One of UK Hip Hop’s too often unsung hero’s, Mr Thing has seen it all. From DJing and producing for a range of the scenes greatest such as Task Force, Yungun and Jehst to holding it down solo on the decks in support of many of the US’s traveling kings and maintaining a residency at the capitals biggest Hip Hop night Doctor’s Orders, he’s been deep in and amongst it for a long time now, a true underground trooper with a seemingly unstoppable thirst for music. From getting into music and winning the DMC’s as part of Scratch Perverts to hearing Klashnekoff’s Daggo Mentality for the first time and buying five copies of Illmaculate upon it’s release in the West End’s Red Records, he drops knowledge and kicks memories with Dephect’s DJ Getz (also check Dephect’s SS14 range here) as the two put a massive amount of UK history to the record in this extended interview. Crate Diggers and Hip Hop scholars take heed…
How did you first get into music?
I guess my first exposure to music came form my Mum, She was really into Motown. She used to play Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, George Benson and things like that in the car. My Dad isn’t a massive music fan but he’s into Pink Floyd and things like that, so I kind of get my Soul side from my Mum and my odd side for music from my Dad which I think helps, it meets in the middle! In terms of Hip Hop stuff, I heard it at school and my older cousin had the money to buy records so he’d lend them to me and I would tape them. He used to buy all the new releases!
What sort of era are we talking?
That was around ’86 but I knew about stuff from maybe ’84. Every week he would send me down another album, I have tapes and tapes of all the albums that I borrowed back then, I actually ended up getting a lot of my Cousin’s records and now they’re in my collection. The day I passed my driving test he rung me up and said ‘My mate has just given me a load of disco records, you want them?’ so I went round there to pick them up. This was 1989, Chocolate milk, Bernard Wright etc… he gave them to me for free the day I passed my test. My first drive was to my Cousin’s house to pick these records up, it was a good start!
Nice! So how did DJ’ing come about?
It must have been around ’87 when I started messing about with DJ’ing, I had a stack hi-fi at home that I modified so that I could scratch on it. I learnt to scratch like that and then two mates in my town got Memorex belt drive turntables with a Tandy Realistic mixer which took it to the next step, thats what we learnt to DJ on. We learnt quickly that the belt drives where no good for scratching as they would drag so we learnt how to cut on 45’s. We’d buy hip hop 45’s from Woolworth’s and do the markets and car boots looking for 7’s to cut up, we couldn’t cut 12’s. A bit later on we figured out you could cut up an an inner sleeve and put it under the slip-mat so you could cut better, I learnt like that and then when my local youth club got 1210’s it was a cinch! We knew what we were doing as we’d already practiced on really awful stuff so I think that helped, my friend Phil taught me how to beat match and with another friend, a different Phil, I’d mess about learning to scratch!
Shouts to the two Phil’s!
Always shouts to the two Phil’s, one of them still has some of my records still at his his house somewhere. This was probably around ’88-89, my first proper paidgig was in ’89-90 at Sevenoaks town hall.
What was the doo?
I don’t even know and I have no idea how I ended up DJ’ing there either! I didn’t send a tape to anyone or anything, I think I just got asked to do it. It was good though, I didn’t clear the floor or drop any clangers! I didn’t worry about the equipment, just got up and knew what I had to play. Like I say that was at the end of ’89 prior to that I was just doing little gigs at the youth club every Tuesday. Around ’91 I bought some decks off a guy at school who bought them and got bored of them, I was working at a supermarket on weekends when I was at school and college and every penny I got was paying for the decks basically. Once I had them it was really on from there!
So when did you link with First Rate?
That was about ’95-96, he’s from Kent as well. There was a whole crew of people in Kent that where doing good stuff like Troubled Children (TRC) the graffiti crew, thats First Rate’s crew as well. They all knew each other and I was doing Hip Hop parties in Tunbridge Wells when Paul (First Rate) came down and battled me. I was on his turf and that’s just how it was done back then, he kicked my arse! He knew I had all the records but that I didn’t do gigs yet, I hadn’t done anything in London at that point, so he put me on and took me to Brighton and London.
