Last month Apex Zero made his debut on HHK with the single “Meeting of the Continents” which features Hasan Salaam and Braydz. I’m delighted to premier the brand new single “The World We Live In” which is an exclusive for the website and will not be featured on the album. We also have an exclusive interview with Apex Zero who speaks about the forthcoming album “Reality Provoking Liberation” which is available from 28th October 2013. You can listen to “The World We Exist In” and read the Apex Zero interview below.
HHK: Thank you for speaking to HHK. Can we have an introduction to the readers please, a little bit about your history in hip hop?
Apex: My names Apex Zero, underground emcee and producer from Hounslow, West London. I represent 2 crews, First and Last aka The First and Last Pride and POZ – The Pantheonz of Zenn-la. I’ve been making and participating with Hip Hop music for about 10 years now – making mixtapes and travelling round the country performing and moving CDs at events and on road. When I was about 16 me and my brother OMeza Omniscient, who’s part of First and Last with me, got put in touch with a young producer who was just starting to get into making beats and recording – his name’s The Hoax, now part of Craze and Hoax – and we just spent every minute we could round at his writing and recording tracks, making sets, swapping beats and growing.
We spent a few years sharpening the swords and at the same time would hit the live scene, things like Deal Real, Speakers Corner, Oh! Bar – and started making a little name for ourselves in open mics. We put our tunes out there and people who got it showed a lot of love, and over a bit of time we just kept making stuff and performing alongside some bigger names, and made good connections with people – emcees, producers, musicians, artists, and just genuine Hip Hop heads. Being completely independent has always meant the scale has been relatively small, but those who know about us have always felt what we have to say and felt our style. Plus wherever we go a mosh pit starts! People either love or hate that so it helps to bring those who are feeling it towards us!
HHK: Understand you were originally involved in London’s garage scene. What got you turned onto hip hop?
Apex: I don’t think I can say I was involved in the scene! I was a yout’, proper young like 12, and my brother used to DJ, so there’d always be emcees and DJs rolling through my yard to make tapes, and I just wanted to get involved. So I started writing little rhymes with my friends and as time went on we’d just be rolling round the ends clashing next crews of yout’s and did 1 or 2 little shows, nothing big at all. But I’d been into Hip Hop before that. When I was just turning 10 or 11 I started breaking out of all the bullshit music my generation was force-fed and even then started to want to get into stuff that related more to my culture and my people – and in looking for that I found Hip Hop, or Hip Hop found me, and it hit me hard!
Anything to do with the culture I just absorbed, I loved it. So all the time I was trying to get into garage I was listening to more Hip Hop music than anything else. It was just the attitude of us all at the time that garage was a UK thing and we should be reppin where we’re from, and I jumped on that. But garage was limited, it was purely for raves, nothing else. I needed something deeper than that. So while I was finding all this golden era Hip Hop, I heard heads like dead prez, and they spoke to me in a next way. From a young age I’ve been quite aware of the problems that face my people and our communities, but hearing dead prez and Wu, and Kweli, Immortal Technique and them began to give me reasons and explanations about things I was already living. They put me on to some of my biggest inspirations, like Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey, and directed me towards ways of acting and thinking that was beyond the traps that we’re setup to fall into. And because Hip Hop had given me that, I’ve attempted to give that back through Hip Hop, it’s always been the best way I’ve had to express it.
HHK: Know you started out on the live scene and then recording as the duo First and Last. When did you start to think about putting together a solo project and why?
Apex: I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, it’s just that all my efforts had gone into building up the First and Last name and reputation. Then we put together the POZ with other brothers from the ends and that we’d met on the scene – The Aurahkel, Seepa, Le Hornet, Yellow King – and solo projects just kinda got pushed back.
But over the last few years, where certain problems and life issues have got in the way with some of the stuff we’d been working on –making Hip Hop doesn’t mean you’re out the struggle – I decided that there was a body of work there that I could use as a platform to build something that expressed what I’m seeing, feeling and thinking now. I’ve been working on the album for about 3 or 4 years now – writing, recording, mixing, tweaking it, adding to it, getting certain things prepared and stacking, and once it was looking close to being finished I put together my first solo project, the mixtape ‘The Pulse of the Awakening’.
That got me a really good response from people and from that I felt like I was in a better position to try and push the album a bit harder. But we’ve always worked communally and built a small community around us, from the very beginning, people helping each other out with projects and all aspects of producing music, and OMeza still been strongly involved in the album – providing bars and beats, plus helping with mixing and mastering, design, videos, everything, and so have other members of the family.
HHK: You’ve self produced much of the album. When you’re putting tracks together, do you have a specific subject matter in mind and produce a beat to match the mood to then spit over, or how does the writing process generally happen?
Apex: Most of the time when it comes to beats I don’t have anything in mind before. I’ll find a sample or play something in and then build around that. I don’t really make beats thinking about spitting over them, I make them as something in-themselves. Then after if I feel like one my beats matches a style I’m going for or something I’m working on or want to write about then it’ll get written for.
