Interview: Enlish

The storied UK rapper discusses his acclaimed recently released LP Slumdog Hundredaire, influences and future plans

Posted on Apr 23rd, 2016 in Features and Interviews, Enlish / By Sam Bennett
Interview: Enlish Brighton MC Enlish has been a mainstay of the hip-hop scene on these shores for years; he's done his fair share of notable collaborations, some battles as well as releasing some quality music. He's recently released his new LP Slumdog Hundredaire, and Bearded caught up with him to chat about the new project, as well as a host of other matters both past and present.

'I'm all good' says Enlish when I ask how his day's been. 'I've been to work like most people do, or some people do anyway. The sun's out, I've had some beers on the beach with the missus, I've wandered home and I'm currently sitting topless on the couch with a Heineken and my gut hanging out, so it couldn't get much better really'.

The Brighton MC tells the story of how he first started rapping. 'When I was eight I had to go to the dentist and get four teeth pulled out in one session, and as a ‘super-brave boy’ present, my mother bought me MC Hammer's first album on tape. When I was about ten or eleven I was into grunge, strangely enough; I grew up in Cornwall, skating, surfing and all of my friends were white. It was '93 and I was visiting my mother's family in Northampton, and I bought a copy of Hip-Hop Connection for absolutely no reason other than the cover looked interesting. I flicked to the letters page at the back and everybody was writing about ‘Wu-Tang Clan’ and how great they were. I’d never heard of them. We got home and not long after, funnily enough, we were at the dentist, and I had an hour to wait. I went into town and walked into Our Price. At the time it was fashionable to steal cassette sleeves, so they had a box of sleeveless tapes and I got Return To 36 Chambers and Midnight Marauders for a quid each. I was hooked; I started writing when I was about thirteen, and then I bumped into my boy Hinesy. I got swept up with a bunch of guys who were three or four years older than me. Hinesy taught me how to properly rhyme, project and freestyle, he put me up on music I hadn't heard before. If he had the second Das EFX album that I couldn't afford with my pocket money or shit wages then he'd lend me the tape'.

I wonder if growing up in Cornwall had any impact on how he made music, or how he viewed rap music. 'Well, there was always hip-hop in Cornwall, but in Cornwall if you don't have a car you're dead and buses take God knows how long to get anywhere. Basically; I got into rap, I started getting HHC every month, and these experiences are why I say the internet is so shit; all the fun went out when we weren’t learning about things hand-to-hand and connecting. People talk about the golden era and the nineties with so much reverence because when music was coming out it was so fresh, new and exciting. Westwood was on at 2-4 on a Friday and Saturday night; you had to stay up late to record it. Nowadays you don't make friends from downloading an album, whereas by swapping and lending tapes you'd make friends through a mutual love of the music and culture. Without sounding like a clichéd twat; I became a student of the culture from a very early age. Nearly all of my mates were white, and they liked hip-hop too, but I was very much in my own element; my brother, my dad and I were the only brown faces in a fifty mile radius, apart from the people that owned the curry shop, so I grew up in a very white environment, and it just so happens that I got into hip-hop and basketball (laughs). My brother didn't like either of those things, so it's serendipity maybe, again without sounding like my head up my arse. From like eleven to fifteen I was very much in my own world, and I was incredibly fortunate and lucky that a bunch of rappers, DJs, graffiti artists and breakdancers just appeared in my hometown in Cornwall, and I was exposed a bunch of guys, pause on that one obviously (laughs), who were all incredibly talented'.

I've always characterised Enlish's style as incorporating multisyllabic rhyme schemes, and internal patterns, and general complexity in terms of putting words together. 'I was always into that style' the Brighton MC says. 'Not so much these days though. I wouldn't categorise it as a flow; I don't have a ‘flow’, per se, although I can flow, obviously. On Cold Lazarus my first LP (review) I tried to fit in as many words and use as many multisyllabic rhymes as possible, and I wouldn't leave any gaps or pauses for breath. That's changed significantly. I've realised that less is more. I hear a lot of rappers who I think sound very similar to each other, somewhat formulaic – almost like it’s the accepted flow/syllable pattern/verse structure to use if you’re an MC from the UK. That's not an insult. I was very much in that mould too. I'm not trying to distance myself from it, I came from it. I'm just trying to switch it up and try something different.’

