If you’re at all into Hip Hop then no doubt you’ve heard of The Scribes. For more than a decade they’ve been creating uplifting, snappy beats with slick bars to match. Now when we need it most, the trio consisting of co-lyricists Ill Truth and Johnny Steel and beat boxer Lacey are back with their new release, The Totem Trilogy Part 1.
I was sitting in my garden listening to a friend’s lo-fi hip hop release when I got a message from Shaun Amos aka Ill Truth from The Scribes asking if I’d be interested in checking out their new EP. I was already familiar with them having seen them live at Wonderfields in 2017 and was blown away by how they connected so well to the audience and how many people rapped every bar religiously. It’s clear The Scribes have an avid, dedicated fan base and this next release which I have been lucky enough to sneak preview will surely continue to draw in the love.
Like so many hip hop artists collaboration is key to pushing new sounds, experimenting with different styles and developing ideas. Having already worked alongside Leon from Too Many T’s and Akil from Jurassic 5 on their previous album, Quill Equipped Villainy I wanted to find out how this collab came about and what the rest of 2020 holds in store for the trio.
How did the collaboration between you and Astro Snare come about?
J: Astro Snare was raised in Chicago and lives in Oxford but we’ve been making music together for a while, the first full length being “Jonny Steele & Astro Snare: The Death of Loki” some years back. He also had some songs on the last LP, including the single “Righteous” that featured Leon from Too Many Ts. Last year we were doing a support slot for Pharoahe Monch showcasing the last LP and he had driven down for the show. Upon arrival, he hopped out with a CD in his hand, shoved it in our face and said “Yo! The next release is right here!”. I laughed in his face, but goddamn it, he was right.
I: Man that was a good show! We had a lot on at the time, were on the road a lot promoting the last album, so the CD just sat there for a while to be honest! One day we put it on during a late night drive home from a festival performance and were both instantly in love with a lot of the tracks, I think we pretty much wrote one of the hooks in the car that night, we were so hyped for the beats!
Have you always released through your own record label?
J: We did have a brief release with Kamikaze Airlines, the brainchild of Ugly Duckling’s ‘Dizzy Dustin’, and the “Mr Teatime And The End Of The World” LP was signed to Reel Me records. But even in those instances that material was already written, recorded and produced by us in house. So, we’ve always been independent on our releases.
I: We try and do as much ourselves as we can do, certainly in terms of the actual music and sound of our releases. We really just want to make tracks that we personally enjoy, and with the way music is consumed nowadays you can do more off your own backs than ever before.
How does releasing through your own label differ to releasing on someone else’s. Is there more or less pressure?
I: It means you can have a really close connection with your fanbase, especially as you’re relying on them to help you spread the word in lieu of a label! I think it’s more pressure to be honest, every decision is your own, not just the musically. You have to decide who’s going to shoot your video, which artist is doing your cover, how you’re going to promote a release. It’s a lot to take on but I think you end up with a more coherent whole.
J: It’s the gift and curse of not having the backing of publishing. It does mean you learn the ins and outs of what’s really necessary to function as a group successfully. When we’re talking deals we’re essentially talking loans and investments and understanding the necessities levels the playing field a little. It can even be as simple as understanding the splits for streaming platforms etc, it all counts.
How do you feel about releasing amidst our current crisis?
J: Never has there been a better time for people to listen to some music. Our goal is to fill the void and long awkward pauses for people stuck together during this testing time. Our music will save relationships and make people happy again. This and Tiger King!
I: It’s a strange time for everyone, but I guess our hope is that people will be willing to give things like this EP a try now there’s more spare time indoors for us all. We had always planned on releasing in April, long before the lockdown happened, and I think we felt that rather than delay the launch we’d push ahead and hopefully bring some head nodding escapism to people! It’s going on Spotify and all the streaming platforms so there’s no excuse not to check it out!
Can you tell us a little bit More about the video, how does it get from an idea to the end product and who has the biggest vision for visuals?
