Q. Tell us a bit about how and why you got into Hip Hop?
I first got into Hip Hop when I was maybe 10 or 11, just as I was growing up and starting to find slightly deeper music – but it was still just through commercial stuff. Thing is back then it was just after Tupac and Biggie died so even their tunes were commercial, like ‘Changes’ or ‘Mo Money, Mo Problems’, at least compared to how real Hip Hop is today. But it weren’t even just legendary emcees like them, Hip Hop hit me hard so back then I was on listening to anything, even weak stuff like Fresh Prince! Looking back now I know even then it was a way of connecting me to my roots and culture, which had been an issue being mixed race in London in the late 80s/early 90s – black people making black music, I was drawn to it. I loved Graffiti and B-Boying but I could never do them! So the music was my main outlet. As I got older I started getting into the slightly deeper and rawer shit like DMX, Nas, Onyx, Wu-Tang, Big Pun. That formed a big part of influence when I first started putting bars together at about 13⁄14. To be honest that was when Garage was big in the UK and everyone around me was like ‘we should be doing this ‘cos it’s a UK ting!’ We used to go round clashing next crews around the ends, but I was never really feeling it like Hip Hop. Then I heard ‘Lets Get Free’ by Dead Prez and a lot of stuff changed. That album offered me a lot of answers about things that I had already been living through – racism, problems with police harassing us, why the school system treated certain people in certain ways. I became very aware of lots of different things and it literally changed my life. I became aware of Malcolm X, George Jackson, Huey P. Newton, Marcus Garvey – and after hearing those names and what they stood for I had to research more about them, and at the same time researched Hip Hop culture and more music to inspire. That’s when I started taking Hip Hop seriously as a way to inspire people, because it had happened to me.
Q. What message does your music send out? Are there specific issues that you focus on?
The music I’ve put out has always been about trying to represent the people who are struggling to survive and get by with their conscience, for justice. The struggle takes multiple forms. When we came out with our first tunes, we were very conscious about the fact that we needed to be representing the people who were struggling here in the UK, from our perspective, because we felt that that was the point of Hip Hop – to try and make things better where you are. The same way you have to develop your own unique style and sound, unique to your environment, your message has to relate to the people of that environment, or there’s no point doing it. But through growing as a human and increasing my political education and insight, I came to see that the struggle of oppressed people, especially those who often relate to the messages of Hip Hop – those oppressed on racial or ethnic terms or those abandoned by their society – are all going through incredibly similar struggles, with a common enemy causing them. Racism, classism, patriarchy, religious oppression – they’re all branches of the same tree, all mechanisms of the same exploitative, profit driven westernising machine. That’s one of my main messages now. Uniting against a common enemy. The other is action. We need real action – more than music, or books or websites. Learning and theorising is essential, but in order to form organised action, otherwise all we’re doing is talking, or learning for learning’s sake.
Q. Tell us a bit about First And Last, how did it form?
First and Last existed since me and OMeza were young teenagers. The same yout’s doing garage clashes because it was a UK thing were still First and Last. The difference is that when we started taking it seriously, moving forward through Hip Hop, life, our environment. It was our outlet and the way we thought we could spread a message. Omeza started off as the main producer, I was the emcee, but soon we did both. We kept the name because it was still relevant. It has multiple meanings on multiple levels. We, like everyone in the struggle, are the First and Last line of defence and attack. The essence of life is the cycle, the cypher, and there is no distinction between the First and the Last point – the First and Last are the same. We connect with our ancestors, from the very First, and carry on their fight, even if it means we’re the Last. We did make one change; it became First and Last Pride, because we’re Lions, and everyone we consider family is part of that Pride.