We met with the guys that did the original Scratch night and they put us on, then the whole Perverts thing was kind of born out of us going on record buying trips to the West End to Bongo’s. That place is now a Viva hair salon, sad times!
So that’s when you all linked? How did the actual format of the Scratch Perverts come about?
It basically came from discussions about Dj’ing in Bongo’s and we just formed a loose crew to start with. I remember doing my first showcase in Bongos and I had to play in front of DJ Biznizz and Cutmaster Swift, people I hadn’t met and that I looked up to massively. I had tapes of them that I studied hard, Pogo and those guys, I used to really really study them!
Shouts to the Enforcers! So when did it become practising as a crew and getting down to business?
I didn’t even know that Tony (Vegas) Dj’d at first, but then he went off and won the ITF out of nowhere! From then he would show us new scratches that he had learnt, I thought he was just a guy that wore desert boots and had a pony tail, I had no idea he could cut like that!
So then you would all meet up and jam?
Yep, we would get up early in the morning and meet up at Joel’s (Prime cuts) House in London. That was when we started doing battles and stuff and began to take it seriously. We’d have pretty regimented days of just practising, only stopping for lunch!
So did you know then that you were aiming for the DMC’s?
Yep, it was nice. We would help each other with routines etc, to give Paul (First Rate) his credit he really showed me a lot about how to DJ to a crowd, to make it work for a crowd. I was very shy and to a degree I am quite quiet but he taught me to look up and to interact with people, he really showed me that side of it, he is the king of that!
So the whole of 99 it was on as a crew?
That last part of the 90’s was crazy, we where really practising. Harry (Love) came up with a lot of the ideas for the team routines and he would come in and sit in on practices with us. Renegade as well, he was in the crew and everyone had input!
So then in summer 99 you won the crew DMC’s….
Yep, at the end of summer ’99 in New York we won it.
So the whole of 99 was on lockdown practising for that?
We actually took decks with us and we set them up in our hotel room, we had 4 decks set up in the room and just cleared everything else out. We hooked them up to the input of a tape radio player just to have audio out and then daisy chained the mixer’s together. This was in the days before the mad luggage restriction, it went on the amount of bags you could take and not the weight. We basically said we weren’t going to do anything social until after the battle. We were there for a week so we had a few days, did the show then had another few days and just went digging hard!
What was it like to win it?
It was unbelievable, we didn’t know we had won it until the next day; the night had over run so much and we were the last ones on so we had to wait until the following night to find out we had won!
Were heads familiar with you then or did you come out of nowhere?
Well we had a nice little buzz from the ITF battles we’d done, we had already gone up against the Beat Junkies. Thinking back it was amazing, such good times to have met those people and I still know them to this day.
But also a lot of hard work by the sounds of it…
So much work! But I wouldn’t change any of it, I enjoyed the practising, it make you disciplined and keeps you super sharp.
So you still had your eye in for the 2000’s?
After we broke up at the end of ’99 I just decided I was going to do it, I’d been touring with DJ Vadim for the Russian Percussion tour and whilst I was on the road I would practise for a couple of hours every night at whatever venue we where at during the sound check. I was always thinking about records and what routines to do, thats where the the You Know My Steeze juggle and the Tribe routine came about, the Kick In The Door routine as well, they where all things that I came up with on that tour. You’re sat in a van all day going from city to city and your listening to music and talking about music with everyone so when you get there you just want to make something; your hyped up and inspired. That was a nice creative thing and a very different way of Dj’ing that made me sharp.
You just touched on Scratch Perverts splitting up in ’99, was that down to creative differences or what?
