Demonised by the media, deified by the art set, the real Tricky still struggles to be heard above the hubbub. Q parts a curtain of spliff smoke to find a cacking rap Wurzel behind the mask of evil blues-hop auteur. A case of better the devil you don't know.

Words Tom Doyle
Photograph Barron Claibourne

Every celebrity or rock star has their hotel ritual, their adopted way of squeezing the foibles of their daily existence into rented suite hfe. Tricky appears out ofplace in this bijou, upmarket Holland Park hotel - a regular haunt of movie stars and super- models - but there is one corner of his expansive room that is forever Knowle West, the Bristol housing estate that spawned him. On a table by the window lies the scattered detritus ofa sponsored puffathon, a moun tain of crumpled Rizlas and roaches spilling out of an ash tray, beside a sizeable pouch of potent hydroponic weed.
   We know the Bristolian rapper is partial to a herbal lug; that he's quite so open about it - not even attempting to hide any ofthe evidence when a room-service waiter arrives with a pot of fresh coffee - is still a surprise. "Usually in hotels, see," he pipes up in explanation, "you've got to put a towel over the door for the smell of the weed... but here you just smoke and smoke and no one seems to bother."
   With short, spiky dreadlocks attempting vertical take-off from his cranium, it is an amiable and impish Tricky who greets Q this Wednesday evening. The demonic obsessive reported elsewhere is absent without leave. That menacing, somewhat tubercular air is gone. kecording Angels With Dirty Faces (his third, most pointedly blues-ridden album to date) at Kingsway Studios in New Orleans, the rapper cleaned up his act and got vitamin-fit and healthy.
   "I was worn out, man," he says, his voice lapsing into that familiarly phlegmy and strangely Dalek-like burr. "For the first time time in years, I seen a doctor and had a full check-up. I was waking up at eight in the morning and going to bed at eleven, and that was the first time I'd done that since school probably."
   Today, however, he has been fogging his head with the weed smoke, partly to block out the questioning of today's parade of foreign journalists. One victim of Tricky's frustration - a distraught Dutch woman - is presently being consoled by an Island Records representative in the hotel bar, following her allotted hour in Beelzebub's lair. It isn't that Tricky doesn't suffer fools gladly. He just doesn't suffer them at all.

ONE OF THE blackest psyches ever document ed on tape - a tangle of sex and death, bad karma and voodoo, ghetto escape and success, sound tracked by darkly sticky hip hop blues - Tricky has been embraced by the chin-stroking broadsheet newspapers and the high-brow art world itself. Accor&ngly, he is dissected and studied as ifa help less, crash-landed alien and bombarded with psy choanalytical enquiries. Not only does this frustrate him enormously, but - irony of ironies, since he has a reputation for scare tactics ("You wouldn't say that if I stuck two pencils in your eyes" is a choice quote) - it actually frightens him.

   "Some people want answers that I ain't got," he states, in an incredulous, sing-song manner. "They say mad shit... they think I'm trying to say something, like I'm predicting something. They want answers to life almost. I think people reflect their problems on me. They want the big answer and some of them get quite angry when I can't give it to them.
   "It's heavy shit," he decides, using a term commonly apphed to his own music. "It scares the fuck out me...."
   With song titles such as I Be The Prophet and My Evil Is Strong - not to mention a tendency to refer to himself as "God" when stoned - Tricky's image as a twisted, millennial soothsayer has grown and grown. By contrast, Angels With Dirty Faces is an experiment with myth-debunking candour. A sample lyric from the song Analyse Me runs, "My mother committed suicide when I was four or five." "Already I've had people saying, What's that about?" Tricky half-laughs.

TRICKY - BORN ADRIAN Thaws in Bristol 30 years and four months ago - lost his epileptic mother Maxine Quaye as an infant. Subsequently brought up by his grandmother, he grew into a tearaway and sometime house-breaker, spending time in jail after being caught in possession of forged £50 notes. Turned on to music by way of The Specials and early rap records, he began hanging around with seminal Bristolian hip hop crew The Wild Bunch and, upon their subsequent mutation into Massive Attack, appeared on three tracks of their revered debut LP Blue Lines, providing the springboard for his garlanded solo career.
   The Channel 4 documentary Naked & Famous, screened last December, provided a camera crew to accompany the rapper on a visit back to Knowle West. The highlight of a traipse around his old secondary school came when, in a snap moment ofdeflance, he stormed out of the music room in the middle of a dedicated performance by the school band, protesting against the music master's hubris. "That teacher was so gross... I twigged on straight away that that was all about him - his guitar parts, his drum parts - and it was crap."
   Even better, the profile presented interviews with several of Tricky's swarm of rum relatives, including cataract-eyed uncle and "top gangster", Martin Godfrey, whose anecdotes tended to end with the phrase "so I stabbed him". Godfrey's reminiscences resurface on Product Of The Environment, the charity album that the rapper has just completed with spoken word contributions from better-known criminals, including East End villain and experimental dentist "Mad" Frankie Fraser, and Kray Twins henchmen Freddie Foreman and Tony Lambrianou.
   "I started taping them telling their gangster stories," Tricky explains. "When I played it... it made you listen. I found it 

