- Mon, 2011-02-07 10:27
2011 marks ten years since Lethal Bizzle unleashed his first record upon the nation. His impact upon the grime scene and UK music has been relentless, sticking to his roots, representing his scene and pushing his musical boundaries to the limits. His four chart released albums have cemented his style, he's become one of few rappers welcomed with open arms to the infamous reading festival and though cross-genre musical collaborations and TV appearances have raised his profile, Bizzle has never undermined or compromised his street credentials.
I Like Music caught up with Bizzle to chat about his long lasting career, kick-starting our chat with the history behind the 2004 single Pow (Forward), a true landmark in UK music. With the release of re-make Pow 2011, we chat about the culture of grime music and how far it has come, the crew that made Bizzle who he is today and why being yourself is the most important thing any musician can ever hope to achieve.
"I Like Music Because...It's my passion and I live it everyday." Lethal Bizzle
ILM: We're all pretty excited about the release of Pow 2011! It comes as a re-working of Pow (Forward) released in 2004, which made a big impact on UK music. Where were you at in 2004, how did the original come to be?
Lethal Bizzle: The original Pow was a moment man. It was a real special moment. It’s not even a record, it’s a real powerful movement. At the time it was like the whole underground scene wasn’t getting no recognition. We was always fighting against each other; everyone was having lyrical battles n stuff. All we was doing was holding ourselves back. I remember one day waking up and Dizzee had won the Mercury Music Prize. Everyone thought “yes! It’s our time now!” and then nothing happened. It was just Dizzee n everyone else was just sitting down. I just thought “if we don’t work together, no-one’s gonna make it through.” That’s where the Pow thing came from. I thought you know what, I’m gonna think of a track where I can just involve everyone. The whole pirate radio scene was really strong then, everyone used to freestyle, I used to know everyone’s lyrics – so I just had this song in my head having all these different artists saying their best lyrics on this song.
ILM: How did you go about making it happen?
Lethal Bizzle: I phoned everyone up and said “I’ve got this idea, I’m trying a thing; if it works it works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t, come to the studio tomorrow and lay this verse down.” I told them what verses I wanted, they came to the studio and the studio was crazy! There were ten people in the studio, everyone vibes in… we done the song and it was like whatever, we’d just done a song. When they left I was just sitting there listening to it, and thinking WOW. I just couldn’t stop moving. Then the radio started playing it, the underground stations started playing it; and then it just started causing riots in the clubs. It was almost like our fans were so happy to see all their favourite MCs on one track. Up until then it never happened before. So Solid did it previously but that was like a crew – this was like different crews working together which was unheard of at the time.
ILM: It made a huge statement...
Lethal Bizzle: Yeah. I just think people were happy that firstly the artists were collaborating n working together and secondly that the track was an absolute banger. People wanted to support the scene and thought “you know what, this music is not getting the recognition it deserves.” By seeing the impact that record had on people and in the clubs and in festivals – it was almost like the song grew its own body, it just started getting bigger n bigger. I think it really kicked down the door to take grime artists seriously; it charted at number 11, the industry was confused, Radio 1 didn’t really support it – it just kinda showed real music, that good music is good music.
ILM: It's about the music, not the chart position?
Lethal Bizzle: I think the whole having to make a certain record to chart is nonsense to be fair. I’ve always wanted to be an artist to make music for myself and my passion, you know? I don’t really like making music to try n get a number one. I just wanna make music. I think it’s amazing how the record is still relevant now, like seven years later. Still now people know every word, DJs still have to play it, people still have the same reaction – like when I’m on tour I have to play it! I’ll be on my second song and they’re sayin’ “POW!” n I’m like “wait, it’s comin’ later man!” It was kinda inevitable that a new one was gonna come. Someone suggested it two years ago and I thought “nah, just leave the original” and then thanks to Twitter I had no choice but to just do it.
ILM: Haha! Pow 2011 was born through the mystical powers of Twitter?!
