Interview: Fliptrix

The UK rapper chats about his new LP Patterns Of Escapism and running revered hip-hop label High Focus

Posted on Dec 12th, 2016 in Features and Interviews, Fliptrix, High Focus / By Sam Bennett
Interview: Fliptrix If you're into beats and rhymes and you don't know Fliptrix you need to have a long hard think about your true enthusiasm for hip-hop. Bearded catch up with the High Focus founder in an in-depth interview about his new album with Illinformed, running one of the most respected independent labels in the country, his passion for graffiti and much more.

'My next door neighbour was a good friend of mine, and his older brother got into hip-hop' says Fliptrix about his first introduction to rap culture. 'He had some tapes of Biggie, Big Pun and those sort of guys, and through that I got into listening to it. I got a pair of turntables, I used to do a little bit of scratching, I found out about breaking, and another one of my friend's brothers used to be into graffiti. We just looked up to him I guess; we were young and started writing and that as well. That's how it got started'. At that time the American scene was far more easily accessible to heads in this country than homegrown product. 'The US stuff was what made me fall in love with hip-hop, and it wasn't until I was about sixteen that I found out about Jehst, Task Force, Skinnyman, all that kind of Low Life era. That was when I started writing lyrics myself; the content is a lot more relatable. When I realised that people were doing it in our country that sparked me to start doing it myself'.

'I made beats for a couple of years' says Flips about the other elements of hip-hop he explored as well as picking up the pen. 'I would like to get into it more but it's just too busy running the label, being a solo artist and being part of The Four Owls. If I want to do something I want to do it properly. That's more later on in life I think'. I ask if there are any of his beats out there. 'Nah, nah (laughs). I'd only just got to a stage where I'd be happy rapping on it when I stopped doing it as much'.

Graffiti has always been a fixture in Fliptrix's music, with his 2010 track 'Graffiti Won't Die' remaining a fan favourite to this day. 'Growing up in South London in the late nineties, graffiti was pretty sick' he says. 'There was a lot of it everywhere, crews like DDS, FBS, CLS, DLM, quite a few of those guys were smashing it everywhere. Loads of trains had runners on them, it was quite an inspiring time to be involved in it. Stuff wasn't as bait then, there weren't as many cameras, and police weren't as on it. It was just fun, it was a lifestyle. Hip-hop, rapping, graffiti; street culture is an exciting and fun thing to do really. I just really got into it, then after quite a few years I got arrested for it, quite a few of my mates went to prison for it, and it was then that I decided to concentrate more on rapping'. It's clear that graff had a huge impact on Flipper, as he still talks about it in his rhymes today. 'It was a pretty big part of my life. I just rate it; it's part of the culture and it's good self expression, it's not related to money in any way so it's kind of pure'.

Fliptrix's debut album 'Force Fed Imagery' came out nearly a decade ago, which is crazy to think. 'When I was younger I used to just write bars all the time, I was super passionate about it' says Fliptrix about creating that first LP. 'That was proper early MySpace days; I was going to loads of open mics, on the scene, trying to be as active as I could be. You had to have a CD to have something to hustle. I wrote it all at home, recorded it at my mates house in Queens Road Peckham, he mixed it all and recorded it for free, then I pressed up the CD and then yeah, that's it really'.

His skill and content has developed tenfold over the years since. 'Obviously you evolve a lot as a person' says Fliptrix. 'My lyrical content has evolved with myself. More explorations of different flows and patterns, different ideas. It's all one flowing journey; that's how I see my musical career. It follows a path. I guess it's evolved naturally, but obviously from doing a lot of live shows there's the whole performance aspect of it as well, which is a whole separate skill compared to just being a recording artist. Over years of doing that you learn from watching other people do shows and learning what works and what doesn't'.

High Focus put on shows at a prolific rate these days, you can catch heads from the label rocking live stages up and down the country on a weekly basis. 'It was kind of different back then' says Flips about how times have changed in that respect. 'I was going to a lot more nights, I was just getting up on the mic as often as I possibly could. Back in the proper day I used to spit at house parties and shit like that. Verbs found out about me, then I met Kashmere, then they started bringing me on the road with them; they'd bring me out to do a few tracks in their sets and stuff like that. From doing that I dropped my first CD, made a little bit of a name for myself, and just went on from there. Now we're doing the most bookings we've ever done, and the size of the clubs we're playing is getting bigger, the festival scene is obviously growing a lot too'.

