Zoom, November 2020
Unity grew up in Mid Wales on a diet of guitar bands, discovering funk and Hip Hop via the Beastie Boys. Influenced by Taskforce and Kae Tempest, Unity delivers poetic lyrics over laid back Hip Hop beats, often collaborating with other artists from the Ladies of Rage collective.
A DJ, B-Girl and Graffiti Writer, Unity began her lyrical journey via spoken word, and gives a poetic, clear delivery of real-life stories which cut deep. Her debut EP ‘Progress is a Process’ (2020) will be followed up by a second EP ‘Garden of My Soul’, due for release early 2021.
IA: Could you introduce yourself and describe what it is that you do?
AT: [laughs] OK. How much detail do you want me to go into?
IA: I’m here for detail.
AT: OK. I’m Unity. What it is that I do…what I’ve done and what I do as well…I’m a DJ…I write graffiti, I paint murals, I used to break and organise jams. I’ve done a lot of youth and community work…I do lyrics and I now produce as well, I’m just dipping my toe into that. That’s a little summary for you.
IA: We’ll get into all those sides of Unity over the next hour or so.
IA: I’m interested in the idea of family and kinship that you find in Hip Hop. You’ve been part of many and different crews over the years…Ladies of Rage, the folks that you go out writing with…can you talk a little bit about that sense of kinship and family that you’ve found in those spaces?
AT: Yeah, that’s the most important thing for me. The people that are around me, feeding me and I’m feeding them…creatively. Up until the point where Ladies of Rage happened, it’s been mostly guys. In the breaking scene in Wales we’ve got a mixture and it’s really well-balanced, or it was a really well-balanced scene. That was my first feeling of belonging and ‘This is who I am,’ and that kind of embedded that with Hip Hop for me, it really solidified ‘Right OK, if I can feel this accepted and nourished, then I wanna keep on this journey.’ Then with Ladies of Rage, it’s gone deeper. After the first couple of jams that we had, going to an actual Hip Hop event was a whole new experience…whereas previously I’d have turned up on my own - which I still do anyway - but turned up on my own and I’d know a lot of people there but it’s mostly the guys that I knew. But turning up after a Ladies of Rage jam, and being like ‘There’s a lot of women here now as well,’ and that was like, I’ve said it before, the missing jigsaw piece that I didn’t even really realise was missing from my life. So it feels more balanced now that…now that that scene is embracing the Ladies of Rage and what it and what we stand for.
IA: I’m interested in this idea of generational lineage, both in terms of Hip Hop but also breaking, and maybe graff as well – in you’re lineage, who is it that you looked up to and learned from? Who are your peers?
AT: Yeah, with breaking there’s obviously…the people that I looked up to, particularly Haylestorm and DAJ and people who had been doing it for a long time who I could talk about back in the day when it all started, and Kwam (Kwamikazee), those links to the past which were really, exciting for me, because not only was I a part of something that felt really special, it also had the people there that were there at the beginning, when it first started coming to the UK. DJ Jaffa as well, all these people who could talk about before the internet and before things were like they are now, I find that really fascinating. Same with graff, some of the guys like…particularly Resh that I paint with a lot…he’s been around from day dot and I learnt a lot from him. Skroe and Rmer - I was lucky to have known Rmer and Best as well from breaking and graff. They’re the people who have been there from the beginning, that initial spark that started things off. I feel really privileged to be able to speak to these people and learn from them…because there’ll come a time when people that are into Hip Hop won’t be able to do that because these people will have passed, moved on or are not available to speak to and that’s already started happening. There’s names that wash around and like ‘Oh, who was that person?’ And like ‘I wonder what they’re doing now’. But yeah…I think it’s really important to have that…that passing down. It’s your ancestral line really in Hip Hop, and it’s so new as well. That’s really special, because…it’s still early days for what Hip Hop is and what it’s gonna be and what it will become and how we shape it, or be a part of shaping it as well which is also quite special.
IA: Are there people that are learning from you as well? So, you’re a link in that lineage?
