For real. That's how Tricky describes his first proper hip-hop album 'Juxtapose'. But how did a maverick Bristol street poet called Tricky Kid wind up enjoying superstar New York sessions with production gods like DJ Muggs and Grease? Here's how...
verbals: K-Mass
Aslightly built, wiry figure dressed in a black chenille polo neck and huge baggy navy cords shuffles into the hotel room. Out in front of him he proffers a silver tray carrying a bleach white china plate, a dainty portion of chicken and sate potatoes sitting apologetically on top of it. "All right, boys?" Tricky chirps at us in his hoarse West Country burr in way of greeting to the HHC massive.
  Despite a healthy entourage of pals, record company reps and management in tow to wait on him, if he so wished, the sight of one of the most recognisable - and notorious - characters in British popular music walking about in his socks with his dinner in his hands is slightly disarming. But then Tricky is more normal than previous reports would have you believe. Most interviews and reviews revolve around a) Tricky's difficult upbringing, b) his surly manner, and c) his dark lyrics. It doesn't seem like there's anything else of interest to most journalists when it comes to the man behind Adrian Thaws. And that's another one - everyone likes to mention that his is his real name, as if it's weird that he wasn't actually born Tricky. Tricky is what everyone present today calls him.
  And this is waht we are interested in - Tricky, the man, the 'rapper' [his brackets, not ours]. Tonight, Britain's hip hop maverick, street poet, dress-wearing, journalist-baiting don of leftfiel rhymes and beats kicks the crackpot suggestion that he's merely a loose cannon into touch.

A BRIEF, SWEET, ANCIENT PREVIOUS ENCOUNTER WITH HHC ASIDE, THIS IS NEW TERRITORY FOR TRICKY - talking hip-hop to a bona fide hip-hop mag. He's done all the stlye mags, eh says, been interrogated by the music inkies, had a dissection from every major newspaper broadsheet going. "And I'm bored of speaking to them," he moans. "They ain't saying nothing new." It's up to us, it appears, to save the day. Thou shalt not bore your interviewee.
  The tray, complete with the food, and Tricky are on the king-sized med in one of the two huge rooms. Tricky has to himself an achingly chic hotel just off London's Hyde Park. After a few half-hearted bites at the mustard yellow-coloured roast chicken on his plate, Tricky begins to entertain the room. The HHC photographer directs him to a corner of the hotel room to sit, stnad and pose buit already Tricky's off. "Look Paul," he grins, "I ain't doing no funny shit. Just take pictures of me.. I ain't into posing. Fuckin' 'ell, that chicken tasted like shit," he continues, removing remnants of the chook from his mouth with a wipe of his arm. "It's corn fed. You can taste the corn."
  As he continues to chew at the last remaining morsels, his head jerks around with the effort, like he's twitching, observing, owl-like everyone else within these four walls. Photos finished fornow, he jumps back onto the bed, passing comment about two famous hip-hop names he's met in New York (Tricky now lives in New Jersey). He then, unprompted, recalls the infamous tale of the beating he gave to a journalist at Glastonbury last year who he says put into print aspects of Tricky's life that the artist deemed had got too personal.
  "It's the only thing they understand, some of them," he offers. Wheather this is meant as a warning to us, not to fuck with Tricky, is unclear, but by the end of our time together it seems entirely innocent. Besides, the story is common knowledge in press circles - tabloid-esque tittle-tattle, of course, never really being HHC's chief concern anyway.
   After more photos in the lobby and more Tricky banter - "He's on good form today lad," warns the press officer - he pulls us into the adjoining hotel room where he's joined on the sofa by a chief collaborator on the new Tricky album, 'Juxtapose', Mad Dog. Both his rhyming voice and slim, trim ragga kid appearance and gait make it wasy to guess this emcee's identity - although the man formerly known as Bionic of London Posse (still purveyors of Britain's best ever hip-hop album) winces at his old moniker and at mention of his former crew. He keeps quiet for now, only coming forward to talk later with Tricky's constant cajoling. For now, however, the garrulous Bristolian holds sway.

