The place to find and share independent music. From hip-hop to pop, dubstep to drum n bass; Beatnik is your filter.
words Ali Raymond / photography Romain Kedochim
Sparsely are there artists that are as fundamental to the expression of Britishness as a strong cup of tea. The reluctant champion of UK hip hop, TY is one such artist. A musical hero who has equally given as much as he has nurtured to the brewing taste of contemporary British music.
Now after four albums and nearing 10 years in service to bring what’s good, Ty still has no intentions of throwing in the towel.
If you’re oblivious to this rogue wordsmith south of the river turned international acclaimed hip hop heavyweight, a serious re-educational slap is very much over due.
Over the years timeless classics like ‘Hercules’, ‘Wait A Minute’, ‘Oh You Want More’ (the remix with Roots Manuva is a treat), or later brilliant modern wonders like ‘Closer’, ’This Here Music’, to fresh new tracks ‘Emotions’ and ‘Heart Is Breaking’ have changed a perception of what UK Hip Hop should be as well as serving a great place to start your quality control re-education.
Over his career he’s worked with an array of great talent from De La Soul, Speech from Arrested development, Tony Allen, Bahamadia, Basement Jaxx, Soweto Kinch and even Gill Scott Heroin on the brilliant ‘Hustle’ and can name the late Isaac Hayes and J-Dilla amongst fans of his music.
Now riding the wave of critical acclaim surrounding his new album, Special Kind of Fool, Beatnik sat down with him, along with that strong cup of tea to hear his life living in hip hop.
“I want this album to be a time stamp of black music history that is not compromised by the current climate in the UK, and that is welcoming of all backgrounds and cultures without cutting itself into pieces to fit into a box it doesn’t belong in.” Ty explains as we casually begin the interview and he tucks into a plate of delicious bangers and mash.
But before we venture to current music I steer our discussion way back to a few decades ago to see how Ben Chijioke born to Nigerian parents but raised in south London, came to be the peoples much loved Ty. “Technically I come from a massive family although it’s a very small nuclear family. Because we are Nigerien, it means every person that knows your mum or dad has the right to beat you in the street if they see you fucking around.”
Constantly Charismatic and always in that typical cheeky mood he chats loosely about the nostalgic days. Back in the early to mid 90’s Ty entrenched himself in the UK scene as an uncontrollable love for hip hop engulfed him and country he dwelled. As part of the Ghetto Grammar Organisation his interest in poetry and rapping peaked at an early age and later he would join forces with DJ Big Ted to explore his solo career. After becoming a regular performer at legendary London hip hop nights like Flava, which have all since disappeared, he eventually dropped his debut, Awkward, in 2001.
“To this day my dad still disagrees with the idea of me rapping.” Ty remembers the day he dropped the bombshell to his parents he wouldn’t be wearing a suit to chase the cheque.
“My mum loves it now. She has all my awards on her shelf to the point people think she’s winning things.” He laughs “She’s great, she comes to concert’s, puts her hands in the air. She loves it.”
Thinking about it some more he shrugs “It is what it is.”
Routines haven’t changed much since the beginning either.
“Still paying bills.” He affirms, he also still resides in the same area he grew up in. An unimposing Vauxhall, the door to the south with an apparently well stocked Tesco too. Some new hobbies have been adopted though.
“I’m trying to learn to swim.” Ty says in an unconvincing tone “I try to do martial arts too but I’m rubbish at it. See know one tells you that. I am rubbish at martial arts. Ha ha”
Although I wouldn’t cite that as an invitation to get on the wrong side of his 6’2” or so, gentle giant statue. His hands alone look like they could crush a small fruit.
“My main hobby is making beats – I like to doodle in that. My emotions trigger me to make music.”
Ty has never fitted into a box. Finding the need to express himself in a manner contrary to others around him, he understood early the need to break free of the hip hop stereotype.
“Only for a little bit.” Ty remembers briefly being at odds with his place in hip hop. “There was definitely an awkwardness in the beginning, excuse the pun. But I mean I really just tried to charter the journey of an artist feeling good about making music.”
“But that’s a common story with a lot of people, whether getting a degree, having your first child – oh I’m not sure at the start but I know what I’m doing now – There’s always that progression.”
Now more then comfortable in his own sound every one of his albums is a collection of music current to their times. They document a constantly self-educating man, developing in his thoughts and maturity but also in his production.
“The main thing for me as an artist, it wasn’t about being the biggest and best loved mc. You are barking up the wrong tree if you are trying to impress all these people that have so many reasons not to like you. So it’s really about making the music that you’re happy with. Luckily I noticed that early.”
Of course there was one song that started it all for the then fresh-faced Ty. “When I put ‘The Tale’ out, the response to that record was so incredible I was like, ok, I see.”
A simple cheeky story of getting lucky in love while sitting on a neo-soul beat Ty reminisces.
“It was done in hindsight. We were actually working on another song, we had a lunch break and Drew played me that beat. I was like wow!”
“The response to that track made me realize that it’s about stripping chunks of your real life, seasoning them up and frying them in this hip hop frying pan and saying – bang, eat that!
‘Wait a Minute’ follows those thoughts too.”
‘Wait a Minute’ was an instant classic, possibly his biggest to date. Taken from his second album – Upwards, earning him a Mercury Music Award nomination, discussing the concept for music video Ty can’t help but make the Beatnik crew laugh.
