As one of the most revolutionary rappers on the British hip-hop scene, Ty embodies the intellect, talent and ferocity of an MC always destined to become a legend. Over the last decade, the Mercury Prize nominee has achieved the rare feat of establishing a legacy through his three albums and wise persona, strengthened by his amazing worldwide shows and countless appearances alongside luminaries such as De La Soul, Tony Allen and Pee Wee Ellis.
Musically, he’s also worked with Estelle, Scratch Perverts, Talib Kweli, Black Twang, Arrested Development, Bahamadia and Zion I, both in front and behind the mixing desk, further proof of his relentless artistry and his evolution from roguish wordsmith from South London to an internationally-acclaimed hip-hop connoisseur.
It’s this growth that has made the release of each of Ty’s albums such a distinctive event and the debut of his fourth LP, Special Kind of Fool, will be no exception. Inspired by one of the darkest periods in his life, it’s braced itself for mass appeal, challenging the “death” of hip-hop and resurrecting its existence through provocative rhymes, masterful production and a swaggering sentiment that’ll mark it as one of the greatest albums to drop in 2010.
“With this record, I was trying to say I’m fed up of being patted on the back for being different or alternative,” said Ty. “So this is raw hip-hop emotion, and people will see a different side to me. I also wanted to assure people that it’s okay to tell your story through hip hop music, whatever your story.”
Born and bred in South London, Ty’s initial taste of hip-hop came in the form of Slick Rick and Doug E Fresh’s 1985 ground-breaking hit The Show, but it was Break Machine and Cookie Crew that inspired him to pursue the path of a B-Boy. On this journey he mastered breakdancing, learned sound engineering and producing and started to develop the ability to deliver rhymes with a witty ferocity that would lead him to appear on tracks for IG Culture, MC Mell’O and DJ Shortee Blitz in the mid-90s.
Ty’s formative training also included stints at Jonzi D’s Apricot Jam and DJ Pogo’s seminal hip-hop club night The Lyrical Lounge and the obligatory guest spots on remixes before 2001 beckoned, a year which would pave the way for his mighty debut album Awkward on Big Dada. The album introduced the bespectacled craftsman as one of the most innovative British rappers the world had ever seen, and he followed this seminal LP with his 2004 sophomore effort Upward, his biggest selling album to date.
He landed a Mercury Prize nomination the same year, helped by the album’s stand-out lead single Wait A Minute and the rapid growth of his kudos which would earn him a deserved spot on the international stage. His third album, Closer, saw him continue in the same vein of creating truthful hip-hop music in co-production with his regular collaborator Drew Horley, while keeping busy with a relentless touring schedule.
2010 now presents a rapper determined to remedy hip-hop from the facade of pop commercialism, equally keen to steer it towards a promising future. His fourth album is released through BBE Records and features Erik Rico, Roses Gabor, rapper Sway, Carroll Thompson, Terri Walker, Soweto Kinch and Basement Jaxx songstress Vula amongst others. Of his new album, Ty stated: “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.”
José James All Saints Basement Sessions 2011
(Photography credit Alex Winn)
1. Top three (or more) tips for new and emerging talent to stay afloat and last long term.
My tips are not for people to remain on top .. Or to survive…. But to enjoy the craft for however long you intend to do it
Tip one… Study your instrument or chosen avenue of expression… Don’t just look at what’s happening now… Look back as many years as you can find….
Treat it like a science…. Do the research ask questions…. Youtube is a hell of a resource for finding things you may have missed … As far as past music
Tip two….. Treat learning to rap and learning to perform live as two different things that you need to master….
Engaging with an audience is trickier and harder than just telling folks to put their hands up… There’s a science to it… A good performer is remembered longer –
Tip three….. play around with your voice….. Learn to use it like an instrument.. Don’t just work with what comes out your mouth from the beginning and say that’s it… That’s how I rap….. No…. Stretch yourself….
2. What has been one of the toughest music related experiences you’ve faced?
The toughest thing has been realising that what you are labeled can have an effect on how people perceive you and your music….
And standing up for what I believe in….
The tough thing about that is watching your self get sidelined because you don’t make what the establishment wants…
3. How did you get through or deal with it?
The way I got thru it is to remember that I am a particular type of person I don’t just follow what all the others are doing I have never done that and I never will so grin and bear it… And appreciate those around you that are coming up… It is a culture…. It is an art form… You can learn from others… Absolutely….
4. What did you learn?
The thing I have learned is you never stop learning new things…. Never….
Age has nothing to do with relevance…