'JUXTAPOSE' IS, BY SOME MARGIN, TRICKY'S MOST TRADITIONALLY 'HIP-HOP' ALBUM TO DATE. The man himself concurs at our assumption - aside from Mad Dog's scatter-gun raps, production on the album (Tricky's fourth in solo terms) comes from Cypress Hill's Muggs and DMX honcho, Grease. If it's by no means straight-up traditional rhymes and beats, the evidence of Tricky's early heroes like Rakim and Slikc Rick are starkly evident. Maybe it's because Tricky is now resident in the USA for much of the year - he owns a farmhouse with two acres of land in East Orange, New Jersey, 25 minutes from downtown Manhattan. he's been out there for nearly four years, and it's seems entirely appropriate that the boy from the West Country, never mind from inner city Bristol, has ensconced himself in his own suburban enclave - surrounded by the middle class workers who make their way into New York City every day for work.
The only time that things seem even remotely uncomfortable between us in when Tricky seems to think we thought it more appropriate that he lived somewhere, well, more urban.
  "What do you mean - you'd be more comfortable in Brooklyn?" he asks in agitation. "What do you mean by that?"
  Well, not that that's where you should be, but if you went out to New York, maybe you'd be in central Manhattan where things really happen...
   "Well, realyl where I live is quite typical," he says, any thouight sof confrontation now dispelled. "You've got Naughty By Nature, all those kind of kids, land is cheap - before I was in an apartment with an elevator. A lift," he explains, seemingly conscious of using an Americanism (unlike many a Brit in the US, Tricky has kept his British accent intact). "Now I've got two acres of land. It just makes sense."
   But why did you leave the UK?
   "I was bored - I just got bored. But at the beginning it was a blessing, with the Grass Roots stuff [Tricky's collaboration with a variety of hip-hop artists like the Gravediggaz, release solely in the US on rap label Payday]. That ain't gonny happen over here. There ain't no market. People don't buy records over here. I've got a good fan base so I'm lucky."
   But the constant media treadmill started to tire him. He kept on saying the same things, interview after interview, to the same old magazines.
   "I started seeing a girl out there I met," Tricky continues. "And I just didn't come back. Weren't hard at all. After a while there was nothing here for me. You can't miss it 'cause I have to come back a lot, but I don't miss it. Nah, nah. Now, being here, I miss New York. I'm ready to go home already."
   The home in New Jersey is far away from the noise of Manhattan, an energy that he likes, but feels can't give him the relaxation he finds when he's out in East Orange. However, ask Tricky whether the new surroundings, where he has set up a studio at home, helps him make music, and he denies it. While many of the style press always point out the art and the suffering behind tricky, things are much more prosaic for him.
   "Inspiration doesn't come from atmosphere man," he argues. "Inspiration? This is what I do. I make music, have done since I was a kid, it's how I earn money. This is how I will get to my next level. I want to pay for my kids to go to school. There's a lot of people to be fed in my family, that's my inspiration."
   Tricky has gradually found a circle of friends in New York, but maintains a natural wariness towards other poeple that might go some way to explaining other people's prejudices towards him, that he's a loner. He went out there not as the tabloid regular and music mag darling, not as "no superstar" as he puts it (although he is now in some cities, as we shall see later), but just as another rapper. Only through being in the studio with unsigned kids, proving his worth, did they get to know who he was.
   "But when I didn't know anybody in London when I moved there," Tricky recalls. "When I moved from Bristol to London I didn't know anyone. It ain't about people anyway, moving... you feel you have to move sometimes and it was about that. At the end of the day you're on your own. You have to go to bed on your own, sleep on your own, be your own man."

   Tricky remembers the excitement of his reloaction from Bristol to London, but it seems to have worn off quick. The same feeling, however, has stayed for longer in the states: "It's like being in a movie, innit?" he says of Manhattan, a place he says he's so secure in now. "But you can never feel too safe," he tags on, "You know what happends then. I mean, I'm not living in Beirut, but I don't like to feel too safe."

