Mancunian Skittles really grabbed our attention a few months ago with the release of his single ‘Dot2Dot’. A dark, grimey track, it looks at the murkier elements of city life in Manchester and his role in the scene, effortlessly merging Hip Hop elements with live percussion that obviously stems from a mind outside the largely very confined UK Hip Hop scene. With remixes from Joe Kalius, Dub Phizix and Zed Bias, it quickly swept round a large amount of the underground music scene, and deservedly, creating a lot of buzz around Skittles second album, Poor with £100 Trainers, released on Broke N English’s Estate Recordings.
An incredibly talented and diverse lyricist, Skittles adds to that by producing the album almost entirely himself, with occasional collaborations with labelmates Dub Phizix, DRS and Chimpo. From the very first track, In for Me, it’s obvious that this is an album bringing something different to the Hip Hop scene. The sliding guitar, drums and hook bring a rock/indie sound to proceedings, but the top notch production adds a bit more of a crisp sound to it, something that helps it blend perfectly with his sharp flows and gritty northern twang. The theme of this track, expressing anti industry views goes some way to addressing how he doesn’t fit into any of the brackets suits can label music under, and the title track, Poor with £100 Trainers, goes deeper into the issue with a more melancholic sound and thoughtful beat.
Is it wrong to say I’m not a rapper, not an MC. Is it right to say that I’m a writer, regardless of the beat?
Boys in Blue further’s the indie inspired beats, with vocal splices from Arctic Monkey’s Boys in Blue paying homage to and adding his own slant to one of Sheffield’s finest exports. The whole album has a strong family feel, something furthered by its release on a Manchester based record label, and elements such as this show an intense pride in Northern roots and a disappointment with how the UK Hip Hop scene revolves so heavily around London, rather than people staying true to themselves and their background.
But why dya sing the song you sang you sound like your from London, It’s like we’re on the underground or something!
The slightly arrogant swagger, added to expert delivery, about him is admittedly what gives Skittles so much presence and persona on a fair few of the tracks, but it’s nice to see him drop it slightly for more reminiscent offerings such as Lyin’ Here and Bluse where he thinks about his past and his future, talking about crimes he’s commited but also sounding genuinely regretful about them rather than boasting. His flow over the more chilled out beats is also incredible, he somehow makes quick, tongue twisting wordplay seem effortlessly relaxed while also constructing verses well to create narratives throughout.
I been freely revealing, telling the world how I’m feeling since I was speaking, elevated my thoughts.
More bouncy, upbeat tracks such as Spliffy and Eclipse, a timeline of his past that will make any nineties kid smile over memories of sticker books, Pinky & the Brain and Space Raiders, also add a bit more fun to the album amidst what’s generally a fairly dark depiction of Street Life. The upbeat, Northern Soul inspired, hook and trumpets of Watchin’ You furthers this good times, more summery feeling and skits such as Eastenders piss take Piggy Mitchell and the hilarious, but revealing, Zeekos Our Tune ensure there’s some laughs to be had.
My personal favourite track Time for a Spliff is an incredible monologue of a night and brings a new slant to your typical ‘I love cannabis’ track, adding a story to it featuring inspired moments of social commentary making it an ideal track to kick back to. You can just imagine his lean swagger throughout the story and it comes across in the lyrics perfectly, not to mention the hook’s something else!
I’ve got that sticky picky head fuck up up a motherfucker, don’t believe me only time will determine. So then I flip it lick it stick it rip, before you even know I’ve lit it.
It’s an album that frankly, has everything. From upfront neck snappers to contemplative wanderings, Skittles shows how much of an incredible writer he is over a variety of incredibly produced beats. What’s more, it’s original, not just through the powerful charisma in his voice, but also the flows, beats and messages. Personally, I feel like more influence from outside of the Hip Hop scene is what people need in order to really progress the genre in the UK, and Skittles goes some way to doing that while retaining his own original style. It’s out now, so go on over to the Estate Recordings store at Surus to grab it in either mp3, flac or CD formats. This is not an album to be slept on believe me.
I managed to get hold of Skittles to have a look at the album from his side of things and go a bit deeper into his influences and outlook.
Easy Skittles, tell us a bit about yourself outside of music firstly. What else are you into?
Getting shedded! Cookin an rocking birckenstocks while polishing my backfoot.
Who’ve been your main musical influences growing up?
Growing up I was always into Michael Jackson. I started getting into underground urban stuff in high school and then started making what I make,
When did you start spitting and what got you into it? Have you come from a HIp Hop influenced background or is your style one that’s developed more naturally from outside of it?
I’ve always written, whether in my head or on paper, but it took its musical form around 2002 an just progressed from there, I know nothing about hip-hop at all! I’ve never really listened to it and don’t really like it, especially old hip-hop. What a load of shit. Most hip-hop is pretty shit, the beats are easy to make and most lyrics aren’t that good but people are easily pleased.
You come from Manchester, where there’s a massive, yet very connected, music scene. How do you think the place has influenced your musical style and output?
It must have massively, but its hard to pinpoint where. It ain’t that pretty but manchester is just a special place… anyone who’s been there will tell you that.
What other artists from Manchester are you feeling?
Dub Phizix, Chimpo, Broke’n’£nglish, Rolla, Virus Syndicate, Chunky, T-Man, Spars, Synkro, Indigo…..i could go on.
Your live shows are with a full band, what made you decide on that and how did you go about getting all the musicians together?
I just love the flexibility it gives me, an I’m all about putting on a good show!! It was just a case of, I know a guy who knows a guy…….. I’ve been doing music for years so I’ve met a few heads along the way.
You’ve just dropped your second album, Poor with £100 Trainers, explain a bit more about that for us. Was there a concept for it initially, or what do you think ties it all together?
There was no concept and I don’t really see them as tied together, in my head they are in groups of 1, 2, or 3 sometimes, as in when I made them.
How would you say it’s progressed from your debut album, Two Pints of Brandy and a Packet of Skittles?
Production is on another level, and the lyrics are now hard to fuck with.
A fair few of the tracks reference you producing as well as rhyming and most of the album is produced by yourself. Did production come first? How do you think rhyming over your own beats changes the end product as opposed to using someone elses?
It doesn’t really if the beat is emotional I will damage it.
It’s released on Broken N English’s Estate Records imprint. How did you link with those guys and what made you release with them?
We’ve known each other for years and DRS said to me while I was making it that when it was ready they were interested. Since then we’ve become like family, an since then we’ve been unstoppable out here.
What collaborations are on there, and how did you choose them?
I didn’t choose them I just worked with who I felt, and then chose the right tunes with the label and distributor.
The title track explores issues of being labelled as a hip hop artist, and the negative connotations that can instantly give music to the wider world outside of hip hop, both musically and lyrically. How would you describe your music to someone who had never heard it?
The truth with precise delivery on an array of good music.
Do you think the negative prejudice towards hip hop of many music critics, who group it with your standard bling and gun based bragging, is something you’d like to overcome? Or are you happy knowing that a lot of your target audience don’t have that prejudice?
It is something we should all want to overcome, but while the majors fund that shit it will be difficult!
With positive reviews from publications like the Guardian, it seems like you’ve already gone some way to overcoming it. What comes next?
I already have a bag of new material. I’m just trying to figure out a format to release it all in, as albums are a bit long and I’m bored of them, for a bit at least.
Cheers for the time man! Any last words, shouts or links?
Watch out for DRS’s album on Soul:R, it’s a lot! Dub Phizix is my producer to watch, and keep your eyes on Estate Recordings, they’re the sickest thing ive heard for a while. Bloaw!