The range of topics he covers in his music has always stood out too; Enlish can go from a braggadocious bar, to humble self-deprecation, to openness and honesty about mental health issues and life events, all laced with humour and lyrical integrity. 'The default setting for rappers is ‘I'm the best, you're shit, I've got money, nothing can touch me.’ Nothing's ever been further from the truth for me. I've got my fair share of bragging rhymes, and I talk about punching people in the face, but then I have punched people in the face, and I will punch people in the face if I feel it necessary; the older I get the less I feel it necessary (laughs). There's that bragging element to being an MC, and if you don't consider yourself the best in your own head there's no point doing it in the first place. There are ways to flip that in a funnier way; as you've said I'm very self-deprecating, and that's not just in rapping. It does tie into the depression thing; I've had confidence issues since I was a kid, looking back I was always fine and I was good at what I did, and if I wasn't good I knew it, but I would always focus on the negatives and could rarely allow myself to see past them. I'm 34 now; I've started feeling a lot more comfortable in myself. I've recently been diagnosed with bi-polar, which didn't really come as a surprise. I can feel powerful, amazing or like the best rapper in the world, and then a few hours later I can feel like a complete twat and that I'm the shittest rapper ever. It's not a cliché, but I've been expressing myself without even knowing it. People have said ‘keep it real’ since whenever, but I really was being myself, warts and all. People that know me, or that might meet me, it becomes quickly apparent that the way I rap and the things I say are very much a reflection of who I am and how I act, depending on how I'm feeling'.

With the Slumdog Hundredaire project dropping recently, I ask Enlish about why there's been such a gap between his last LP, and what direction does the latest album take. 'I dropped the Cold Lazarus and Rap Ain’t Real, My Life Is Real albums in 2011, followed by the Sunny EP, and then I essentially did fuck all for two years. I felt with Cold Lazarus that it had gotten to a point where I was well known enough, not that I've ever been a hugely well known name, but I had been around enough and done enough shows and such within the scene that people knew who I was, so I thought it was the right time to drop an album. As is the case with anyone who is passionate about their product, I genuinely thought it was going to be a game changer as far as increasing my profile. As far as the promo side of it I was doing it all myself. I put an awful lot of work in – all the work – by myself. It came out and I made my money back, and some profit, and I got a lot of nice compliments, but it didn't really do what I'd built it up in my head to do. At the time I was incredibly depressed, on and off; I was living in London at that point with my girl at the time, and I fucking hate London. No disrespect to London but I'm from Cornwall; I could see the sea from my bedroom window. Living in the city is just not for me; being couped up made me even more depressed than I already was. I'd decided the album was going to be massive, well not massive but you know, decided that it was going to be a thing, and it just wasn't really. It was a solid piece of work, and at the time I got a lot of positive feedback, but I was disappointed in myself, and nothing could help me get over that at that point'.

'At the back-end of 2012 I moved back to Brighton, me and the ex broke up, I moved in with my friend Longusto and he had a set-up. With the freedom of leaving London, feeling emancipated and moving back with my friends, I got cracking and did the Delicious Heat mixtape. The plan was to put that out, then put the album out three months later. But, again, life got in the way; I had problems with the ex-girlfriend, jobs, I've been dealing with the depression thing for ages, and as I've made no secret of in my music, I've always been a fan of booze and drugs. Looking back now that's clearly self medication; confidence and the rest of it. I was sabotaging myself, as I always have done. I should have been in the studio making music but I was down the pub chasing girls. I had most of it recorded by 2013, and it's taken nearly three years to get my recorded mixes to a point where I can get them out. My mental health issues have always affected my creativity first and foremost; I can write a whole album in a week, but then not have the confidence or the energy to actually go and record it. These days I don't try and push it when I don't have the urge, I just leave it and do it in my own time. I've realized that there's nobody out there fiending for the next Enlish album, it just isn't the case (laughs)'.

'With this album, I just sat on it until I felt ready to do it. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's the best that I can do at this point in my life right now without bankrupting myself. It's a change stylistically, I could perform it on stage by myself with no hype man. I’d like to say I'm just channelling the spirit of Sean Price; rest in peace obviously, he's my favourite rapper of all time. Saying dumb shit that’s dope on good beats.There is one track on there that is quite introspective, which is Cold Lazarus. I wrote that when I was incredibly depressed two years ago, and I do touch on it here and there but otherwise I tried to make it entertaining and varied'.

'Hip-Hop is a very odd hobby' he continues. 'People get into it, and start rapping, but there's this inherent assumption that you've got to push yourself as an artist, and be successful and recognised. I've seen X amount of rappers totally burn out because of that and they don't rap anymore. When you don't get the recognition that you think you deserve, it kills the fun of it and it stops being a hobby; for example, if people who built model train sets constantly pushed themselves to be the best train set dude ever and constantly felt the need to promote their greatness because that was ‘the done thing’ and they found it more stressful than fun, they'd quit. ‘If it’s not fun, don’t do it’. The album's out, it's doing what it's doing, it's not set the world on fire but then I never expected it to so I'm not disappointed. Hip-hop is my life after all, it's been twenty three years every day, so it's nice being at a point where I'm comfortable, and making music because I want to make music, and the people that do want to listen to it will listen to it, and the people that don't want to listen to it, or don't know about me, won't listen to it. I’m cool with that.’