AT: Yeah of course, it feels…it’s something quite precious to carry. That thing of nurturing…nurturing the enthusiasm and excitement that you see in people who are new to it.
IA: Within your networks, who are the three people who nourish and support you? And it can only be three.
AT: Three people! [laughs]
IA: Only three.
AT: Oh shit! Ah! I can’t do that! [pause] Three people only?
IA: Three people only.
AT: Fuck sake. [pause] OK, so I have to say Resh. [pause] Thing is right, in Ladies of Rage, there’s a whole basket of people. I don’t know if I could choose one. Well at this moment in time I can’t do that!
IA: Why Resh first?
AT: Resh is someone I paint with. He’s probably the person that I vibe with at a wall, the closest, we can start painting together, our colours will come together perfectly and we’ll finish at the same time. The whole time he’ll be schooling me and…it just feels…I just feel confident when I’m painting with him, I’m learning a lot and he’s got that knowledge to pass on and he’s keen to pass it on. I feel like he pushes my creativity as well. I use colour schemes that I wouldn’t even think about using when I’m painting with him. It’s just a good creative partnership. So that’s like, that’s a solid given. But to choose only two others…that’s hard. [pause] One of them is gonna be Ess. Cause she is making me learn production by giving me confidence to just do it. That’s quite new for me, and it’s something that I’ve always…I’ve always been around people that produce, but no one has ever given me the mouse or given me control and said ‘You do that’. It’s just literally been ‘Oh, watch me do this’. [laughs] did you say it was people that…?
IA: Nourish and support.
AT: Nourish and support. I mean with us also lyrically…with freestyling I have no confidence or much experience in freestyling and she’s the freestyle queen. Just learning from her and vibeing with her…that’s another reason. [pause] A third person…nourish and support. [pause] I’m gonna say…Sofly, a B-Girl who I’ve known from when I first started breaking, I’m not breaking at the moment, nor is she particularly, but that nourishment and support has followed on from our breaking days and it’s a friendship that continues to nourish and support me. It got me past the doing into being, just like that family thing you said.
IA: Can you talk a bit about…was there a conscious decision to stop breaking? Did it just fade away or transfer into something else?
AT: I just go on instinct. I got into breaking through DJing because I was going out to Hip Hop nights and the DMC Championships and I met Kwam and the other B-Boys through those events. I was DJing at a community centre, teaching at a youth club, teaching young people to DJ and there was a breaking training session just before it. That’s how I got into breaking, I just fell into it from DJing. Then, at the same time I started getting into painting, and gradually the two…the balance just gradually tilted. I was breaking loads and painting a tiny bit…and then my energy and interest tilted into painting more and more and more. The breaking scene…scattered, I guess that was the tipping point for me, that that sense of community wasn’t so strong and that was really why I was in it…not what I was in it for, but one of the main reasons I was in it. I was feeling painting more, so I paint…and I gradually stopped training because there wasn’t that excitement, that energy and cause the community wasn’t so strong.
IA: Can you talk about the Cardiff City Kings, the jams and the events that you organised?
AT: Cardiff City Kings. Basically…Dan José said one day…’I really wanna organise a jam’. I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do a jam then’. There was a regular training session on a Sunday, and after training every Sunday we’d sit and talk about and organise…and that’s what turned into City Kings. It was a very fluid, open…process. Whoever wanted to be involved, could be involved and the purpose of it was to have fun, build that sense of community, bring people together and have a party basically. It was at Cathays Community Centre which was, or had been a Sunday training spot for years and years and years, it also had a back lane which we were able to have a paint jam. Each City Kings we had a different…we invited a different person from the graff scene to organise the wall, so it was never exclusive to one person inviting their people. We tried to have some kind of…Dan was really good at coming up with the theme and he does the Unity Jams in London now. He’s gone on to do more good stuff…and I haven’t made it to one of them and I feel really gutted about that, but life has just taken over. He’d always come up with a theme, whether it’s the name or we did a fancy dress thing for Halloween one time, or we did a toprock battle. He was the hype man behind the whole thing…I’m just like ‘Well come. If you wanna come, just come,’ but he was like ‘It’s gonna be the best thing ever! You’ll be so gutted if you miss out!’ It was a group of probably…there was me, Dan, Tom Porridge and Rich Roast, then whoever else was around. Cardiff Uni Breaking Society was really strong at the time as well, so they were really good at getting involved and the community centre was really supportive. We had the café guys come and do the food…I think we had a Secret Walls…a paint pen thing happen at one of them and we just tried to keep it as fun as possible. That was the main focus.
