Monday, 23 June 2014

INTERVIEW: Soul - Scotland's Best Battler Talks to SSU

 Photo: James Cross / Cross Photographer

"King of the Dot is intense. Everyone has their 'game face' on...
[But] it is a very Scottish thing not to take yourself too seriously..."

Though his rapping ability is undeniable, Jed Mitchell (aka Soul) stands out from others in the Scottish scene in that his talents have been exhibited almost solely through battling. During his time in the ring, mostly for Don't Flop, Soul has developed a recognisable style that makes use of multisyllabics, imaginative similes and heavy punchlines. Oh, and a fair few Game of Thrones references.

Despite having come off the back of his most impressive year yet, Soul has been more muted on his battling intentions recently. I caught up with him to talk World Domination 5 and the Don't Flop title, but also to hear his opinions on the ever growing Scottish hip hop/battle scene. 

Hey man, how are things going with you? 

Yeah, everything is going pretty well. I am actually planning to move to Canada in the second half of July... so yeah, that's all good. In terms of battling, World Domination 5 is coming up, but after that nothing for a long time probably.

Nice, you have an opponent confirmed then? Although I'm sure you can't reveal who it is. 

Yeah, all confirmed. I don't know if King of the Dot want us to reveal who we have publicly, but I do have somebody locked in. 

You've featured on KOTD twice now. How does the experience of battling in Toronto differ from battling in the UK? 

It is definitely a different experience to battling at 95% of Don't Flop events. At Don't Flop the atmosphere is more cordial; folk don't take themselves too seriously. At the same time though, I think there is still respect for everyone's individual styles. KOTD is much more intense. It doesn't really bother me, but everyone has their 'game face' on and stuff, which is cool I guess. It is a very Scottish thing to not take yourself too seriously anyway, so though it is not a different experience for me, it probably objectively is for a lot of people. 

Can you see yourself battling over there regularly once you move? And does this mean that you've no longer got ambitions for the Don't Flop title? 

It depends on how much money is involved really! Yeah, the title just doesn't interest me anymore because it would make no sense. I'll be living in Canada.

Your battle against Loe Pesci was arguably your best performance thus far, and your stock has certainly risen over the past year. Was there a point (or a particular battle) where you felt you'd really stepped it up to another level? 

First off, thanks! In my opinion, I've had two big jumps during my time battling: first was when I battled Matter, and then everything clicked for good after the Mos Prob battle. 

What was it that really clicked for you about those battles? By the Olde English battle, you seemed to be at your most comfortable stylistically.

Yeah, like honestly, battle rap is sort of like trial and error. There have been so many battles where I've read my stuff on paper and thought it looked incredible, and then it just falls flat in the battle. Sometimes it is the bits that I thought were just okay that pop off the most. I think that after Mos Prob, I begun to see patterns in what popped and what didn't. Like what was the perfect mix between short two bar set-ups and punchlines, and then longer schemes of jokes and bars. After that, it is just where to put them all in relation to each other for maximum effect.

Don't Flop recently held an event in Scotland after a long absence. Though the turnout was not massive, the brand automatically generated more views than any other league here could manage, be it Breaking Bars, the old Badmouth/Scotland Standup battles or whatever. What do you think is the way forward for our scene? And how can our battlers stand out?

There are already too many leagues in the UK to be honest, so I don't think saturating the market with more would be a smart move. My guess would be that Scottish rappers need to bite the bullet and battle in England more, just to make them aware that there is some serious talent north of the border. For whatever reason, the scene up here is very secular. Until we change that, with regards to battling that is, it will just stay the same. 

Do you think the problem (or the blessing, depending on your standpoint) is partly that the battle scene here is very much a component of the all round hip hop scene? Here MC's tend to get battles based on their musical pedigree, whereas battling has become its own entity down south. E.g. Shuffle-T and Marlo are very entertaining, but openly not rappers.

I mean you have to pick your poison, right? If you want to have battling as part of an all round music-based hip hop culture, then that's all good, but you cannot then complain that you do not have the same commercial success as Don't Flop (not that I'm saying people do that!). On the other hand, you cannot be an MC for a company that's doing Oreo adverts and complain that you don't get the respect from UKHH heads that the older Scottish rappers get. The grass is always greener I guess, but yeah, you have to pick one or the other. Don't pick one and then bitch you don't have the other. 

There has been a massive upsurge in Scottish MC's over the past couple of years. Being as busy as you are, do you still get to take much of an interest in today's scene? 

To be honest man, I've not really listened to any "new" hip hop music lately. I was a fan of Scottish hip hop before I battled though. 'Summer Knows A Darker Shade of Grey' (by Loki and Scatabrainz) is one of my top 50 hip hop albums of all time. 

What have you been listening to lately then?
If we're talking hip hop, a lot of 90's-00's west coast stuff, but also rock from the 60's and 70's like Hendrix and Cream. Also chilled out stuff like Norah Jones and Regina Spektor, and I also dug the new Killers album. That is not a very hip hop answer, but I don't try to be anything other than what I am so who gives a fuck! 

Check out Soul's latest battle (v Sketch Menace on KOTD) here.

Coming up this week on SSU: More JAM sessions and an exclusive review/commentary from Loki on his latest work "Kill Your Darlings", which is composed of tracks that won't make the full 'Goverment Issue Music Protest' LP.

Read our other most recent interview with Loki (on independence) here.

Note: we're also planning on getting the address again for clarity, and because it is printed on all the old merchandise/websites... We've just been using the generic blogspot name recently out of laziness. Jonny x