Several years ago now, as a first year Student, I saw the Ruthless Rap Assassins play live at Newcastle Polytechnic. As always, they were electrifying, and won a lot of converts that night. Later that evening, as Beats International played, I shyly shuffled up to their Road Manager, asked him when the second album would be released, and sloped off again. Finally, 9 years later, I plucked up enough courage to talk to Kermit himself at a recent Bentley Rhythm Ace concert. He kindly agreed to be interviewed for the Website.
This interview took place the day after that Portsmouth gig, as Kermit and the Bentleys travelled up to their next date in Cardiff. As well as the Rap Assassins, the conversation covered his work with Bentley Rhythm Ace and Shaun Ryder, the forthcoming Big Dog project, UK Hip-Hop, his Millennium Bug theories and even Eartha Kitt!
Starting with the Rap Assassins then, a lot of the themes and the general feel
of 'The Killer Album' obviously owe a lot to the environment you were all living
in at the time. Can you tell us about the North Hulme Estate in the late eighties?
K. What is there to say, you know what I mean? A lot of things was going on, you know, a lot of shady things. I was up to a lot of shady things, a lot of people around me were up to a lot of shady things. Back then it was a case of survival, man. Leading up to the time before we signed our deal and all that, it was a case of just surviving any way you could really.
M. The Rap Assassins were always one of the most exciting live acts around.
What was it like to be on tour with them, what was the atmosphere like?
K. It was alright, 'cos we was all good mates. Anderson lived in the flat underneath me. Kiss AMC used to come on tour as well, and you know Kiss (Christine) was my sister. Anne-Marie and Christine (the band members of Kiss AMC) used to live down the corridoor from me. So we was always around with each other anyway, playing records and smoking weed, chilling out, going out. So we was just taking what we did at home on the road, basically.
M. What would you say each individual member of the crew brought to the
Assassins as a whole?
K. Everybody brought a different thing. Anderson was more kinda like, he was sensible. Carson was young and exuberant, and I was a fucking mad bastard, you know?! (laughs). You can tell from the tracks. You can tell by just listening to the tracks the personalities of everybody. We've all got totally different styles, but we work well with each other. That's why it was so easy to do things, you know?
Back in the early days when we didn't have much pressure on us and that things were so easy - writing, and we were just doing it for fun. And then we started doing all the college parties and we got a name for ourselves. Everybody started fearing us man (laughs)! It was fun man, you used to take on other MCs. That was back in the days, a while ago, people's outlook on things was different then. In the rap scene people were very wide eyed and innocent about certain things. Everybody was quick to drop the latest rhymes. Nowadays it's not like that, you're not hearing another man live until he's put it down on wax or something. That's the only time, not like back in the days they'd come out somewhere and like we'd be stood in one corner and another crew were stood over there and then a guy would go up and drop his lines. Nah fucking I'd be like 'I could tear that up' and I'd go up there and do it. There's none of that now.
The only way that you get near to that is on wax nowadays. And it's sad. A bit ago, I did this radio interview, and there was some guy from London. He was supposedly a rapper, yeah? And so I'm doing this interview, and he's there as well. The guy that was interviewing started to play a record, so I just fucking went with it. And this guy just sat there, and I felt so bad for him 'cos I could just tell he had no idea, he just couldn't do a freestyle thing. Even nowadays I do a lot of live stuff, you know, back on the road with the Bentleys and that. And I enjoy it, you know rockin' the crowd and that, that's what it's about. You know, feeling the fuckin' groove man. You know what I'm saying don't ya?
(M. Yeah, and everything is so over-produced now as well, I think)
Yeah, it's all slick production nowadays. You know fuck me, I could be as slick as the next motherfucker. But it's not about all that for me. I like to do tracks that are personality-driven really. You put a bit of yourself into what you're doing. You know, I'm pretty sure that people that know what I do, if they heard a track that I did a vocal on, they'd go 'Oh fucking hell, that's Kermit man'.
(M. A lot of acts now, each track they make sounds exactly the same, and that's how you know it's them. But with your stuff you got the vibe from the people and their personalities coming through)
Exactly, it's all about a fuckin' vibe, man. And that's what I find is missing nowadays. It's all about, even though back in the days with fat gold chains man, but it was all a bit more tongue in cheek. People are getting shot for Rolex watches and shit, man. And there's just a lot of bad shit going on, people are very greedy. The music business nowadays, I find it populated with a lot of people that are just... there's a lot of fuckin' young people that have been to like theatre school and things like that. And what they do is like go to some management company and get put into a band.
And it's so sad, there's not very many real people about, it's fuckin' very rare for record companies to sign them up. It's very sad. There's a lot of guys I know that sit at home in their bedrooms crafting fucking masterpieces. But they just don't want to bother with all the fuckin' bollocks. They treat people bad man. I had a lot of shit with my last record company.
(M. 'Cos you're with Warners, aren't you?)
No, I'm out of there now! I'm out of there yeah, East West. Well, I can't say it was down to them, it was more a case of falling out with Carl (Psycho, also previously from Black Grape, and half of Manmade with Kermit) really. We just didn't see eye to eye about certain things. As things went on I found things out that I didn't like. You know what I mean, personal shit.
