ADAM IRVING MEETS THE MANCUNIAN HIP HOP ARTIST
WORDS : Adam Irving
PICS : Courtesy Sylence / Locally Known Productions
Pencil Portrait by Sylence
(c) (p) mybigmouth for manchestermusic.co.uk 2008
THE SOUND OF SYLENCE
I meet Sylence in a bar on Oldham Street. He wanders in from the endless rain, declines my offer of a drink and we get straight down to the interview. As gigging musician myself, I have to admit that after about three hundred gigs in venues including bars, cafes, clubs and shops I've yet to share the bill with a rapper, cue the first question.
AI: Whatís the gigging scene like for rappers in Manchester, to be more specific, does a scene even exist?
Sylence: Well, itís tough right now. The gigs Iíve done, there have been a lot of bands there and just a few rappers. Itís underground, there's nothing regular, there are places but Iíve had to go outside to Leeds or Preston. Manchesterís very quiet.
AI: Its not because of lack of venues though surely, if you have a band of any genre you can play in at least thirty places on any given night, why is rap neglected?
Sylence: Manchester just isnít the best place, there are no regular gigs. It depends on what position you put yourself in though, if you get a bit of exposure, make a video, get your name around, then people are more likely to book you. Because my stuff is out there, on iTunes and Iíve because Iíve got a CD out, now people are taking me more seriously. Everyoneís doing music though, (he indicates to someone passing our table) if you stop this girl here she'll probably say ĎI do musicí too.
AI: Yeah, Myspace is a bit of a double edged sword and everyone suddenly thinks they are an artist.
Sylence: Exactly, there are a lot of so called rappers who have three of their songs on their Myspace profile but thatís it, they only have three songs.
AI: -and theyíve probably been on their page for five years.
Sylence: So the live scene isnít too good.
AI: This is something which doesnít make sense though, Rap is the biggest selling music in the world but we're sat here in a bar and tonight thereíll be maybe four or five bands on and Iíll bet none of them will be just Rap. Why is that do you think?
Sylence: Hip-Hop just has bad reputation. Grime especially. Anything thatís associated with it doesnít look good for venues. Iím trying to get out of Manchester and also Iím trying to get a band together. Iím gigging with just a backing track at the moment.
AI: Maybe venues see it in a way that a backing track isnít good enough for them and they want something visual like a band. So if gigs arenít the way to get your music heard, whatís the procedure to get yourself known as a rapper in the Northwest?
Sylence: I made a mix tape, but thatís only going to get you so far. Iím concentrating on promoting my stuff to get it out there. I try and avoid selling CDs to individuals. It doesnít look good pestering someone to buy my CD. It doesnít mean youíll buy my next CD. If I give you a flyer and you check my stuff out for yourself though then you might buy the CD. Youíve got to keep trying, I do the flyers and marketing myself so I keep the costs down, a lot of people pay for that kind of stuff.
AI: Despite the lack of a gigging scene there are always people like you who persevere and keep at it because they know that what they are doing is important. At what point in your life did you realize you were, or wanted to be a rapper?
Sylence: I was in Chíill Cru when I was sixteen but writing rhymes since I was about fourteen, I never took it really seriously. When I was nineteen or twenty I thought I can really make music and take this seriouslyĒ.
AI: The bad reputation thing counts for a lack of venues, a lot of people will say they donít like rap but I think most people donít realize it covers so much ground. If youíre starting to get into Rap though, you can be put off hearing one artist who represents a different aspect of Hip-Hop. So, if you had to suggest a bunch of albums to get someone into Hip-Hop what would you pick?
Sylence: I'd probably start at the beginning and people like Big Daddy Kane. There are so many kinds of Hip-HopÖ Common, NWA, Public Enemy, the preaching kind, Iíd throw my CD in there too. At the same time, Iíd choose some Soul too though because thatís what influenced those rappers. My all time favorites have to be the Wu-Tang and all the affiliates. I can name members who people donít even know. People say they fell off with Killa Bees but thereís still no other group that comes close to them, if I could work with one person, it would have to be Ghostface. Thereís just so much stuff out there, each individual, Method Man, Redman, they inspired so many people, I canít fault them.
