Interview: @PhoenixDaFire: A Man Soaring With Solar Energy

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Phoenix Da Ice Fire is a UK based Hip-Hop artist. At the age of only 26, he has been mak­ing music for many years. He has trans­ited across many gen­res, try­ing to situ­ate him­self in a place where music­ally and per­son­ally he feels com­fort­able to be him­self.  When he finally found hip hop, he found his home. It stood for everything he rep­res­en­ted and everything that he wanted to be. When he dropped his mix­tape Bap­tism Under Fire (2009) he was here to stay. And as I learn in the com­ing year, big things are on the way.

Walk­ing into the home of Phoenix Da Ice Fire, I didn’t know what to expect. Here is a man I have had com­mu­nic­a­tion with, but nev­er met in the flesh, and who pub­licly has many dif­fer­ent per­sonas. These mani­fest music­ally, polit­ic­ally, philo­soph­ic­ally, and also, for all I know, per­son­ally. As Phoenix Da Ice Fire there are no real stric­tures, he does not appear to be a fixed char­ac­ter. And though primar­ily known as a Hip-Hop artist, he is not afraid to try some­thing new. So dis­par­ate is his work and so diverse in his tal­ents that he has even cre­ated 53 char­ac­ters in a graph­ic nov­el he is cur­rently cre­at­ing. He shows me some of the work and it is spec­tac­u­lar.

So who am I going to meet? Paul Nel­son, the pro­vider and fam­ily man who goes out to work every­day, am I going to meet the front present­a­tion, Phoenix Da Ice Fire the per­former and that alone, then there is  Sol­ar Black from Black Chron­icles? Poten­tially this sounds like a man frag­men­ted, a man who poten­tially lacks a strong iden­tity, someone rap­idly change­able. A chamele­on if you like.

On the con­trary what I find is the oppos­ite. The above ver­sion could not be fur­ther from the truth. From the moment I meet Phoenix there is a con­sist­ent sturdi­ness to him. He nev­er changes in a way that could be con­strued as dis­turb­ing. In fact, he comes across as a true Gen­tle­man, genu­ine. He even walks with dig­nity. His fam­ily is his one place of con­stancy. They are imper­at­ive to him and they treat me with such cour­tesy, a stranger in their home, that I was actu­ally quite moved.

I bring up with him the dif­fer­ent iden­tit­ies he assumes and just how pro­li­fic he is – he writes a song or script a day without fail. It is almost eman­at­ing out of him at such a rate and at such high qual­ity that I ask if he feels as if things are being channeled through him some­times. This imme­di­ately strikes a chord.  Our dis­cus­sion around his rep­er­toire of char­ac­ters is fas­cin­at­ing. At first he looks con­cerned, as if he I might be think­ing that he  could be a bit of a fraud, that not being and present­ing one per­sona is a neg­at­ive thing, That he is not being quite ‘whole’. But I remind him we all are frag­men­ted. We all are forced to play dif­fer­ent roles at dif­fer­ent times, be it work, at home or with friends. It is the deni­al of this that is prob­lem­at­ic.

To me, he is whole, extraordin­ar­ily whole. And it is this solid­ity that allows him to delve so deeply into all the parts that make up who he is. None of us is ‘whole’ in a true sense.  We all have dif­fer­ent aspects to our per­son­al­ity, par­tic­u­larly the dark­er ones, which we are afraid to see. Phoenix has the strength to look in places where many would turn away.

Yes, he is a frag­men­ted man, as we all are, but the way he bravely explores those per­sonas allows him to integ­rate them togeth­er. Instinct­ively I felt a cohes­ive, coher­ent, depend­able man. He has ele­ments of self doubt, many, I think, eman­at­ing from his past, but this is a bene­fit to his music. He always strives to be bet­ter. Nev­er did I detect any arrog­ance any­where. I detec­ted excite­ment. I detec­ted pas­sion. I also did detect self belief in his work but without the ego to match it.  There were times when he was play­ing me his new tracks where he was jump­ing about like a child, he couldn’t wait to for me to see what he was doing.  And that is what mak­ing music is about. His pas­sion is elec­tric.

