An Early Predictor?

“Perhaps the strangest thing about it was that it was written entirely in rhyming verse; all 36,000 words of it.”
When I was a kid, Silver Bullet’s - 20 Second’s to Comply was released; I was 9 at the time. As an avid listener of the UK Top 40 charts in the UK, I heard it hit the #11 spot and remember being transfixed at how fast and effortlessly the words rolled out of the speakers. Naturally I waded through the copy of the nearest chart magazine and looked for the lyrics the following week. I wouldn’t say the lyrics resonated with me, but the skill and precision with which they were delivered left a big impact and tried hard to learn them.

Shortly after, I remember learning the introduction to the 1990 release Dub Be Good to Me by Beats International and still love how the opening phrase rolls off the tongue with such ease. Though I never really understood what Tank-fly, Boss-walk or being Jam Hot came from (I have since learnt it was taken from a much earlier Hip Hop record from 1983), there was a certain flow that felt not just desirable, but somehow elevated the order and choice of the words. It was smooth. Like butter. (You see what I did there right?)

The first full rap record I learnt to repeat was Coolio’s - See You When You Get There; a track I can still recite from memory today; a quarter of a century later. It was a challenge at the time to learn all of the lyrics and the fact that it was played over a modified Pachabel’s Canon made it even more attractive. (I was still learning Piano at the time and this was a piece I could play well.) I still didn’t understand all the lyrics, but I was pleased with myself that I could rap along to it at speed, and often performed the whole thing while playing on the piano. I even bought the single. On cassette. (Well of course I did, it had a bonus track with an extra verse.)

Culture Clash

A few years after this, I started a band with my college friends, a band which ended suddenly after around two years. We played punk. There was no Hip Hop and there was no rap, though Linkin Park were a firm favourite of mine at the time. In many ways I deemed Hip Hop too cool for a guy like me, and the rougher edged punk, albeit skate/pop punk, seemed to suit the view I held of myself. (It wasn’t particularly good, I must confess)

As the years went by, Hip Hop and RnB were very much genres of music I steered clear of. I had been introduced to Mike Oldfield and Tubular Bells II and had started making instrumentals when the band had split. It was a completely different period of musical time in my life. I had no love for dance, club, RnB, Hip Hop, or any music of those genres. The music just wasn’t my thing. Thus rap, was not something I wanted to pursue, (however much I enjoyed rapping along to Linkin Park).

A Few Oddities

A fair few years later I came across a much geekier side of rap, and enjoyed some artists who took great pleasure in filling rap with as many nerd filled references as they could. It didn’t last long, and though learning some of these tracks was another good lyrical challenge and I accepted dutifully, practising until I got them right, I quickly moved into other genres and didn’t stick around long. It was a novelty, but an important one.

All Aboard for an Epic Poem

“...and still love how the opening phrase rolls off the tongue with such ease.”
During 2021 I started writing a story. You can find it here on this site. It was called The Tale of X and Y and tells the story of two people thrown together in a post-apocalyptic world. Perhaps the strangest thing about it was that it was written entirely in rhyming verse; all 36,000 words of it. Why? I hear you ask? Why not! Was my response at the time.

Keeping up rhyming verse for 36,000 words was tough, but I managed it. I mostly stuck to perfect rhymes, something which I now perhaps regret, but there was a purity there that I was aiming for; a standard that I did not want to break. Also of note is the fact that none of the dialogue rhymes. If you speak every line of dialogue in the book, it will flow like a conversation. That was entirely intentional and I had to work very hard for it to present in that way. I did not want it to sound like these characters were talking in rhyme.

The poem wasn’t a success. In fact I never even published it outside of this site. I had big plans for a website where music would play for each chapter, but I never had the time to devote to it and I think it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t. It did however set me up for the next chapter in my journey.

BTS……

My daughter first introduced my wife and I to BTS several years ago. At first we were largely unimpressed by the group and their music did not seem noteworthy at all. The summer of 2023 was different though and as we spent time watching some episodes of RunBTS as a family, I started to hear more of their music and understand them a little better.

What struck me most was the variety of their music. There was Hip Hop, Ballads, Pop, Disco, all thrown together and it was all impeccably produced. We started to listen to it in the car. It became a bit of a talking point for us, and perhaps something that was the most important to my wife and I as parents; the message they gave was far more positive than many others.

One evening we sat down and watched Min Yoon-gi’s documentary, The Road to D-Day. It was fascinating hearing another human being talk about their creative struggles in a way which resonated so clearly with me. He seemed to to be so unsure about his music in so many ways, and seemed to, even after working at it for many years, feel unfinished as an artist.

A Push and Pull

I took a lot from this. I took a lot from his solo work too. Though I couldn’t understand the lyrics in real time, certain tracks of his in particular, had an energy I just couldn’t deny liking. They were powerful, they were painful, they spoke about how he felt. I had clearly missed these connections in some of the earlier Hip Hop I had listened to, but the emotion in these felt much more tangible. Even if I couldn’t understand the lyrics as I listened.

As I carried out my daily tasks, washing up, taking the kids to school, etc, lines began to form in my head. Words were strung together, at the tenuously and then with more form. Rhythms were punched out like drum solos. I began to feel a pull, a sway, a drive to write rap.

I’ve always likened rap to drumming with words. As a former drummer, (I only say former as I no longer have a kit to play on), it gives me the greatest pleasure to find a line that just hits the rhythm so perfectly. Playing with the words until that goal is reached is a large part of the challenge in writing rap for me; the other main challenge being to make it mean something, to dig deep and find my inner voice. A lot of introspection has happened for me recently which is, in may ways, where this idea came from.

New Year - New Genres

My Maschine giving me beats!
I tried out a little rap to a beat I found on my Maschine. I hastily mixed it and showed it to a few people. Several of them didn’t think it was me and thought I was working on a collaboration with someone. When I told them it was me, counter to what I believed they would say, they all encouraged me to do more. Not one of them told me to stop.

So, I did more. This time I wrote a whole half a verse and solicited feedback. It was overwhelming. I should continue. My greatest fear, about it being rejected by friends and family - was false. When I had it to a point that I was happy with it, I showed it to my wife. “Could we turn BTS off for a minute?” I asked tentatively in the car one day, “I have something to show you.”

For someone who had never previously really liked or listened to rap, I was really scared of what she was going to say. Though she had been listening to BTS a lot, and enjoyed the same Agust D tracks that I did, I was nervous. She, like me, had never really warmed to Hip Hop ever. Yet, despite this, she loved it. She told me she was proud of me. It was the greatest joy I have experienced in sharing my music with anyone, ever.

Releasing Soon

So here we are! The track is done. For those that can’t wait - you can buy it on Bandcamp today. For those that can, it will be on all major streaming platforms as soon as the stores and distributor can handle it. The track is called Shots in the Dark and deals with me, taking a shot in the dark and trying out Hip Hop at the ripe old age of 42. It talks about my insecurities and my worries in making Hip Hop and speaks about the inner urge.

I honestly hope you enjoy it and an EP is expected to follow some time this year. Ultimately, I want to say, if you feel that urge inside of you, don’t fight it. It WILL out at some point. Trust me.

Photo by Erin Song, Cover by Rodion Kutsaiev