For many, UK HipHop might not be a thing. It’s hard to pinpoint when or why this became the state of things. Grime never really died, it more faded out of consciousness when it stopped being potent. Similarly, the godfathers of the genre seem to have played their parts, and now make their wealth through chart hogging Ibiza-built “bangers”. It is at a time when stateside, HipHop is in a stronger place than ever. Fragile, thought out beats being adopted by wordsmith rappers with a supreme attention to detail. Look at the hype surrounding The Underachievers, Pro-Era, Flatbush Zombies and even some of the sounds that bled out of ‘Good kid m.A.A.d City’ in late 2012. You’d be forgiven for appointing the USA as chief outlet for all worthwhile HipHop unless you’d clocked ItsNate. Full of optimism, creativity and true lyrical flare. He isn’t a grime revivalist, nor a British compromise for stateside successes. ItsNate is nothing more than a modern, original exciting rapper. That’s exactly what the UK needs.
ShufSounds called ItsNate to find out what the plan is.
“Naturally I think the UK are behind the states. It’s a small scene here, it’s burgeoning right now and you’ve got these people in the US doing their thing. People follow what they feel is working. People saw the Giggs thing kind of working and I’m not raining on his parade but a lot of people became mini Giggses. It’s too formulaic, if someone stuck to their guns a bit, just a bit then we’d be much more diverse. Radio isn’t what it used to be. Records don’t get broke on radio anymore. I shout to people that aren’t doing that. Like Mic Righteous- he’s doing his own thing and he’s doing quite well. It’s quite conscious rap. If people stuck to their guns we wouldn’t get bullied so much.” Clearly the words of a persistent artist. ItsNate’s sound could quite easily get lost amongst the sheer volume of material that comes from the trend-following culture of London grime. What makes it stand out is less how distinct it is but more the attention that is put in to it, perhaps its this attention that makes the sound so exciting. “I would just say it’s eclectic. I was bored of what I was hearing from UK rap. Listened to stuff that wasn’t from the UK. Instrumentals, kids on SoundCloud, and I thought ‘this is what I want to rap on’. Stuff that sounds, left. The more I stick to my guns it should stay exciting. I just use a beat if I feel it. If I don’t, I don’t.”
It’s a growing movement, this carefully placed rap music where lyrics float on top of ethereal and layered beats. It’s complex but maintains structural hooks and clips that make floors move. (See ‘WSLTA’) “There’s Piff Gang, Ash Catch'em. There’s MCs doing dfferent stuff from what you expect coming from typically British MCs. Last Night In Paris, there’s a lot of young kids as well. It’s emerging in the scene.” It’s something better associated with the contemporaries in the USA. The most striking comparison Shuf found for ItsNate were the New York FlyLo certified rap duo The Underachievers. “I haven’t checked out that ‘Indigoism’ tape but I take it as a compliment. Flatbush, Underachievers, Children Of The Night, that new New York kind of scene. I wouldn’t like to say I’m the same thing. But I’d like to parallel it, they are spitting on more... Interesting beats. Different soundscapes... I’d really like to work with a producer called AfterOne. He’s from LA, he makes some crazy stuff. Artist wise? It’s weird because there’s artists I respect but when you collab it should be a collaboration. It shouldn’t be them bringing their 200,000 followers and me bringing my 2000. I’d like to work with Overdose, that’s one group who I think is crazy. I just want to keep making good stuff. I don’t see collaborations as a priority right now.”
The danger is that ItsNate will make people disillusioned with all that UK grime is and has been over the years. Whilst he might be sonically akin to sounds from America the attitudes and ambitions of ItsNate are founded almost solely on real grime culture. Having grown up in the zenith of grime, ItsNate has seen it crash in to the consciousness of the masses but also seen some of it’s prime movers slip away slightly. “I see it like, Dizzee dropped ‘Boy In Da Corner’ then kind of, left. I’ve seen grime come and go through all it’s different phases. like from all Nasty, Eskibeat, Ruff Squad, BoyBetterKnow, The Movement,ive seen how the music changed and how the grind changed. I don’t think it’s bad that Wiley is making the money now through those commercial hits. He does make a lot of grime music. I definitely grew up through grime at it’s height and that’s one of the things that inspires me. I get inspired by that DIY grime attitude. I think grime artists are making pop tunes and that’s how they’re making their money. I wouldn’t say that grime itself has got commercial. One person who I’m feeling now who has stayed doing grime is Big Narstie, I think he’s killing it. I think Americans have taken grime and sold it back to us.” On the surface it might not seem that ItsNate is adhering to the conventions associated with UK grime and it isn’t really grime that he is an ambassador of. It’s more musical commitment and creative persistence. That’s whats really missing. “The common misconception about UK HipHop is that you can only blow through making pop songs. Not selling out, but changing your whole thing. Bar a couple of people like Wretch. Maybe it’s a new dawn these days where you can hone in on what you do very well and export that to the people. Cleverly.” Intelligence is a word used slightly too sparingly by music blogs but this is a valid example. Off kilter beats (See ‘Weekday), effortless flow and witty, lyricism. “It’s part of the Nate package. Interesting wordplay. Actually saying something. Sometimes I’ll start the song before I get the beat. Sometimes the beat will inspire the song. I was writing now and it’s just whatever is going on at the time. I can’t write about what I’m not doing or not feeling. For me to write I just need to live. Have shit to do and it’ll be all good.”
ShufSounds aren’t the only people excited by ItsNate. Critics are hooked and a recent London event saw the lead track ‘WSLTA’ end in a stage invasion and a series of ‘Paris’ style restarts. For the man himself, the priority is still on perfection. A remix of 'WSLTA' (left) with spots from some of Piff Gang's Phaze One and Ash Catchem is expected in the coming weeks, this will no doubt act as a showreel for the hope in UK rap. “I’m working hard in the studio and stuff. I feel I need to take it up a level. I want to solidify my sound, just really hone in on it. Deliver a strong product for the people that will hopefully make a lot of noise. That’s all I can do.” Watch this space.
Words: Duncan Harrison