Beautiful acts of cocreation understanding The Context: an interview with Joshua and Gurpal

Sometimes, i find myself in really blessed spaces. i have an idea, i share it with folks and they embrace it. i was fortunate to have that experience with artists Joshua and Gurpal (Gurps), when i asked to interview them, they were responsive and completely down. i want to extend my deepest gratitude to both of them for their time and knowledge. below is the interview, if you aren’t familiar with their music, you should be….make sure to cop The Context

Scz: For me, The Context is one of the most exciting albums to come out this year. As a listener it is a sonic archive of decolonizing history and contextual information about systemic inequality. Can y’all tell me a little bit about the process that went into its creation, and how y’all describe the music? Gurpal, I read your post on Wutangcorp.com about using a Maschine to create the beats, it seems like Joshua’s words really pushed you to want to make music, can you tell me why?

Joshua: Thank you! It’s always good to know that people connect with it at such a level. The process was incredibly organic, I hadn’t been in touch with Gurpal since primary school and we suddenly got back in touch because we were both on the same wave length and social media, around 2010 I guess. We hooked up, started talking, billing, jamming, going to protests together, he found out that I rap and as a hip-hop producer, because he has dabbled before, I guess we naturally just fused. We decided to get serious about it a little while after, when the third dude in our local friendship trio, John Paul, put the idea out there. Since we got serious about it we slowly bought all the necessary equipment to build our own studio, we started to have recording sessions, we experimented with sounds and importantly we kept growing in a political and spiritual sense and this continued to inform our content. I would describe our music as indescribable really, I mean at it’s highest truth I couldn’t possibly pin it down to words, and as a wordsmith I swear that I have tried. I can describe the feelings it evokes and perhaps that might go some way to help paint a description; when I listen to it, it evokes feelings of history, of transformation, of despair, of courage and of inspiration – People tell me that they dance to it, cry to it, write with it, ride their bike to it. Their was no fixed intention when we decided to create the music except that we knew it would be some real hip-hop, on some real shit, talking about real life situations, reflecting our own thought processes and feelings.

Gurpal: After I finished university, I connected with him on facebook. His statuses were interesting and not just the generic bullshit you see there, and I sent him a message. We spoke a little bit about a lot of things over the next few weeks and he invited me over to his house to chill. That was when I met JP, who Josh mentioned. Us three connected over music and reasoning. We had subsequent jams and he would rap over instrumentals. I immediately knew that what I was hearing was unique. I’ve heard a lot of people rap and nothing ever stuck out to me. But the content that Josh had within his lyrics is what hooked me. I knew he needed to be heard because he was saying something important. At the time, I may not always have understood the references he was making, but I could hear and see the passion. The style in which he was spitting, reminded me of rappers that I loved. Like Guru from Gang Starr. The first song we did together was just me throwing an MF DOOM instrumental into a program called Mixcraft and getting him to spit over it. We called that Genesis. This was before I got the Maschine. I loved that song. I still do.  I realised that I had a vision of what I wanted Josh’s music to sound like so I bought a Maschine. I say “Josh’s music” because that’s why I started this in the first place. I created the beats for him. I’m not fond of the new wave of progressive hip hop with poppy sounding acoustic guitars with predictable hooks and breakdowns and I definitely did not want him to get beats like that from other people. It would be a travesty! I had a vision in my head of what I thought he would sound good on and that’s what I made. I made beats and I would show him. They were all very simple beats. Always sampled. With boom bap drums. Like the beats from 1991-1996. He would write to them if he liked them. Spit them over the phone to me on occasion. Come to my house and record in my bedroom. We tried to do it once every weekend. After about a year of on and off recording, we had a solid body of work. We got it mixed and mastered, designed the artwork ourselves and got the CD’s produced. I’d describe the music as hip-hop first and foremost.I wanted the beats to be a certain way, so as not distract from the message which I think is very important. It provides the context to a lot of things going on in the world. I think the words provide clarity and context that is missing from so much public discourse, and really do require the listener to fully open their mind to the things Josh is saying. Context that is vital if people want to truly understand where our priorities should lie. Songs like troops and coups where he says :

“do you know what your comforts cost  the young forgot, up in police states, under cops, under watch  humble, lost in privatised states that are plundered and robbed  so, what does it take to connect the chain  for every good you buy you protect the pain  there’s people getting fined for collecting rain  there’s corporations playing god, who’s next to reign  so I grab the dirt like a keepsake  watch our resources sold like the sweepstakes  straight cheapskates protected by police states  and we still fight over bandanas and post codes  debate whether it’s the piff or the homegrown” And “under the thumbs of the state the crumbs of the plate keep us dumb to the way that the corporations keep a gun to the face of the public as they straight plunder this place”

Bars like that are some of the realest I’ve ever heard. I really hope people can understand the message. And they have a moment to reflect on what he’s actually saying, rather than just nodding along to the music in the background.

Scz: What made you choose to express yourselves through the medium of hip hop? and how do you see yourselves fitting into the wider UK and global hip hop communities?