THIS PART OF THE CONVERSATION IS PLAYED OUT TO THE CHINK AND FUZZ OF TEA CUPS AND GLASSES OF COKE, with Mad Dog doing the pouring honours... temporarily distracted from his spliff-biulding - some things never change with Tricky - he talks to the waiter like an old pal, thanking him profusely for his help.
   Does he see himself as a hip-hop artist? We have to ask him. Surely he agrees that this is his first proper stab at a hip-hop album in his own right, or are we setting ourselves up for a tongue-lashing here?
   "No, no, no, you're right.," he says reassuringly. "There hasn't been beats on the other albums but then they weren't really hip-hop [Tricky, with that West Country lilt pronounces this "'ip-'op" somewhat engagingly]. People said they were hip-hop 'cause I was black. ANd I was rhyming yeah, 'cause I can't sing. But I started off as a rapper but then it went somewhere else. It went into like spoken word, so no-one's considered me rap at all. But this is a hip-hop album, definitely. That's why I got Grease."
   Grease, Tricky explains, is the man bedind DMX's first two albums, and his employment came from a conversation taht Tricky had with his close confidants about selling records to the hip-hop market - "and the only way to do that is to do hip-hop," says Tricky. "You can't get into the hip-hop market by making something contrived. You get in with an authentic stamp and Grease is that."
   So it's here, being in New York, surrounded by hip-hop, that has facilitated thsi has it? No, says Tricky.
   "'Angels With Dirty Faces' [Tricky's last 'dark, bluesy album'] was made in New York, and it doesn't sound like a hip-hop album," he argues. "I don't get influenced that much. I don't listen to hip-hop so much that it takes over my life. For me to do hip-hop I needed a hip-hop producer in. If I do a blues track, it won't come over like a blues track. If I do a hip-hop track, it will come over like me. Grease is the real deal He is hip-hop., he lives it, he breathes it. He is it."

'JUXTAPOSE' STARTS WITH 'FOR REAL'  IT DOESN'T TAKE A BUDDING FREUD TO RECOGNISE THAT THIS IS a statement if intent. Musically it's Tricky in gentle mode. muted drum patterns gurgle underneath a simple keyboard break, with Tricks rasping, in what sounds like a beatdown to fake emcees: "You watch too many films - for real." There's even a line where he quotes a female admirer coming up and offering the immortal words, "You look much bigger on the video..."
   "Ah, you see, some poeple seem to think that I ain't got a sense of humour. I have got a sense of humour."
   And that seems to be a real point of annoyance to Tricky. His explanation is simple and direct.
   "After a while you get used to it," he spits. "I just think - fuck it. If you think I am like that, then fine, that fives me more opportunity to be like that. If you come into my world thinkin I'm a moody bastard [he rolls the 'r' on the first syllable here deliciously] then I'm going to be a moody bastard to you. So it don't really worry me - people get what I want."
   Elsewhere on the album, there's the occasional more tradinally Tricky cut. 'Contradictive' revolves around a subtle swell, a looped male vocal. It's quite gorgeous. Okay, not the sort of description you'd normally associate with a hip-hop artist, but we already know quite why Tricky is different. It's the Mad Dog-collaborated cuts like 'Hot Like A Sauna' and 'I Like The Girls' that will initially be the most accessable to fans of more mainstream hip-hop. 'I Like...' is an off-kilter, shuddering, booty-shaking tale of lap-dancing lesbians, narrated by Mad Dog, full of references to 'breasts', 'clits' and 'whipped cream'.
   The album ends with 'Luv,' a metronome neat joined by military stabs. Tricky whispering his way through the cut. "It's been some time since I've seen Luv," he raps with dual meaning. There's a few emcees around, in the states at least, who'd be brave enough to be so introspective.
   "I'm talking about a girl," Tricky explains. "But it means 'love' as well... like once I had my head mashed up by a girl