Lethal Bizzle: Haha! Yeah! I was on Twitter and I heard some X Factor song, and they were like “this is gonna go to Christmas number one!” I was like “bollocks!” So I tweeted something like Pow for Christmas number one! and everyone just went mad! Like “yes! Yeah, do it! Do it!” People started Facebooks and stuff… Then someone tweeted me n goes “Bizzle, why don’t you do another version and put newer MCs on there, the up and comings as well as the legends.” I was like rah! and retweeted, saying it was a very good idea.
ILM: It happened that quickly?
Lethal Bizzle: I swear I was not even taking it seriously til the day after. Wiley phoned me from Australia or Jamaica, he was in another country somewhere – and he was goin’ “bruv, what’s this about you doing another Pow? I wanna be on it!” When I said I was joking he was like “No! Biz, you have to do it.” Then some 1Xtra DJ called me and said “bruv, you need to do that!” I was just like “are you bein’ serious?” Then I thought alright, I’ll phone a few people, see who’s on it. So I phoned JME, he's like “yup, I’m on it, 1000%”, I phoned Chipmunk, he's like “yup, I’m on it, 1000%”. I was just like rah, people really want this!
ILM: You didn't have to convince anyone?
Lethal Bizzle: There were a few people I couldn’t get, I wanted to get Tempa T but he was touring with Chase & Status so I couldn’t get him on it. But yeah, everyone was just on it man! I feel like the scene – the UK urban scene – has been really successful over the last two years, it’s been really, really good. But in all honesty, the music that’s been gettin’ recognition is still not what we really represent. I feel a lot of people felt the same way, which is why this new version was even easier to do – everyone was like “yeah, we need some real music that we represent.” Grime’s become a culture now; it’s bigger than just a music, we live it. It deserves to get the recognition, and it’s kinda like a full circle now – it’s come back round again.
ILM: And you knew who you wanted to feature straight away?
Lethal Bizzle: Firstly, I wanted to get the balance right. I wanted to obviously have a few of the legends on there, you know Wiley, JME, Kano. But I also wanted to bring the new breed – Chipmunk, P Money, 2Face, Ghetts is coming through hard now. I just wanted to keep the balance right, get as much people as possible from different styles, different people involved to make it the perfect record.
ILM: How did the verses for Pow 2011 come together?
Lethal Bizzle: Everyone done their verses in their own studio and they sent me the verse… So it was quite exciting! I’d be anticipating hearing it, then listening for the first time I’d be like “OH MY GOD!” Ha ha! I heard JME’s verse, I was going crazy! Wiley's verse was funny because he wasn’t sure – I had to persuade him.
ILM: No way! You had to persuade Wiley!
Lethal Bizzle: Yeah, he said “you know what, I’ve got a verse but I’m not sure if I’m gonna send it to you.” He took about three days ‘cause he was like “I’m not sure if it’s the one you know Biz! Let me hear someone else’s verse!” So I said “awh, I can’t really do that!” and he was like “awh, I’m not sure, I’m not sure!” Then he phoned me and said “a’ight listen” and played it down the phone. I said “yeah, that’s the one!” He goes “d’ya reckon?” I was like “yeah, now send me the verse!” When he sent it to me I could hear it properly, I was like “bruv I’m tellin’ you, people are gonna go nuts for that! People are just gonna think what the fuck! It's crazy, it's so out there man, just outta the box! And that’s what Pow’s about, having fun, expression, saying what you wanna say. It’s just a real record. Letting loose, letting people have fun man.
ILM: There's been some heavy online debate about Chipmunk's appearance on the track, why do you think that is?
Lethal Bizzle: He’s the new generation and I definitely wanted to have that involvement, it made sense. The thing about the grime scene is that it’s such a passionate scene. Chipmunk’s had a lot of success, and maybe because he’s from the grime scene and his records are not really grime, a lot of people got a grudge. But Chipmunk for Pow 2011 to me just made sense; as an artist he’s talented, you know what I’m sayin? And as much as we all would love to make grime records all the time and chart, the reality is we can’t. I will always do it, it’s second nature to me to just make a cool grime record, I love doing it. But the politics of the music industry, and the position of where grime is means the acceptance of the sound is only limited. You’d be a fool to have the opportunity to do something different and really progress and then not do it. That’s where I think the Chipmunk thing comes in. I think he’s got his new stuff coming out and it’s all about just getting the balance right. I don’t think he’s forgotten where he’s come from; I think now he’s even doing the grimey stuff and doing things for YouTube. As long as you do that, I think the grime fans will be happy. So long as you do your grime things and say “look, here you go, we ain’t forgot about you but obviously I do other things”… It’s just trying to get the balance right. But for me, I wanted Chipmunk on there. It was nothin’ to do with his success or whatever – I just wanted to get a new generation guy, and I just think he’s a bad boy lyricist man.
