factory, it’s all about figures and digits as opposed to talent. They need to start developing artists, start with pure talent and build around it.
Your album is very political. Would you consider yourself to be a political individual?
I’m just me, I’m just passionate about a lot of stuff man. I don’t see it as a political album, no way. I don’t f*** with politics, I just deal with reality. Man, I just express myself, express what’s in my heart and express what I’m passionate about and write what I feel.
On your album you call your mum’s ex “the charming snake”. How important do you think it is to have a positive male role model?
It’s imperative. I have two sons and I always try and instil in them to be true to themselves, whatever that means. Hopefully I can help them realise their potential. One thing I always instil in my children is compassion. So many yoots (youths) out there try and act tough, it’s like a protection mechanism- there’s vultures out there and they don’t wanna get eaten- so they wanna look like they’re a vulture as well.
In your album title, what does the “beast” refer to, is it metaphorical?
Life’s a struggle, it’s a tussle. To maintain sanity is a f***ing struggle right now. What the f*** is going on when there’s people starving in 2007? When you can f***ing fly man to the moon and do all types of s*** but you can’t feed a common person? How can I explain that to my child? It don’t make no sense.
Your song ‘The Revolution’ expresses an urgent need for change. What do you feel people need to change in order to move forward?
They need to turn their TVs off and get with real people, interacting again. Turn your Playstations off! All these contraptions are put there to take us away from life- the planet is our true religion, that’s what I believe.
By Anna Nathanson