and I couldn't work, couldn't eat. I'm a businessman now and I can't afford to let that happen. And you have to have a hardcore attitude. I won't let them into my world... I can't afford to lose my functions now. I need to make money and that's what this game is all about. In the beginning I wanted to change the world with my music, with ym lyrics, and I realised that is impossible so now I try to make some money....
   "I'm a capitalist I think as well," he offers, almost as an apology. "See, I've got poeple that I have enough respect for in this world. Like him [he motions towards Mad Dog] Then I have people I have no respect for in this world but they are still in my life and I use them for a certain thing... and I know that I couldn't trust them, right. It don't make any sense to have people like that in your life. but I realise that for certain things these people are useful and that's the capitalist attitude. I can be with someone and look them in the eye and think, 'You are a fucking idiot man and I know you would fuck me over', but if they are useful to me..."
   But Mad Dog? It's now that Tricky goes into overdrive, cajoling, Mad Dog to talk (sorry, but it's still so difficult NOT to call him Bionic) and then finishing the conversation for him. Well, I s'pose he is signed to his label now, hence the hype man persona from Tricky.
   "Boy, he's the only one we've got over here man. I've not had another male vocal on my records apart from Terry Hall ["a god like man" he calls Hall]. And Mad Dog is our Slick Rick. I have to mention his album even though he don't want me to mention them [London Posse]; me and my friends, before we went out we used to listen to them. A lot. Here was someone I could relate to... When I first signed to Island, my dream was to hook up with him and sign him. I knew that no label in England would be advanced enough to handle him. I can execute these plans. English emcees are crap, basically, and we have someone like him who can sit alongside the best, like Rakim, Slick Rick, DMX. People need to hear him, in America, be educated by him. It's time."

THE SAME MIGHT BE SAID OF TRICKY, EVEN THOUGH THERE ARE PLACES WHERE'S HE SOMETHING OF A HERO. The Mayor of San Francisco has just named December 2nd 'Tricky Day' in the city and he will see in his millennium there with a concert. It's a long way from the prototype Tricky, the little b-boy from Bristol.
   "I was a b-boy yes, like I was a rude boy when I first started hearing The Specials. But you could be a b-boy from Bristol - it sounds ridiculous but we tried to breakdance, body pop and hang out and listen to hip-hop. And it led to this." And via his two vocal heroes Terry Hall and Slick Rick.
   There was time when everyone who made music in Bristol was investigated for some sort of familial link. Ask Tricky about the hip-hop scene there and you might expect him to yawn. He doesn't.
   "I haven't really talked a lot about this because when people talk about Bristol they talk about the 'Bristol scene' and there ain't no Bristol scene. All there is, is hip-hop. They talk about Massive Attack and Portishead. Look, when I started off in it, those kids weren't around... I remember on a Saturday afternoon, 30-40 kids would come from all different neighbourhoods and watch each other dance in the windows at Woolworth's. There was no Massive Attack, Portishead or me around back then so there was no Bristol scene, apart from that. Groups of kids used to get together and dance together. I had a half brother and he used to have a crew of dancers and that's how I got to know him, because he had a crew of dancers. And they used to dance against all these kids from London, Bath, Swindon and that, to me, was the Bristol scene. It depends on what you call it. The Bristol scene with me in Massive Attack was me, pissed up in bars, trying to make some money. That ain't much of a scene."
   The scene for now, for Tricky, remains the US, and another album - provisionally entitled 'Street Dog And Scrappy Love' - with Mad Dog, for Durban Poison. "The plan is to just grow. Keep learning. And growing." No more films (at the moment anyway) after the flop that was The Fifth Element ("I didn't know it was going to be a shit film - loved 'Nikita'"). 'Juxtapose' won't be easy listening, but it's insidious, worming its way through to your brain like no other Tricky album before. It's either one more step along the way to deciphering the enigma that is Tricky or yet another revision of the code. But when it comes to music, maybe it's best left to Tricky to describe himself. "My occupation? I'm a trier - I can't sing, I can't rap... but I try." 


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