ILM: Coming from such a passionate music scene, how hard do you think it is to hold onto the roots of your music as it becomes more successful?
Lethal Bizzle: It’s very hard, you know. Especially as the bigger you get, the more pressure you have. Labels come into it… A very successful artist that’s signed never has 100% full control of the music they put out. It’s just the music business. And it’s a shame, ‘cause I think grime music is real quality music, it’s a passion, it’s a culture. But I think now things have changed due to the internet; it’s kind of made things a little bit more easier, to try and keep that audience there n try and please those fans, just by doing little things for YouTube, the forums, Twitter… You could do a freestyle and say “there you go, that’s for you lot!” Those things, they definitely help to try and keep that core audience going.
ILM: Has your music making process changed over the years?
Lethal Bizzle: It’s always been inspirational – it’s never forced, I always follow what my heart thinks. I never really just jump into things; if I don’t like it, I don’t like it. I’ve done tracks like Babylon’s Burnin’, crazy records I’ve made in the past. And it’s one of those things. I think I’ve grown musically as I’ve got older. I’ve started to appreciate different sounds, different genres. I really respect genres as well, like the whole punk rock scene – I was lucky to be embraced by them, I think they saw the passion in me for what I do, it’s very similar. Especially with punks, it’s just about making music that they feel passionate about, and that’s what the grime scene’s about as well. So more or less the same, just inspirational, I like what I like. I wouldn’t say too much has changed, I just like what I like; if I like it I’ll do my best and try and get it.
ILM: Out of all the producers you've worked with, who have been some of the most inspiring?
Lethal Bizzle: Recently probably Donae’o, he’s a real inspirational guy man. You could be on a downer and you’d go to the studio and he suffers from ADHD! So he’s just a nutter, jumping up and down, and he just gets you back into the inspirational vibe n wanna work again n stuff. He’s definitely one person. I’m working with him again actually, my next single’s probably gonna be produced by him as well.
ILM: What do you look for in a beat?
Lethal Bizzle: Something that just moves me man, I couldn’t even tell you what I look for, I’ll just know. You just get that feeling and think “woah, that’s something!” It just needs to touch me. I’m across the board, I like so many different genres, so many different styles; that’s why when people say “what you want?” I say “just send me what you’ve got!” It’s just kind of a gut feeling, your passion and your instinct.
ILM: What would be your advice to younger artists?
Lethal Bizzle: I think now things are a lot easier than when I came through. My first record was with More Fire Crew, 2001. There weren’t no Twitter, I don’t think there was even any YouTube – well there might’ve been but it wasn’t big. There was no MySpace, there was no Facebook; you know what I mean, there was nothing, no Channel You, no AKA. We just had MTV Bass, no 1Xtra… Wow man, I went through the trenches! But yeah, now it’s a lot simpler. I just think young artists should use the resources they have; the YouTubes, the Facebooks, the Twitters, use these to your full advantage. And as I said, make music that you wanna make, I think that’s the most important thing. Being yourself is only gonna get you far, being somebody else is already taken; so I just think go with your heart, go with something that you’re passionate about. And have something to say man, tell your story. Try and be different, but sayin’ that if you be who you are then you’re more or less gonna be different anyway.
ILM: What’s you advice for dealing with the publicity side of things; how do you find dealing with that?