M. How well received were the Rap Assassins when you played down in London?
K. The thing you have to remember right, with the Rap Assassins, when it came to doing gigs and all that, we enjoyed the fuck out of it! So there was this thing about Manchester and London and this and that, but we just used to come down and do our thing. And we didn't used to have any grief, and all our shows used to go alright.
M. Do you not think it put you at a disadvantage, not being part of that
whole London Hip-Hop scene?
K. Nah, I didn't want to be around that click, man, you know what I mean? It was all back-stabbing man, and all that shit. I remember, I was looking through the things on the web site, and that picture that was in Hip-Hop Connection (in the Who? section) with all the fucking UK (rapper)s. And I remember going down to do that, and I remember all the fuckin' bitching and the back-stabbing it was shit, and I'll always remember that. That's what used to go on.
M. But then Manchester at that time was famous for Happy Mondays, Stone
Roses and that sort of thing. Do you think that made things harder for you,
from a press point of view? Everybody thought of Manchester as Madchester...
K. Yeah, but at that time, right, our heads were in a totally different world than all that. So it didn't really affect us like that. It did affect us - but at the time, where our heads were at, it didn't affect us, if you know what I mean?
M. For me, one of the great thing for the Rap Assassins was that you could
make both lighter and more thought-provoking tracks. Do you think the world's
any better ten years on from the album? Have any of the problems you rapped
about got any better?
K. No, it's worse man (laughs), they've gotten worse!
I was speaking to Anderson the other day, actually. I'm doing a bit of work at the moment, but we're going to get together and do a track. We're going to get together and do something. You know, I'm looking forward to it, actually, 'cos it's been like ten years since the fuckin album. That'll be happening pretty soon, we've just got to literally sort things out. 'Cos I've got a lot to do, and Anderson's working as well, Anderson teaches now.
M. Do you ever listen to any of the Assassins' recordings now?
K. I saw Greg (Wilson, Rap Assassins' producer) a few weeks ago, and he showed me the stuff off the web site. I was reading it, and it was like 'ten years since the Killer?'. And I put it on, I couldn't tell you the last time I'd listened to it. I put it on as I was getting ready in the morning, and I ended up playing it three times, I really fucking enjoyed it. And now at my house it's on heavy rotation (laughs)!
What would you say was the best track on there?
K. On that album? Fucking hell, I could not answer that. They all remind me of different things and different times and different situations. Yeah, you know, you can't have a favourite child, can you? If they were all girls and I had one boy, yeah, you know what I mean, but they're not are they? (laughs)
M. Looking back, what - if anything - would you want to change about the
K. I would change the fact that I could release it now, for the first time now, instead of 10 years ago. That was the thing I reckon - a lot of people did get their heads around it, but some people didn't because of the sort of things we were trying to do. It was a bit fuckin leftfield for rap at the time, you know.
(M. I was going to ask why you weren't as commercially successful as the material merited, and I think that's probably what it was. It was just ahead of its time, and everyone's just about caught up now)
Exactly, but it surprises me though. I go places and people always mention the Rap Assassins, and I think 'Fucking hell, man' and it really surprises me. I've just been up to Zomba records today, to meet the MD, 'cos we're probably going to be signed to them soon (Kermit's new band, Big Dog). And he was saying that he liked it a lot, and he'd got the album out the other day and was listening to it. People are always giving it props, you know what I mean, but how many of the motherfuckers went out and bought it? (laughs)
M. Do you think the radio was a problem as well? It seems like maybe only
John Peel supported you...
K. Yeah, John Peel, man. Yeah, that's the thing at the times as well you know, three black guys from Hulme, Moss Side and that - it's like yeah right, you know what I mean? They just weren't gonna go for it were they? And, we were being ourselves, there was none of that watered-down yankee shit. I can't stand all that bollocks and never could. That's what the London crews were doing as far as I was concerned, none of them was being real, except a couple of man here and there.
(M. If you're gonna do UK Hip-Hop, do UK Hip-Hop...)
K. That's the way I see it, you know, 'cos it's got it's own style. Certain people as far as I'm concerned fuckin' do not deserve to call themselves UK Hip-Hop acts. They'll go and live in the States for a while, 'to soak up the atmosphere'. What the fuck's that? It just does my head in, it just really winds me up, you know not one real accent among the lot of them. I know who I am and where am I from. You've got to be yourself, man. What's the point in trying to put across that you're something else that you're not?
M. Would you say then that, rather than the lack of success, was it was
personal problems that led to the group splitting up?
K. There was a lot of things come to the boil at the same time. It was a case of like, we all looked at each other and went 'aaaaargh!', that's what it was like man. We went off to Canada to do something, and I was well pissed off 'cos of a few things. I stayed in Canada, man for a while. When I came back Anderson was well pissed off with me, 'cos we missed a lot of gigs and things, but I needed time for myself. It just kicked off - we all went in the office, and we all left the office - disbanded, you know what I mean?
M. Were you already thinking of working with Shaun Ryder at that time,
or did that come later?
