It’s been nearly 2 years since your superb debut album Happiness. How was the album received by the hip hop scene?
I think it’s gone down well. I meet up with a lot of my peers to check up on each other and hear what we’re working on and people were very complimentary. It helps when you’ve got a producer like Turkish who creates these incredible soundscapes and pieces it all together beautifully in the mix, so I’m quite lucky!
Did you get any backlash to your anti-imperialist, left wing, ACAB lyrics?
Yeah, the fash like to send in death threats and abuse. Tommy Robinson told me to go back to Africa on Twitter so some of his goons started chiming in. One even sent a screenshot of tickets to Eritrea – only problem is, they were return tickets! After I went on Channel 4 News in 2014, some of them sent emails to a place I was teaching at but the board, made up of elderly activists told them where to go. Listen, if these lot don’t like you, you’e probably on the correct side and it’s just like a battery in my back because fascists hate getting called out. In Britain it creeps up insidiously, it’s not all about processions and acts of overt street violence. It’s illegal deportations and Home Office policy.
How did Frankie Boyle come to send you trousers for your court date and have you had any contact with him since?
He’s just a huge hip-hop head and a great comrade. He asked me if I wanted to do a week solidarity hunger strike after he and Clive Stafford-Smith in support of wrongly detained Guantanamo inmate, Shaker Aamer. I had a court case coming up and let him know I’d like to do the hunger strike, but might not be able to publicise it if I got a custodial sentence. He asked if I had a proper suit (I didn’t) so got his assistant to send me a nice pair of suit trousers. Daniel Kaluuya also lent me his shoes for that trial, too!
I know you were part of the fckBoris campaign, have you seen any growing political consciousness in the grime and hip hop scene since then?
Yeah, for sure. As artists, especially working class and black/minority artists (who didn’t go to private school or Brit School) get bigger due to the slightly diminished influence of labels and traditional media, they’ve got less people to answer to. These lot don’t care about getting dropped cos they’re signed to themselves. They’re managed by their mates, not the same manager as Justin Bieber or Coldplay so they’ve got nothing to lose by being honest. At the last couple Brit Awards, Dave and Stormzy made their truth clear, to the dismay of racist right wing press.
I know you were involved in Antifascist demonstrations in the past, how did you become involved in antifascism and is there space for an explicitly “antifascist” hip hop scene?
I’ve always been active. My generation saw our world change in the face of the War on Terror and the amount of imperialist murder that went on in the name of ‘freedom’ and capitalism. As I was approaching the end of my teens, I became more aware of the Black Panther Party and more specifically Fred Hampton. The fact these lot got a traitor in his camp to drug him so they could shoot him to death in his sleep at the age of 21 was astounding to me. In Chicago, Illinois, where the U.S. Constitution has jurisdiction. And for what? Setting up breakfast programmes for children of all races and supplying people with a place for free healthcare. For speaking out against free market tyranny and fascism. That was a real turning point for me. The most powerful thing you can do is direct democracy, actually feeding and healing communities that need it, not begging politicians to change their selfish nature.
Whether or not there’s space for an explicitly antifascist hip-hop scene, the way things are going we’re going to need explicitly antifascist schools, explicitly antifascist food, explicitly antifascist trains, explicitly antifascist building sites and explicitly antifascist everything. It’s not going in the right direction now, and the fascists are inserting themselves back into all forms of art, culture, science and debates in the humanities.
You recently became “Artist in Residence” at the British Library, can you explain the project you are working on there and any future projects you have coming up?
It’s really cool. Basically, I’m working with a treasure trove of around 7 million sound artefacts to produce my own sound piece. It’s a mixture of super-dope hip-hop beats using samples from World and Traditional Music, Pop, Classical, Radio, Drama and Literature and excepts of people’s life stories from the Oral History section to weave together a story about human migration and diaspora. The final piece is called The Unearthed Odyssey and is set in the future on a spaceship.
A lot of the sounds are being collected and digitised around the UK by partner national libraries and archives for a project called Unlocking Our Sound Heritage which is saving these bits if history as the physical formats they were recorded on are becoming defunct.
See Awate perform live at 0161 on the Sunday, get your tickets here – https://0161festival.com/product/0161-festival-sunday/