They used to call him Tricky Kid, now they call him The Boss... He is the overworked businessman with his own label who is to the Nineties what Prince was to the Eighties; the stoned neurotic who loves his family so much that he will make voodoo records about anyone who comes too close. Now he's made his own Black Album. Will the real Tricky please chill out?
text Craig McLean                                photography Jeff Idol
Fuckers," says Tricky. He is sitting in bed, wearing stripy blue-and-white pyjamas and T-shirt with his face on it. Rather comically, his hair is sticking straight up. He is eating toast and ladelling spoon after spoon of honey into a very small cup of black coffee. His skinning-up stuff is getting lost in the bedclothes.
  He is looking at a photocopied page from his week's NME that has just been faxed to his hotel in Atlanta, Georgia from London, England. It is a news item about Finley Quaye, who has long claimed to be Tricky's uncle (Tricky's mother's second name, as memorialised in the title of his first album, was (Quaye), and how Tricky has reacted to these claims the only way he knows how: by writing a song about it. A belligerent, affronted, menacing song. 
   "Fuckers." Tricky is annoyed because the story mentions "violent threats" that he has allegedly made against Quaye. "If I wanted to be a thug, I'd be a thug!" he shrieks, slapping the pillows, voice adolescently protesting, his boyish face and frame the picture of wronged innocence. "If you're gonna be a bad boy you gotta be 100 per cent bad boy 'cause you ain't gonna survive otherwise. If I wasn't 100 per cent rnusician I wouldn't survive as a musician. See, I have threatened people before but... to take it seriously is ridiculous! I have such a high profile, I don't murder people." 
   The Finley-berating song, "Can't Freestyle", is available in Tricky's adoptive home of New York on "bootleg" green vinyl. In terms of abrasive abuse it is not up there with his "Divine Comedy", the other 5,000-copy, Tricky-sanctioned 12-inch that surfaced in a handful of British record shops last month. This latter track is Tricky's response to a statement last year by an American record company 
executive at his parent label, Polygram. Said executive, it seems, commented that if he were to only employ black kids with no criminal records, he would have no black kids on his staff. "Fucking niggers!" goes the song. "Polygram!" comes the shouted response. The executive is no longer with Polygram. "This is no disrespect to anybody who works at Polygram," Tricky concludes, "unless you're a racist FUCKER!"
   Nor is "Can't Freestyle" as forceful as the song he wrote in the wake of his last appearance in THE FACE (April 1996). After Andrew Smith noted that Tricky's sometime partner Martina looked tired, perhaps because she was bringing up her and Tricky's daughter Maisey "more or less on her own", Tricky got upset. So he wrote a song about "putting [Smith] in the boot of a car and shooting his face". Tricky gave the tune, "Darker Magic", to British rapper Silvah (ne Silver) Bullet, and this summer it may finally come out, on Bullet's album. "Fuck the music industry, let's take it back to the council flats, guns, grenades and baseball bats," it goes, roughly.
And nor, finally, is "Can't Freestyle" as pointedly bitter as "Money Greedy", another new Tricky song, the only one of these lyrical assaults that will appear on his new album. "'Member we used to sit at The Brits," Tricky husks, "never won no awards but that's not what we looked towards."
   Is that about Finley - surprise winner of the Best Male gong at the awards ceremony in February - as well?
  "Well," says Tricky perkily, shoving toast into his mouth, "it didn't mean to be but it is now! That was written about the last kids I was in..." He pauses for as long as he pauses over anything (which isn't long at all). "To tell the 

truth, that was about Massive Attack. I produced two songs on that album ['Protection'], which helped win 'em a Brit [for Best Dance Act in 1994], and they walked past the table after getting the Brit, and they didn't even say hello to me. That's weird! Someone who produces your shit and you don't say hello to 'em! I don't give a fuck about a Brit, I don't want you to stand up there and say, 'I wanna thank Tricky.' But I've known you for ten years, all I want is a wink! To a mate! A mate!
  "And that reminded me: when we first got into this, we didn't give a fuck, we wanted to make good music. Now all of a sudden it's about Brits. And that's wrong, man. But," he brightens, "it does relate to him, which is kinda mad!"
  So "Can't Freestyle" takes a pot at "him" for "taking my mum's name in vain... Everybody knows I've got pain from my mum, from what happened, and it goes into my music, so it's almost like he's bagging on that now." As Tricky will remind you, after one of his uncles revealed the circumstances to the wider public in last December's brilliant Channel 4 exploration of Tricky's Bristol background, Naked And Famous, Maxine Quaye "lay down on her bed in her best clothes and killed herself" when Tricky was four. Despite the heaviness of this subject matter, the song is actually quite light in tone for a Tricky revenge-number. "I know your name's MacGowan," Tricky sings, "you're probably Shane's cousin... The sound of chuckling can be heard in the background. Then Tricky - who has, in the past, often hinted that he thinks he can make bad things happen to people - mutters "voodoo... voodoo... voodoo..."
  Coffee, toast and spliff consumed, Tricky jumps from the bed. He pogos on the spot, hoisting up his pyjama bottoms. "Woo-hoo!" he yells, "I feel heavy metal!"
   He stops jumping and says: "He's a cunt, in' 'e, Damon?"
  Damon Albarn, you may remember, recorded a Tricky song called "I'll Pass Through You", which was to be on the "Nearly God" album. A dispute between the two over how the track should sound resulted in Tricky rerecording the song with sometime Madness singer and minor TV celeb Suggs. Damon "had no bottle" and nor is he "real, 'cause his accent ain't his", Tricky told me two years ago. "I've been out with Damon to a club, and he totally brings out the bully in me..."
   Now Tricky says: "Damon totally nicked all his new moves offa me."

