From PLUGGED IN Issue 7
Associated Minds, the hip-hop label based in Cardiff, is now considered to be one of the leading exponents of its genre within the UK scene — giving us diverse talent and music that would rarely be considered to come from a Welsh background. PLUGGED IN needed to find out more so we spoke to Mayor, co-founder of this exciting label
So firstly, could you tell us how you created Associated Minds and a bit more about the artists that you have released.
AM was officially launched back in the summer of 2004 with the release of Mudmowth’s Just To Get The Name Known EP. But the idea had been floating about for a while before that. I’d met my brother in ambition and co-founder, Ruffstylz, at a gig by the legendary De La Soul in Bristol. We were both getting amped in the crowd and formed a bond from that. We’d quickly realised we were both addicted to hip-hop music and had similar views and tastes. Over the following months we ended up working on a few small things together: there were some crazy comedy mixtapes we put out anonymously and then we ended up helping out some local artists and labels with a bit of design and promotion and distro. When we finally put out two more mixtapes by Ruff, under our own little experimental imprint of Tea & Hip-Hop we realised we could take what we’d learned and try and push it up to the next level. Real soon after that we set about forming AM as a label looking to push some genuinely original music, from the artists we knew were about us with a worldwide talent and ambition.
We were joined at that time by The Breaknecks, who were Ralph Rip Shit (emcee) and Harry Macadam (producer) after we met Ralph at a battle Ruff and I were judging. He got to the final but lost, but showed enough insanity and creative energy to spark our interest. We bonded pretty quickly and they brought into the fold with them Mudmowth. We were straight off a family of artists with a national spread — Cardiff, Swansea and London.
Over the next few years we released three records, Mud’s EP, The Breaknecks Music For Bachelors EP and Ruffstylz’s Lyrics CD. I tend to think of that as Phase One of the label’s life. We were doing our growing up in public and still learning exactly how this whole thing works. Despite it all being pretty well received critically and getting us a fair bit of attention, I sometimes cringe listening back to some of the things we did then in our naivety. Overall though I’m still happy about it all. It still makes me smile. Each thing shows a certain quality or passion we were able to capitalise on and I’m happy we got up and did something rather than worrying over the fine details and not getting going. It can be a fine line when you’re starting out between embarrassing yourself through starting too early and making a complete mess of things, versus the learning of invaluable lessons from just getting out there and gaining hands on experience.
Like I said, throughout that period we’d been making a fair bit of noise and along the way the fam expanded to include the incredible Beatbox Fozzy, the cornerstone DJ Paul B and some more incredibly talented producers, Sam Rockwell and Metabeats, as well as PLO.
‘P’ has had a huge impact on the way we do things and it’s fair to say his arrival really signified us moving up to what I see as the Second Phase of our existence — the level where we really can say we compete with everything else out there at least on a professional finish level. He’s an incredible mix engineer, but also a multi-instrumentalist, and one of the most talented producers I’ve had the pleasure knowing. He’s put a lot of that effort into helping polish off the creative rawness of the others.
We were all maturing in our respective roles at that point and the marker of that was the release of Ralph Rip Shit’s first solo 12in vinyl I Got The Best Name — getting mass acclaim and featuring a whole host of UK talent. I think that stands up as a great record years on. I still bump it loud and have the involuntary head nod. We had a great time making that record and the cover was a labour of love from myself and the folk over at Southpawvision and one dirty ass tee going to see 144 friends and associates of Ralph’s.
After that we released Metabeats’ Metaphysical LP to even greater acclaim and that cemented him as one of the top new producers to watch in the UK. That LP kinda represented most of the talent in Cardiff on one record. I love it for that as well as the fact it’s a straight up great record. It’s raw headnod. And it’s an actual album, not a group of songs — know what I mean.
We just released Mudmowth’s Circus In The Cemetery as well and that’s going great. Right now I think it’s fair to say he’s the leading individual emcee in Wales in terms of the attention he’s getting, and with him and Metabeats about to put out another EP it’s only gonna get crazier. We’re lining up to have an incredible year with a whole host more releases in the pipeline hopefully.
What makes the Cardiff/Welsh hip-hop scene different to other places?
