The final Sunday Joint x Leeds College of Music collaboration of 2017 features Heretic, who is actually making his second appearance when he joins Regime in our basement for a special festive free party. The hip-hop artist has just graduated from LCoM, but has stuck around in Leeds to bless us with his determined attitude and unique take on rap. Here’s our e-mail chat with him.
There isn’t so much of a hip-hop scene in Leeds, or at least one that is working above the surface. Why do you think this is? And do you feel lonely in that sense?
“On the surface level I suppose you’re right – we don’t have any hugely popular regular hip-hop nights in the city centre full of rappers, but there is still a scene here with some incredibly talented people. Defenders Of Style and Tha Office are two great collectives definitely worth checking out and there are a lot of great grime artists about too (Dialect, Zen and P Solja are my favourites). I’m not sure what keeps the rap scene in Leeds relatively low-key rather than a huge force, but it’s probably the fact it’s such a musical city and there are countless genres popping up in venues all over the place. That doesn’t really bother me at all though, stylistically I suppose I’m not true-to-the-core hip hop and I like to take influence from other genres, so sharing stages and flyer space with people who make vastly different music is quite good fun.”
Does your name speak to the job that rap artists, or any musician, should do? Why did you adopt the name?
“I suppose so. Hip-hop started as a rebellious and political movement and I’ve always had a lot of that spirit in me, which is probably why I gravitated towards the genre in the first place. I adopted the name at the age of 14, largely because I was a massive loudmouth at school and earned myself the reputation of being ‘that guy’ who’s always got a strong opinion that goes against popular consensus. As you can imagine I wasn’t that popular.”
Heretic also has a religious connotation to it. Have you ever led a religious life? What was your upbringing like? And what do you think the place of religion is today?
“That’s the other side to adopting the name really. I grew up a Christian, and was pretty devout up until about 13/14 when I drifted through agnosticism to atheism. As a disclaimer to defend my parents a bit, I was never told I *had* to be religious growing up, but there was definitely a strong Christian influence in my life that kept me a believer until my teenage years. At this point in my life I’m not really a proponent of organised religion at all, I feel it can be quite oppressive and stop people from forward-thinking, especially with some of the more ‘traditional’ elements of all the major religions. Having said that, I take no issue with faith in and of itself, and I certainly know a lot of amazingly kind and generous people who’ve done brilliant things because of spiritual/religious inspiration, so I couldn’t in good conscience decry all kinds of religious beliefs.”
You are known as a battle rapper. How did you get into this style of rhyming? How integral is oneupmanship and put downs to hip-hop?
“Putting my hip-hop purist hat on for a second, the genre has always been competitive really. Whether it be in freestyle rap battles, written rap battles, or collaborations where you try and write a better verse than the other artist(s). It’s the only genre where rapping about how good you are at rapping is considered an authentic expression of the genre – I always found it quite funny to think if someone like Adele sung a whole album about how good at singing she is – but really rap has certain metrics to measure quality by. Flow, wordplay, rhyme patterns, punchlines etc, are all part of an ‘authentic’ MCs arsenal, and have always been used as a way of showing off skill and competing with others. When you learn to rap by that rulebook, the battling mentality comes quite naturally. That said, the format of battle rap today is all acapella and looks more like performance art, slam poetry and stand-up comedy all rolled together. It’s a really bizarre form of entertainment, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.”
What is it like making hip-hop in a country dominated by grime, which is sometimes referred to the UK’s answer to hip-hop?
“I try not to see them as totally separate genres, as there can be a lot of crossover and rap artists often hop from one to the other, but it’s awesome seeing the grime scene thriving so much at the moment, especially with Stormzy becoming a superstar and artists like Dave and Giggs getting international recognition through Drake collaborations etc. I try not to concern myself too much with genre categorisation, because my production style floats between so many of them, sometimes with trap and grime influences. I’m hoping that as the grime scene continues to grow, the popular styles of UK rap expand to include some of the stuff I’m doing, but I guess we’ll see.”
Your website says you have been making music since you were 14, and you have already had several self-released projects. Where do you think your will to perform and create comes from?
“It’s always been in me really. I loved acting growing up and English was always my best subject. Before starting to take music seriously two dream jobs I had were actor and comedian, so the desire to write, perform, be on stage etc has always been there. I also wanted to be a singer-songwriter for a good while, but it was at 14 that hip-hop totally hooked me, once I realised the huge scope for lyricism and the amazing sounds you can come out with from self-production.”
Your most recent release ‘Midnight Soldiers’ is in a more trap-leaning, RnB style. Can you talk us through the construction of this tune musically?
“Midnight Soldiers, as well as everything else that I’ve written recently, was co-produced by my mate Keeba, who is also the other half of my stage show. As with a lot of the things we write, it started with a small musical idea, which in this case was the electric guitar loop you hear at the start of the song. From then we started thinking about what other elements could be added. I made the drums, which came from a bit of Drake influence, and then between us we added the other sounds, textures and extra little details to the instrumental. Conceptually I was totally directionless with it though, so I handed it over to our friend Caitlin to write a chorus. She returned to us with this very cryptic, abstract hook, so I then took it on myself to take my own interpretation on it and turn it into a full (hopefully) coherent track.”
You are playing at the Sunday Joint as part of our collaboration with LCM. Could you tell us a bit about your course at Leeds College of Music, and what life at university has been like for you?
“LCoM was great. I studied the Music Production degree, and I loved the fact I could basically tailor it to myself – I didn’t want to be a purely mathematical sort of studio engineer, nor did I want to spend all my hours practising an instrument and notating scores. It gave me the freedom to produce exactly how I wanted while also having the opportunity to work with any kind of musician imaginable. I graduated in July this year, and I really miss having a student loan at this point.”
How do you translate your tracks into the live setting?
“It’s a constant work in progress really. Most rap shows you go to, you’ll find an MC and a DJ with all the instrumentals queued up. While that’s a perfectly fine way of doing it, I always wanted a more ‘live’ feel to the instrumental aspect, so Keeba and I have been experimenting with various different ways of doing so. As it stands we have some elements playing through a backing track, myself playing samples and loops on a Maschine (sample pad), and Keeba playing a live instrument like keys or guitar. We might stick with that set-up for a while, or we might even end up expanding to have more people on stage doing more things. Really I’m constantly looking for potential ways to make the live set more interesting and engaging for the crowd.”