It's An Unfair Cop
Tricky, of course, has a criminal record (for passing counterfeit notes), and he's just made one. Ho. No, he's made two. Ho ho. The second of these is called "Products Of The Environment", a collection of spoken-word anecdotes from assorted Mancunian and Cockney gangster-types with a bit of Tricky-esque wow and flutter rumbling in the background. This will be the first release on Durban Poison, the label Tricky has set up with Los Angeles megabucks entertainment corporation DreamWorks.
   Other Durban Poison projects include Tricky's New York hip hop collective Drunkenstein, The London Posse ("they were on Island years ago. Their 'Gangster Chronicle' is one of the best hip hop albums ever"), Group Home ("who was on Payday"), Milo ("who kinda put The Wild Bunch together, he's been in New York about nine years"), The Autumn People ("some of the first kids I met in New York"), "a girl called Ife, and Val, she's like a' Asian chick. I know I shouldn't say the word 'chick', that's New York for you. But it's better than 'bird'! She's an experimental artist, we just let her get on with it. And there's The Baby Namboos, which is my cousins and my sister! It's wild innit? My sister can sing like fuck. Dope voice. I only found out like a week ago. She works in - wha's it called? - a sandwich shop in Bristol."

And the first criminal record? That'll be "Angels With Dirty Faces", the third Tricky album. It blatantly flouts the laws of pop and hip hop which state that a couple of tunes here and there would be appreciated. There is nothing as inspirationally innovative as "Ponderosa" or "Pumpkin" from "Maxinquaye", or as sonically breathtaking as "Tricky Kid" or "Christiansands" from "Pre-Millennium Tension". Instead there are percussive free- for-alls like "Talk To Me" and "6 Mins", breakneck rant "The Moment I Feared", the parched, ambient rap of "Carriage For Two", and the arhythmic oddity that is "Demise". In one moment of abject pathos, Tricky makes reference to Jimmy Cagney, whose 1938 gangster film classic gave the album its title (unless the reference is to duff punks Sham 69 and their 1978 single of the same name). "I want my mum," he whispers on the desolate "You", before sliding into a paraphrased version of the climactic line from 1949's White Heat, Cagney's other career-peak: "Mum, I'm on top of the world." As with Cagney's character, Tricky's highest point is also his lowest. 
   Just when you thought Tricky couldn't get any blacker or bleaker, more mumbling and rambling, more like a stereotype of himself, he does. OK, "Broken Homes", the lead single, has something approaching a melody, but that is sung by PJ Harvey, who could make a menu sound impassioned. 
   All of the above, it must be (hastily) added, is not necessarily a bad thing.
   "We don't have many songs," Tricky cheerily concedes. "Like 'Makes Me Wanna Die'. 'Black Steel' was a song [that he didn't write]. 'Broken Homes' is a song. But we don't have many of 'em."
   Is that deliberate?
"No!" he croaks, mystified. "They just don't come out! They just come out... low. I don't mind a pop tune. If it's a good pop tune, I'd do a pop tune. But I don't have any luck. So we've come to Dallas Austin."

Tricky's Garden Is Bigger Than Dallas'
Dallas Austin has three Jeeps, three Mercedes saloons and two jet-skis parked in his drive. He is 27. His large house-cum studio in suburban Atlanta is filled with posse, kids, girlfriends, mum. Dallas and the posse live here, apparently, but Dallas has another house - and another recording-studio - downtown. Mum's come over to make Dallas his tea, something he can heat up when he's finished work. "Everyone," Dallas will smile gently, "from Mick Jagger to George Clinton, loves my mom's cooking."
   In the basement, a large recording studio. There is also a large living-room, with a large metal fireplace and large leather couch, and the biggest TV I have ever seen. There is another Jeep in the living room.
   On the walls are Dallas' discs. One to mark eight million sales of "Boyz II Men II". Another for 11 million sales of TLC's "CrazySexyCool". Eleven million sales of Michael Jackson's "HIStory". An "Ampex Gold Disc" for Madonna's "Bedtime Stories". Sleepy-eyed and sports-casual, Dallas has braces on his teeth.
   Dallas Austin had his first hit when he was 16. Now he is one of the most in-demand R&B songwriters and producers in the world. Up there with the rest of the newly-minted hit-makers in Atlanta ("the Detroit of the Nineties"), from 19-year-old local lad Usher to Toni Braxton and Da Brat, Jermaine Dupri to Babyface and LA Reid.
   Tricky has come to Dallas because Tricky 