Pretty much, they wanted to do more dance music stuff. Thats not any kind of disrespect, just a fair statement. They where edging towards more d&b and eventually Dubstep stuff. It’s all good but it wasn’t what I wanted to do, it wasn’t what Harry wanted to do either so it just kind of split up and that was that. It was kind of tricky for a little while, I think everyone would agree with that, but its all good now.
So around 98-99, my favourite Uk era as it happens, you where doing the cuts for Mark B as well, how did you get together with him?
I met him at a club night, I cant remember who introduced us, and then he rung me up and asked if I could do some cuts on a record for him. He said we where going to record at Vad’s (DJ Vadim) house. I didn’t know Vad back then, he was running Jazz Fudge out of his house and K’ Boro was part of Jazz Fudge.
And that Was Mark B’s own label ?
Yep that was his thing, Marks first 2 records where on Jazz Fudge though.
So what was the first track you did cuts for him on?
That was on a record called It’s Impossible with Lewis (Parker) and A-cyde, it was a Delirious record, really good. I remember the session so well with the OC cut, I can’t remember what came next but I think it was the Mudfam 12′.
Rich N switch!
Rich n switch is such a tune!
What about new mic order (Task Force)?
Mark rang me one day and said ‘I have this thing I’m doing do you want to come and do cuts for it’, and then asked if I’d be interested in DJing for them too.
Had you heard of Chess and Farms before then ?
I’d seen them at Scratch, I DJ’d a few open mic sessions and them and Skinnyman would come on the mic, I still have the tapes at home of the New Mic Order Demos!
The liquidized language track!
Yep, you can only find that on the Deep Concentration 2 album.
We had that on tape and used to rinse it all the time, you went to town on those cuts!
Yer there was a lot of scratching on that, they actually wanted more! I did a version with less cuts but they wanted more, so I’ve got an alternate version somewhere. I have boxes of tapes of those days, I have a real killer remix that Mark did for The Creators of a Consequence tune that never came out, that remix is too much. I remember being so excited when we were doing it. The original had no cuts but fir Mark’s we did loads. I didn’t have it for years but then I managed to get a copy on cassette, I wish that had come out.
That was a great time for UK Hip Hop: Mark B & Blade got signed and it was a productive time with loads of good music, then straight after that it seemed to die down a bit?
Yer it was really nice for a while, wordplay was going on and people were getting signed. There seemed to be a lot of genuine interest in what was going on at that time and a lot of great records were being put out around that era. I remember Klashnekoff doing Daggo Mentality for the first time at Kung Fu and it was absolute pandemonium in there, the days of Kung Fu and all of that where great times. Your not going to get that again, it was just a one off time, you could play Uk and US stuff and as long as it was good the people were loving it. I remember playing Ghostface’s Run down there the day I bought it and giving it 3 rewinds, brand new record fresh out the box, how the hell did anyone know that? How did people react to it like that? I haven’t had a reaction that like for a long while for a new record, there was so much good stuff going on at that time.
We had a mutual friend at that time who knew Life and Nappa and I remember we went to Life’s flat and he played us Daggo Mentality before it came out. We were all in the living room like ‘What the fuck was that?’. Everything had just gone up a notch!
Speaking of them, I just did a few tracks for Life which will be out soon.
Shouts to Life & Nappa!
All day, they where such a big part of that time as well. I became good friends with them while touring with Vadim.
The Millennium Metaphors Album is so dope.
You know who played me that firstl Julian of the Creators. He played me a tape and that’s how I knew of them before I met them. Shouts to Nappa ‘cos he’s such a good guy and such a good producer.
One of our finest for sure. So when you went on to do a lot of work with Yungun (now Essa). How did you two link?
We met through Harry (Love), it was around mid 2000s that we really started to get down. We did a demo of Dancing Shoes, a completely different vocal take, then we did Reverse Psychology. We recorded them at my old house and then I moved and we where working on our album, which was the Grown Man Business album. We recorded that at various different studios, me and Nick have been friends for a long time now, its probably twelve or thirteen years.
