Interview: Cheech

The Manchester MC chats about his recent LP Diá des Muertos and upcoming projects as part of hip-hop collective The Bluntskins

Posted on Apr 10th, 2017 in Features and Interviews, Cheech / By Sam Bennett
Interview: Cheech Mancunian MC Cheech has been grafting for some years now, and his work rate is very impressive. Not only that, but the quality is always there, shining throughout the diverse range of projects and collectives. Gaining some traction as part of The Bluntskins, Cheech dropped his solo album Diá des Muertos at the bottom end of last year, solidifying himself as an MC to keep eyes on as he gives us releases from every imaginable angle.

'I'm having a rehearsal at Pro P's gaff' says Cheech. 'We've been rehearsing for a Bluntskins show in Dam next week, and we're currently sat on the sofa watching Honey, that 2000s dance movie with Jessica Alba (laughs), as a little after-rehearsal treat, so just chilling'.

'I was always quite creative. Me and my mate Joe, who is part of my original crew Mothership Connection, when we were in college we were trying to make psychedelic rock I guess'. Cheech's first introduction to music is a world away from the smoked out boom bap of his more recent years. 'He dropped out and went to another college to do music tech and started making beats. It was quite a natural progression; I don't think there was ever a moment when we spoke about it'.

There is no shortage of regular hip-hop nights being thrown up and down the country nowadays, and for many rappers those shows you see early on in your life, or that you take part in early in your career can be some of the most memorable.'I've been to see Wu-Tang a few times in Manchester' says Cheech. 'I remember seeing De La Soul quite young, and that made quite an impression on me. I saw Souls Of Mischief when I was about eighteen; I was out with a lot of the guys that I make music with before we were making music together. We supported The Mouse Outfit, but it was a very early version. It was pre-Syntax, pre-Sparkz; that was quite an inspiring night. I think after that we all went back to our gaff and it all came together from there. It was like this is something we all want to do'. I ask what year that was. 'Probably about 2007, 2008. In fact, funnily enough, this is what's handy about being at Pro P's; there's actually a flyer for it on the wall'. Cheech leaves for a split second before returning to the phone. 'What date is this? It doesn't even have a date on it (laughs). I'd say probably about 2008. That was quite a big turning point. I still remember that night quite vividly'.

With Manchester's reputation as a hotbed for northern hip-hop steadily growing, Cheech speaks about how the city has influenced him. 'Obviously I grew up here, there's all the stuff with Oasis and Stone Roses. I used to like The Smiths when I was a teenager, I can't stand them now cause of Morrissey, but that's a different story (laughs). That would have definitely had an influence. Just the way people are round here; we like to fancy ourselves as trend-setters in manchester, we like to think we're ahead of the curve. Whether that's true or not I don't know, but that's in the character and mindset of people making music here, in a good way'.

'Bill Sykes and I are the two MC's' begins Cheech as he explains how The Bluntskins collective got started. 'We've also added Martin Connor now, he's a singer, and Pro P does all the beats and Djing' he continues. 'I started making music with Pro P; he used to live at a flat, quite an infamous flat round here, which eventually got christened The Blunt Cave. Bill lived there as well, and we knew each other already anyway. My original crew had done a lot of stuff with T&C which is still buried in the archives somewhere. I think the first Bluntskins tune was 'Sack Of The Best' off the first album and it was originally my tune. We also did 'Bomb The Bong' which was originally Bill's tune, but we just decided pretty quickly that we could turn it into an album and then it grew from there. We got a manager on board', Cheech pauses to rethink that title, 'a friend slash manager (laughs). The fifth Bluntskin; he's called Tom, or Captain Holiday as we call him. He helped us grow it pretty quickly at the start. It sort of grew quite nicely out of nowhere. Martin was on 'Everybody' off the second album, he was on another tune called 'The Other Side', and we just liked working together so he became a fourth fully fledged Bluntskin, which I think has just taken the sound to another level, 'cause he can sing (laughs)'.

'There's quite a big conceptual album that we're doing called 'Space Condo' which is just about us owning a condo out in space basically (laughs)' says Cheech about the next Bluntskins release. 'The whole album is going to be centred around that, and hopefully a lot of the visual side will be too, but that's a slow burner. We've all got a lot of other stuff to be getting on with. We're not taking a break from The Bluntskins, we're still performing and everything, but the album will be at the earliest some time this year, but probably next year, but you never know, these things can happen quite quickly'.

Hip-hop duos and groups have certainly rising in popularity over the past few years, and this is often because the chemistry and cohesion is so much more apparent. Cheech describes the Mancunian crew's writing process. 'I think the tracks sound better when we're all together, but with a lot of The Bluntskins stuff, Bill and I did write separately. It's easy; you know the topic, you know what it's going to be about. There are twists on it, it's not like it's all about smoking weed, it's about the laws behind it or whatever else. With myself I like writing to concepts, which I haven't done a lot of with The Bluntskins. I just try to find something and challenge myself to write about it. With the Mothership, we've not really released a lot of music yet but we do have a few things coming; a lot of our music we make together and I think it shows. I've lived with a lot of those guys over the past five years, so that adds quite a lot to it as well I'd say'.