Joshua: Personally Hip-Hop approached me when I was about 11. I copped albums like the Marshall Mathers LP and Ready to Die from pretty young, I even remember buying D12’s purple hills on cassette in like year 6! But before I really got immersed into Hip-Hop culture I was pretty sucked in to Garage and Grime, which are types of UK ‘urban’ music for lack of a better word. At around 15 I would do rap battles in school, in car parks, on the streets, I rapped in a really Grimey style, fast spitting, and at the time with oppressive language. Around 16 I really got back into UK and US Hip-Hop listening to alot of Jehst, the Terra-firma clan, Task Force, and lots of East Coast stuff really that’s when the flow really started to grow – because I was listening as a writer and with more maturity. I wrote poetry seriously from when I was about 8 and have never stopped, since I battled pretty well and since Hip-Hop seemed like a natural space to exercise the rhyming prowess I just used it as a medium at that time. Rapping and spoken word from my late teens has been a means of digesting and communicating my lived experience, nothing much has changed in that respect, I still write what I feel and think and that so happens to be music with a message. In the UK community I keep myself around emcees and underground music scenes but we’re still very much unknown musically, we have fans all over the world which is the beauty of music in the digital age but personal circumstances has meant that it won’t be until late 2015 that we begin to seriously market and gig in the UK and beyond. I believe that the hip-hop community has to be connected by more than physical presence, I mean when I collaborated with DISL Automatic from Chicago that was all digital, in fact anybody who picks up the pen should know that they’re connecting to a community with a history, with a purpose, with power but also with no single space – and there’s an obligation to know it as an emcee, just as when you learn Kung-Fu you’re taught the history and philosophy; it betters your practice.

Gurpal: I heard josh’s raps. I liked hip-hop and knew that eventually I’d like to produce it. So it was a no brainer. I was obsessed, absolutely obsessed with Wu-Tang Clan and RZA’s music. RZA’s proficiency with the beats and the story of how he brought Wu Tang to the forefront of hip hop was inspiring. The feeling I had to do the same meant that doing this album, and getting this experience, was one of the steps that had to be taken.

Scz: Sonically, this album is extremely complex, can you tell me about the samples you chose to use, and what you were hoping to communicate? Tracks like Narco Terrorism use audio from Walter White, a fictional character,  and Charles Manson what made you decide to create that juxtaposition?

Joshua: I think it might be hard to tell you why, in a rational sense, I preferred some of the samples we used. We tried to find samples that complimented the mood and feeling of the track, so when we went to familiar places such as activists like Cornel and Davis or artists or TV shows there was always a section that stood out in that it echoed the felt sentiment of the track we had in mind. Sometimes we just wanted certain samples in there like Gurps chose the samples for Narco so he can tell you more from that end – but I knew I wanted Lauryn Hill cuts in Kavi for example. The scratches were a part of DJ Defunkts genius, he brought along a heap of dope material from his vinyl collection and we sat in the studio for a few hours just feeling out which ones give the track that revolutionary sound and he did his magic.

Gurpal: Yeah, the samples we chose were mostly chosen together with some exceptions. But we both agreed on all of them. Breaking Bad is a pretty dope TV show, and Walter Whites character fit with that theme. I have no idea why I chose Charles Manson. What he was saying was pretty anti “the system”, so it seemed to fit.

Scz: From the perspective of the listener, this album sounds and feels like an beautiful act of cocreation, How involved were you both in each others processes? Gurpal was there ever a point where you listened to Joshua’s lyrics before creating a beat or heard something that made you want to add a specific sample? Joshua, were there any sonic devices that were important to include from your perspective?

Joshua: I’d say we were involved in each others processes post process. First off I mean like who am I to get involved too tough in music production when I don’t know enough, Gurps would rightfully tell me to back the fuck up! I am a strong believer in collaborative processes but I also believe their is an importance in solo creation, in diving to the depths of your psyche for creativity as a personal endeavour. I say post process because obviously, like you said, this is a co-creation, we would bring our work to each other with frayed edges and sew them together to make that whole cloth which is ‘The Context’. Gurps would be like send me the lyrics then he would make some important suggestions, I’m not saying he wrote it but he was involved in a constructive way, likewise I would be like Gurps add some drops here or this sounds like something is missing.

Gurpal: I’d make the beats on my own. I’d send him the ones I thought were worthy and he’d write bars. When he would come over, he’d find beats on my computer that he could tell from the filenames that I hadn’t showed him. Only because they weren’t my favourites. He’d ask me to play them and sometimes he’d like them a lot and would seem bewildered as to why I wouldn’t show him a beat he thought was super dope. Babylon and Phoenix are examples of that. I’d make suggestions sometimes to remove a certain word or add a word here or there, purely because I thought it would roll with the beat, or flow off the tongue slightly better. Joshua would mostly agree with what I was suggesting. With the exception of Babylon. I made some suggestions, and he just said, “Nah, trust me. Trust me on this one”. And I was like hmmmm. But he ended up being right. The beats were always made before I heard the lyrics.