So what shaped this fas­cin­at­ing man? Born Sept 1st 1987 in South East Lon­don. He had a ‘nor­mal’ upbring­ing until two dev­ast­at­ing events shaped his young life. One was the death of his father when he was just 13. The second was being moved to Dept­ford from Lew­isham under the wit­ness pro­tec­tion scheme. And this is where it hits me. This is why Phoenix has always had to take on a mul­ti­tude of roles. He lost his father, and had to become a man too fast. Secondly, he lit­er­ally had to assume another iden­tity. In his home he played me a beau­ti­ful song called ‘The Day You Passed’, about both events. “I knew things would nev­er be the same , that day. I nev­er thought I’d visu­al­ize you this way… things will nev­er be the same. I’ll nev­er for­get your name. You’re alive in my memor­ies’. I’m not ashamed to admit a tear came to me eye. When the track stopped, we were left with a power­ful silence and I felt a deep pain and sad­ness radi­at­ing from Phoenix. Though years have passed it is appar­ent that this loss hasn’t dis­sip­ated, it helps his music, but psy­cho­lo­gic­ally it still impacts deeply.

At a young age he star­ted off in the gar­age scene under the ali­as SWIFTLY after he had moved to Dept­ford. He made the trans­ition to rap with fel­low Gar­age mem­ber AKS, now part of MIDAS TOUCH. But it was late 2006 that he met Dwain Thom­son, a music pro­du­cer at the time. Even­tu­ally they became Tripple Dark­ness

This is where we engage in a dis­cus­sion about dif­fer­ent gen­res, he has always main­tained that ‘Bap­tism Under Fire’ is still some of his best work, even though music­ally he may have elev­ated from that time. This, he main­tains was because Gar­age and then Grime had become too lim­it­ing for him and he was find­ing the energy neg­at­ive. This was his big ven­ture into Hip-Hop and he was hungry. There was noth­ing to hold him back. He didn’t know the ‘rules’, the struc­tures of the industry, he was free. To Phoenix Hip-Hop is syn­onym­ous of ‘freedom’. He was feel­ing a com­pel­ling need to artic­u­late him­self, the frus­tra­tion and trau­ma of his young­er years had pent up and grown.  In ‘Ther­apy’, a track from his crit­ic­ally acclaimed 2009 release, ‘Quan­tum Leap’, he states “Hip-Hop runs through my veins like life sup­port”. The scars, the voices, the dam­age, they don’t “fade away”, but “the melody takes away the pain“.

Music for Phoenix is more than a sim­ple expres­sion of daily life; it is a com­plex expres­sion of his inner demons. It is an anaes­thet­iz­ing drug. This reminds me of a quote by the legendary sing­er Tom Waits, he says “I love beau­ti­ful Melod­ies telling me ter­rible things. It is cath­artic; his medi­cine.”

I ask Phoenix what Hip-Hop means to him. He imme­di­ately replies, “It is the voice of the voice­less”. It is all about being cre­at­ive, not being held back by lim­its. “You do not allow your­self to be defined, you do not just accept what is laid before you. You fight”.

Phoenix is a man on a mis­sion. As soon as I’ve sat down he is busy play­ing me new tracks. The first one is called Winged Scar­rop off his forth­com­ing album, The Bap­ho­met, likely to be released next year. It will come under the name of Sol­ar Black, his Black Chron­icle name. He tells me that for the first time in his long career he has signed a record deal and the album will be dropped under a label. What change this brings we have yet to see, but I voice con­cerns about music­al freedom and he assures me that there will be no inter­fer­ence with artist­ic cre­ativ­ity and will hope­fully give him more time to focus on what is import­ant.

In this new album Phoenix will again offer us up a slightly dif­fer­ent per­sona, it is slightly more bru­tal than Phoenix Da Ice Fire. A Phoenix is a bird already deep in the dark­ness, immersed in the ashes and then it rises. In Bap­ho­met, Paul Nel­son becomes Sol­ar Dark­ness. When Phoenix is Sol­ar, he is a little more held back, a bit more encryp­ted, and, he tells me, a much dark­er char­ac­ter. So here we see the con­trast with the names. Sol­ar, the sun, is already out, unlike when the Phoenix begins, but in this form Phoenix brings a shad­ow to the mix that starts to eclipse the sun. The light is not totally gone, but the album name Bap­ho­met explains it all. It is really an expos­i­tion of neg­at­ive forces that are at work on this earth in the here and now, he talks of self destruc­tion. He talks of gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion.  And a lyr­ic repeated on Winged Scar­rop is that ‘war again­st real­ity is dark­ness for­ce’.  Some­times you must fight dark with dark, fire with fire, or you will not see it. Enabling your­self to see the dark­ness will bring the light, and because there is just enough sol­ar to do this, the open­ings are wide enough to become that Phoenix once again, should he choose that path.