IA: Can you talk about you in battle, when you were one-on-oneing or three-on-threeing…looking back at it now, with some time in between…what did Unity look like then and what is she now?
AT: Oh wow, what a question! [pause] Battling has made me who I am now. It was such a schooling for me, for just being brave, not worrying about what other people think, fronting, putting on a performance face…and training hard for a battle. The crew element of that togetherness and being…that whole thing of working together, figuring out…and also the energy of a battle, that adrenaline rush. All of those things have made me…so now going into performing lyrics, if I hadn’t have done those battles, I wouldn’t be anywhere near confident enough to perform, to get on a stage and just deliver it …that has made me able to do that. It’s all training.
IA: The idea of Hip Hop as a craft, a practice, as something that requires work. How do you relate to that?
AT: Yeah. I saw a tweet yesterday saying…when people say ‘Oh I wish I was as good as you at…dancing, lyrics, DJing, whatever’, people are like…they want all the glory without the work that goes into it, and I think people don’t realise how much work goes into the end product, whether it’s a tiny little set or being able to mix or painting, you don’t see the hours of sketches that go in behind it or the writing process for lyrics. It’s dedication and I think for people who have…I think I have this addictive personality. I get into something and I’m like, ‘Right, that’s all I can think about’. I could start dreaming about sets or spots to paint like…it takes over my mind for a bit, but without that, my mental health would collapse. I wouldn’t have that focus and drive and energy to direct into something.
IA: This segue between the breaking Unity and the writing Unity…before we go deeper into the painting and walls, I’m interested in the relationship between your body when you’re writing and painting, what’s it like spending time out there?
AT: Yeah and this is what I’m a bit worried about now, because my focus is starting to shift from painting into lyrics and production, I need to keep my body active because painting is physical and…when I was dancing and painting equally, someone pointed out the reason why I probably enjoyed painting was cause you’re reaching up, crouching down and you’re moving your whole body to paint. That’s definitely something I think was quite…what drew me into it and then there’s the walking and climbing to get to specific spots to paint. Looking back now that definitely drew me to it.
IA: If you think of your battles or music tracks, the difference with graf is that people have repeated exposure to these works. If they’re on that path, that street or walk by that place every day, people will see it all the time. What are your thoughts on that repeated encounter?
AT: Quite a few people have said to me that they feel like I’m with them when they’re walking round Cardiff, because they’ll walk past my pieces…one friend said to me recently a couple of times she’s been really down and has walked past a piece of mine it’s picked her up because she’s like ‘I was meant to see that’. I’ve got a piece in Cardiff on Crwys Road which says ‘I Love You,’ and I had a message off a random person saying ‘Thank you so much, I was sitting in traffic on my way to a job interview and I was feeling really down and then I saw that…’ It says ‘I Love You’ in big letters and in the background it says ‘Love Yourself’ repeated over and over. She said it helped her out that morning. I try and put positivity out there…I need to re-do that piece actually…I think it’s nice giving out something to people and you don’t know who you’re gonna reach or who’s gonna see your piece. That’s quite nice as well, not ever knowing that you made someone think or wonder who you are and you’re never gonna meet them…do you know what I mean?
IA: It feels like there’s two worlds or two levels of visibility. You have your very public ones in streets and legal walls and then you’ve got the UrbEx sites, like your one at the Boys’ Village and places like that. Can you talk about how different sites affect what you create?