Sometimes if already got bars for a track or something recorded and I make a beat, I’ll spit some of those bars over it and sometimes it just works better. I think that a lot of the time, when bars have been written over one beat and you’ve created a certain rhythm or pattern based on that track, if you take those bars and put them on something else, that rhythm that you’ve found on the first track adds something different to the new one. You wouldn’t have been able to find that rhythm on the new one. I guess it kinda works on the same principle as sampling – I sample the rhythm that the first beats has given me and supply that over the second.
I think it’s important to see spitting lyrics like that – your flows are your instrument, it’s as important as a guitar solo on a Hendrix track or sax solo by Coltrane. You’ve gotta bring that same energy to the beats you’re spitting on. In terms of content, anyone who knows my music, especially my solo stuff, knows that most it has quite a specific content – anti-establishment, anti-imperialist, anti-oppression lyrics calling for unity, organisation and genuine movement to overthrow the causes of that oppression. I can, have and do write about other things, all kinds of aspects of life, but I feel like most of those aspect are effected by the circumstances created as a result of this suppression, so dealing with that, to me, especially on this album, is takes priority in terms of content.
HHK: What was the thought process behind working with Hasan Salaam and Braydz for “A Meeting of the Continents”?
Apex: The thought process was that these brothers are 2 of the illest emcees out there, I’ve got a connection with them, would they be on it!? And they both hooked me up with 2 deadly verses! I’ve known Braydz since I was 17, we were both performing at an event for a community organisation called AJAMU – A Just African Movement for Unity. He was performing as part of Blind Alphabetz and obviously destroyed the set and when we did our thing he showed us a lot of love. Being the kind of brother that Braydz is – humble, honest and straight up – he came up to us with no ego and was like ‘yeah you man are ill, keep going’.
So since then we’ve been cool. He’s one of my favourite emcees – UK, US anywhere. Braydz knows Hasan anyway, but I met Hasan through DJ Snuff. I was giving Snuff a lift somewhere and he asked if I could help him pick Hasan up from the airport because he was bringing him over. I did it, and we got on, built a lot and him and Snuff hooked us up with some performances at a couple of his shows. Like Braydz he was bless, no ego, no front and said he was feeling us. He’s a properly deep brother, we did a lecture event together at the London School of Economics in 2011 and the depth of knowledge and oratory skill he has is incredible. Plus he’s obviously got crazy skills on the mic. ‘Prayers of a Sinner’ is one of the best tracks I’ve ever heard. He deserves all the success that he’s getting.
OMeza came up with the title for the track, it wasn’t really planned to be about anything specific. But being on what we’re all on, and with the direction of the album, the track became about different perspectives (based on our locations) on the same problem, the global repression that we all face. So seeing as we have these different perspectives based on living in the Babylon of New Jersey or the Babylon of London, and that we’re all of African descent in the diaspora, the track became a meeting of the experiences of multiple continents – and OMeza blessed it with its name based on that.
HHK: What can fans expect when they purchase “Reality Provoking Liberation”? And what gave you the influence for the title?
Apex: ‘Reality Provoking Liberation’ is a philosophy, a critical view of the circumstances we live in and a strategy for combating the reasons for those circumstances. I study the work of Frantz Fanon a lot, and through doing this I’ve been able to analyse the current situation of oppressed and exploited people through the perspective that his work gives. In ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ an analysis of the Algerian Revolution, Fanon says that revolution begins as infighting between colonised and oppressed people, due to the fact that we don’t feel like we can take our anger out on the source of this anger – the coloniser, the oppressor. Fanon says that over time, this infighting starts to become directed towards the coloniser through ‘random’ acts of violence against the colonists property and against them as individuals. Its only if this violence is organised correctly by people who are ‘politically’ or ‘revolutionary’ aware that it can become a genuine force towards a revolution.
In the UK, we’ve been fighting, maiming and killing each other for generations. It’s a tactic to keep us divided so that we damage ourselves instead of damaging the state – politics, business, the police – the forces that keeps us in a position to be exploited so that those who profit from this exploitation and are behind those forces can stay in power and stay rich. In recent years, events like the uprisings or ‘riots’ that we had in 2011 are evidence that this violence is moving away from each other and towards our common enemy – the state and its capitalist and imperialist nature and agenda. What I’m saying throughout this album is that we need to unify then organise in order to fight and over throw this oppressive force and give birth to something better.
We already have the power to do this – the uprisings were evidence of this. All the experiences of our lives as exploited people – doing criminal activity to survive, working jobs you hate to get by, grinding to support our families – all of these have given us skills that could be used to fight our oppressor and to fight and win our freedom – the creation of a better existence for us as a whole. In other words – our Reality has given us the tools to Provoke our Liberation. This is what I’m spitting about over Neo-Hardcore Hop Hop beats – Hardcore Hip Hop reborn in a new form – just as Neo Soul did with Soul or Nu Jazz did with Jazz.