Lethal Bizzle: Me personally, I don’t Google myself anymore. Don’t Google yourself! I get Google alerts, but for press, good press! But always remember why you’re here and always remember the reason you’re in the position. For anyone. For me, it’s the music; you could be, I dunno, a producer – but whatever respect, whatever attention you’re getting, always remember why you’re gettin’ it. And I think if you always focus on that, always remember that, it’ll definitely keep you grounded and focused. Never believe your own hype and all that stuff that’s going on around you, because if you stop the reason why those people are around you, that’s gonna disappear. Your music and your career and whatever you’re doing is gonna deteriorate as well. So I just think focus on the prize. If you're a producer, focus on making beats; if you’re a writer, keep focusing on that.
ILM: Is that how you work?
Lethal Bizzle: I still have a good time but I almost treat it like a nine to five, ‘cause it is a job and it is a business. Always remember that. You go out, you get the attention but you got work tomorrow, you gotta carry on workin’ n stayin’ focused on that. That’s what I do anyway, which has kept me so grounded for so long. My anniversary’s next month in March – it’ll be ten years since I made my first record!
ILM: Wow! Congratulations! Ten years making music is a real acheivement. Going right back to the start, what’s your earliest musical memory? When did you realise music could have such an affect on you?
Lethal Bizzle: I think it was probably Wu-Tang Clan. I’ll be honest with you, they actually changed my whole outlook to everything. They just made me so confident, they made me just not give a shit to be fair. Made me feel like if I wanted to do something, if I felt it was right, I’m gonna do it. Swear down, Wu-Tang Clan. It’s funny how music can influence you – Wu-Tang Clan were the crew that done that for me. I used to listen to their music, and they used to just speak real sense and give messages…It really touched me as a kid, I don’t think I’d be the person I am if it weren’t for Wu-Tang Clan. I’m quite a confident person, I go for what I wanna go for, I like what I like. So yeah, the Wu-Tang Forever album and 36 Chambers, them two albums did it.
ILM: Do you still listen to them now?
Lethal Bizzle: Ah, definitely – Wu-Tang are probably my favourite hip hop rap group of all time! I met a few of them as well, I actually interviewed a few of them! I was nervous as fuck and telling them the process like what I’m tellin’ you, and they were like “yeah man, I’m happy man!” They were just kinda glad they influenced me and stuff.
ILM: You should have hooked up a collaboration? Wu Tang Bizzle!
Lethal Bizzle: Nah! I was being a fan man! Haha! I’ve just got the ultimate respect for them – I was just like “this is Wu-Tang Clan!” Like I used to be going up my school, no-one really knew who they were; I used to love that ‘cause they were just so cool, they never really tried to push for the whole commercial thing, they just made music that they wanted to make. Love them for that.
ILM: What part did London play in your musical beginnings?
Lethal Bizzle: Ah, it’s real life man. I’m from East London, born and raised in Walthamstow. In all honesty, I think my location of upbringing was definitely a bonus. A lot of the grime sound started around East London, around Walthamstow, Leyton n Bow. There was a radio station calle Déjà Vu, and that was the biggest grime radio station at that time – that was like round the corner from my house! I went to school with the person who owned it. It was kind of a gift, they say right place at the right time. Yeah obviously it’s a rough area, and in a lot of my music – now still, and then obviously – I was just talking about life experiences, things that used to happen. People used to go through a lot of pain, see a lot of negativity around. So a lot of that was being expressed in my music then, even more heavily because I was actually living it; seeing people suffer, seeing people get into trouble, seeing people stealing, seeing people dying. It was a real hard time to be fair, when I was early doing it, ‘cause I was a local star in the end of it, in the hood – sometimes you get people who hate on your little success. Looking back now, it was cool and I would never change anything ‘cause it made me a lot stronger to be who I am now but… rough area man. But like I said, kind of a blessing in disguise.
ILM: What do you think of the grime scene right now?
Lethal Bizzle: It’s a beautiful thing, especially being one of the creators of the whole thing, being at the start of that from the beginning. To see how it’s progressed – I always kinda compare it to the whole hip hop thing, I just really think this is the UK answer to that. It’s the UK sound, we speak English…We’ve kinda been in the background of the US for so long, we used to make hip hop and have an American twang but Grime has given us a real identity of who we are and who we represent and the language we speak. It’s totally different to anything else out there in the world, I would say. ‘Cause a lot of things come through that – dub step, which I would definitely say is like a cousin of grime… It definitely feels good man, I just feel it’s gonna get bigger and bigger. There’s a lot of new talent coming through, you know? When you go on the forums, or I’ll be listening to some grime show – there’s so many new MCs, like artists coming through who are really hungry and believe one day that it’s gonna be them. I think as long as that keeps going this thing could just go on forever.