Obviously you're aware that Fliptrix's brain-child High Focus is one of the most successful and respected hip-hop labels in the UK. 'When I put out 'Theory Of Rhyme' I was recording with Chemo in Camberwell; Chemo and Jehst shared a studio back then. Obviously Jehst ran YNR and was putting out quite a few albums. At that point I just wanted to get signed to YNR. I had my whole album made and I knew Jehst from the studio and I put signing the album to him. He said “yeah I bare rate the album, I'd be interested in putting it out, but you'd have to wait at least a year because of other projects on the way”. He said the best piece of advice he could give me was to put it out yourself. I was like yeah, I guess I'll do it myself (laughs). I spent ages looking up names and they were all taken, then I thought of High Focus, thought that it was a sick name, I really liked the meaning of it. I searched it and no-one had it, so I was like yeah that's the name. I was at music college at the time, so I asked my tutors what stuff do you have to do? Things like ISRC codes (ID code for recorded music), technical stuff about running a label, then put my record out, did a PR campaign, did it professionally, had it on CD, had it on iTunes, all that sort of stuff. It went down well, and I just happened to be surrounded by other talented MC's. Baxter was making Rinse Out Friday/Spack Out Monday and he just saw how I put mine out and was like 'Yo, would you be interested in putting mine out?', I rated him and thought he was sick, so I said yeah because I enjoy that whole process of putting a record together, getting the videos made, and he was like that's cool. Before we'd even put that out Leaf Dog then said to me 'I've got an album', and it just went from there really. Before I knew it I was like this is what I want to do, it's just grown and grown and grown, I just started running it from my bedroom in a flat in camberwell, eventually got a studio and put loads of stuff in there, now we've got an office, it's just constantly growing. Molotov works for the label, and it's got a big infrastructure now'.

Patterns Of Escapism is the latest LP, which was released late November, and it's produced in its entirety by RLD representative Illinformed, who also partnered with Verb T last year for his The Man With The Foggy Eyes project. 'I've been working on it for quite a few years' says Big Flipper. 'Some of the tunes for it were actually made before my last album, Polyhymnia. I just got sidetracked by that and I've come back to this. I've been working on it quite slowly, and I've even remixed some of the tracks. I wanted to make a raw, boom bap, classic sounding album. Illinformed; I've always thought he was proper sick. He's never long; if you ask him for some beats he always sends a nice big stack. It just grew naturally over time. Originally it was going to be an EP, then an LP, and we just worked on it until we both thought it was finished. We wanted to bring it back to that classic sound'.

Hip-hop worldwide is taking a more electronically driven direction, and that is being mirrored on our own shores too. I wonder if this new album is in some way a response to that. 'In a little way I guess' replies Fliptrix. 'I'm down for experimenting, and I do like a lot of different styles of instrumentals. You will hear me, and you have heard me, on different kind of sounds, but I just love that old school sound; that's what made me fall in love with hip-hop in the first place. I wanted to do something that had that raw, dusty, dirty, grimy, sampled sound. Illinformed is one of the sickest guys in the country, he's putting in the work, and making that style of hip-hop along with his brother Leaf Dog obviously. It just worked'.

Fliptrix's vocabulary and overall style can be very eccentric, and I put this to the High Focus representative. 'It's kind of just me as a person' he replies. 'Having jokes with it, and not caring, just having fun and not being so serious. Some of that simple stuff that's so simple it doesn't really result in much of a thought process can result in lines that stand the test of time. That's got a bit of influence from grime I suppose; how they rhyme the same word with the same word sometimes, stuff like just works'.

'It's sick, I'm really happy about it' says Fliptrix about the recent mainstream attention that Grime has been attracting. 'I've been into grime for years, over a decade. I've always listened to it and rated it. I see it as rapping too, it's guys spitting bars on beats, and I think it's doing only positive things for the rap scene in this country in general. Everyone in our country accepts people rapping over beats from this country, and people all around the world are rating it, whereas before people used to say that only Americans can do it, but that whole thing has fully changed. When I was a kid who their favourite rappers are they'd all be American, but now if you asked a kid these days who their favourite rappers are the vast majority would probably be English, which is kind of sick. I think it's changing and is a positive thing for UK hip-hop, and I think the lines are kind of starting to blur and merge a bit anyway, I think it's just going to help our scene as well'.

