////LETHAL BIZZLE////AUGUST 2007////
Still only in his early twenties, Maxwell Ansah a.k.a Lethal Bizzle has already experienced the highs and lows of fame and fortune. He bounced on to our screens at the turn of the century with Garage/Grime outfit, More Fire Crew but soon after their No. 7 hit ‘Oi’, when they appeared to be riding at the top of their game, they were dropped by their record company. Bizzle found himself back to square one seeking a new direction to move forward. His decision was to become a solo artist. After both underground and mainstream success with singles such as ‘Pow (Forward)’ and ‘Uh Oh! (I’m back)’, from his first album ‘Against All Oddz’, he seems to have made the right decision. Never that far from controversy with his raw lyrical content and style, Outline managed to grab a few wise words soon after the unleashing of his latest offering, ‘Back to Biznizz’, which is another ‘no holds barred’ account of life from within one of East London’s notorious council estates…
You were already well established both on the street and in the suburbs by the time you went to make this album. I wondered if you felt much pressure when you started writing?
To be honest, it was a lot of fun making this record. I didn’t really feel that much pressure. When I started off, I got signed because I was running my own label and creating my own buzz. So when my album got picked up most of the hard work was done already. You normally get signed by doing a few gigs, and then you make an album, and then comes the hype, but I’d kinda built the hype already. I got signed up because of ma buzz and I’d already had a few big tracks on the street, like ‘Pow!’ and stuff. I think it was easier for me. I suppose the pressure is topping the sales of the first one. But again with ‘Back to Biznizz’ there was already a buzz, I think from the live shows. Also, I’m from the underground where there already was a following, so this one was a lot more fun. I wouldn’t really say I felt that much pressure. I wanted the odd few big tracks that would go down well with the street, so I suppose that part was a bit pressurizing. I wanted to create that same hype and energy that I’d had on the first album. I think I learnt a lot more when I was making it, especially about myself. Both writing-wise and working with different producers. I had to really grow with the music. I would say it was more exciting than pressurised.
What are the high points on the album for yourself?
Em, that’s hard, there a lot of stuff on there…
I think the running order is great. Like a complete album, rather than just a load singles and fillers?
I think you got it in a nutshell. I’m glad you said that, ‘cause I think on the first album I had a lot of bangers, ya know, singles, but with this I wanted to make an album where anyone could just put it on and play in from start to finish. I wanted to vary the styles as much as possible. I think I managed to do that with this. I’m happy with the whole album, but ‘Selfridges Girl Not on Myspace’ is one of my favourite tracks ‘cos it’s so different – and the story is true as well. That track came about cause me and Statik (the producer) where just mucking around in the studio and we found the beat, and just wrote the lyrics there and then, it was a really fun process making that song. I really like ‘Police on my Back’. When I finished making the album, I just put it on, sat back and thought ‘yeah man’. Hopefully in a couple of years’ time, you’ll be able to put it on and it will still sound fresh.
On this album you have worked with a lot of alternative and Indie acts, including Babyshambles and Kate Nash, not to mention involvement with bands such as Gallows and The Rakes. I wondered out of everyone you have worked with, who surprised you the most with their style or approach?
Ooh, that’s a good one. Again all the collaborations were really fun but I think Kate Nash surprised me the most. Pretty random, but last year, in August, I’d written ‘Look what you done’ and I was trying to find a voice to sing the chorus. The label gave me a few tip offs and I went on to her myspace and found some of her tunes. So I myspaced her and said ‘Yo, I got this track and I think your voice would fit it, so would you be up for coming to the studio and doing it’, and she was like ‘yeah, wicked, cool, cool’. She came down to the studio and em…initially I wanted her to sing a little part of the chorus but when she went into the booth, she just blew me away – I thought ‘oh my God’. She came across really shy and polite but as soon as she got the microphone I was like ‘aw shit, she killed it’, her voice is British soul. Its different, its got a nice twang to it, there’s nothing out there like that. She’s a really, really cool girl. Surprisingly, she knew who I was before I contacted her, which was shocking for me. She was a fan of my old group More Fire Crew. So she was my biggest surprise, it was a good session, I had fun playing with her vocals.
There was a review of your album in the Guardian, which suggested that you had taken the Indie direction on ‘Back to Biznizz’, because yourself and Dizzee where the only remaining players in an already dying out Grime scene. So in the interests of longevity you had taken an already popularised direction. Do you think this is a fair comment?
It’s very arguable, for me personally. The reason I’ve done what I’ve done is because for me, in my career I felt like a needed a change and to do something else. When you look at your favourite artists, you always tend to see a progression in the music, whether it’s a change in their sound or different collaborations – and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’ve been in this thing since 2001 and within the whole Hip- Hop and Grime scene I’ve had success with top ten records, I’ve been on the street putting out heavy hitting hard tracks, you could even call them street underground classics. I’ve got at least 7 of those, but I’ve got to a point where I can keep doing that and remain there or I can try and get inspiration form other areas. Mixing the whole Grime thing with Indie really inspired me as an artist in general. I feel I needed this inspiration to develop and become more creative, which will stand me out from whatever else is going on. I can’t keep making songs like ‘Pow’, or ‘Oi’ all the time…
Where does the motivation to keep going come from?