AI: Where do you see Rap going in the next few years? Iíve hear a lot of albums this year which are trying hard to sound modern, but in a few years I think theyíll sound really dated, you did the production on your album and it doesnít appear you felt any pressure to make it have the sound of 2009
Sylence: Thatís the problem with the a lot of artists though. They try and copy whatís Ďiní. I think itís always going to be like this though. Auto-tune at the moment is everywhere, Kayne West uses it because he heard Stevie Wonder use it, but young rappers will want to sound like Kanye and for some itís working, it sells a lot now but how long will these new artists be around? Weíve got people like Tinchy Stryder rapping over dance beats and I just think Hip-Hop will continue to branch off like it did with Garage, but eventually after all this, it will come back round to a beat and a rapper.
AI: Do you have a mental list of song subjects you want to write about or those you wonít touch?
Sylence: Yes, Iíve got a long list, there are so many things and so many concepts to cover. I recorded about twenty tracks for this album and chose the ones which fit a certain category.
AI: You had a specific listener in mind then?
Sylence: Me and my daughter. Me because I want to be able to listen to this in ten years time and be proud of it. I donít want to look at it like an old photo and think what was I wearing? I want my daughter to listen to it and be proud too.
AI: What was cut from the album then?
Sylence: Things which were too harsh, political or negative.
AI: So it could have been a double CD with a positive and negative disc?
Sylence: Yeah, but for a new artist, a double album is too much. The way I see the album is this, itís how I was feeling at the time. Itís from one stage to the next, from a boy to a man. It means more than one thing to me.
AI: Itís a very cohesive album, it sounds like all the pieces are meant to be there, whereas a major label release, like the recent Chipmunk album for example, sounds like heís chosen half the songs and then the record label have made him do some chart friendly shit to make it sell.
Sylence: This is the problem, some rappers use R&B singers on every hook and lots of guest rappers until itís not their album anymore. My sisterís a singer and I could have used her on every track, but it wouldnít have been necessary. There arenít many people featured on my album because right now people should get used to my voice and me.
AI: Being yourself is important, thereís a lot of UK rappers who talk about the hood, hoís, bitches, low riders and drive-byís, do you think that they are under pressure to say these things as thatís whatís expected from rappers?
Sylence: Iím kinda shocked the way people feel the need to do that. Weíve been through all that. There has to be a better way of saying hood and bullets, people think it works so they do it. I went through that when I was sixteen but people like Jay-Z put it in a different way, itís the younger rappers who want to say those things.
AI: Itís clear that youíve intended the album to be heard as a whole and not just a collection of random tracks, do you think the concept of album is vanishing in this iPod generation where everyone has four songs by a hundred artists instead of full albums?
Sylence: That's something I thought about. You canít get an impression of me from a single track, it flows together as a whole. You canít really understand someone by one song from their fourth album, you need to go back and hear it all.
AI: Another think I noticed when listening to the album was the lack of swearing, was that intentional?
Sylence: It wasnít planned no. I donít swear a lot because Iím around my daughter a lot. Itís not about what you say, sometimes itís about what you donít say. I just try and be myself and thatís how it came out.
AI: What do you have planned for the future?
Sylence: Iíve started on another album, I want to work with more producers and musicians but it depends on the response to this one. The tracks people selected as their favorites are not mine, itís surprising.
AI: A perfect song is a delicate balance though, you want to be impressed by the lyrics and the music.
Sylence: Iím a very lyrical rapper but I put a lot into my mixtape and got little back from it, so I toned it down a bit because most people donít want to listen too deep, the chorus for most people is all that matters. Which is a shame. Look at the most lyrical rappers: Killah Priest, Canibus, Immortal Technique, these guys have probably got part-time jobs, but someone who is so simple like Lil Wayne gets all the fame.
AI: Thatís because most people think guys like Pharrell and Usher are actually rappers.
Sylence: Yeah, I read an article the other day which said ĎAkon, the rapperí, since when did Akon rap?
AI: He can barely sing, let alone rap.
Sylence: Yeah, I think people generalize all urban music as rap.
Bitching aside, we wrap up the discussion. This is the point where musicians usually plug their upcoming gigs. Other than the album, Sylence has no gigs to plug, he tells me heís arranging a city to city tour in the next few months to promote the album though. We shake hands and its back out into rainy Hip-Hop starved Manchester.
Sylenceís album Out Of The Darkness & Into The Light is available from iTunes, Napster and www.sylence.co.uk