Seriously I think it’s the fact you’re away from the influence and pressure that is the Big Smoke, London. Indirectly being in the that city influences people to act a certain way. There are truly some incredible artists up there but the general vibe from most people there is pretty much the same. Down here due to the fact there are less of us, and hence not so much a pack mentality, and people are not around the same influences there are more individuals. Sometimes I think that can lead to the music being too wacky or way out I’ll be honest and say I don’t feel everything made in Wales after all hip-hop is what it is and it needs certain qualities for it to appeal to the heads who like it but I do love the fact leash is off around here and you can run a little wilder with it.
Cardiff, it is said, currently produces the best hip-hop in the UK at the moment. Why is this so?
For me the reason Cardiff is killing it so much right now is the variety of styles in one small area that each stand up in their own right. For the number of us there is in this (smallish) city the resulting high quality percentage must out way any other city I know of. We on some pound for pound best boxer business — at least right now. For proven established emcee talent none of which sound alike, we’ve got Blaktrix, Ruffstylz, the best young raw talent beatboxer in the country in Beatbox Fozzy, Dead Residents, all the Squid Ninja family of spitters, Humurak, Louis Boston, Ralph Rip Shit and Mudmowth. Incredible producers like PLO, Metabeats, Sam Rockwell, Hekla Kosh and Diverse Concepts as well as the likes of Monkey and Stagga (previously Optimas Prime) who’ve gone on from hip-hop to smash the dubstep world. That’s not to mention a whole heap of DJs and youngsters coming up on the fringes or even touch on the grime scene here. It’s bonkers, all those people there and virtually zero beefing and zero biting of styles.
What, in your opinion, makes a good hip-hop artist?
That’s a hard one. An awkward one. Talent. Capability. That X Factor. A personality and originality take on it of their own that you believe in. I guess like any other musical artist really. Basically they got to have a vision and edge. And ideally not be a carbon copy of the next artist out there. Hip-hop is about having a voice, speaking out for yourself, so when you hear them, and I’m talking emcees now, they should have a voice. When you listen close, through it all you should be able to see what the person is like. A touch of something that excites you or makes you relate to it.
So what makes you decide on the artists that you choose to record and release?
We look for the artists that excite us. It’s that simple really. We’ve never made a single decision based on money or say on who may increase our reputation. We’ve just focused on working with creative artists that make us feel excited about the music they’re making. We want the same buzz we felt as kids listening to new tunes to be the same buzz we feel when we’re in the studio now working with our artists. I’ll add to that as well the fact there needs to be a real chemistry there with them as people as well. We run the label like a family affair and as we all put in work that needs to be for somebody we actually like as well. That’s important to me. Building a true bond and relationship. I’ll take that over the money bulls**t any day.
What do you regard as the label’s biggest success to date?
There’s a few ways for us to look at that but I’d go for it being Metabeats’ Metaphysical LP. Like I said, that was the real representation of Cardiff at the time as well as really giving the world the first true glimpse of the talent and potential Metabeats has. It got a LOT of love all over, with the likes of Andy Smith (of Portishead fame) getting in touch to tell us they were feeling it, as well as magazines and radios all over giving it rave reviews. Plan B magazine gave it the writers’ hip-hop release of the year in their wrap up. That was unexpected but a real nice honour.
I know it’s gonna sound like I’m spewing clichs but my shoulders are big enough to take the criticism for it, so I’m gonna say I’d like to think our biggest successes are to come. The music we’re making right now that may take a few years to see the light of day with the backlog with have is real real real nice. I really believe it’s world class. I love so much of it. I’m just eager to get all that out and hopefully really make people see there is a power house of music going on here that doesn’t always have a light shining on it in the same way London does.
Where do you think is the best place in Cardiff/Wales to experience true hip-hop?
Our studio. Speaker City. Or the Squid’s or Dead Res’s yard. Seriously, I’d say good gigs. There’s been a quiet patch of those in Cardiff after the legendary ‘Higher Learning’ nights stopped. But there’s a bunch of good promoters now who seem to be quietly getting back in the groove and bit by bit the shows are building back up. The Globe seems to be running a lot of nights, so that’s a good place for people to keep an eye on. We may even put on a show or two ourselves. Literally an ‘Associated Minds presents’ type affair. But we’ll have to wait and see.
So what are your future predictions for Associated Minds and Welsh hip-hop in general?
For us to keep making music we love. To keep on with what we’re doing and to keep trying to get better with every last detail of what we do. Concentrate on taking everything up a notch one step at a time. Same shit goes for the rest of Wales.
Now that’s good to hear, thanks Mayor.
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