“You want the truth, well I was a bit too fat. So we decided to cover me up, just my head and beautiful models.” He smiles “It took about an hour to dig the hole. See you weren’t thinking about my body watching it?”
Ty embodies the intellect, talent and ferocity of an MC always destined to become a legend. He’s brutally honest and in that incredibly funny.
“Inspiration is gonna come at any time. You have to pay attention.”
Apart from the well-known rapper, many forget he produces his own work too. And as he explains his chaotic creative approach to that discipline suits him fine.
“I push the car and then check how much gas there is in. It’s always the same way and it has to be that way. For example I found the rhythm for this new album when I started it.”
And what a new album it is. After looking for a change departing Big Dada, Special Kind of Fool is released via BBE Records. With tracks like ‘Emotions’, ‘Me’ and ‘Heart is Breaking’, the album is the most potentially commercial out of his previous work. It does however follow the same route of his past albums in terms of its painstakingly usage of live instrumentation.
“I’m just a geek. I buy album covers, I watch who and where they mixed it. What equipment they used and I go out and buy their equipment. That’s why my music sounds like that. It’s not digital. I’m not using computers. In Emotiions that’s a real minimoog”
For all the charisma and jokes, there is a topic that is less discussed in interviews, his personal life. But now and again like today he hints at the intimacy he shares with friends and family.
“One has just been delivered.” Ty says as the conversation turns to the birth of his new nephew. “I was there for the labor. Amazing! I saw him come out, not literally, but I was there at the side holding my sis’ hand. He came out like a table set Ha Ha. Like push, push, push – wizzz – he came out with his passport ready. Amazing!”
This compassion for kids extends to Ty’s music too. Conscious about the state of our children’s upbringing and mainly what they are being fed musically, he often voices the plight of societies quickest to stereotype and victimize youth.
There is another topic that gets Ty’s blood boiling and one he never shy’s away from; the lack in representation of hip hop in the UK.
“I’ve been here since the music industry was making excuses on why UK hip hop couldn’t be on television. One of the biggest excuses was – you guys aren’t selling enough records, it’s not house-hold enough. We weren’t allowed to play in certain clubs because of fear of violence.”
Sounds like archaic confrontations and obstacles that mirror those faced by pioneers of the culture in early New York decades before.
“Ok so Dizzee Rascal is selling how many records right now? Tinne Tempah, Chipmunk are doing what? So now that excuse is gone I want to see UK hip hop on television. But still the same!”
“The barrier keeps getting moved. When we become commercial or sell a lot of records, the excuses just change.”
What about the argument that UK hip hop hasn’t tasted mainstream success like other genres like grime, garage or drum n bass in the UK because it isn’t homegrown?
“There is something I’ve said many a time and I hate to regurgitate this in this interview but hip hop music is despised in the UK and it’s a silent thing. People haven’t noticed that.”
“But if you look at Amy Winehouse, that’s not homegrown. That’s a throw back to 60’s music in America. So that’s fine – so that excuse doesn’t work.”
“In reality there is some sort of institutional fear of what hip hop can do to young people that isn’t attached to other forms of music. They don’t encourage, welcome and embrace the positive impact this culture can have on society.”
Do you think this idea of hip hop will change?
“No unless people change it. And that’s what I’m trying to do. Suggest a change”
Ty leans back in a position of excitement as the waitress briefly interrupts to read out the desert options.
“Rhubarb crumble please” is Ty’s choice “and ice cream.”
Before we continue, concerned I question his choice. In recent years Ty was diagnosed with type II diabetes, but like most of life’s creases he irons them out with the same rebellious philosophy ‘So what, so what!’
“Every now and then ha ha.” He turns to the rest of the crew with a big grin “I’ll run to the tube station, I’ll be fine ha”
Back to the debate at hand.
“The main thing that frustrates me is the media’s love for labeling rappers as negative, black individuals. It upsets me, because people don’t clock that they say Sisqo is a rapper when he does something wrong, Bobby Brown is a rapper when he does something wrong or even Ashley Cole! What is England doing? The media don’t make mistakes.
This idea couldn’t be closer to the truth when Ty turned down the opportunity to be interviewed on prime time television by Jeremy Paxman when the BBC where scouting guests ahead of Obama’s inauguration.
“I said no because it was an insult to the idea that you now have a black president and now you want to get a rappers opinion. You didn’t care before so now you are really taking the piss.”
In light of that poignant rejection the BBC invited Dizzee Rascal instead.
“Also it proved to be the truth, because you went from TY to Dizzee. Oh really? This is not a slant on Dizzee but his strong points and weak points are not the same to mine. It shows me you’re not really paying attention. You didn’t want a rapper, you just wanted a black individual who raps to tie next to Obama. I wasn’t doing that. Things like that frustrate me.”
Before we finish what’s been a brief but mind stimulating education, I ask the last question that has worried me tirelessly. Because hip hop is seen as a youth culture can you grow out of it?
“I think we think we can grow up out of it, because we assume it to be less valuable,” Ty says.
“Like whoever is in to jazz music doesn’t just grow out of jazz music. You just get older and have kids.
You’re still gonna put on your Miles Davies record and not feel shamed for doing that. But we feel that cos we attach this cap to hip hop.”
He then leaves us with a comforting thought.
“I’ve ironed out my demons so now you’ll be getting a lot more from me until I’m granddad staus in Hip Hop.”