AT: It’s really weird and it’s something that I I’ve thought a lot about because…sometimes I’ll paint somewhere and I know for a fact that no one’s gonna see it, even other writers are not gonna find it and that’s weird because really, that’s just for the photo and that’s a very strange concept for me. I didn’t get into painting to take photos and put them on the internet. When I first started I would never take a photo…someone else might take one and then I’d probably never get hold of it. That’s a really odd one. Then there’s the places like the Boys’ Village where I’ll paint and it will probably be only other writers or UrbEx people who will see that. That’s fine as well, because it’s a different vibe, painting somewhere like that has a different feeling. I like the feeling of being in an abandoned space, it feels kind of peaceful and I like that feeling of something that was once something but isn’t any more. That’s…it kind of fits in with the whole thing about painting graffiti, it’s not permanent. It’s not gonna be their forever and it’s that letting go. Once you’ve…me and my friend Pyklops, when we painted, we used to paint together a lot we’d always say ‘Paint, say goodbye and then let it go’. Because someone will come and paint over it, no doubt…it has got harder as time’s gone on to actually bear that, I think because I spend longer on pieces and I’m better at what I’m doing, so it’s more painful when someone actually does come and paint over it, but you do…that teaches you something as well, that you have to let go of things, you can’t hold on to things forever. Then the painting in somewhere that is gonna be seen…or a permission spot which…that’s a different thing as well cause maybe you have to think more about what you’re painting…who’s gonna see it, or who owns the wall if it is a permission piece. Different considerations for different environments.
IA: There’s multiple reoccurring themes in your work. The presence of women is one of them, could you talk about that? There’s a long and documented past about how toxic it is to be a woman in Hip Hop spaces and it feels like you’re making a political choice.
AT: The reason why I started painting women is because of Pyklops, we used to paint together and I would paint letters and she would paint women - a face or something…and then she moved away and I was painting and missing her input into my pieces. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna have to start painting faces then.’ I started doing that and it felt like it became a bit of a nod to back when I was breaking, that whole B-Girl stance, the clothing and the attitude and stuff. I started to paint in characters…it was like me reminiscing. It was never a conscious political statement, but then gradually…obviously Ladies of Rage has happened since then and it’s a natural journey…I’ve never thought about that before until you asked that question, and it’s made me think about that…that process of how that’s happened, that awakening in myself about the disparity between men and women and their involvement in Hip Hop. I’ve started evaluating my own record collection and thinking about the music that I’ve listened to which has been very male voice dominated, and I’d never really thought about it before. I guess that’s been a part of that whole journey for me as well.
IA: That’s interesting…when I look at the work with a distance to it, the one where you named all the Nigerian schoolgirls from the Boko Haram kidnapping and the ‘Dinah Vagina’ work. All these, from the outside, feel like a political choice, you’re choosing to give visibility to certain things.
AT: Those pieces…and thinking on it anew now, speaking with you, I guess they have been some kind of link into me writing lyrics because they’re very different to the other pieces that I’ve done. But yeah, naming of all those schoolgirls, I literally read about that and I did not know what to do to process it, so I painted all their names. I’d done that a couple of times, I did it in one of the tunnels in Bristol, in the Bearpit and I did it again for an exhibition, so that time it was a bit more of a conscious decision. The first time I did it…I had to process that information and I just spilled it out. The second time I was tryna think of what I wanted to do for this exhibition and I was like, ‘Well, I’m gonna revisit that’. At that event as well, I’d also written each of those girls’ names on a sticker and I’d had them since it had happened and I didn’t know what to do with it. So while I was performing…no, it wasn’t while I…I got a friend, Saint Bernadette, who I perform a lot with, she sang this acapella blues piece and my daughters gave everyone in the audience these stickers. It’s just finding ways of processing something that’s hard for me to deal with…it just happens. Do you know what I mean? The same with the ‘Dinah Vagina’ piece. I literally didn’t know what to do with that information and so I just…just painted, cause painting the name of someone who’s passed away is a part of graf culture. I guess it’s just my brain thinks about it a little bit wider maybe.