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Towards the end of the inter­view I ask Phoenix if he has an eth­os, an ideo­logy, some­thing he wants to achieve through his music? Imme­di­ately says he wants to “uplift people”, and quite humor­ously he phys­ic­ally jumps as he says this. “I still have aims and desires. I want to push bound­ar­ies.” In essence, he wants to be all that Hip-Hop stands for. And he is always mov­ing for­ward, at an aston­ish­ing pace at that.  He has some impress­ive col­lab­or­a­tions on his new album, includ­ing with mem­bers of Wu Tang Clan.

He still gets such a buzz from his music that it’s palp­able in the room. I ask him for his career highs? “without a doubt it was going to New York in 2014 and per­form­ing with Baam­baata, another high­light was sup­port­ing Big Daddy Kane in Brighton. There is a sub story to this that again takes us back to the ever present issue of his Father. Phoenix and his crew were trav­el­ling from Lon­don. At the sta­tion a ran­dom man just sort of latched on to them. He walked onto the train with them, walk­ing past guards with no tick­et. At Brighton he fol­lowed them to the ven­ue, walked in again for free as if he was meant to be there. This exper­i­ence sent chills up his spine. It was if, he said his father was watch­ing him.

We are touch­ing on some­thing deep here. I ask, if his dad hadn’t died, do you think things would be dif­fer­ent now. “Def­in­itely” he answers. “I don’t think I’d be doing Hip-Hop. I’m cer­tain of that”. Phoenix’s dad’s death was a tragedy, in his most form­at­ive years. But if it lead to Phoenix doing what he is doing today then on a per­son­al level I would say there was a frag­ment of Sol­ar (the sun) glim­mer­ing through the great Dark­ness. The philo­sopher Jean Paul Sartre once said “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” And Phoenix has chosen a path that has already shown a poten­tial of great­ness. But as he tells me, again with excite­ment not arrog­ance, “You’ve only heard the start of it!”

Phoenix tells me he doesn’t think his father would be pleased or proud with his path. His father was a work­er, a pro­vider, he built him­self up. But everything he has just told me about his father, well he could just as eas­ily be describ­ing him­self. He is a fam­ily man, he provides, he works, and he is a solid, brave man who is vul­ner­able when he needs to be.  He doesn’t hide from his own demons and pain and in doing so devi­ates com­pletely from the ste­reo­typ­ic­al and mis­guided image of rap. I would say he is an ambas­sad­or.  He is aston­ish­ingly artic­u­late, he is self taught. His range of know­ledge is phe­nom­en­al and it is a mis­guided notion that know­ledge gives you power. It is how you util­ize that know­ledge that gives power.

As R.D Laing (a pre-emin­ent psy­chi­at­rist in the 1960s) says, “there is a great deal of pain in life and per­haps the only pain that can be avoided is the pain that comes from try­ing to avoid pain”. Phoenix nev­er turns away.

Phoenix is in my view exceed­ingly tal­en­ted in many areas. He nev­er accepts the norms of soci­ety without ques­tion. He fights in a way that is not det­ri­ment­al to his cause, he comes across with dig­nity and integrity.I can­not speak for Phoenix’s father in terms of wheth­er he would be proud of him, but I can say that Phoenix is a man to be very proud of, and from what I heard, music­ally, per­son­ally, and saw visu­ally tonight, he is only just tak­ing off.

If you would like to know more about Phoenix Da Ice Fire please vis­it: www.phoenixdaice­fire.com

 

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Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor is a Lon­don based writer whose Interests are based primar­ily on music and art and also the philo­sophies and polit­ics that accom­pany them. In addi­tion she has an Msc in psy­cho­logy, has worked as a ther­ap­ist, and paints abstract art pieces.

About Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor
Kate Taylor is a London based writer whose Interests are based primarily on music and art and also the philosophies and politics that accompany them. In addition she has an Msc in psychology, has worked as a therapist, and paints abstract art pieces.

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