After a much-anticipated Christmas Eve release, Bloodline crew emcee Big H is happily riding the wave his latest album Fire and Smoke has created. With his first long-play in over four years out now, the London Grime giant sat down with SB.TV to set things straight about his prison time, his impending clash with P Money and his views on the recent Mark Duggan verdict…
Approaching the release date of Fire and Smoke late last year, a person could easily go online and find a comment from one of your fans which read along the lines of, “just drop the album already!” – I got the sense that listeners were literally counting down the days for you to drop this long-overdue LP. Behind the scenes, were there any complications putting the project together or were you just building anticipation?
I was making the album come together naturally, so I wasn’t rushing the bars, I wasn’t rushing the beats. That’s probably why it took such a long period of time. I always say, you can’t rush greatness – trying to rush a great CD is just ridiculous. It’s the biggest album to come out in Grime, because it’s made for Grime listeners. I didn’t try to draw in other listeners of other genres. I think that people who are alive in these times – their grandchildren will ask, ‘What happened when Fire and Smoke came out? Do you remember it?’ It’s a hard record.
You have a lot of features on Fire and Smoke that I know you’re proud of, the album boasts appearances from Flirta D, Bossman, Novelist, Footsie and more. Talk to us a bit about working with those guys…
I’ve known about Flirta D for a long time, we linked up after I came out of jail. I linked up with emcees like Flirta D and Footsie, and I felt like I should make tracks with them whilst we were all together. As far as Novelist being on the album, I heard about this kid from south who was apparently quite good. I gave him a listen and I thought, ‘This guy is cold, I’m gonna get him on the album,’ and that’s how that came about. When I listen to emcees I don’t care about their name, I just listen to the bars and if the bars are cold then we’ll make good music.
When I began to look you up, the words ‘influential’, ‘legendary’ and ‘renowned’ kept popping up. However, I know you feel that over the years certain people have taken things that you’ve started and ran with them for their own benefit. In the case of Boy Better Know, do you ever think you’ll get to a point where you’ll feel proud to have had such a supposed effect on them?
I see it like they are like fans of mine that have gone crazy – basically. At the same time my whole beef with Boy Better Know is not so much them taking my whole vibe, my persona, my bars and trying to imitate me. A lot of the beef stems from me having beef with Roll Deep and stuff like that. If I’ve got beef with Wiley, but JME and Skepta are rollin’ with Wiley whilst I’ve got beef with him – and these guys are meant to be my brothers from back in the day or whatever…it gets a little political then. It’s like ‘what side are you taking?’ You’re either down with me or you’re down with him. What makes it worse is that it’s like, you’re stealing my bars, you’re sounding like me but when somebody is telling me to ‘suck my mum’ or whatever – you’re there smiling with ‘em and going on planes to perform somewhere with them whilst they are trying to diss me at the same time?! It shows disloyalty, and I felt like I should go at them and diss them about it.
I don’t cry about it, I don’t care about Wiley saying anything about me, or Manga or anybody like that, but it’s just the principle of it all. That they didn’t even once speak out or say, ‘Wiley, don’t diss my bredrin’ or ‘don’t diss him coz he’s my people’ or whatever. They just stood back and were silent, if beef kicks off and you’ve got some mandem there and they stay silent and don’t do nothin’ then you’re gonna have to talk to them and have a go at ‘em. I don’t think any of us have anything to complain about, we’re doing music. I’m sure all of us are being paid well, it’s just the principle – that they tried to pull a fast one on me! I don’t know what happened there! [Laughs] but that’s all it is man.
A prison stretch or two most notably filled the gap between your last album, 2009’s Street Crime UK and your latest Fire and Smoke. In the forums I eavesdropped in on, people were throwing around all kinds of reasons about how you ended up behind bars. Can you clear that up for us?
I went to jail because… for just violent crimes or whatever, but at the same time it’s not for me to sit out here and discuss my whole case. Obviously we know that the system is evil and they just wanna chuck anybody into jail that they can. Nelson Mandela went to jail, many people are incarcerated, many people were publicly dissed and they tried to tarnish many peoples names. So people worrying about, or trying to find out what the issue is with jail – it’s not actually an issue with me, it’s an issue with society today just locking up the black man at any chance that they can get and I was just caught up in that basically…well, quite a few times [laughs]. I’m probably seen as a violent person within society, I see it like they are trying to tame the lion and want to take away my true essence. But y’know it happens – that’s life, [Grins] but that’s all I’ve gotta say on it.
They say that when an offender walks out of prison, down that road to the main gate they know deep down whether they will ever return or not. Do you feel that you’ll ever be incarcerated again?
I’ve been to jail like four times – the first time I went, I said to myself that I was never coming back. The second time I went I said I was never coming back, the third time I went I said I was never coming back. The last time I went I didn’t say that, because I felt like that might be the reason I keep coming back. So I said to myself, ‘I’m not gonna say that, I’m gonna have a different view on it.’ Jail ain’t the end of the world but I’m just trying to make music, I don’t know what’s gonna happen in life. Somebody might crash into me and we might get into a fight – I don’t know what’s gonna happen! But I’m not aiming to go back to jail –
It’s not on the list…
Yeah, [laughs] it’s not on the list…but even if I did it would mean I have more things to make music about – it’s another album [laughs].