HHK: Who have you worked with on the album? And are there any other MC’s or producers you’d like to work with in the future?
Apex: I’ve got features from OMeza Omniscient (First and Last POZ), Iron Braydz (Triple Darknes) and Hasan Salaam (Viper Records), but I’ve also got some incredible singing from Amy True (Caxton Press). She’s an amazing singer, she’s got so much feeling in her voice, and she can kill a mic with her bars too! I’ve got my man Seepa on there from POZ who smashed it on his verse and I’ve also got the deadly DJ crew Invincible Armour (Dizar, Jda Cutz, Iron Fingers and Downlow).
Those guys are too ill, some of the shit I’ve heard them do is on another level. I’ve also got Kyra, a singer from London who we’ve worked with for years. I think she has a similar tone of voice to Sade, she’s deep. Like you said I made most of the beats myself, but I’ve got some on there from my brother OMeziah (OMeza’s production name) and one from DJ Fortune, a talented producer from the ends that I’ve known for years. Plus OMeza and my brother The Aurahkel helped with all the recording and mixing processes too.
There’s loads of the people I’d like to work with, way too many! All those legendary producers – the RZA, 4th Disciple, ?uestlove, DJ Premier, and the same with emcees, you know Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, the WU, Pharaoh Monch, Black Thought – it could go on for time! In the UK as well, I think Triple Darkness are sick, where I know Braydz I guess you could say I’m working with them already but all they’re members are deep. Plus the legends again – The Klashnekoff’s, Skinnyman’s – there’s too many people in the UK to say. Anyone who feels me and I feel them I’d love to work with. Especially some stuff outside of Hip Hop – I’d love to work with some metal bands. Start some even crazier mosh pits!
HHK: What’s your personal favourite track on the album, and why?
Apex: That’s like making me pick between my kids! Apex’s choice! It’s hard to do but I’m gonna say Obtain Bearing. It’s completely different to everything else on there. It’s based on one of my favourite pieces of music and it’s one of the few tunes I’ve made where I reflect on what I’m feeling on a more personal, introspective level. There’s a lot of feeling embodied in that track and I hope people will connect to that. Another one is Growth – its 7 minutes long! I think I did a good job with the production on that one still!
HHK: The UK Hip-Hop scene has grown considerably over the last few years. Why do you think that is?
Apex: I don’t think I agree. I think in some ways it’s grown, but in other ways it’s shrunk a bit. There’s a bigger online presence for the UK scene, but in terms of out in reality there isn’t as much, at least that I’m aware of. Yeah there’s a lot of people making tracks, but there always has been. When we were first getting involved there were open mics and events on nearly every day in London. And if there wasn’t there’d be somewhere else for you to go in the country – and you’d take a road trip.
I don’t think you can say that any more. Plus a lot of record stores are gone, and for me it’s those things that were the scene – HQ in Brixton, Deal Real, you know. But I might be biased – I’m talking mostly about London, plus I’ve been away for a minute getting all this album done and working on other things in my community and organising – so maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am wrong! It’s important to remember that the UK scene is bigger than London, a think a lot of us get on like it’s not sometimes. When I get back on it properly and get some shows around the UK, maybe I’ll see what you man are seeing. I hope that happens.
HHK: You’ve spent some time in Nottingham which is often undervalued when it comes to producing UK Hip-Hop talent. Are there any Northern-based MC’s who you listen to?
Apex: My Mum grew up in Nottingham and half my family still live there, so I’ve been in and around Nottingham my whole life even if just for short periods. There’s a lot of big musicians from there, not just in Hip Hop. The bigger ones are Scorzayzee , Endemic and Cappo and obviously Joe Buddha, and they’re all deep. But even look at Jake Bugg – it aint Hip Hop but he’s getting massive now and he’s from my nans estate in Clifton far as I know. That’s good for the city – when someone with real talent makes a success of themselves.
I haven’t spent that much time up there in the last few years but I bet there’s nuff heavy emcees and producers up there coming up that I’m sleeping on. I’m looking to get a few shows up there sorted after the launch so hopefully I’ll find out. Other Northern Hip Hop heads I’m feeling are Jack Flash and his band, he killed the EOW world finals a few years back, and obviously MD7 have been repping it for the UK from day.
HHK: Where can fans buy the album on October 28th?
Apex: Best place to get it from will be from the Bandcamp link on our website – www.firstandlastpride.co.uk. Digital and CD copies’ll be available, plus if all goes to plan some vinyl for the purists – and for me! We try to keep everything as independent and as direct as possible, but we’ll try get it to record stores too, the ones that are left.
HHK: Any final shoutouts you’d like to make?
Apex: Yeah just to all my brothers and sister who helped make the album – they’ve all been mentioned! One love to everyone on the UK scene and all Hip Hop heads worldwide – we’re family. To everyone who’s struggling across the globe – we have the tools to fix the problem, we just got to use them together – unify, organise, revolt.
HHK: Thanks for speaking with HHK!
Thanks for the opportunity to, and for the support. Respect.