When it dropped back in early December, Jam Baxter’s third solo album So We Ate Them Whole came highly awaited, landing on ears eager for more of his muddled, psychedelic wordplay. A triumph of visceral imagery, cryptic metaphor and incredibly flowing verbal percussion, it’s another notch in his discography that further propels him towards the heights of Uk Hip Hop. While Baxter’s style is original and perfectly honed, his slurring, nasal speech effortlessly complimenting themes of hedonist excess and city squalor, it was perhaps the varied backdrop of instrumentals that took the album, both sonically and conceptually, to another level.
Provided in whole by South London based producer Chemo, it’s fourteen tracks play as another lesson in just why he’s regarded as one of the finest producers to ever grace our shores. Having learnt his craft over the past few decades producing for a who’s who of the Uk Hip Hop scene as well as running the mighty Kilimanjaro Studios, he further honed his expertise on more ambitious and adventurous solo projects under the alias Telemachus. Now, undoubtedly as a result of this experimentation, he seems to be able to turn his hand to almost anything, something the vast array of styles on So We Ate Them Whole shows in fine style. From beautifully shuffling jazz drums to syncopated trap snares, sinister synths to oboes and delicately plucked strings, he displays a vast knowledge of music and an ear for off the wall styles while simultaneously managing to create a consistent atmosphere that brings out more varied flows, vocal tones and styles in Baxter than we’ve seen before.
With Baxter’s lyrics slowly worming their way through our brains and our ears finally wrapping themselves around just how much goes into Chemo’s beats, we felt it was time to talk to the man himself to find out just how it all came together.
Interview by Ethan Everton
So Chemo, how did you and Baxter first become affiliated?
I first met Baxter almost a decade ago. We were in the basement of a dilapidated squat somewhere off the Old Kent Road. I observed him pressing his finger into the tweeter cone of one of the speakers. He looked in some distress. Thus I tapped him on the shoulder to ask if he was OK. He turned around just as the fuse blew behind the DJ booth and the whole place fell silent and gurgled ‘I TRYING GET HARIBO’. We have been comrades ever since.
How did the idea of collaborating for So We Ate Them Whole come about?
We both have very similar tastes in music, film and literature and I believe we approach making music with the same aspirations; we’re both aware of our primary motivations. The only real and true reward that we get from making music is to get drunk on our own and listen to our own songs very loud. If the music is good, essentially you feel invincible. Most of the other stuff isn’t real.
Can you explain the album’s concept from your perspective?
It’s kind of a psychedelic hodge-podge of surreal visions, dealing with themes of impending doom, solitude and high fashion.
There’s a variety of live instrumentation throughout the release, what were some highlights for you on that front?
There is a section on the hidden track ‘Showerman Time‘ where I play a beautiful fudged triplet layer on the Oboe – that made me pretty proud.
Are all the instrumentals fresh or are they adaptations on previous compositions?
Fresh as furk.
Can you describe a typical day in the lab with both you and Baxter working on the release?
I’d arrive to the studio promptly at 9am to prepare the pot-pourri and finger food and invariably Jammois would arrive in the afternoon with a large bottle of San Pellegrino and an unquenchable desire for instant coffee. Sometimes, if I was lucky, he would arrive with a machine that he used to sluice pus from his brutally infected snapped arm. From there on, he would aggressively reel off his poetry into the microphone and I would sit back in awe and occasionally say ‘BOOOUACK BOOAUUCKKK BOOMMMM CRRRRRRRACK’.
Your vast influence of genres is apparent throughout So We Ate Them Whole. What genre would you define this release as, and which albums/artists significantly influenced the sound you desired to create for the album?
When I was 15 I believed that I only liked Wu Tang Clan and Mobb Deep. Through the process of sampling I have become exposed to so many genres of music and through my travel I have been exposed to so many different cultures that I now have interests in vast swathes of the musical landscape. As far as influences go for this album, the Cannibal Ox album ‘The Cold Vein‘ produced by El-P made a huge impact on me as a producer, as did artists such as Vangelis or Brian Eno, particularly for their ambient cinematic work.
Do you have any stories behind how you brainstormed some of the instrumentals?
Yes in fact, I do… If you listen to the track ‘28 Staples‘ around the 2.28 mark, then you can very audibly hear the sound of me doing my interpretation of the sound of a trapped walrus through a space echo unit. I was convinced that Baxter would force me to take it out of the final album for fear of scaring aunties or attracting other walrus’s at his live shows, but he let me keep it and I am eternally grateful.
Which are your favourite beats on the album?
Husk, 28 Staples and Vines right now… Dumbstep at its finest…
Do you struggle to decrypt Baxter’s bars as much as the rest of us?
Yes indeed. The lyrics are unapologetically dense and inaccessible. I have actually quizzed him profusely on a few of the lyrics which I assumed were just gobbledegoook and found that once he had explained those lyrics to me, I started to unlock other little goujons and slowly by slowly, on about the 50th listen, the pieces start to fit together. After that I found myself appreciating the imagery on the whole piece even more. In fact, I even insisted that on the CD liner notes Baxter should write a small explanation of the concept for each track, which I thought would help listeners comprehension, and I thoroughly recommend reading those along with the lyrics if you are struggling.
Which lyrics do you feel the most on the album?
Thick black cloud/Tin foil lining – Dark as fook that bit
Thanks for your time Chemo!