IA: The other thing that I see recurring is nature, symbols of nature, trees etc. Could you talk about that? Because again it’s almost the juxtaposition…there is an association of graffiti and urban spaces and you’re doing something different.
AT: Something that I realised the other day is that, I think that’s why I like abandoned buildings, it’s because you can feel the nature taking it back. And it’s that…temporality? It’s not gonna be there forever anyway, on a bigger scale. I like the way…even in my pieces I make letters which have a hard line, but also a soft line cause when I first started painting it was all curves, it was all swirly, like chewing gum. But then, as I’ve tried to work on my letters, it’s tryna marry up the straight edges with more curls and swirls and whether that’s with the fill…or the letter shapes, or painting a butterfly or a flower or something. Like you said, it’s a juxtaposition and it’s because I grew up in the countryside. When I was growing up I was writing on walls, not having ever seen anyone else do that or knowing what I was doing. I think it’s an urban thing because there’s more concrete in urban places, there’s more places for you to do it. My thoughts are a little bit…not quite figuring themselves out. In the countryside, you still have that need to express somehow…or I did anyway. And where we live now, we’re on the edge of Cardiff but in the countryside as well, and there’s little abandoned buildings in the woods and stuff which are really nice to come across. People have messaged me saying ‘I found your piece in this place,’ and I’m like ‘People do actually find them even if they are like tucked away right in the woods’.
IA: Throughout your work the idea of collaboration is central, be it in a crew, a battle, production or painting. Could you talk a little bit about ‘Landmarks’ with Rufus as a more theatrical collaboration?
AT: Yeah, that again was a weird, natural stumbling into something which I didn’t really know what it was I was doing…it was really good to explore the edges of what my understanding of Hip Hop was and is. I think it’s good to do those things to realise that perhaps they’re not for you. Or maybe…I wasn’t…or I’m not ready for. It’s not something that I’m keen on revisiting, this theatre, Hip Hop cross-over. For me Hip Hop is more…circular, so everyone is able to contribute and everyone is able to take something from it, I think that’s a bit disjointed when it’s in a strictly audience performer set up. But saying that, with performing lyrics, it’s kind of like that …I haven’t really thought about that recently…it’s a little while ago. ‘Landmarks’ came about from doing a music video in the woods, where I painted a piece and afterwards we were having a conversation and Rufus said, ‘Have you heard that ‘acorn’ has been taken out of the Oxford English Dictionary?’ I went away and I was like, it was another one of those things where I was like ‘What the hell is that? What do I do with that information?’ It just turned into this outpouring of…I made all these little boxes which were covered in words ripped out from the dictionary, starting with the same letter of a word that has been removed from the dictionary and then I put the actual…so ‘conkers’, I filled one with conkers…acorns…clover, all these words which describe things which are around us and they’re being taken out of the dictionary and replaced by technology words. The whole topic was a bit too big, it needed a bit more exploration. ‘Landmarks’ happened from that, it was a collaboration which lead me to start using a loop pedal, so I guess that was the beginning of my journey into producing and performing as well; if it wasn’t for doing that I wouldn’t have started that journey performing lyrics.
IA: Nice segue…what I find interesting about your journey is you’re engaging with all of the pillars of Hip Hop, whilst embracing knowledge and collaboration at the centre…could you talk a little bit about that? How you’ve been around the whole circle?
AT: Yeah, why not? I’ve always wanted to do everything and also I just followed…I haven’t ever gone ‘Oh, I wanna be a rapper now’. It’s just…that’s what’s happened and I’ve leaned in and embraced it. It’s the people who are around you as well, if you start hanging out with people that are doing something, you’re more likely to go ‘Oh, I’ll have a little go at that,’ Cardiff’s got a small and interlinked scene and I remember, years ago someone came to Cardiff to speak about the Zulu Nation and they said I can’t remember who it was…they said that our city is really lucky to have such an integrated scene…the breakers, DJs, graffers and the rappers all know each other. We don’t have many Hip Hop nights so people all go and it’s a small enough city that you can walk around and bump into somebody you know through Hip Hop…I think that’s made it…more logical for me to have a go and flow with the people that I’m vibeing with.