wants to get on black radio in America. "'Cause I'm living in New York at the moment" and because "in England I was determined to get on white radio, and I've done that now." So Dallas has been asked to do a remix of "Mellow" which, on the album, is the sound of a swamp-flecked guitar nagging at the back of your neck, and which might be the second single. This is "about as radio-friendly as the album gets," says Tricky. "And Dallas is making it radio-friendly. Knowwha'mean?"
   I do, but Dallas don't. Yesterday's recording session went a bit awry. Dallas - smart, sleek, upright, chilled - thought that he should do what Tricky - ruffled, rough, hunched, wired - does. So he made "Mellow" into a clattering jungle track. "No no no no. Iwant what Dallas does." So today we're back. Out of the studio's ajar door, beneath the din of the fuck-off telly, comes a smooth swingbeat groove. Tricky bounds in and shuts the door.
   He hears today's work. This is more like it. Tricky is so stoked he wants to do a new rap over "Mellow". But we're putting him off, so we have to go and stand outside, me and Tricky's manager and the press officer, on the back deck. We look at Dallas' garden, running down to a river, with its small wood, basketball court, forlorn swimming pool and Jacuzzi.
   Tricky comes out and tells us that the garden of the house he's buying in New Jersey is bigger than this.
   "It's more for my kid," says Tricky of Maisey, whose third birthday is in two days (Tricky's flying back to England with us for the party). "The back garden is like Alice In Wonderland, it's ridiculous! I want to take her there, close her eyes, and when she sees this house, she's gonna freak! It's like a little dream for her! That's reality. Getting her school fees - that's reality. Not me being in clubs with girls going, 'Aw, I love your music.' I've found my reality."
   So you're happier now...
   "Oh, a lot happier..."
   So why don't it sound like it on his LP?
Busted Rhymes
Why isn't "Angels With Dirty Faces" a
happy record, Tricky?
  "Because when I was doing it, I had a broken leg for one. And I was at the point of chaos in my life. I was heading for disaster. HEADING FOR DIS-AHHH-STER!" he says, his Bristol brogue becoming more pronounced, more raw, as it always does when he's moved to repeat himself to make sure you're hearing him. "Now, I ain't talking shit like, 'Oh, I was a runaway car, I was heading for death..."'
   That's a Goldie quote, no?
    "...he he he!" laughs Tricky, naughtily. "But my life was chaos! Drinking! I got into a fight in a club! I don't fight! I haven't fought for years!" We are back in Tricky's hotel now, and he is jiggling up and down on his bed. "Then when I broke my leg it was the best fucking thing!"
   "Fucking around in a club, pissed out of my head", Tricky snapped four bones in his leg. He went to Daniel Lanois' New Orleans studio. He was there three weeks, recorded 14 tracks, only went out once. He was getting up at six in the morning. He would drink "loadsa water", have "vitamin drips". "That's the healthiest I've been in years."
   This was last summer?
   "Yeah yeah. Or the summer before." 
   If you hadn't broken your leg, what would
"Angels..." sound like?
   "More chaos. I don't feel like that any more. Now, I want to get to 70-years-of-age. Then, I was thinking: 'What is going on here?' I was confused. And what's mad is," Tricky says, his voice rising in teenage befuddlement, "I can't even remember what I was confused about!""

Nearly Good
Those three weeks in New Orleans, those 14 songs, have lightened Tricky's load (but then, only three of the songs made the LP).
   Now Tricky trots out declarations of "calmness", of having "more space to see my 