Q. Do you think Hip Hop is still an influential tool when it comes to educating and empowering?
I do believe it plays a role, an important one. If it wasn’t for Hip Hop I might never have learned about Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey or begun my political education. I might have taken a different route and might not be alive today.It is a great tool for helping people break mental chains. The problem is that once it helps people see those chains and break some of them, we do not progress towards breaking the physical ones we’re in. Instead, because we’re so inspired by and grateful to Hip Hop, so many people try to do the same thing for others – they become an emcee, producer, graffiti artist – but that’s not what we need now. The struggle is real and it transcends Hip Hop. Like I said, we need action – unity, organisation and then true revolution – not just people writing bars about it whilst maintaining the oppressive power structure. Also, it can be used in a negative way, and we all know what that is. The thing with Hip Hop is that it is like a mirror – it reflects the state of the society it’s held up to. And right now it is showing us that people are both disgustingly materialistic, wasteful, ignorant and lost in the system’s traps, and at the same time, those of us who think we’re conscious or on point, are badly unorganised and need to start acting out our words. If you spit about being gangsta and aint, then your fake. If you spit about revolution and do nothing to make it happen, or worse, unconsciously work against it, you’re just as bad, maybe worse.
Q. What advice can you give to people who want to educate themselves more on the “stuff they don’t teach you in school”?
My advice would be to teach yourself, but Hip Hop can only ever be the start of your education. We all need to read more – Frantz Fanon, Marcus Garvey, Huey P. Newton, Lenin, Mao, people who have gone about practicing what they wrote and spoke about and aiming to improve the lives of people around them. But in the same way, don’t just get lost in books. Don’t be afraid to go to University or College – there is knowledge to be found there, just go in there knowing that Europe is not the centre of the universe, Europeans did not invent everything they say they did and that ALL knowledge should be questioned. If it is not relevant to you, ignore it or challenge it. Grow but do not be assimilated. Study history, history of your people, but do not get sucked in by romanticism. Most importantly, go out in your community, engage those same thoughts and ideas you gain from Hip Hop, books, films, whatever inspires you and speak with people in your community – there is as much to learn from people as there is in any book, life itself is the best teacher and living it will teach you most. Organise with like-minded people and be careful and vigilant of organisations that are not about what they say they are – its something that happens everywhere, not just in Hip Hop. Everybody is valuable and important, but not everyone can always be trusted.
Q. Tell us a bit about your free mixtape ‘The Pulse of The Awakening’. How long did it take you to put together and where did you get your lyrical inspiration from?
The mixtape is a mix of tracks that are on older projects, some from the new album and some fresh bars over some classic beats. I decided to put it together after I’d finished the new album to put out some of the bars that weren’t used, some tracks that I love but hadn’t got out too far, and just to spit over some beats I’ve always wanted to flow over. It took about a year to put together, just taking time to perfect it, to get videos and things ready and work around aspect of life and the struggle that consume your time. I’m very inspired by the work and life of Frantz Fanon. In The Wretched of the Earth he says that the truly revolutionary force of a colonised people are the Lumpenproletariat, those right on the edge of society, those forced into crime and those most deeply in the struggle. I believe we are colonised and it is the organisation of our people, the people who are represented by Hip Hop that can be the force behind any kind of real action, but we need to organise ourselves. Its what Malcolm moved to do, its what the Panthers started to do, and its what we must do now.
Q. When can we expect your album and what can we expect to hear on it?
I’m not sure of a definite date yet but ‘Reality Provoking Liberation’ will be out later this year, end of Spring/Summer. It’s more of the same – I feel like the mixtape and the album are part of the same project. The main difference between them is that a lot more time has gone into it. It’s completely produced by OMeza and myself, except one beat, and I’ve been working on it for years. I think the message is a bit clearer now though, the flow is tighter and the quality is higher. Some of the tracks are a lot more personal then anything else I’ve done, but they still represent the same things, they still come from the same place and they still aim at the same things – unity, organisation and movement towards overthrowing our oppressor. That’s what Reality Provoking Liberation means – developing the skills and abilities we’ve gained throughout our lives in this cage, our reality, into the tools for provoking our liberation from it. As Fanon says – decolonisation can be summed up by the biblical phrase – the First shall be Last and the Last First.
For more information on Apex Zero visit http://www.firstandlastpride.co.uk/