IA: Tell me about ‘Progress is a Process’.
AT: That title…oh my god, my friend Pyklops, she is a DJ and Little Miss is her…she’s an MC and she is one of the first people in Cardiff who was doing any of the Hip Hop stuff. She was one of the first people that I painted with and I’d already heard about her through DJing. She posted on Facebook recently…you know when a memory comes up? She’d put something about ‘Progress is a Process’ and I’d commented on there, ‘I’m gonna steal that for a lyric’. And then it came up as a memory and she put, ‘Oh, you named a whole EP after it,’ and I was like, I have no memory of even stealing that lyric or realised that I’d stolen it and named the whole project after it. The name thing…that’s where that came from but I didn’t even realise that’s where it had come from, it just happened. That was a long…process. [laughs] I’ve always written lyrics and for years I never did anything with them, it was a way of processing information, if something’s bothering me or has really pissed me off I write. I’ll write pages and pages and pages and I won’t even know, or think about what I’m writing and then I’ll shut the book and leave it alone. I’ve got loads of these tiny notebooks from over the years and…I didn’t ever really think about…what I was doing or why I was doing it, I just was. Then I started going to Ladies of Rage jams. I’d already started performing poetry, I won Swansea’s poetry slam…I can’t remember the year…2018 I think. That was the first time I’d ever been to a poetry slam and I didn’t even really know what it was. I was like…‘Do I have to battle? What is this?’ I didn’t know what it was but I won it anyway and I was like…if I hadn’t of won that, I’d have probably just gone ‘Oh, that was fun’ and carried on with what I was doing but I won it and I was like ‘Maybe I should carry on writing lyrics and performing’. So I started writing bars or making my lyrics fit to music…around about the same time I met a guy called Zee. I met him at a paint jam cause he’s a writer, but at this paint jam, he had a little portable record player and he was scratching. Obviously I went up and started talking to him and it turns out he’s a producer, so I started going up and listening to some of his beats and then…some of the lyrics that I’d been writing, I made into tracks with his beats. And that turned into an EP. At the same time I was getting involved in Ladies of Rage, building confidence and finding other women who were MCing or were on a similar journey as me and we were performing together. I was building up that confidence and the tracks were being created as a live thing, we’d try something out and perform it at a gig rather than going ‘I’m gonna write a track,’ and then writing a track and then performing it. It would develop naturally. I ended up with five tracks, two of which I couldn’t release because of copyright and the samples in them…it was like, how can I put them out, cause I’m proud of them…so I did a booklet with a link and you could download those two tracks. Give me your address and I’ll send you a booklet. That booklet became a visual representation of what the EP was or is, with a download link and there’s photos of the people that I’ve collaborated with in it and pieces that meant something to me within the lyrics. It felt good to get it out and off my chest. I’m feeling like writing lyrics goes some way to processing information, sharing them with someone else is a next step, sharing them with an audience is another step and then recording and releasing…goes way deeper. I’m working on another one now which is a four track EP. I’ve finished three and I’ve just shot a video for one which will be out next month. The process of recording feels like…once these tracks are done and out, I can then start processing the next like things I need to figure out…it feels like I can’t write tracks fully until I’ve laid the last ones to bed.
IA: What keeps coming out, irrespective of the medium - it could have been breaking, painting, writing – is how you process life through Hip Hop.
AT: Definitely. On the journey that I’ve been on, it makes sense in my own personal journey because for me, DJing is a surface thing, you’re playing someone else’s music and you’re being a tiny bit physical. It’s a little bit visual as well, the record sleeves is how I remember what tracks sound like. And then breaking is physical and I’ve built up confidence and a way of presenting myself, then painting is getting a little bit deeper with expressing something, and then lyrics feels it’s deeper again because I’m expressing more complex ideas and things verbally.
IA: What has changed for you in 2020?