amaz ing how you could sit on your bed and listen to it and it
wasn't music."
   Rock stars are quick to assert their out-law credentials, fond of peddling the idea that music saved them from prison or the grave. Tricky has more right to such pretensions than most.
   "I don't see myself as being rugged enough to be like them," he reasons. "Still, I could undoubtedly have been a villain, even if I don't think I'm a tough guy. I thought, People have got money, why shouldn't I have any? So yeah, I could've ended up in prison. See, if people realised that about me, then they'd find me a lot easier to understand. Instead of getting all arty about it."
  As he put it, rather more chillingly, in Naked & Famous: "I really think the Godfreys have a problem in their heads - and I'm a Godfrey. Schizophrenia runs in the family."

CONSTANTLY SIMMERING, sporadically Boiling over, Tricky is known for outbursts of Loathing and expressions of distrust. In keeping, Money Greedy and Record Companies offAngels With Dirty Faces flick a brutal one-fingered salute in the direction ofhis paymasters, Island Records, although, having followed up the chart-friendly commercial promise ofhis angular cover of Public Enemy's Black Steel with a string of increasingly uncompromising releases, he insists that the label has never put pressure on him to become a more viable, mainstream act. Perhaps in explanation, he admits to employing mild intimidation tactics in his business dealings. 
   "I just explode," he shrugs, applying his tongue to another cigarette paper. "I've set myself up in a way where I can say, Fuck you. People are careful with me. I don't feel like I have to be scared of anybody. I can't let someone hold a record deal over me because then I'm going to be their slave. If I'm scared of losing this record deal, I might as well give up my life. I know a lot of people are scared of losing their record deal and that's why they get controlled. I get left alone."
   But in Money Greedy, you seem to want the approval of the music industry. There's the line "Remember we used to sit in the Brits/Never won any awards." Do you ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
   "Yeah. I realised what it's about, last year. It's a pat on the back for making money for the indus try. But I didn't realise that before. I was nominated for fucking four and my ego says I should've won every one ofthem. Shaun Ryder said a fuck mg unbehevable thing to me once, I thought it was dope. We were in an awards ceremony and I said to him, Ain't it mad how all these cunts win these awards and me and you, they don't want to give us nothing? He goes, They don't want to give things to ugly people, Tricky. I said, What do you mean, we're ugly? He goes, No, not ugly like that... but we show our ugly side in our words, it's not always pleasant and nice. I just thought, That's true, man.
   In the case of Finley Quaye, it was not his Best Newcomer gong but his persistent claims to be Tricky's uncle that forced thc rapper to record the as-yet-unreleased 

Can't Freestyle, an undisguised attack on his apparent relative, the son ofjazz com poser Cab Quaye. When an excerpt from the lyric was leaked to the press ("Everybody wants to be my cousin/Everybody wants to be my blood/You're not my blood/Don't you frel no shame, taking my mothers name in vain?"), even The Sun ran a report on the slur.
   "It's a joke, it's funny," Tricky back-pedals. "This guy turned up, he says his name's Quaye and he was my cousin first of all. I met him and I'm like, That's cool, be my cousin. I hadn't seen him for a while and then he's escalated to my uncle and my mum's brother, and it's in every interview. No- one knows if this is fact. Everybody knows he's definitely not my mum's brother. I don't know what's on his birth certificate... no one's ever seen it in my family and no one knows his dad. All I seen was 'Tricky's Uncle' and I was thinking, Is this out of love or is this for his own gain? There's ways of getting both things if you want them, if you're just cool. If he wants credibility off of that, all he had to do was be cool with me."
   What do you make of his music?
   "I like some of it actually. The only time I thought we could be related actually was when I heard some of his lyrics. It was just a bit too close to the bone for me. I just thought, That kid's one of my family, 'cause we're all dysfunctional. The only time I didn't think it was a scam was when I heard some of his lyrics."