I was listening to an interview of yours with JP and Hyperfrank on Amazing Radio. I really enjoyed it, but I came away from it wanting to probe your opinions on UK Hip Hop as your on-air comments about the genre were pretty brutal. Do you have absolutely no love for it? Is it love/hate?
Well I can’t completely diss it because I know that Paper Pabs and Blade Brown regard themselves as UK rappers or whatever. So I don’t really wanna diss them because I get their hustle, but I do feel that the UK rap scene does not exist without Grime. You just have to look at UK rap before Grime existed, it was an embarrassment – you didn’t even want to be called a UK rapper. Now with Grime it sort of helps UK rap, we were originators and we’re more talented and so we can show them where they’re going wrong. I haven’t really got anything against it but would you like a bunch of Americans doing Grime in New York and saying they make the realist Grime? It’s wouldn’t seem right. So it’s a bit funny when you see people in England on this American vibe.
So with all these UK Hip Hop acts clawing their way into the UK charts with independently released mixtapes – you obviously have Krept & Konan with Young Kingz and just this last week Brixton rapper DVS stormed into the iTunes charts – does their success hold any of your attention?
I do like UK emcees, if they’re saying something good. [Their success] doesn’t really change anything for a Grime emcee, it probably increases Jay Z’s sales within the UK but I don’t know if it really helps Big H or 9 Milli Major or whoever. A lot of these guys that do rap, can’t emcee to Grime and that’s why they do rap. What it is, is that they’ve got less talent. I’m not dissing anyone like Krept & Konan because I think that they’re alright, but I do think a lot of these so-called UK rappers should give Grime more of a try. They shouldn’t be so scared of it.
You and P Money were supposed to have clashed at Lord Of The Mics 5 last year, but that didn’t happen. Where does that situation stand at the moment?
Yeah P Money and me are meant to be clashing…that’s if Wiley doesn’t pay him ten grand to disappear. Hopefully it doesn’t go the same way the Scratchy [from Roll Deep] situation did, because that was a good thing for Scratchy, it would’ve boasted his career. If you notice, since then you haven’t heard nothing from Scratchy – not a scratch [laughs]. I don’t know what that is about – maybe Wiley tried to hinder his career for ten grand – but I genuinely think that if Scratchy clashed me at the time, he would have made more than the ten grand Wiley gave him to walk away…if Wiley did give him ten grand. It was disappointing that Scratchy never clashed me, it sort of slowed down his momentum, it dispersed it.
A lot of the time when people are thinking of clashing, they don’t wanna clash you because they feel like you might get something out of it and they would rather see you on the streets starving than actually doing well in life. It’s a crazy thought, but this is how most people think today. I’d clash anybody, I don’t mind – if they get big, it doesn’t really matter because I’m clashing them to defeat them lyrically, I don’t care about their financial status. If they can make money out of me humiliating them, then great.
The next Lord Of The Mics seems more likely for a clash between P Money and me, because P Money doesn’t seem to have people around him who have access to ten grand [laughs], so it seems like he’s going to have to do it.
[Laughs] That’s Wiley init. Like I say, these emcees they’re different behind the scenes, they’re not the people they make out to be. Wiley – he doesn’t do many interviews probably because he doesn’t want those kinds of questions to arise [laughs]. But I’m here, so hopefully Jammer can work some magic and get P Money to turn up on the date.
Instead of asking about you about your various beefs over the years with other emcees, I’ll ask you this; if Wiley, Trim, Skepta and JME all released a brand new EP tomorrow, which EP is most likely to get a genuine listen from you, and which one would go straight in the bin?
[Pauses] I would actually listen to Trim, because I think that Trim is more from the roads than JME, Skepta and Wiley. I don’t really know where Wiley is from, he says Bow but I’ve never met someone from Bow who’s said, ‘yeah, I know him’ – but it would probably be Trim. I would be doing something whilst it’s playing though…like background music. I would choose Trim over Boy Better Know, but I’d just use his CD as some sort of chopping board or something…
Which one would get no listens and go straight in the trash?
The Wiley one goes straight in the bin.
Lastly, you have Tottenham blood, you’re N17 through and through. So when you heard about the Mark Duggan verdict, in which a jury found that he was lawfully killed in August 2011 – what went through your mind?
I don’t know why people are relying on the police to even help them or whatever, I just think that you can’t complain to the devil about Satan. You can’t really rely on them, they’ve shown you what they’re about. I know what it is – it’s us against them, it’s survival of the fittest out here, the basic laws of nature. The guy that killed him got away with it, that’s it – there’s nothing we can do. No matter what they’ve said, I’m the sort of person where if you do something to one of my peoples, I wanna see something done to the person that did it. If it can’t be that way, then forget it.
It’s life man, it’s like going back to the sixties – people are still struggling, there are still fights, there’s still racism. Some people think that the world is like Disneyland, that you can just run down the street and it’s safe, but the real world is not like that. R.I.P man, I hope a lot of people learn from that whole case, learn how to conduct themselves on the streets and know who to trust.
Photo Credit: Verena Stefanie