One of my favourite tracks on the LP is the Tom Caruana produced joint 'Time'. 'The first thing about that track is that Caruana had been shopping that beat to people for five years, and nobody took it. I asked him to send me some beats, and the first thing I did when I heard ‘Time’ was text him and say 'please tell me that 'Time' beat is still free'. He text me back like 'Yeah of course it is, I can't believe that nobody else has taken it'. It's the best beat of his that I've ever heard, so I was incredibly lucky to get my hands on it in the first place - and just because the rest of my friends that rap and know Tom clearly don't have any taste! The song basically wrote itself. Ultimately I'm writing three and a half bar verses which makes things easier. The tone of the track; it's reflection. I'm not saying I've had the worst life, I've had a very blessed life, but I have had a lot of shit happen, and they say time is the greatest healer. It's a personal track, but pretty much anybody in the world could relate to at least one line in the song. It's taking the rough with the smooth, appreciating that when you get to a certain point in your life you can look back and take the positives out from the negatives. It's a concept track, but it's not a ‘role playing’ concept; it's something that everybody can relate too'.

Back in 2011 Enlish released the single 'Arrogance Is Bliss', which featured Stig Of The Dump, DJ Manipulate and the legendary Sean Price, who Enlish has mentioned a few times previously in our conversation. I ask how that happened. 'I've always been a massive fan, he was one of my main influences coming up since ‘Nocturnal’ came out. I found out through the grapevine that he was offering features for what I considered to be a very low cost at that point; obviously every MC wants to make a track with their favourite rapper. During that time Sean P referred to himself as a 'rap-whore' basically, and that he would work with absolutely anybody no matter the quality so long as the money was there. Listening to it now I’m not particularly happy with it, but when I'm seventy I can look back and say I've done a song with my favourite rapper of all time, which is pretty cool. Funny story, when we were discussing the ins and outs of payment, Western Union and all the rest of it, he emailed me and he said it'd be better if I phoned him, and we could do in five minutes what we'd do in fifty emails. I went to this international call centre in the centre of town, phoned his home number, and his wife answered the phone. I was like a kid; I said 'Hello, can I speak to Mr. Sean Price please'. His wife, Bernadette put the phone away from her ear, shouted 'SEAN! SEAN'! I heard this little muffle in the background, and she said 'Sean's busy taking a shit can you call back in ten minutes?' and I was like 'Yeah, sure', so basically I caught Sean P on the shitter. Grown man shit. I don't like listening to that song these days, but I've still got the acapella, so on the next album I'm going to reuse it. It’ll be the same verse as before but I just think why the fuck not? It's keeping him out there, and if I make any money whatsoever off people buying that song I will send it to his family as soon as I figure out how.’

I ask how much Enlish enjoys the performance aspect of hip-hop, and our conversation turns to where his passion really lies. 'I still get the most enjoyment out of open mics and cyphers. Less performing my own songs and lyrics, but getting up dropping a sixteen or freestyling and getting into a battle. If I lose both my hands I can still stand in a cypher and freestyle. Now the sun's back out I'll be going to Slipjam more often. It's kind of that element, it's the difference between playing an organised game of basketball with uniforms and referees and a bunch of guys down the beach knocking each other about jockeying for position. There's an album from The Arsonist's called 'As The World Burns' and there's a track on there called 'Lunch Room Take Out'. It's a skit; two guys are freestyling against each other at school. I think that album came out in '97, so I was fifteen, and that was the track that made me want to rap. It was just two guys dissing each other and making people laugh. It's that organic feeling that I enjoy, more so than creating music. I find the creative process quite frustrating, I've never particularly enjoyed performing my own music because of the confidence factor I suppose, but the whole organic side of things, just rapping and being the best in the room has always excitied me and continues to do so. When I started my new job, Slipjam moved to the pub opposite where I work. When I told my new work mates I was rapping at a night over the road, they came along assuming I was some sort of try hard or wannabe. I went over in my suit and tie and got on stage and killed it, and because I was wearing my office threads it made it pretty ridiculous, but that's the point; the essence is always there, it doesn't matter what you wear or what you're doing, it's the attitude. I get up every day and listen to rap music on the way to work, I bend my girlfriend's ear off telling her about stuff she doesn't want to hear about and doesn't care about, and my house is covered in fliers and memorabilia and all this shit. I just feel it's so much a part of me, and I've released so little music so inconsistently that the pushing of the music is less important to me now. It's just the quality of the music I do make when I make it that's still vital to me'.

I ask what's next for Enlish. 'I'm going to work tomorrow (laughs), and every day for the rest of my life. I'm working, paying the bills. I've got a couple of projects lined up; I've got another album nearly all written, that's going to have quite a few features on it, so hopefully that'll be ready to go by the end of the year. Then I've got another album in the pipeline with Cuth, he's just had his second child so that'll be on the backburner for a while. I've got a load of beats I've accumulated over the years so I'm thinking of cobbling something together on my own; Kendrick's just released something that's unmastered so there's no reason I can't (laughs). Work, eat, shit, chill with my girl, spend as much time outside as I possibly can. Now that the sun's out I'll be going out and rapping more, play basketball, smoke weed everyday, and try not to hurt anyone basically'.

Slumdog Hundredaire is out now, available from here