K. I'd known Shaun for a long time before that, and we'd been talking about it for a while, while the Happy Mondays were still going. I remember he phoned up, asked me if I wanted to do some work on the album. I said yeah, so I went and did a couple of tracks on one of the albums. And we was talking about getting together and doing more stuff and everything. And then it happened you know, did a few demos... We both wanted to do something at the time, and then again, after that it gets to the point where you want to do other things and you have differences of opinion again with somebody. You know I've come to the conclusion that I should be doing my own shit! It's a part of growing up really.
I've been working on some stuff. You remember Ged? He used to play with Rap Assassins and Black Grape as well. And I've got him working with me now on some stuff - Big Dog (woof woof)! We've got the Bass Player, Danny, from Black Grape, he plays for St.Etienne. Danny Williams, another guy called Mark Jones. And it's fucking fun! And I'm really enjoing it. And I really enjoy working with the Bentleys as well, I really do. We're gonna do some more stuff as well, and me and Rich from the Bentleys are gonna do a couple of tracks, the two of us as well. You know we've been talking about that.
There's a lot of things we're gonna be doing you know. What it was was that, as midnight struck, and the 21st century and all that, my mind was totally reconfigured - I caught the Millennium Bug! Everybody had it wrong, it wasn't computers that get the Millennium Bug, it was people, man! 'Cos the 21st century right, everything about it's different. The way of thought, the way of looking at things, the aesthetics of everything is different, it has to be different, because it's a different century. And my brain had been reconfigured for it. I'm ready to go! I'm serious, I'm fuckin' serious! I'm ready to roll, man!
M. Do you think there are parallels between the style of music the Bentleys
are doing, and the old Electro scene that you came out of?
K. Yeah, yeah, yeah! That's why I love it so much, that's why I fuckin' love working with 'em so much (laughs)! You was there last night, you seen me fuckin' bobbin away on the vocoder and all that! Fuckin' love it!
(M. Yeah, what are you saying through that? I was trying to work it out. Do you say the same thing every time, or do you just make it up as you go along?)
No, I was just rapping and, you know, getting a groove going and that. It's nice, just run the rhythms through the vocoder, and it's not cluttering the tracks with loads of lyrics, it just gets a different rhythm going, and it sounds so nice. It works though, doesn't it? It works in a live setting, man.
M. So what's the Big Dog project going to sound like? Is it like a straight
up Hip-Hop thing?
K. No, no. Right, I listen to a lot of Hip-Hop and I listen to a lot of Rock, I listen to a lot of Blues and I listen to lot of Pop. I listen to fuckin' everything, basically. Now that I've got a lot more control with things I'm going to do what the fuck I feel like doing. Strip down any track that I do, strip it down and basically there's a Hip-Hop groove at the bottom of it, definitely. There's one track in particular - I've been going around record companies the past couple of months and they've all been freaking out about it. It's out and out Pop, out and out Pop! And I'm not ashamed to say that. There have been some great Pop records, you know? People perceive Hip-Hop and think 'ooorgh', but that's how we've been programmed man, it's popular music.
(M. It's down to how it's done, really, isn't it? You can do pop in one way or...)
Yeah, you can do it cool, or you can be very uncool. You can do S Club 7, you know (laughs)!
M. If you could work with absolutely anyone, who would it be?
K. Eartha Kitt. I'd love to do a track with Eartha Kitt. I don't know if it will happen, but I've wanted to do this for years, though. Years and years and years, I've never met her. Eartha Kitt man, I'm serious. I've got a few albums with her tracks, and I think she's got an amazing voice, man. And I reckon if her voice was as good as it was then now, put me in a studio with her, I reckon we could get some good shit out man, you know? It's just a pity the generation gap is so big, 'cos like if we was around at the same time... Have you seen her when she was young and checked her out? She was really fuckin' fine man...
(M. She was in Batman wasn't she, as well?)
Yeah, she was in Batman back then as well, yeah. Yeah, yeah, Catwoman. Fuckin' wicked voice man, wicked voice. The whole way she went about it, lying on those furs and purring. How black is that? How savage is that? That's so dark! And, at the time, what did Orson Welles say? She was the most beguiling creature he'd ever met in his life, man.
M. Have you looked at the site?
K. I've just seen some pages, but I've got the address. My modem's fucked! I've had pure trouble with my computer. I'm going to buy a new one, I'm gonna get a Mac, when I get off tour. I've had enough man, it's doing my head in!
M. Do you think the Internet's going to help new music to get heard, independent
of record companies?
K. I think it is, if they get all this copyright stuff sorted out, this MP3 stuff. 'Cos it's a bit of a balls-up at the moment.
(M. Hopefully I won't get into trouble for having all those Rap Assassins songs up on my site...)
The way I see it man, the more people that hear it the better. EMI didn't do us any fuckin' favours, releasing the stuff for us.
(M. That was really why I wanted to do the site, I wanted to get the stuff out there and heard, 'cos it really deserves to be)
Pure props man, I'm telling ya! I was looking at it, I was really surprised by how much work you've put in man. I really respect that.
Interviews with Anderson (Dangerous Hinds) and Carson (Dangerous C) will appear in the coming months.
Interview by Mark Balsom.
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