Scz: As a listener, i noticed there are spaces on the album where you left in audio of Joshua saying things like “are you recording yet” or “I really don’t know what to say”, those could have easily been edited out of the finished production, why was it important for you to leave those in?

Joshua: Honestly it was more like ‘why would we take those out?’, some long bits were definitely taken out but there were bits like those you pointed out that just felt like a part of the song, that set up the tone almost. They illustrated how organic and independent our work is, we don’t have a record exec down our throat, we do and say as we please, we don’t appease any markets and we create uncensored unless we censor ourselves. For me, those are some of my favourite bits in the album because they remind me so vividly of the moment of creation, perhaps I hoped that it might provide that same feeling for the listener, like they were almost there when it was being recorded.

From my perspective they most definitively convey that feeling. Gurpal: Basically what Josh said. This isn’t a clean cut label ready radio album. So I wanted that kind of stuff in there. Additionally, I’m a fan of John Frusciante who’s famous for being the former guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His solo work is amazing. On his albums he often keeps that stuff in too. Him talking to his engineers or being able to hear him turn the pages of his notebook when he’s singing. I think in one song on his album the Empyrean, you can hear him ask Johnny Marr, “do you need to eat? Should I make you a couple eggs real quick?”. I like that kinda shit.

Scz: What was it like working with GlobalFaction on your first video?

Joshua: Awesome. He’s a master of his art, a don, he knows his shit and commands a degree of respect but also allows for creative input from all people, I mean everyone – he doesn’t off the cuff dismiss people’s ideas, even ones that I thought were dud! He’s a bit of a legend in the scene, I mean I recently saw a tweet from K-lash shouting out respect to Global, people know what the deal is. I enjoyed the shoot alot, we did it in and around my friends squat in Kennington, a place where we did a bunch of music jams on the regular. Global just has an ease about him, he’s on the level, he’s involved and he’s all about Hip-Hop, the culture, the history and the art. It was an honour, it wasn’t the first time though – I shot a music video with him which was a collaboration with Ed Greens and Daniel but since Ed quit music on his deen he asked for it to be removed, that was actually how I first met Global.

Scz: You recently released a video for Phoenix with all of the proceeds going to support medical aid in Gaza. Tell me about the creation of this song, lyrically it feels like a departure from the rest of the album, its very much a narrative account from the perspective of a Palestinian. Also, it is maybe the first time I have heard Edward Said sampled in a hip hop track. 

Joshua: The lyrics for Phoenix came from a poem I wrote a few years back called ‘All Things To All Men’, after the biblical/torah/quranic quote, I wrote it for a project out of an anarchist book store in London, they were sending the poems to Palestine to show the artistic support. I recorded it over a beat at some point, I think it was an inspectah deck joint, and sent that to Gurps but it was in days gone by. Toward the end of the album production Gurps just dug it up and messaged me saying that this needs to go on the album. We went through some beats and found that the sound and feel of the Phoenix beat, which wasn’t called Phoenix at the time, was the one. Phoenix is also about the struggle faced by so many around the world, I saw an interview of Jamaican poet Staceyann Chinn recently where she was discussing Suheir Hammad’s book, ‘Born Palestinian, Born Black’, she spoke about how, like in the book, some art can talk about personal struggles in such a way that you see not only the intersectionality but feel that if this is about one issue of oppression then it’s about all issues of oppression, that being Palestinian is also about being black.

Gurpal: Originally, josh used those lyrics over a beat called “Street Corners” from Masta Killa’s second album. It’s produced by Bronze Nazareth. Which, by the way, is a fucking amazing song which you should all go and listen to. Songs like that really influenced the production of the album. The beat I made for the eventual version came about from sampling some soul from the 70’s. I sampled some drums over it and used Edward Said’s brilliant hard talk interview to finish it off. And Angela Davis. Probably my two favourite samples on the album.

Scz: I could ask y’all questions all day, each track is so complex, beautiful and full of realness, I think I will just end with, what, if anything else would you like to share?

Joshua: Definitely check out the bandcamp which is spiritualgorilla.bandcamp.com and check out what we’ve shared out there in the digital space. I’d say that although there is a lot of us who are raging right now, about Ferguson, about Palestine, about Patriarchy, about Fracking, about Africom, about the the white hetero-sexist patriarchal status-quo, we all owe it to the struggle to take a hot minute and see whether we have enforced or still enforce a section or all of that status-quo. We can’t possibly give 100% to the struggle if we’re still oppressors or have not recognised the oppressor within us, this goes out especially to the men, and I say that with all the love, and yeh always take time out to see the beauty in the world, explore it and never stop creating! Peace!

Gurpal: All the lyrics from the album can be viewed on the bandcamp page. Peace!

you can follow them on twitter @gurpsone and @joshuavirasami you can keep up with Josh’s writing on his blog http://joshuavirasami.wordpress.com/ Much love and mad respect…SCZ

*EDIT 4/2/15 Website for their record label can be accessed here Spiritual Gorilla Records

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