TRICKY'S CELEBRITY seems to escalate, even as his commercial status remains static. In America, in particular, he is recognised in the streets, more for his magazine cover appearances than for his music, and particularly for his part in Luc Besson's preposterous sci-fi campathon, The Fifth Element, in which theWest Country rapper played Right Hand to Gary Oldman's future dictator. While Tricky admits he didn't take enough care in learn ing his handful oflines, it was still an eye-opening experience for him.
   "To a certain extent, in the music business, you're sometimes hke a Muppet in a puppet show," he muses, "but as an actor, you're a constant Muppet. I didn't make it good for myself 'cause I was learning the lines before I was going on set and thinking it was never gonna come. You don't get asked to do movies every day, so I was thinking, This is never gonna happen. The next thing I know, I'm in the dressing room.
   Were you wandering the set in your usual stoned state?
   "That's what was crazy. Someone always had spliff on the set, so I was walking around stoned basically. Funny things used to happen, like I was eating a Twix just before this scene with Gary Oldman and I've got my back to the camera, so I didn't think nothing of it. So I'm eating this Twix and he's looking at me as he's doing his part and his eye strays to my mouth and he just stops in the middle of his line and he says, (in mockney) He's facking eatin' a Twix! I couldn't get the perception that I was there, kind of... I didn't

take it very seriously. But Gary Oldman took me in, used to make me cups oftea and shit like that. He's got a real deep soul. Y'know, he permitted me to hang out with him and he's up there.
   It wasn't a very good film, though, was it?
   "I watched it for two minutes and I had to turn it off. Everything looked like props to me. I'd love to be in another film if I could have a different energy. It don't suit me being on a space craft, say ing, Damn you! or something I'd never say in real life. I had to say Damn you! so many times. I was saying to them, Look that don't sound right coming out my mouth. I need something more where I can be myself."
   Tricky likes to think he's stayed "real". It's a very important thing to him. He has flounced off a video set when a director has asked him to "move the way your music moves... But there's no way that I'm gonna stand there and dance around, it ain't me. I'm a clumsy person, I'm normal and I ain't got no flashy dance moves." He admits that he has sometimes used his fame as a bit ofleverage ("With gorgeous girls... with policemen") although not to the extent that he's witnessed in certain celebrities. "You wouldn't believe how many famous people," he says, "how egotistical we are, right?"
   Who's the biggest wanker you've met?
   "Shall I tell you what? I was in The Royalton, this superstar hotel in New York, I'm in the lift and Bryan Adams walks in and the door closes slowly. He says to me, Alright man? Da da da I'm doing a gig come down blah blah blab. Someone pressed the lift from outside, and so he presses it again and someone's still trying ii to get in. The door starts closing again
and he's like, Leave the fucking button alone and get the fuck out of the way! I was just like, People call me demonic, man - they need to come and meet this w guy. People say I'm moody! I couldn't fucking believe it, but it was as funny as fuck. He just carried back on with the conversation... So we're playing at so and so, you should come along."
     Tricky admires Ian Brown and Shaun Ryder, and he is unequivocal as to where he stands in the All Saints vs. Spice Girls debate. He recently appeared on LA radio station KCRW choosing his favourite records and, perhaps 
controversially, played Stop.
   "All Saints seem like they're trying to be hon eys out of an American hip hop video," he notes, earnestly. "I'd prefer them with all their clothes on, chilling out. With the Spice Girls, even though it might look unnatural, their songs are so them - you can hear the Leeds and the London and the Birmingham. Even on that soul song they did, their background comes out in them. Y'know, they're more real than Blur. They're not affected at all. I tell you what, I met them in LA before they had their success and I've seen them around since and they're no different. No different at all."
   What does Tricky talk to the Spice Girls about?
   "Just rubbish and joking. Real normal stuff. They're real, they can't help but be real. When I played that song in LA, it turned into, Oh God, Tricky played the Spice Girls. But that soul tune, I like it, it's a good fucking song. People think I hate pop music and I'm some uncompromising, relentless pop-song-hater. I've tried to make pop songs, I just can't do it. I don't hate it. A good pop song is a good song."
    Would you want to write a tune like that?
   "That tune? I'd represent that tune, yeah, if I could do it right and it didn't sound awkward. If I thought it was my 'eart, I'd fucking represent that. There's nothing wrong with having a good pop song, right?"

CONFUSED? YOU shouldn't be. Adrian Thaws is neither mad nor bad nor Satan nor a seer -just more stoned than most and with a habit of airing his darkest thoughts in public ("I fuck you in the ass/Just for a laugh" springs to mind). In the end, maybe his powerful, disorientating music is a force that even he struggles to get his head around.
  "I suppose my emotions might be a bit mixed up," he decides, turning all analytical on himself "so it's all one blob of emotion. When someone says my music is sexy or scary, to me it'sjust all these emotions mixed up. I have to say to people a lot of the time, Look, what you get from my music, I ain't getting. It's like, How can I explain it when I don't understand it myself' alf the time?" 

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  photos: Barron Claibourne
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