Photo: Robb Mcrae / National Collective
"A No vote is not compatible with a creative thinker... Why are parodies of Scottish rap more successful than Scottish rap itself? It's a reflection of a national self-loathing where we can't reconcile our preconceptions with the reality of who we are."The referendum will affect everyone in Scotland, regardless of age, gender, background or culture. With only a few months to go, battle lines are being drawn and it seems that most people in the Scottish hip hop community are in the yes camp. How do we know this? Scotland Standup have been actively interviewing emcees, producers and hip hop fans to hear their perspective on the upcoming referendum. Many of the responses will be catalogued in a video compilation coming soon, but our first reply comes from a veteran on the scene. I asked respected artist Loki for his opinions on independence, Scottish hip hop and where our culture fits in to the big debate:
First of all, are you voting Yes or No?
I am voting yes. All of my life I have struggled in dealing with different forms of dependency. I was young when I left home so when I stopped depending on my family, I started depending on low paid work or state benefits. When I had nowhere to live I depended on supported accommodation and when the stress got too much I depended on alcohol and drugs to escape from reality. When I did choose to change my lifestyle there were no guarantees. It was a case of believing it was possible and putting my plan into action. Now I am a clean, sober, self-employed writer and performer studying Journalism.
You can never be truly independent in an inter connected world - it is about arming yourself with the truth and taking decisions based on reality. A decision based on fear is always the wrong decision. Voting No is incompatible with my values and contrary to everything I have done so far in my life. Would would I reject my own aggression, lies and hypocrisy, but embrace that of another country's?
How do you think an independent Scotland would benefit underground music, and in particular, hip hop?
London exerts massive economic, cultural and political force. We see this on our TV screens; we see this in our print media. Look at how things are regulated: Ofcom, for example, controls how Sunny Govan Radio* operate in terms of broadcasting guidelines; the BBC are exempt from Ofcom regulation and so do it themselves. This means that a lot of Scottish programming is dictated from London. Look at Ally McCrae's show on Radio 1 - he now has to dedicate his three hour, Sunday night slot, to playing music from all of the UK, as a result of cuts to public funding. Before, it was dedicated entirely to Scottish artists. This exemplifies the unacceptable level of disregard for culture in this country. We have a music infrastructure in Scotland that is specific to our needs and aspirations (e.g. Hip Hop was the most popular category at the SAMA's despite being a niche concern).
Then there is the issue of accent. Why should a whole country feel pressured to alter the way they naturally speak? It is a subtle form of cultural genocide. I am forever hearing of people who cringe at Scottish rap. They are, in fact, cringing at themselves. This is the problem. We are used to seeing inaccurate London-centric depictions of ourselves in the media. From the philosophical alcohol, to the bonnie lassies of the Glens, since the birth of broadcast media Scotland has been fed an English view of what it is. This has affected how the world see us too. Enough is enough. Why are parodies of Scottish rap more successful than Scottish rap itself? It's a reflection of a national self-loathing where we cannot reconcile our preconceptions with the reality of who we are.
The majority of emcees I have spoken to are voting yes. Why do you think this is? Is it because of hip hop culture and the inherent spirit of resistance that is traditionally present within hip hop? Is it the influence of political hip hop, which is generally left wing in flavour? Or is it down to class or something else entirely?
A No vote is not compatible with a creative thinker. Artists tend to see a different picture when they look at things. What we see is a struggle for power. We see a power centre doing what it was designed to do - take and never seed power. Once you see it for what it is, a No vote is totally out of the question. We need to examine what the British interests are here. What has Britain ever done out of generosity? Why do they want us to stay? Is it perhaps because, without us, they would lose their seat at the global top table? is it because the headlines around the world would read 'Death of the Empire?' Of course not - it is because they are clearly so, so worried that we will not be able to look after ourselves. The politicians arguing for a No vote have lives that depend upon a British infrastructure. The UK government pay their wages, expenses and second homes, so view everything they say with skepticism.
You talked about accents before. The Silibil n' Brains** narrative seemed to argue that having a Scottish accent automatically rules you out from gaining any mainstream recognition. Would you agree?
The real story behind those guys was that they almost destroyed themselves in the pursuit of fame and fortune. These two hollow concepts are among the most fundamental problems with our society. Fame has become its own justification, much like wealth. The influence is from America, where they don't have a class system, but a wealth system where rich people are royalty and poor people are subjects. Billions of pounds are made every year by companies that sell us the idea that becoming famous will release us from our daily struggle. Kurt Cobain was trying to tell us the truth behind that facade.
Silibil n' Brains have tried to intellectualise their vanity and modify their motives in order to gain something from their disastrous, and near fatal, attempts to lie their way to success. They are victims of a superficial and deadly culture of the self. They say that they took on the accents to get their message to a broader audience but what was their message? What were they saying with their art? The documentary is another example of how the media sell us rag to riches stories that we identify with. The real story is the resulting insanity that occurs when you become a pathological liar in order to make a quick buck and get your face in the paper. I get more press than they do and I have never compromised one iota. There is a lesson in there somewhere. Their message is about concealing the truth; mine about breaking it over their fucking backs. It is time to reject the notion that fame in and of itself justifies and and every immoral, self deceiving action. On a personal level, I do identify with their struggle and sympathise with their delusion. I too have been a very sick person at times and I wish them well.
You are a member of National Collective, the cultural arts campaign for independence, like myself, and have recorded a capella videos for the channel amongst other things. Why do you think that the referendum topic has not been touched upon by more artists within this medium?
Rappers are not obliged to be political. I don't see myself as a political emcee, just an artist who lives in a political context, so for me the topic is unavoidable if my role is to reflect the times. We can only reflect what we are conscious of and many young people are alienated from democracy in general. Part of what I try to do is engage other artists, as well as listeners. A big section of my audience are artists, journalists/teachers etc, people who prescribe culture in one form or another. I try to get my message to them in the hope that they will reflect as I often do with their output.
Hip hop originates in America, but do you think that it is relevant and has its own voice within this debate?
Hip hop is protest music - let us not forget this. It was born out of a necessity to give voice to the unheard. Now it has evolved into many other things, but essentially at its core it is about challenging power. See Public Enemy.
Finally, though it has been difficult to find No voting MCs, they undeniably have a voice in this debate as well. Can you empathise with a No position amongst people within this culture?
I try to see everything from both sides. It prevents me from becoming a morally driven dictator. I completely understand why people feel anxious. That's why I try to use my own experience of dealing with dependency to re-frame the struggle in a more personal way. It is time for us to grow up as people. It is time to take responsibility for our own future. It is time to stop deluding ourselves that London has our interests at heart. Vote Yes.
There is more to come on the topic of independence. If you are interested in doing a text/video interview for Scotland Standup, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or me personally at email@example.com or @Jonzo67 / @SSUBlog on Twitter.
* A community radio station that often specialise in Scottish music such as hip hop
** Silibil n' Brainz famously duped the industry into thinking they were American. The tale was subject to a BBC documentary.