ILM: Who have you been listening to recently?
Lethal Bizzle: There’s a new guy called Screw Fizza. Look out for him, he’s amazing! I picked up on him late; if I would have heard about him before Pow 2011 I would have put him on there. And I actually tweeted that, when he messaged me, and I was like “oh my God, dunno how I let you slip through the bag!” He is so talented man, so look out for him. Also there’s a girl called Lady Leisha, she’s from Birmingham. Like I sit down and listen to her stuff and – not in a sexist way or anything – but the way she raps…! Like she’s better than some of the boys I know! She is sick, I’m just like “wow, this is a girl?” It’s woah, super, super talented. She’s gonna be one to watch this year as well. And another one – Ed Sheeran, look out for him man. Bad boy.
ILM: When you look back over your career, what have been some of the biggest highlights for you?
Lethal Bizzle: There’s been a few. I think the first record, the More Fire record Oi, that charted at number seven or eight; that was unreal man, back in 2002, wild. It was just an unreal moment, I’ll never forget that. My first tour, my first actual tour when I was doing academies and stuff – it was sold out, and that was just like woah. All these people were coming to see me, where before you’d do club shows and it was like people were having a good time and I’d a few songs and stuff…But that was really emotional. I was like woah, a thousand odd people each venue just coming to see me. That was a real historical moment for me. Reading Festival too; every Reading Festival’s amazing for me, they treat me like I’m royalty when I play there!
ILM: Do you remember the first time you played Reading?
Lethal Bizzle: Oh yeah. That was probably my most memorable. I just didn’t expect it, and that was my first introduction to the whole festival thing. I went in blind. I was sitting back stage in this cabin, like half an hour before I had to go on and the whole crowd was going “Biz-zle! Biz-zle!” I was like what’s that? We’re all just sitting in the dressing room like “what’s goin’ on?” My boy went outside, he peeped through and said “blud, we might have to go on earlier ‘cause the whole tent’s just shoutin’ ‘Bizzle!’” I was like woah…We went on and we actually smashed it so bad. They were screamin’ out songs that I just did for the internet, and I had to perform them and they knew all the words. So that was cool. And finally, another big memory was probably making the first Pow. Just having that frame of mind of nothing to lose. It was just a time where everyone had nothing to do and just hoped it worked, and the way it turned out how it did was just amazing. Doing the Pow tours – I remember doing shows and just being in the bus together. I remember we were all like “we don’t really know each other!” – like we knew each other but not really, so we got to know each other. It was just a nice time man, cracking banter… It was a good time.
ILM: What are your future plans?
Lethal Bizzle: I’m workin’ on my fourth album, which should be out in the summer. I’m also doing a Bizzle compliation, which is gonna be out in February, again just like tracks from the whole last ten years, like a little celebration thing for the fans, they can get that. It’s called The Best Of Bizzle… So yeah, and I’ve got this album I’m workin’ on. I’m trying to do a real, kinda like movie album. Like the Pow video – the second record is gonna be a continuation of the video and so forth. So there’s gonna be another three singles that I’m gonna be droppin’.
ILM: Will you be working with Director Carly Cussen for the next set of videos? And by the way, the Pow 2011 video is amazing...!
Lethal Bizzle: Yeah, amazing! I can’t take nothing away from her, it was all her idea. Amazing, it was so funny – when we had the meeting, n she was like “ok I’ve got this idea;" I’m sat there like cool… She says “basically there’s gonna be police, police chases, we’re gonna rob a bank, we’re gonna be on top of a roof…” I was like is this girl being serious? Then she done a script and got all the locations and somehow we did it man! Incredible and yeah, me and her are working together to do the whole sequel thing, so look out for that!
Guest Edit #30: Lethal Bizzle Take a look here