Miles Johnson raps about hip hop with Example and Professor Green, two of the acts on The Beats, the label set up by Streets frontman Mike Skinner
With the emergence of Mike Skinner and Dizzee Rascal, British hip hop is, for the first time, being considered as a serious proposition both critically and commercially. Yet, after the awards, the platinum records and the tours of the US, both artists decided to take the next logical step, setting up their own record labels to nurture new talent. While Rascal concentrated on snapping up acts from the grime scene that spawned him, Skinner’s The Beats have so far built a more esoteric roster. Alongside the observational Cockney stylings of the Mitchell Brothers, we find the razor sharp wit of Professor Green and the humorous, often self-depricating narratives of Example. All three will be taking to the road with Skinner this summer to promote the label.
One could be forgiven for imagining that working with a figure as monumental as Skinner could have its downsides. Elliot Gleave, AKA Example, is quick to disagree. ‘That hasn’t been a problem so far,’ he says. ‘Other labels offered us more money to sign with them but I felt Mike always understood what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go.’
Example began his relationship with the mic at university, performing at garage raves to make some money on the side. After he graduated he moved towards hip hop, with his debut single being played by Pete Tong on his Radio One show and Skinner subsequently tabling an offer he couldn’t refuse. He has since toured the UK, supporting Hadouken! among several others and even found himself in the unlikely surroundings of nuclear disaster site Chernobyl to shoot the video for his first single ‘What We Made’.
He still feels there is work to be done. ‘A lot of people are talking up UK hip hop at the moment but I would actually say that less and less people are buying it than a couple of years back,’ he says. ‘Back in 2003/2004 you had Dizzee Rascal just come through and you had Ms Dynamite and it looked for a while like urban music was just going to take over. Now everyone seems more on an indie thing. But what some of those bands do is good. Alex Turner [Arctic Monkeys lead singer] is a heavy lyricist and I want to reach that level.’
His label mate Professor Green was first spotted by Skinner at a rap battle and his standout track ‘Typical Man’ mixes this verbal dexterity with the quintessentially British approach familiar from Streets songs like ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’. ‘I think a lot of people who rap over here take too much influence from the Americans instead of talking about what they should be talking about,’ says Green. ‘Where I’m from it’s never mattered what colour you are, just if you can rap or not but some people still live in clichés.’
Example concurs. ‘A lot of British rappers are saying they push the music forward, but so far, apart from Dizzee and Mike no one has done that. That is our aim, to take hip hop to new places. I want 40-year-old mums in the aisles at Tesco and kids on the street saying they like my music.’
With Skinner’s formidable presence behind them they might soon be coming to a supermarket aisle near you.
The Beats on Tour, Liquid Room, Edinburgh, Fri 27 Jul; ABC, Glasgow, Sat 28 Jul.