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.
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