flaws", of being "relaxed enough to be an observer now. You can't be totally swallowed up by your work. If all I could see was my music and my gigs, I'm blind."
   So he sees other people's music. Indeed, you can't be anything but impressed by his absolute devotion to his Durban Poison artists, to the music coming from his blood relatives and his professional family.
   "None of it matters," he shrugs. "You live, you die, and everything in between is killing time. Getting the record company has been the best thing. Since getting that, I've become more business. People want to suck your dick now, but if you fall off they won't suck your dick tomorrow. I'm very realistic about it. If you start believing that shit, you're fucked. Not fucked as in 'your career's over', but as in 'you're lost'. For the first time I don't feel lost."
   The new record, he says, "is more of a thought-out verson of 'Pre-Millennium'. That was recorded so quick, and fucked-up. And more punk. This is..."
   A lightbulb goes on above Tricky's head. "....this is maybe a pop version of 'Pre- Millennium Tension'."
   Which is patently cobblers.
   Nothing is internalised with Tricky. Everything pours out in a tumbled rush of ideas, issues and gripes. Because he is An Artist, and undoubtedly a great one, with a million ideas happening at once, and because he is, by his own admission, a spliff-induced paranoiac, coherent discussion is at best problematic. In conversation he will jump from A to C and you will be left wondering what happened to B and how that B came to be something you said and how that same B now appears to be causing him major upset.
   But that's probably my fault. Because I'm not a genius.
   Thus a collaboration (whether interview or recording project) becomes a beef, a beef becomes a public brawl, a public brawl
becomes a record you can buy in the shops. The spat with Finley Ouaye, for example, started to get serious after the two planned to work together under the name "The Ouaye Twins, and we'd do pictures like Reggie and Ronnie!" Then Tricky felt Finley dissed him in some lyrics. Hence, eventually, "Can't Freestyle".
   "That's the trouble with rap sometimes," he sighs. "People take it too seriously. Those kids couldn't murder people. There's five per cent rap artists who talk the shit and are living it. It's not real. It's a persona."
   But you've remixed Biggie, worked with RZA, you live in New York - you're as close as you can get to the real-life hip hop movie.
   "Yeah. I know it can happen, and there is some heavy shit going on. But I ain't involved in that. I don't shoot people, I've never stabbed anybody. That was my uncles' lives, that was Biggie Smalls' life, but that ain't my life. It's just writing stories. It's just like writing a movie. People take everything so literally. It's art. It's art. That's what it is. That's all it is."

Durban Hymns, Urban Poison 
We drive to the airport to fly back to London. Last night we had been in Dallas Austin's other studio until after midnight. The track - or Tricky's three-line rap anyway - was eventually done by four in the morning. It would be some days before "Mellow" in its remixed entirety would be completed. As Tricky and his manager remarked, the American South is like Jamaica. Everyone. Takes. Their. Time.
   Anyway. The airport. We take a detour to find a shop to buy skins so Tricky can smoke the last of his grass before getting on the plane. On the in-car stereo he's playing a tape of The Baby Namboos. Tricky is swaying in his seat like a stoned cobra, jabbing his arm like a punch-drunk boxer, grinning like a kid, away with the musical fairies. Tricky's manager says he's always like this. Always playing his label's stuff.

   "See, he's done a lot of good for me, Finley," Tricky reflects equanimously. "I got so annoyed at one point that I thought: I got real cousins and real family, if he can do so well offa my name... I've always had this thing: anybody can be a musician, you've just gotta have the opportunity. Now it's time to put that into practice. So I've got this passion to hook up my family. I've got my uncle doing security. We're building. My cousins, The Namboos. Threw 'em in a cheap studio in Manchester. The music was fucking dope! Dope dope dope! They're like me: they ain't got no rules to go by. I live offa dreams. You follow your dreams and all of a sudden you think, 'Fuckin' hell, this could work. This is real!"'
  Tricky's sister Leona, 25, remember, is also in The Namboos. By his own admission, she was one corner of his family that he had "neglected". Then his auntie reminded him that his sister's life had been harder than his. While Tricky was brought up by his granny, Leona was brought up by their great-granny. Uncle Martin - the one with the white eye and stories about stabbing people in Naked And Famous - lived there too, and he'd be coming back, pissed-up, smashing up the house. Then, great-granny died when Leona was young, thereby robbing her of her second mum.
   So Tricky thought about this. "Yeah, she has seen a lot of grief. And if she could sing, she's probably got a lot of soul in her!"
   And so, again, from pain came gain. Tricky put Leona in the studio with his cousins. "And it totally rocked my world! I'm so proud of her, and my cousins. It's the best album I've heard in years. They're like Happy Mondays, without the problems. Without the self-destruct button. This year, England is their town."
   What does "Baby Namboos" mean? "It's a gun. The guy who made up the name is in prison. This is why the album's so good: the lyrics on there are real shit."
   Listening to the music now, once more, he gazes out of the limo window at passing Atlanta. "This is Namboos weather," he says ponderously. What? Grey and cloudy? "Concrete," Tricky says.

He Be The Prophet
The only time Tricky has directed one of his
Durban Poison artists is "when they got too
musical, made sounds like real music". 
   What, like Dire Straits?
   "Nah. It sounded like they knew what they were doing"

"Broken Homes" is released on May 11, "Angels With Dirty Faces" on May 25

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   photos: Jeff Idol
analyze me (Tricky)
Tricky biography
Tricky solo discography part 1 (1991-1998)
Tricky solo discography part 2 (1999-2005)