Having seen Big Flipper live a number of times, and having witnessed him kill some grime flows, I wonder if a full 140 BPM LP is something we could ever expect. 'Probably not anything like that, but I'm already working on my next album which is different sounding beats and it's more experimental. There's a few 140s on there, but they are kind of sample based ones, it's not necessarily grime it's just a different tempo. You'll definitely hear me spitting on 140 things but I don't know if it'd be a whole project. You never know though'.

The content in Fliptrix's uptempo cuts sets him apart from most of his grime counterparts, and it's this reliance and concentration on an actual message that would make such a project so interesting. 'For real; it is something that does need to be brought in more in that genre. When I write 140 tracks I do always try to make sure the content is there, because that is sometimes lacking for sure'.

With the High Focus machine going from strength to strength, 2017 is set to be a huge year for the label. I wonder if he's got his eye on any upcoming artists at the moment. 'There are a couple guys that I think are real sick, but I wouldn't say their names because I haven't even reached out to them. I'm pretty happy with how the roster is at the moment; we've just signed Strange U who I think are ridiculously sick, and obviously Dabbla's album, so we're concentrating on the people we've got at the moment. I've always got my eye open for new talent, but yeah'.

Kashmere (of Strange U) has been putting the work in for years, and Dabbla has a huge reputation for his extensive work with LDZ, and it's great to see High Focus becoming a home for these veterans of the UK hip-hop scene. 'Dabbla is part of Dead Players, so he's kind of been on the label for a while through that, so that was a real natural one because he was already there. With Kashmere, he's one of my favourite rappers of all the time. He's so sick, and I've known him a long time, and we've done lots of tunes together, so I've always wanted to put out a project of his. They came to me with the Strange U project to see if I'd be interested; I heard the project and obviously it was ridiculously sick, that's why I signed them. I see the label as a brain, everyone's different with different elements to them, there's nobody that sounds like Strange U so there's a place for them. I wouldn't sign someone that I thought was similar or doing the same thing as someone else; everyone has to be original and different. The artists all work together, but they're all individual parts of a whole collective. It's kind of powerful when it all comes together'.

Back in the day I first became familiar with Fliptrix through seeing him appear as a judge on early Don't Flop battles. 'I think it's a positive thing' says Fliptrix when I ask his opinion on that element of the rap culture in the UK. 'I literally don't know anything about it. I never watch it, so I don't really know about it. In that sense I guess it kind of is segregated from the music, especially for me. I appreciate it, and if I hear about a big battle or some legend battles or whatever I will watch it, but I just never really got into it. It does seem like a whole separate entity; obviously it is based in hip-hop, it is hip-hop, but it does seem pretty segregated from the music scene'.

I wonder if that was the case back when he was going to the events; it certainly seems to me that both the battle scene and the music scene have both grown tremendously, and through that have each found their own individual playing fields. 'They're both really popular, so I guess it has kind of separated. I used to like battling and shit back in the day, on the street freestyling, the old school shit. I used to be into some of the Jump Off shit. When Professor Green was doing it, loads of them were all freestyle and they were over classic beats. That was a bit more raw. They used to have loads of freestyle battles on the street and I did watch those a lot. With the whole pre-written battle stuff, I didn't get into it. Partly because I like to make music to be creative and express stuff, and I think the power of words is a very powerful medium. When you realise you can use it in a positive way that benefits people and yourself, sitting there and constantly writing loads of negative stuff about someone seems a really weird and backwards thing to do. It's something I've never felt inclined to do. Especially for no reason. If it was a proper beef, like the old Wordsmith and Chester P beef, there was a reason for that, that shit is sick, I back that. If there's a proper reason for it and it comes out in a lyrical clash, sending for each other, that's kind of sick. Just writing loads and loads of bars to cuss someone you don't really know just seems like a bit of a waste of time (laughs). Don't get me wrong, I think that it's a skill and there are loads of talented guys doing it, it's no disrespect to them, it's still a part of hip-hop. That's just my personal reasons as to why I don't watch it too often, or haven't been involved with it myself'.

So the album is out, but Fliptrix has plenty more in store. 'I'm working on my next project, I've probably got like half of that finished already. I want to put out another project in 2017; I want to be touring Patterns Of Escapism for the first half of the year and hopefully drop a new project near the end of 2017. Just staying active as a solo artist; I've got quite a few good new tracks so I want to stay busy putting out releases on High Focus'.

Patterns Of Escapism is out now through High Focus