Interview: Melanin 9

Ben Bradford caught up with esteemed UK lyricist Melanin 9 to talk about his most recent album Magna Carta and the state of hip-hop in 2013

Posted on Jan 31st, 2013 in Features and Interviews / By Ben Bradford
Interview: Melanin 9 Bearded: Magna Carta is your first ‘album’? Was 144,000 not an album? Was there an album before ‘Magna Carta’?

Melanin 9: There was Orion’s Stencil, that was a free download, it came in CD form, which I don’t know if I have any left of. That came out in late 2010 (144,000 came out originally in 2008). It was meant to be a warm up to this album (Magna Carta) that’s why I didn’t promote it because it was just that the album was coming and it was a warm up that’s all it was.

So then were you recording Orion’s Stencil and Magna Carta at the same time?

I didn’t have all the elements I needed to do the album. I said to people I was doing an album but I didn’t have everything I needed, I didn’t have a beat, and I didn’t have the concepts and all the ideas I didn’t have fully so I knew it was going to take a while. So what I did was, because I was writing and doing this mixtape (‘Orion’s Stencil’) at the same time, I was more focused on the mixtape at the time because I didn’t have enough to do the album. I didn’t have enough beats I was waiting for producers to hear this and contact me with stuff to hear. So I had to find more producers, that’s why the album took so long, it took me like 2 years to do. Its also that there’s also a particular style I like in hip-hop (which is another reason why it took so long) and I’m starting to develop more of a feel for different things now, back then a lot of people were doing hip hop but to me it was more of a kind of Dilla thing. I know Dilla and I love Dilla, but I prefer more of his older stuff, his more organic older style, and not a lot of producers were doing that. So I thought I would search because I know there are people that are out there. There’s Anatomy who’s one of my favourite producers in this country, he’s on most of my albums but he’s very slow. But his sound is exactly how I wanted it, how I want to make beats, and how I would like to hear a beat on my album, and so we just took our time with it.

It always amazes me when artists give away music, tracks, or albums for free, but then I guess that’s a way of attracting people’s attention, but especially the amount of time you put into making that music in the first place.

I’ve spent money man! it’s the scene you know, its so saturated and people are spoilt for choice, people don’t want to pay for things any more. There’s so many artists doing this now and the net has made it even easy to set up your own stuff, your own shop, band camp etc. Everyone’s doing it, and people seeing so much good music out there and they ask why am I going to pay for it? So I knew I had to do this ‘Orion’s Stencil’ for free because I didn’t think my people were going to pay for it. But I put it out there for free to download but I made CDs to sell out on the street as that’s the only way your really going to get people to buy it, I was making my money back, but I’m not interested in that I do it for the love above anything else. Another good thing about it was there was a blogger on the internet called Hypedog, he was putting producers on his blog his whole thing was dedicated to producers and it got quite a big following, and then me and him spoke and we were like why don‘t we just do a mixtape and put it on the blog. I did it for free but at the same time I got something out of it because Hypedog had a big following with his blog as well.’

When did you start making the album?

Like I said it started off about 2 years ago, like dead slowly, we were just making tracks, me and Anatomy, and after a while its like that’s not it, that’s not it, we were just making songs, making songs, making songs. Throughout that time I was just developing and focusing on making the right songs, after a while I realised what I had to do and where the angle I had to come from was, what I wanted to say, and how I wanted it to be a bit more understood, and for people to understand me a bit more, along with taking in what’s going on in the world today, I started to realise exactly what I wanted to put in this album. So we just kept building on it, but initially we had before that we had a song with Roc Marciano (the track ‘White Russian’ on the album) for a long time when we started the album a few years ago, that’s what kicked it off. Once I’d finished that song and we had that song now we have to properly get going. That song kind of pushed me as well.

So when did you get the idea to call it Magna Carta?

Basically I was looking at law, all these different things that I was studying and looking at these rights that people don’t even know about. I was studying all these different things and I started to get into the Magna Carter, which was the first laws to be written in English history and is the rights of the people. Laws extend from that now. I just thought with my album, that’s how I see my album I’m writing the Magna Carta for the people. That’s what I was aiming to do the property of the people. The other thing I was putting into it as well is the art form of hip hop and going back to the original form of hip hop just like the law. The original art form of hip hop like the law was written and the freedom of the people, those concepts sort of tie the album together.

You said you made song after song for this new album, and you’ve released a lot in the past, so you must have ideas all the time?

I get a lot of inspiration from other artists that’s what makes me want to write, things as well like in my life and things happening in my life, and how bad it is out here, and just how I feel as well it just comes out when I’m recording.

Listening to tracks like ‘Loves Stencil’ there’s a trip hop feel to it, and the album generally sends you somewhere else almost away from reality, with the vocalist Madame Pepper sounding like Tracey Thorn from Everything But The Girl, was that intentional?

Its funny because I was trying to get that sort of sound of that genre, like Portishead and stuff, on the tracks ‘Colour Blind’, and ‘Loves Stencil’. But that’s what I want to do with the album, to take you somewhere else. Madame Pepper is from here, she’s from Tottenham and she travels quite regularly to perform in Europe.

