There is a renaissance taking place in the of arena of British hip-hop, and it is in the face of Foreign Beggars that we see this awakening manifest itself most clearly. With members having lived in Norway, Colombia, Iran, Iraq, Dubai and South Africa, the ethnic origins of Foreign Beggars (including Indian, Scottish, English, Ghanaian, and German) are diverse to say the least. It is this pan-ethnic and nomadic vision that listeners can hear within the tracks of their records. But this vision is completely conveyed not in the burning messages their cold lyrics emanate, nor in the ruthless beats that move their genre’s margins, but through the manner and motive of their mission to create non-profit music that archives ethnic experiences. In their debut album Asylum Speakers, released in December 2003, rapper Orifice Vulgatron and producer Dag Nabbit present us with a collaboration that singularly personifies both the state and the attitude of the UK hip-hop community to date while testifying to the ways that migratory histories can surface in and enhance the artistic stylistics of hip-hop-making.
With an inlay card that reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary British underground lyricists, from Task Force to Skinnyman, Dark Circle to Dr. Syntax, each of the twenty-one tracks in turn takes listeners on a tour of a cutting edge hitherto unparalleled in its cutting and pasting of various sounds and samples. While Dag Nabbit hails from a classical background, Orifice Vulgatron is well known as MC Drop in the drum and bass scene, and also works with the break beat/DNB sound collectives Shiva Sound System and the Dum Dum Project (currently in talks with Universal Records). The album’s first two singles, ‘Where Did the Sun Go?’ and ‘Seasons Beatings,’ have been deemed ‘Sure Players’ by DJ Magazine. In addition, the Beggars have received airplay in the UK on Radio One, Choice FM, X FM, Itch FM, and have been played worldwide in global metropoles including New York, Bombay (Mumbai), Madras (Chennai), New York and San Francisco.
Working with Tommy Evans, the founding member of Y ‘n R productions, a UK hip-hop label that has been putting out some of the best UK hip-hop for a long time, Foreign Beggars are placed firmly at the forefront of the underground music scene. Upon introduction to Orifice Vulgatron, Dag Nabbit, and Metropolis, your first impressions are not those of ego or self-obsession, but hints of modesty, self- confidence and respect. And it is these attributes that drive artists to express themselves unsupported and unrecognised by corporate record labels, in a context that provides no reward save that of appreciative faces in the crowd whose own histories find recognition, even solace, in the Foreign Beggars project. In the shadows of an industry in which an artist’s success or failure is assessed only in the bottom line of capitalist production, the underground movement demonstrates an altogether different value system, where momentum is gained as people vote with their trained feet, in an underworld where music is its own reward. And Foreign Beggars is commendable for shelving personal gain in the interest of artistic integrity.
The LIP magazine: Where did you start doing gigs?
Orifice Vulgatron: Dag and Myself along with Movez1 (M1 productions) and a couple of other heads formed the first hip-hop crew in Dubai back in ’96 when we started recording tracks and performing regularly. It was a year later, once the crew dispersed, that we started on the drum n’ bass thing. We were single-handedly responsible for bringing drum and bass to the UAE.
LIP: How did you finish the album?
OV: It’s been a pure team effort, with creative people all around us. I mean all the people on the album are straight up people who we are feeling. This [Asylum Speakers] is not a business venture right now – this is just something that has come out of us, just something that we feel we need to do. I want to be releasing records and so I don’t want to be just walking around on the street, ciphering with every man, because you can do that anyway, but it’s about consolidation and getting your music down and getting your music out there for people to hear and buy.
The LIP: So who would you say led you along the way?
OV: I have to say Tommy Evans was a great help because he was somebody in the scene who’s been putting out records for the last eight, nine years or so and he runs his own independent label. In the last three years I’ve seen a lot of new labels coming up and a lot more artists who are putting out decent quality stuff but they’re [Y ’n R] just people that have been doing it for a long time, so working with Tommy was good because he gave us a lot of guidance and showed us the way, basically.
The LIP: Did you find that the UK hip-hop community was open to collaboration?
OV: It’s come to the point where we’ve got people on this album that are some of the finest, most respected UK hip-hop acts I’ve heard. They’re some of the first old school acts that weren’t doing horror core UK hip-hop, but they are just so dedicated and progressive in their art form. So they were like ‘No, don’t even talk about money’ because they know that with UK hip-hop, you don’t make any record sales off the record if you’re trying to give it the push it deserves. In making records and putting them out, just the promotion and production itself costs a lot, so the profit you get from record sales is minimal.
The LIP: Do you, then, see a distinction in motive behind UK hip-hop and that of the States?
OV: The lives that people have lived that are different. But shit, we’re lucky to be where we are right now. UK hip-hop is kind of weird because in the past everything was really detached and disjointed – there were lots of crews doing stuff but there would be no connections, so everybody was insulated in their own thing and there wasn’t any kind of network or system so people couldn’t even go on tour. In the past major labels have made attempts to push UK hip-hop acts but have failed, due to not understanding to whom or how to market the music… although it also comes down to the fact that the people weren’t ready for it.
The LIP: Do you think the music is ready for people now?
OV: The quality of the music is a representation of the substance of the culture. Hip-hop isn’t just rap, it’s a way of living, a multi-faceted medium of expression. We live in an age where our 15 and 16 year-olds have been born into families where hip-hop has played a tremendous role in shaping the mentality and belief systems of the parents, so certain traits have become innate, rather than something which we’ve recently tried to adjust to… We live in a different place and time, with different socio-economic and political backgrounds, with an immense pool of resources to draw from.
The LIP: Are there a lot of UK hip-hop artists making themselves heard?
OV: Although a lot of artists are still fighting the lone soldier flex and they have to be because there are only so many labels and even the biggest labels, with the facilities to put people out just won’t take the risk. It’s still up to people to take it on themselves, start putting their own records out and start getting out there.
The LIP: Finally, do you think UK hip-hop is growing in popularity?
OV: People are getting used to hearing lyrics, spitting lyrics and it’s the people that are working with flows and rhyming patterns and complex metaphors and subject matters in the way they are expressing themselves that are taking it to a new level. It’s definitely part of the general culture now, not just the youth culture anymore. And the standards are rising. It’s just so acceptable to everyone, because at the end of the day, nothing is riding on a cipher, a cipher’s just a cipher.