And you still get down now?
Yep, I haven’t got anything on the new album though, it will be out soon on First Word. Its called The Misadventures Of A Middle man, we are doing a launch at Jazz Cafe for it. [Ed: This is now out here]
Ok so moving on from that, what are some of your favourite Hip Hop albums of all time?
Illmatic, every time. I remember buying it, I remember everything about getting it. Basically I went up to the West End, as I did after pay day, to get it and I bought five copies because everyone in my town had given me the money to get it. I bought five copies in Red Records which then became Major Flavas. I walked in and they where playing The World Is Yours and it was absolutely rammed in there. I just stood there in the shop listening to it thinking ‘this is fucking unbelievable’. They had it on repeat.
I would also say Midnight Marauders. Same kind of thing, I remember being sat in the shop all day waiting for the delivery which didn’t come until the week after. Electric Relaxation as well, hearing that for the first time was insane.
Public Enemy’s Takes A Nation Of Millions came out in the youth club days, my friend had given me a tape of Yo Bum Rush The Show and so I was well into Public Enemy at that time. By the time the second album came out it was fever pitch, I remember everything about it; the live show at Hammersmith Odeon with Dave Pierce when he had the hip hop show, they put the whole concert on the radio and I had it on tape.
And how about non Hip Hop albums?
David Axelrod’s Song Of Innocence. I remember hearing Holy Thursday for the first time in about ’96 and I just couldn’t believe a record like that existed. It’s one of the best things I have heard so from that day I was a massive Axelrod fan.
Donald Byrd- Places & Spaces as well. The whole album unbelievable, everyone needs a copy of that, it’s not even that expensive to this day but is some of the best music ever. It’s untouchable, I cant imagine how that was for people that were into jazz in ’75 when that came out. Its more of soul album, a jazz fusion album, but the production is amazing from start to finish.
Speaking of production, you make beats as well, have you always produced?
I’ve always tinkered with production, again my friend Phil who taught me how to mix taught me how to use samplers as well, his brother had an 808 drum machine. I found my receipt my for s900 the other day, I bought that in ’96!
You have an (MPC) XL as well right?
Yer I bought the XL the week it came out, I paid for that with some money that I made for a Sugar hill remix. Must have been ’99, I bought it the week it came out in Digital Village got it expanded and everything. I have only recently had to have it serviced.
Yep, big up to Jazzcat he did a real nice job on it cleaned it all up! I finally bought an SP 1200 as well, I haven’t done anything with it yet but its set up ready to go.
What it’s just sitting there?
I have had it on. I had a look at it and tried to work it out, no ones ever showed me how to use one. I’ve been at Harry’s when he’s been making beats and obviously Mark uses the SP as well, and Julian, they use it just for drums. They both had the same set up, SP-1200’S and ASR-10’s, and all their albums where made on that; The Creators album, the Mark B And Blade album, Task Force’s New Mic Order, Hit Men For Hire all of that, the ASR has got such an amazing sound. The SP just gives it that flare, it makes the drums sound nasty. The ASR’s sound is fascinating so I’ve always wanted one of them, oh and Braintax had one too, a rack mounted one.
So the XL is what you use now?
Yep. I just get on it with cup of tea and couple of packs of biscuits. I dump everything in Logic to mix. I just learnt how to work that way and it works for me. I’m much of a technology guy, I’m from an era where you jam a matchstick into something to make it scratch.
So what did you think when Serato and Traktor came about then?
I was very reluctant at first but once I had a go and properly learnt it I was convinced. As record releases started to get less and less, especially on a big level, it became a necessity and all the luggage issues when you’re travelling just make it essential now. It’s either take a box of records or a bag of clothes for a month, of you can just take the laptop in a backpack and your done!
Your Nerd Mixtape’s tell us about them….