J: A lot of our video’s we like to go the homemade route, but for this single Astro Snare had the idea. A lot of the vocals were recorded in a studio based in an abandoned plastics factory just outside London (obviously), which had loads of interesting visuals. As a location it really fitted the old school/new school contrast of the track without slapping people in the face with simple metaphors. In terms of planning, we generally try to arrange as many things as we can, so at the very least we have enough interesting shots for the editor to work with. Regardless of who’s filming, we’ll be involved with planning, timing around lyrics, themes, props etc. With a combined effort it also helps everyone to try and get the best out of what we’re producing, and that comes across in the work ethic.
I: It was a blast to film, the location was insane, all abandoned plastic moulding equipment and huge superman logos just lying around, it’s an amazing place. MC Duke graced us with his presence for the shoot as well which was just an honour, the man is a legend so working with him in the flesh has been crazy.
How long have you been working on this release?
I: I think we first got the aforementioned CD from Astro Snare about 18 months ago? So from the point of writing that first hook in the car to release is probably over a year. But given that includes shooting the video and getting all the designs sorted, it’s a relatively quick turn around by our standards!
J: Yeah, it’s taken many months, but it’s definitely been a lot quicker than the last LP. It still feels fresh and we’ll (eventually) get to play them all live before we get bored of them for once!
With lots of festivals now off the cards what’s your plans for summer?
J: Less gigs gives us more time to write and prep for a solid return set, it’s far too easy to get rusty, and I think we’ll have a kit of new ideas by the time we’re back on the road!
I: At the moment a lot of festivals have rescheduled for September so hopefully we’ll still have a festival season of sorts just a bit later in the year. We’re definitely going to use the free time we’ve got now to work on new material and finish off the next two EPs in the series, plus maybe even have time for some interesting collaborations through the wonder of the world wide web!
What drew you to the work of Chris Malbon and how did you get him on board?
I: Good karma man! We played a festival in Stroud called Chalfest and after the show saw someone had tagged us in a video on Instagram of their young child bopping along to our set. Being the good guys we sent them the radio edits of our last album so their child could listen to our songs without the bad words, and when they replied we saw in the email signature that they were an illustrator so we had a look and were just blown away! That’s how we ended up working with Chris on this series of EPs. The man is insanely talented, he’s done bits for New Scientist and some huge movies, books and comics, and we’re basically just lucky to have him on board.
When can we expect The Totem Trilogy part II & III?
J: They’ll be a different feel entirely, we’re already half-way through part 2, but it’s a soul-tinged adventure with some adept wordplay carrying through the little journey, a nice summer record.
I: Part 3 is still in the works but that will be a different feel again. We’re doing each release in the series with a different producer, so they’re going to have really wide ranging sounds across the series, all tied together by us yelling over the top of them in our own distinctive style.
For people who have never heard of you before, how would you describe your sound and who do you take inspiration from?
J: Passionately and unapologetically LIVE hip hop.
S: Heartfelt, raw, head nodding hip hop full of energy and experimentation.
Inspiration wise I think while we all came together through a love of golden age hip hop and things like Rawkus Records and Jurassic 5, we’ve now got so many different musical interests between us that we end up with a huge melting pot of ideas whenever we’re putting a release together.
Who would be your dream to collaborate with?
I: Too many to name! Prof, Son Real, Earl Sweatshirt, Oliver Tree, Run The Jewels! I’ve always loved Damon Albarn though I worry I’d get a bit fanboy if it ever happened…
What are you doing to keep yourself busy in the lockdown?
I: I love board games so I’m making my beautiful wife suffer through a lot of that at the moment. Also working on the next couple of EPs in the home studio and some other bits and pieces…maybe even an isolation-shot music video or two! There’s always some idea you can come up with to keep busy!
The Totem Trilogy Part 1 is now available to stream on all music platforms. If you’d like to hear more from The Scribes be sure to sign up to their mailing list – they’re even offering a free download of one of their back catalogue releases so you’d be mad to miss out.