Kickin’ Knowledge…An Interview With Apex Zero!

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 1314. 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


Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhali­w­al

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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.

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