AT: Ha! Not gigging, that’s been massive. Not being able to work on ideas, musically and in person with other people…that’s been massive. It’s really affected me…not having that Hip Hop community and letting loose to music and the support that we all give each other through performing is…huge, huge, huge, huge. It’s been really hard and we’ve had a few people pass away in our community as a result of that and that’s hit everybody really hard because it’s a ripple thing, it affects everybody. It’s hard to see where…how we can come through this.
IA: One thing that isn’t discussed in Hip Hop is mental health, self-care and strategies for self-care. You’ve touched on it a little bit…could you talk about what is it that you’re doing or things that work for you?
AT: In March/April, at the beginning of lockdown my mental health suffered a lot and one of the things that got me through was…I found a new spot to paint. At that time I was able to go and paint and that was really good. [pause] What was the question again?
IA: Strategies and practices of self-care and mental health - what is it that you do?
AT: I’ve started playing guitar a little bit and I feel like I’m more…the need to self-care…I need to make space and take time out when I’m not creating. For years and years and years, I’ve always been doing, doing, doing, either with other people or on my own. Like I said that thing about…when I was breaking, the thing of tryna figure out a move or…painting, knowing I’m gonna be painting this day at this spot and going and doing it. I feel like I’ve been forced to slow down, which I found really, really hard at the beginning of this year, but I’m just tryna to accept it now and make the most of it, using that space to ponder things, but not obsessively. I’ve taken a step back out of social media as well, I think I needed to do that cause that’s another thing where I was getting a little bit…I’ve stopped commenting on anybody’s posts because you get all the notifications if you do that and by not commenting or liking anyone else’s stuff…I don’t feel so obliged to engage and that’s been really good as well.
IA: The idea of documentation and archiving is not very well done in Hip Hop. But what’s interesting with painting and graf, is it kind of is archived, but temporarily. You’ve mentioned your lyric and writing books…how do you document and archive your own practice?
AT: Instagram is good for documenting. [laughs] I just said ‘I’m not using social media’! But it’s a good way of keeping a record of it. With my website I’ve got a blog, so I write…sometimes I scroll back and look at ‘Oh, that’s…remember when I was thinking about that?’ That’s a good way of documenting things and then releasing music. That’s a documentation of where I was at that time, what I was going through and what I was thinking about. There is documentation, but it’s not necessarily in the same way as other genres or how other things that happen in the world, it’s not so dry. Everything we do is…documenting…what we’re doing…all have camera phones, people usually film battles and jams. [pause] I think as time goes on, we will do it better. There’s people studying Hip Hop in universities now…but I feel there’s a disjoint between that way of studying Hip Hop and what Hip Hop actually is because the way that people in academia speak is another language. It’s mental!
IA: Are you talking about the European Hip Hop Studies Network conference in Bristol?
AT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think people are aware of it that are in it, but it’s finding a way of it not being so exclusive. Because it’s a divide isn’t it? [pause] Some people are very academic and like to think on things heavily and other people like to get on and do stuff.
IA: I’ve got a few more questions, but is there anything that you want to talk about specifically or record or share that hasn’t been brought up so far?
AT: [pause] I don’t think so. You’ve made me think on things…that’s why I like doing these things is because it makes me reflect and think. [pause] I don’t think so.
IA: You as a sharer of knowledge, which we spoke about earlier on, I’m interested in people bringing you in for workshops and activities like that. There was the video of the regeneration work over in Pill, and it’s a really interesting portrait. Could you talk a little bit about that and wider with people bringing you in to “do” Hip Hop in those places?