Cheech's solo LP Dia Des Muertos came out late last year, and it's a well-worked, enjoyable project. The beats are handled entirely by Pro P, and I wonder why he preferred to partner with one producer rather than compile instrumentals from various sources. 'Me and Pro P work really well together. Some of the songs are about two years old, but a lot of them have been recorded in the past six to nine months, so it's come about pretty quickly. I just love working with him; he'll send you a basic beat, you'll put your lyrics on it, send it back to him, and he'll start messing with it and changing the beat to fit to the lyrics. His post-production is second to none. I love sending some roughs to him and getting what he's done back. It's a really nice process, it always is with Pro P. It wasn't a choice as such, it's just the way it worked out. We work well together so it came together really quickly. With other producers; I've got four tracks with Illinformed that I've had for about a year, and I've not really done anything with that for a while. That might be something I work towards this year. With Pro P it just happens really quickly. I said I wouldn't do anything with him for a while, just while I've got other stuff to finish, but we ended up making a tune the other day, we just work really well together. I'm sure there'll be plenty more to come'.

The album is more than your formulaic boom bap LP though; the production is eclectic and takes several unexpected turns, with Pro P displaying his wide-ranging skill set across Dia Des Muertos. Cheech describes how the varied soundscape came together. 'It's just my style. It's not a conscious thought. A lot of my influences are a bit different; when I started rapping I was influenced a lot by The Pharcyde, and they're obviously a bit out-there. I think that all feeds it. Pro P has to take credit for a lot of it. He makes a such mad variety of beats that it's bound to happen I guess. There's bits that didn't make the album that sound completely different, there's some grimier stuff even, some faster tempo stuff that didn't get finished quite in time'.

It's a definite testament to the skill on show from both lyricist and producer that the album sounds as cohesive as it does. 'Yeah definitely, I'm very pleased. I was listening through to the album myself for about a month before it came out and I'm happier with it than I've been with anything so far but as I say the credit has to go to Pro P' agrees Cheech with characteristic humility.

The politically infused nature of the album is very refreshing; Cheech doesn't beat you over the head with illuminati references and conspiracy theories, but he does drop concise, easily digestible common-sense wisdom and food-for-thought. 'It's fucking nuts the world that we're living in. If you're not pissed off, well I don't know how you couldn't be, so it's bound to happen. 'Love Money' for example; Pro P sent me the beat, I think it was the day that they had the vote on Syria. I was at work and I had that track in my headphones and just rattled it out in about ten minutes. I wasn't planning to, but I called him on my way home and said 'Can I just come and record this', and just got it out. It was quite emotional in the room when I was recording it; as I say with all this shit going on it's hard not to be angry about it, and it's forced it's way into my music. It wasn't a thought to do it, it's just stuff I feel needs saying. I like conscious rap, but I'm also not bothered about it being the only thing I have to say, it's not all I talk about all day anyway. It's just the state of the world at the moment, it's hard not to have something to say about it'.

With political uncertainty causing concern the world over, and with hip-hop's longstanding duty to speak the truths when the mainstream media and suited politicians are hiding it, it's surprising that there aren't any dedicated political lyricists in the vein of a Talib Kweli or an Immortal Technique getting any real commercial success. 'It depends how tin foil hat you want to go with it (laughs)' says Cheech. 'There's probably reasons for that. I think it'll change. I think more and more people are getting pissed off, despite election results, Brexit and Trump. It's not about being woke, it's about being pissed off. It's going to be an interesting couple of years. Hopefully it'll all turn out for the best'; the Mancunian rapper doesn't sound entirely convinced. 'Fingers crossed (laughs)'.

Along with The Bluntskins, Cheech is a member of Manchester collective Mothership Connection. 'It started with myself and Arch Stanton' says Cheech about the origins of the crew. 'Then Goshin; that's my boy Jack who I went to high school with. I've known him for fifteen years now. This was when we were about seventeen. That Souls of Mischief night I mentioned earlier, I was out with Dubbul O. We were living in Withington, and his mum lived round the corner, and he basically moved in on our couch for half a year. We got the name Mothership Connection from a Parliament Record. Not long after that Dubbul O started making music with Legion; he's originally from London but he came to Manchester for uni and stayed. We all just got on with him straight away and got him on board. There is one project we released years ago that's somewhere in the darkest depths of the internet (laughs). We've been working on a new EP with Mankub; he's a prolific producer on Room 2 Records. That'll be out this year. It's kind of a running joke in Manchester about Mothership Connection and releasing music, we've had two years of shows without ever releasing a project, but we've finally got one'.

As our conversation draws to a close I wonder what we can find in Cheech's regular rotation. 'I generally listen to Heltah Skeltah most days, and have done for years' he says. 'Any Boot Camp stuff is on heavy rotation most of the time. The new Milkavelli project is sick. I really like that. I listen to a lot of my peers and a lot of stuff that's currently being made, so I'm listening to a lot of Mothership stuff at the moment. Generally speaking; I like Tom Waits. I'm revisiting his stuff at the minute. I'm a Parliament fan too. It just depends what mood I'm in. If I'm in the gym I listen to Guns 'N Roses exclusively (laughs)'.

'The Mothership EP which will be out early this year' says Cheech about what the next twelve months holds in store. 'Myself and Dubbul O have got a project with Reklews that's been about four years in the making, we're just adding finishing touches and getting videos made. That should be coming on Blah. At some point I'm planning to head down to Bristol to finish off this album with Illinformed too. I'm looking to collaborate with more people. I've always talked to Black Josh about doing some stuff but we've never really crossed paths enough of the time, so definitely try and get on that. So yeah, just see what comes, I'm always trying to make more music'.

And more music is certainly on the way. With a video out now for the collaboration project with Dubbul O, Cheech isn't letting 2017 pass by without leaving his stamp on it.

Diá des Muertos by Cheech & Pro P is out now available from here

Images by Joe Pickering (Doin' Bits)