For me, I think it is the fear of failure. I’m from the council estates and I go back there sometimes to see some of my old friends. A lot are locked up in jail or they’re still on the street hustling – they have nothing to do. I think the whole, ‘More Fire Crew’, experience for me…which was a rollercoaster ride and a half man, signed one minute, then on Top of the Pops the next, we were on top of the world and then suddenly we were dropped. The feeling was bad. I didn’t like that at all. That’s the worst feeling you can experience as an artist, for everything to be suddenly be taken away from you. Those memories keep me motivated to this day…I got love for the music as well bro. I’ve been around it since the day I was born. My dad was a DJ. I love people going crazy to my music man , so I suppose that’s my real motivation…
On the track, ‘Babylon Burning’, there are references to Tony Blair and how he has let his nation down. What do you think of Gordon Brown then?
It’s early day’s innit, I don’t know man, he seems, or I hope that he’s more likely to go his own way, or be his own man. ‘Yes means yes’ and ‘no means no’ type of thing. Blair used to get interested in a lot of shit that didn’t really concern him – with Bush and stuff. As I said its early days, but I hope Brown don’t take that leaf out of Blair’s book. I hope he does what he thinks is right for the country. If it’s nothing to do with us, then don’t get involved man. Time will tell on that one…
I believe you ended up in a very public war of words with David Cameron which ended up spilling on to Newsnight plus it was also reported within a few of the broadsheets?
Basically, like politicians do, they try and find blame for the violence that’s happening on the street. Cameron tried to scapegoat me, so I just responded and said ‘ya know what, you don’t know what you are talking about’. I’m not inciting anything. I’m telling you a story. If I saw a car crash yesterday and someone died and I wrote about it, I’m talking reality, ‘cause that’s what happened. So when I say things in my lyrics, I’m talking about things that I’ve seen. There are people out there who can relate to stuff like that. And that’s why I am the way I am as an artist, because I talk about reality. I express mine and other people’s experiences in my songs. I thought for him to be blaming us was just bollocks. He was looking past the reason these things are happening. These kids out here are not stupid man, they are going to do what they are going to do. I don’t believe they are going to hear me say something…and then go and do it. Anyway I’m talking about things that have already happened. I think a lot of these kids are aware of the things I’m talking about, I mean they go on everyday on the council estates. I thought for him to be saying my music incites violence and we are the reason for all this craziness was him looking past the real problem. We need to think of ways to try and solve these problems….
Didn’t you try and create a debate with him about it?
Yeah, as I said we need to find a solution, and he was e-mailing me to agree that. Then the next minute he goes to the Mail on Sunday and says ‘Lethal Bizzle you are chatting rubbish, your music incites violence’. So I thought alright, cool, then when writing ‘Babylons Burning’ I thought fuck it, I’ll give him a good reply to his comments…
You seem very politically aware. Which other issue’s are close to your heart?
Definitely the violence problem. All the violence with the kids is really touching me right now. I’ve got a little brother who is only sixteen and a lot of my friends have got younger brothers and sisters. They are from a generation with all this craziness and gun & knife crime going on. For the new school term I’m trying to organise some trips so I can go into the schools and sit down and talk to the kids. I think I can relate to these kids a lot more than some of the teachers and the politicians. They need someone who they believe and can understand, someone who knows where they are from and the pressure that goes with that. I’m gonna try and give them some words of wisdom, motivation and courage. Most importantly these kids need to become leaders. I think that was my plus. When I was younger I always tried to be a leader in my own right. If you are trying to do something positive I think that can help to transform your mates or whoever is around you. Things need to calm down, guys are loosing their lives and for nothing man. I’ve grown up in a mad system. Even with my music and the Garage/Grime and Hip Hop scenes its like dog eat dog man, its hard man. So now that I’m at a point where I’ve come up and done the bad stuff in the past, but come out the other side, I still believe I can be someone that these kids can believe. They need to believe that whatever they put their minds to, they can achieve. If when I was young, someone like Ian Wright (who I looked up too), would have come to my school and talked to me I would’ve listened to him and taken note of what he was saying. Something like that would have really focused me.
So is this the point of doing Lethal Bizzle Records?
Again, I’m trying to use that to be able to give back. I got a load of artists on there that were just on the street getting up to nothing and pissing about. I thought ‘fuck it’. I’m gonna start the label to put their mix tapes out to try and get them shows. Just to be able to give them a platform with something to do, to keep them off the streets. I’ve got about twelve different artists on there, all doing their independent thing. Also my group who go by the name of Fire Camp. Hopefully, it gives them something to look forward too. You know, it makes me feel good to be able to give back. I think no matter how big you get, it’s important to give back. If you get yourself in a position where you can help, I think you should always do that. So that’s why I started the label. With my twelve artists, some of them go to school, college, others are at university and some work. So if I can give them something to look forward to and help them with their music then it’s all good. You’ll be seeing stuff from the label towards the end of this year and the beginning of 2008. Once we’ve got past the 3rd single from the ‘Back to Biznizz’ campaign then I’m really gonna start pushing the Fire Camp and other stuff
Finally, you have played in Norwich before, what lasting memories have you taken away with you?
It was about three years ago and it’s in my ‘Top 5’ all time gigs man. I’m not even just saying that. It was one of my most memorable gigs for the fucking energy and hype. I do a load of shows and I’ve only ever been there once, so I’ve always wanted to go back – cause ever since that show, it was the first time I’d been there, I didn’t know what to expect but the vibe was amazing, the place was packed and there was a really variation in age groups. Both the young and old came out to see me that night. I had real fun, so I’m looking forward to Norwich – I’m well up for that.