AT: It’s such a weird, weird thing. [pause] Back when I first started doing freelance work, I did anything and everything. You just say ‘Yeah, I’ll do that, I’ll do that,’ but as time went on I was like ‘Why? Why are you doing this? It’s just meaningless nonsense, bring someone in, do one workshop and fuck off again’ and everyone’s like ‘Well that was fun, wasn’t it?’ So now, if people ask me to do a workshop, I’m like ‘Hmm…can we set up a legal wall?’ So that when you’re teaching kids to paint, they’ve actually got somewhere to paint afterwards. I’m much more likely to say ‘no’ to stuff or…if people are willing to have that dialogue to explain that it’s not really useful to do just a workshop, unless you’re linking someone with people in their own community who can continue teaching them. Why not have a local person do it anyway? I always try and involve local people if there’s scope to do it, because it has to be a long term thing, otherwise there really is no point…well there is cause it gives someone a taster and if they’re that way inclined they will go and seek out other people to learn from. But it feels a bit cruel to be dropping in and teaching someone something and then leaving them alone. With the Pill Project…I keep starting to talk about this and then going ‘No, it’s not professional to talk about it like that’. [laughs] There was so much potential but…there was no link person, no long term link person…I feel like…it’s hard because I wanna do right by people and sometimes there’s so many people that you wanna help, but you can’t do everything. You’ve just gotta try and do the best you can to make sure that people can help themselves.
IA: Cool. What do you want to dismantle in Hip Hop?
AT: What do I want to dismantle in Hip Hop? [pause] Fucking hell. [pause] Ego. But, I feel ego is kind of a driving force for Hip Hop as well. What do I want to dismantle in Hip Hop? [long pause] I don’t know. [laughs] I feel like Hip Hop’s been good to me and…everything’s flawed, isn’t it? We need to work together to make sure it’s the best it can be. I don’t think… [pause] Maybe it’s not within Hip Hop, but the wider acceptance of Hip Hop culture as what it actually is, rather than a kind of stereotype of what it is…it goes back to that thing of workshops and people assuming something is cool or whatever, when it’s actually community investment.
IA: Looking back at the things that you have produced across all the different formats, what would you say is the thing that you are most proud of?
IA: It could be your Elmer Fudd piece, a track, a battle…what is the thing that speaks most to you?
AT: [pause] That I’ve created on my own?
IA: Or in collaboration.
AT: Ladies of Rage.
IA: Why is that?
AT: Well because I now see other women doing what they wanna do, having a go and trying things and making mistakes…I think it’s also having an impact on the men in our scene as well. It’s hard to say, but yeah, it’s been massive. It wasn’t until that was set up that I realised what a fucking problem that we have in our scene, we’ve got a long way to go still and we’re just scratching the surface really, but I’m really proud of where we’ve got to so far with it.
IA: What does success and happiness look like to you?
AT: [pause] What does success look like? The two are interlinked. For me, success is happiness and fulfilment. [long pause] And inspiring other people, seeing other people do what makes me feel the way I feel, and feeling like that. What does happiness look like?
IA: To you.
AT: It’s a feeling so it doesn’t really look like anything…it’s contentment. [pause] Being able to continue exploring and creating, exploring inside and creating outside. [laughs] Really fluffy answer!
IA: What is your strongest memory of dance?
AT: My strongest memory of dance? [long pause] Just one, though?
IA: Just one.
AT: Just one and a specific event or something?
IA: It could be in the club, in a battle, with your daughter or…
AT: My strongest memory of dance…god you’ve got really hard questions! Picking one isn’t really…I could give you one, but then it might different on another day, like.
IA: That’s alright. What is the memory today?
AT: The memory…there’s like loads, all just coming in and going ‘Me! Me! Me! Choose me! Choose me!’ I don’t know. [pause] Memories are tinged with…photos and videos…that’s not a proper memory, is it? [pause] I don’t know[pause] I can’t choose one.
IA: I’ll ask the question again, is there anything else that you’ve not spoken about that you want to talk about? Or to put down? It could be a person, an event, a political point, anything.
AT: Hmm. [pause] Now you’ve opened up some floodgates, my mind is just awash with everything.
IA: I’m happy to open the floodgates! This could be a big last answer.
AT: I don’t know. It’s like when I go to the supermarket and there’s too much choice and I just stand there and stare at it all for ages. [pause] I don’t know. Sorry!
Photo credit fatcap.co.uk