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...
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.
IS, BY SOME MARGIN, TRICKY'S MOST TRADITIONALLY 'HIP-HOP' ALBUM TO DATE.
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.
'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..."
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.
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.