Basically My inspiration for those tapes were stuff like Kon & Amir, Dj Muro, Jake One & Supreme’s Con mens tapes. Just classic breaks, some rare and some not so rare. You’d be surprised how many of the records on Champion Nerd and that are just pound records. I wanted to do my own version of those tapes just because I loved them so I did 5 or 6 of them as CD’s which I numbered and gave to people and DJ’s that I liked. Shortee’s got them and Big Ted’s got them, the first one’s called Break Therapy I think. I did one with First Rate as well called Things First which was a mix CD we split into two, I did a mix of sample’s and breaks and he did a mix of party Hip Hop. I don’t know where my copies have gone I have got a lot of stuff I haven’t digitized on CD that I need to go through. I do plan on putting them all on Mixcloud but I want to re master them, the first few are a bit ramshackle around the edges, I kind of polished them up as I went a long. I don’t know who’s got them, no ones ever given me one back so they’re out there somewhere!
You working on a another one yet?
Possibly, we will see.
And the last one was Nerd is Bond?
Yep, that was about a year ago.
Nice, so what’s the best ever gig that you’ve ever played?
One of my favourites was my first gig in Sydney with Vadim at this massive venue. That was in the Russian Percussion days, all pre Serato, and the week before I left I got a test press of Jehst’s People Under The Weather. Literally just before I went he gave it to me and it was a staple part of my set the whole tour, it was the first record I played when I came on in this place in Sydney and no one in the place would have heard it as it was brand new but the whole place just went bonkers. The vibe in the place was so good and I enjoyed it so much, I love that kind of feeling from DJ’ing when its just pure energy in the room and everything is good.
And the best gig you’ve been to?
A Tribe Called Quest with Pete Rock and Cl Smooth as the surprise support act! That was at Kentish Town Forum just before Midnight Marauders came out. Pete and Cl did tracks from The Main Ingredient that hadn’t came out yet like I Get Physical and I Got Love and we were just in the audience like ‘what the fuck!?’. That was the show where Q Tip made a beat on the SP on stage, it was unbelievable! Recently one of the best was Nice and Smooth at the Jazz Cafe last year, such a good show!
So what have you got going on now, whats going on with The Funhouse and Thing Thursday’s?
I don’t know whats going on at the minute to be honest, we’re all really busy, Chris (P Cuts) is real busy. I really want to get back on it because I love doing it, it keeps me sharp coming up with a new mix every week. It’s a lot of fun and we havelot of good supporters; shouts to Girl Rainbow, Jen and Bigga Man and all the lot are there every time without fail!
I’m doing an album with Parky (Micall Parknsun) at the minute, we’ve done three tracks and are just waiting to get back in the lab, its all my production. We’ve got a nice chemistry between us and similar ideas of how we want it to sound so I’m looking forward to people hearing it. I got some really nice beats in the stash for it that I’m really happy with.
Also, I’m doing BoomBap Festival this year for the first time so I’m looking forward to that!
Shouts to the Boom bap crew! So what else are you feeling that’s out there at the minute?
I can’t stop listening to Step Brothers (The Alchemist and Evidence) Lord Steppington album, I probably listen to it two three times a week! It’s got such a vibe to it and they’ve got a really good chemistry going on there between them, it’s funny and so good. Piñata is also really good, the Freddie Gibbs album. It’s really grimy, no comedy RnB chorus’s just super grimey! In the car I’ve been literally listing to Step Brothers and the Pharrell album. They’re absolute polar opposites, Pharrell is so shiny and polished but it’s still really good music, he knows how to put a song together for sure.
Any Uk Stuff?
Yer I listened to the new Verb T album (I Remain) the other day and really enjoyed that from start to finish.
Any final shout outs?
Always to the Extended players! Shout to Essa, Parky….. my mind always goes blank.
Strange Breaks Three comes out May 20th on BBE. Also shouts to the Doctors Order’s Crew; Spin Doctor, Chris P cuts, Mo Fingaz, Boba Fatt, DJ Lok and Johnny Roast.