Following the recent announcement of the winner of our Barely Breaking Even Mixtape Competition, we caught up with legendary British hip hop artist and BBE new-boy TY for a quick chat about his latest album and his move to the label.
Before we begin, I understand that you were in some kind of hectic train crash recently?
Yeah, we were on the way to Penzance for a gig and a tree hit the train. It was cool, it was alright…I mean, the picture says it all. It made us late for a gig by a couple of hours, but everyone’s alright, thankfully.
Well that’s always good news. So let’s talk about the new album, Special Kind of Fool. How would you place it in relation to your back catalogue?
It’s a departure from the old albums, definitely. That phase is done now – the Awkwards, the Upwards and the Closers. Special Kind of Fool is more about looking at how people can be viewed as not important when they are important, and how they can view themselves in that way. It’s just me looking at the everyday person and seeing them saying, “y’know what, I’m a special kind of fool. Yes, I might work for a boss, but I’m not an idiot.”
Quite a lot of people are talking about the tone of this record as being somewhat darker than your earlier ones. Would you say that that’s fair?
I would say that this particular album is a freeze-frame of how I’m feeling now, and how I felt at the time of making it. When I’m making music it’s really important for me to say what it is that I’m feeling in order to feel better; in order to get clarity. It’s like writing an essay. Only by writing an essay about something can you fully understand it. You have to represent your thoughts in your own format in order to digest them properly, and that’s what I’m doing musically.
So would you say that making the album has helped you turn a page in your life?
It’s definitely a good process for that; for assessing where I’m at, not just in terms of my career but how I feel as a person on this planet.
Some people say the album’s downbeat, but what I’m trying to do is step away from the typical club / radio format that seems to control how and why people make music. This album is for club goers but it’s not for the club goer that doesn’t want to think. It’s not for the club goer that doesn’t want a mood other than happy-happy-house. This is motorway concentration music. This is for people that feel like sitting down and listening. It’s not just empty fodder – there’s emotion and tension in the music.
Really, it’s a representation of how people are. In any one day there’s a moment when anybody can be mad, happy, ecstatic or depressed. There’s nobody that can’t feel all of those emotions on one day, and that’s what I’m trying to make a record about.
Your first three albums came out on Ninja Tune’s sister label, Big Dada, but Special Kind of Fool was released on BBE. Was there are reason for your move?
There’s no specific reason. There’s no pressures or bad vibes between me and Big Dada, but I guess I’m hoping that the move helps people understand that I’m making hip hop music rather than assuming that it’s something weird and experimental. It’s not that I feel more at home at BBE, but I generally had that kind of stigma attached to me by being on Ninja Tune and Big Dada.
The nominations for this year’s Mercury Music Prize came out a few weeks ago with Dizzee Rascal as the urban nominee. What are your thoughts on this?
I think the Mercury’s are brilliant, but I don’t see any reference point between the ‘twelve best records’ they’ve picked and what’s happening in the real world. I do think that artists like Plan B should have been nominated and the fact that Dizzee Rascal has already won the prize and has been nominated yet again is a little bit of a slap in the face for urban music; really other people needed that.
Do you think the failure of Speech Debelle to build on her 2009 win influenced the choosing of this year’s nominees?
I don’t really know the ins and the outs of the Speech Debelle situation, but they’re playing it safe, definitely.
Finally, you recently did a couple of shows with Nas and Damien Marley part of your album tour. What was working with them like?
Doing the shows with Nas and Damien, watching them perform and just seeing the fact that people want to listen to music like that was an inspirational moment. There’s nothing like being around the top boys making music with messages in it and having a great time; it was great.
– Interview and article by Ben Lawrence