I love the track ‘Cosmos’, can I ask you what its about?

Cosmos is about the negativity that I see outside and how much I wanted to say things about the negative things that are happening. Basically in the verse the verse is intended to tell a story, and the first verse is about this guy that I knew and he was a certain way you know and how much I wanted him to change and he wouldn’t listen, and I saw his future where I thought he was going to go, that first verse was to put a scenario on someone I knew, and I wanted to show how I feel that what they were doing was wrong and that I wouldn’t want to do it. The second verse was me putting everything that described myself and how I write, I write in a cosmos, I’m just up in the air writing and I’m trying to just get my mind so high, my mind is in the cosmos.

So when you’re rapping is that how you feel? Do you get some sort of an adrenaline rush?

I feel good I can’t explain it I just start to feel good. It’s a push for me, its like a will you have to get it through, you have to keep fighting and trying until like yeah yeah this is it. When you get that feeling its like you’re shitting yourself ha-ha! Sometimes you just get it and nothing can stop you. At that time (when the album came together particularly on the track ’Cosmos’) I just felt so inspired, I was so happy when I was writing, I was so happy I was like yeah this is it. I saw it as my portrait on life, like I was trying to paint a picture. I always try to do the best I care about writing a lot you know I don’t care about anything else as long as I’m writing then I’m happy.

Can I ask you about some lyrics on ‘Cosmos’? I think it’s the chorus you were mentioning before, the lyrics are ‘Yo I’m a self permeating thought perished organism grappling the truths roots, but getting stung by the symptom. I’m a shadow of a prophets pen stroked in the cosmos, mimicking the gods road, pivot in the cross roads.’

Basically what I’m trying to say is, ‘Grappling the truth's root but getting stung by the symptom‘, that in society when we look for a solution, when there’s a problem in society we tackle the symptom instead of going for the root cause of the problem. Its like illnesses when you take, you might have diabetes for example, and you take medication, you take insulin, and you tend to suppress the shock but you’re not healing what’s actually causes diabetes, the root cause, so what I’m trying to say is that I’m not tackling the truth of the root of the problem in life, I’m only tackling and I’m getting stung by the symptom. We’re not solving the root problems of life, with money and economics and why we’re poor, we’re just tackling the surface of it. I think with politics and the way it is and if it stays the way it is then there will always be a problem, because its only geared towards the rich, its as simple as that no matter who you put in the seat. The way its structured is for the rich, the economics of it is just for the rich it doesn’t pay for the poor. We’re built on a land where we have to have the poor to be rich, and for the rich to stay rich. That’s not right and that’s not tackling the problems. At the US election with all these different people, Romney, and Obama they’re going to do the same thing. That’s what I’m trying to say we’re not tackling the root so we’re going to get stung by the symptom of it, and the symptom is, for example, oh lets get Romney in there in order to change things, he’s the symptom he’s not the root cause, he might change one or two things but he’s not solving or changing the root problem.

I love the chorus of ‘Organised Democracy’ where you ask ‘Does freedom have a shotgun?’, having the words freedom and shotgun in the same sentence, there’s an irony in there, especially in an ’organised’ democracy like America that seems to have an obsession with guns.

I’m proud of what I’ve done with that, yeah that was something I wanted to get across on that song.

I was going to ask you about Cyrus Malachi as you mention his name several times throughout the album, and he features on a few of the tracks, how long have you known him?

For a long time, I knew Skriblah Dan Gogh from Terra Firma, he knew him and his Triple Darkness crew, and grew up with him, and I jumped on a track with them. I liked his style even though its different from mine, and the relationship grew from there.

Cyrus MalachI’s album Ancient Future from last year was amazing - one of my favourite albums of last year

Yeah the thing with Cyrus is that he’s able to make things so clear, I use metaphors, he does use metaphors sometimes, but I use a lot of flow and people might miss words. But with Cyrus I can hear everything he says and it stays with you.

Is there anyone in hip hop that you’re liking at the moment?

I like Jay Electronica, he’s not got an album out yet but its coming out next year, apart from him out of the new hip hop artists I like Doppel Gangers but they’re more underground.

Are there any albums that you like?

Albums; yeah Roc Marciano’s album was crazy, the new Nas album Life Is Good, was good although its something I like to pop my head into every now and again.

How do you feel about the way hip hop is going at the moment?

I don’t know how to explain it there’s a whole new blueprint to hip hop now. All the rules, regulations, everything, and how things go, its not really to how I like it. Its always been geared towards making money, I’m not saying that that element (the corporate and commercial side of it) hasn’t always been in it, but they’re cornering everything they corner opportunities. There are alternatives to that commercial end of it. But its about the fan base, its about who you are as an artist that makes you stand out, and if they love you for your music then there‘s a good chance that you can survive.’

Do you have plans to make music after Magna Carta?

I’m kind of going off what happens with this album first. I love music I’ll never stop making music though. But in terms of properly putting it out there then that’s another thing. But I make music for the love of it above anything else.