A GYPSY'S LIFE
ONE FUCKED-UP AFTERNOON WITH TRICKY
  BY NICK STECHER, PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVEN DEWALL
I GREW UP IN A WHITE GANGSTA COMMUNITY, IN
Knowle-West [Bristol]. A good friend of my family called Wenny Lomaz-when I was about 19-got shot in his head twice. He got his head chopped off, his arms chopped off, his legs chopped off, and was buried in my cousin's house. I grew up around real white gangstas, so when I see Eminem, I think he's funny, and I think he should have stayed funny. But don't try to get serious or try to go ghetto because you'll get yourself into trouble."
   There's something seriously surreal about sitting across a table from one of the most influential icons in electronic music and hearing hirn tell you about the headless cadavers he disposed of as a wayward Bristol teen. Trying desperately to absorb the whole scene, I listen to the mottle-faced producer recount stories of his crime-ridden youth, days spent as a street-boy ,,driving around in stolen cars, robbing houses, and fuckin' around with weed."
   But more on that later.
   Right now Tricky's busy blasting yet another scathing salvo at the world's biggest rap star. Growing up in Britain's post-industrial wastelands, in a famliy utterly submerged in crime and prison sentences, Tricky has apparentiy been left short on patience for suburban thug posturing-and he's letting the world know. ,,All of a sudden, rap is a yuppie form of entertainment. You can't tell me rap is from the street anymore; it might as well be country music. Britney Spears,Justin Timberlake, Eminem-there's no difference at all. lt's big-budget caricatures." Spittle of disgust flies from his mouth. ,,Eminem is not a street boy; your mom might've slapped you around, your mom might be an alcoholic, but you ain't a bad boy. You're not a gangsta. I don't care how many tattoos you got. You're a little fucking kid from Detroit"
   lt's a beautiful afternoon in Venice Beach and we're sitting at a corner sandwich shop. In between alternating pulls from a hand-rolled cigarette and a gailon bottle of spring water,Tricky lets the vitriol flow about the current state of hip-hop. Rap was the reason he moved to New York 10 years ago, and five minutes don't go by without a Chill Rob G or Public Enemy reference. Give this kid audience and he begins to positiveiy glow with the ember and spark of a Hephaestian hearth. Sharing the table with us is his latest collaborator, a charismatic ragga singer named Rodamon, who just stretches his lanky body out silently and lets his boy vent.
   Anyone who has listened to Tricky for any amount of time knows one thing: do not get on this guy's bad side, which at times may seem as wide as an aircraft carrier. And this persona-skewering is not 
quarantined to the printed page. On tracks such as ,,Can't Freestyle:' ,,Money Greedy" and ,,Divine Comedy:' Tricky disses Finley Quaye (for claiming to be his uncle), his old collaborators Massive Attack (for not acknowledging hirn at the British Music Awards), and calls out a racist exec at the Polygram label. He's even been known to cast voodoo curses on those who displease him.
   But right now, Tricky's ebullient nature and God-given aura juxtapose this simmering anger like the breezy Southern California sunshine that illuminates his dark, sunken features. There is an irrepressible joy that emanates from hirn. So in a moment of reflection, when he says things like ,,l'm the luckiest artist on earth. I could get a 30-piece orchestra in the studio in 20 minutes and do whatever I want. I stay in top hotels all over the world. I come from nothing. How could I complain about anything right now?" you are forced to wonder where all the resentment hides.
   In addition to the new album that he's preparing to drop, Vulnerable,Tricky Kid is also in the final stages of a collaboraltive effort with Rodamon. And for the moment, this is what he wants to discuss. ,,The shit is wicked!" he assures me, in his signature raspy brogue. Suddenly, his excitement for the project swells and he leaps up from our table as if struck by divine lightning. ,,You wanna hear the new album? C'mon, let's get outta here!" With the exuberance of a nine-year-old boy, he jumps into his pumpkin-orange Nissan Xterra.We take a 25-second ride down the street and park in his driveway, at which point Rodamon bounds up the stairs to their shared loft to find the CD. Apparently, the best sound system in the house is in the rented Xterra's stock stereo, so the idea is to lean back in the SUV's stuffed seats and let the basslines blast.
   ,,You smoke?" he asks as he inserts the CD and starts rolling a spliff, bits of tobacco and chronic cascading down the synthetic interior. Sure, why not? How many times do you get to smoke with Tricky, I ask myself. Dark waves of massive sound crash out of the speakers, and I climb into the driver's seat to check out the man at work. While crafting the j, he rocks back and forth to a beat hidden somewhere within the washes of distorted bass and off-time rhythm.There is no discussion.There is only intent listening and hunched body-rocking. What we listen to is much dubbier than anything he has produced in a long time and is enhanced by the talented ragga-riffing of Rodamon.The Jamaican-born vocalist also lends the production a shade of melody lacking in some of Tricky's more obtuse work. Basslines bounce off the thick smoke and suther around Tricky's undulating, rocking frame.This is his pet, his joy,

 
 
 
and it doesn't seem to matter one molecule if there is anyone else in the car with him.Thirty minutes later he stamps out the spent spliff-which has never left his fingers-and we head upstairs to the spacious loft.
   His flat's decorative style could best be described as minimalist, with the expansive living room furnished by a single wooden armoire. Upstairs, volumes of dothing he stacked or hang along what appears to be an exterior closet. Tricky has settled on a large beige couch and manipulates a remote control, finding the correct chapter of a DVD which houses the first video to the upcoming release. We watch a narrative that begins with a girl getting out of a bed with a vague figure in it, (Tricky later reveals it's him). The young girl leaves the very same loft we're sitting in and meets up with a yuppyish white dude. But soon Tricky and crew ambush the duo, who by now, are clearly engaged in an illicit affair.They are tied up, dragged into a cellar and violated.The video ends with Tricky's hench-man pumping a shotgun and executing the girl. As it fades to black, I ask if the video is biographical in any way, inspired by anyone in his past. He scoffs at the suggestion, and whispers in a low growl, ,,A girl could never have that power over me, to make me kidnap someone. Never gonna happen. But it's a nice image-I like the Image of forcing pills down someone's throat, someone tied up and getting slapped around-it's a visual thing. lt's just fun." Like I said, surreal.
   Tricky was born Adrian Thaws in 1968 under a precarious sky. The Aquarian's father left him and 11 other children before he was born. His mother, Maxine Quay, cared for the wiry youth for only four years, at which point she committed suicide. Tricky tends to see her actions as heroic rather than selfish. ,,My mom had epilepsy. She was such a strong woman that she didn't want to go through life being looked after." The story is unbearably touching, and from his perspective, lt's a tale of ultimate sacrifice. ,,She was a big woman, and one day she put on her Sunday's best-'cause in those days they used to have one pair of clothing to go to church-and she went round and visited the entire family. Everyone was asking, ,Hey, where you goin'?' because she was all dressed up. She just kept sayin', ,Nowhere."' He leans forward now, with his arms on his knees. His eyes are bright, and his voice filled with pride. ,,And at the end a the day she kissed everyone, went home, lay down on the bed and took tablets."
   To realize the impact of this action is to understand Tricky's music. Out of a life of death and abandonment grew a life of violence and petty crime-a life whose damaged soul was informed by violence, molded by violence, and which in turn created violence through music.The art that defines his records Maxinquaye, Pre-Millennium Tension and even Blowback, is a music defined by violence-rapist whisperings, ominous soundscapes and dark carnival-house discord.
   Life got no easier for Tricky in the decade and a half following his mother's death. His father was a philandering hustler that had to flee to Kingston and then back to London after cutting some people up-so there was no refuge for Tricky with his dad. His mom's side was no better: the great-grandfather was a horse-trader and the grandfather was a fist-fighter in Knowle-West who fought outside pubs for money. His uncles, Arthur and Martin ,,grew up to be big-time criminals," as Tricky puts lt. ,,My grandmother lost three of her kids-one to murder, one to suicide. My other uncle was in prison for 30 years." With an art historian's zeal he describes in great detail the knife scars that adorn his uncle's sides, back and neck. ,,He went to all for seven years for carving ,RAT' on someone's chest and forehead. 
He went to prison for 15 years for stabbing someone 1  times. I was brought up by real gangsters. Gypsies.The men in my family were never around, they were always in prison."
   lt is no wonder that in this damaged environment, Tricky
gravitated towards women. He tells these gangster tales of male virulence with neither pride nor shame, only with a sense of distance. But when he speaks of the women, there is utter respect. ,,A lot of my lyrics are written from a woman's pomt of view: ,Those men will break your bones / don't know how to build stable homes'," he quotes from ,,Broken Homes," his duet with Polly Jean Harvey from Angels With Dirty Faces. ,,The women were the strongest aspect of my family. That's why I don't talk that gangsta shit. I could talk that gangsta shit all day, but I don't talk about what's happened in my life. The thing I respect are the women. While the men were doing 30 years, lt was the women who were bringing people up with no money and feeding the kids. So I see gangsterism from another perspective-l see lt as women are the real gangstas."
    There are glaring paradoxes at work within Tricky. Paradoxes that seem to go completely unnoticed by him. Suggesting that he never speaks of his gangster upbringing, and then spending a good 20 minutes on the subject is an obvious example. On a more fundamental level, there is the rolling incongruence between his own widespread philandering and the almost celestial respect and love he has for women. On one hand, he films vindictive, borderline misogynistic snuff films and admits squandering piles of money in clubs chasing skirts. And on the other hand he talks about his deceased mother with the tenderness and love of a parochial school teacher. ,,I wish I knew who she was. I wish I could've met with her when I was like 16, just to talk with her." The gangsta-trippin' bad-boy is nowhere to be seen. In his ripped jeans, faded sweatshirt and low-pulled cap, he looks positively serene. ,,But apart from that l'm all good with lt. lt's a part of everything-life, death, it's just how lt is. And it's made me who I am, and I like who I am, know what I mean?" He pauses to pull another yellowing spliff.
   ,,She gave me her soul," he says.
      He has been known to say that he believes his stream-of-consciousness lyrics are actually sung to him by her. And the manifestation of this inspiration is as dear and evident as a Martina (who sang on his earlier records) vocal chiming like a bell over his churning, lugubrious beats. The Vulnerable DVD now begins playing other tracks from what has turned out to be a very aptly titled album and 1Ibear witness to the latest in Tricky's fine lineage of female vocalists-this time an italian singer named Constanza Francavilla. When I can't understand her last name, he looks at me suspiciously. ,,You need to smoke man, do you smoke?" he asks me (again). ,,You might understand me better." I agree (again). He begins to ply his trade (again). his fingers combining the lime-green herb and tobacco on the rolling paper. constructing a spliff I never touch (again).
   Constanza's voice is as beautiful as any that Tricky has worked with, reminiscent of Martina. Another link in a chain of vocalists used by Tricky to capture the voice he hears from beyond, the one that dances around his skull. A life borne out of violence. A transcendent musical gift. A gypsy's life.
   I suggest to hirn that the violence that permeates his past haunts and informs his music.Tricky just grins with his trade-mark overbite, leans back and takes another long hit.  F

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