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Yoshi interview by Nikesh Yoshi Interview

interview 0312 added 09.06.05 words: Nikesh technical: QED

UK hip-hop is certainly thriving at the moment, with some excellent artists around dropping dope albums and 12”s dropping all the time. As the UK hip-hop sound emerges and it becomes clear what the bar is, it’s nice with a musician comes along and offers something a bit different and alternative. Cue Brighton-based beatnik rapper-producer, Yoshi. A man of Afghan origin, he cuts an impressive figure in his outlandish clothing and self-assured sense of experimentation. Sampling anything from William Shatner to John Frusciante to gardening shows, he ends up with electronic soundscapes and interesting beats that pave the way for his rhymes about life in Brighton and the confusion and clarity arising from his dual heritage. Having released first album, “From a Western Box”, Yoshi retired to the studio to create something a bit more textured. What he ended up with was the concept album, “Flowers and Trees” (released on 17th May). Essentially, a summery album about childhood and naivety and belief in the cleansing powers of nature, the hippy-ish songs take in everything from folk to dark minimal electronica to straight-up hip-hop and Afghan rhythms. A man of such eclectic tastes, Yoshi needed to be tracked down. So, I met him on Brighton pier, he bought me doughnuts and we talked hip-hop, growing up and pseudo-intellectuals.

Introduce yourself to the UKHH.COM audience, what is your mission statement and your favourite flower? Are you some sort of hippy-hopper?

YoshiI go by the name of Yoshi. Born in Brighton, living in Brighton, making beats and writing rhymes for 9 years or so now. As far as the mission statement, haha, I don't really have one. I'm more of a lazy bum poet who eases his way through different phases in life. I strive to do something fresh each time that's the only thing I stick to. "Your music is tomorrow’s unknown, known life. I love tomorrow" That's a quote from a Miles Davis record and it's the only thing I keep in mind, I got it printed out on a cheap printer and stuck just behind my mixer on the wall.

As for flowers, I don't have a favourite flower man. I just love them all. Cherry Blossoms especially haha. I like learning flower names in different lingos, I can say loads in Japanese, quite a few in Dari (Afghan). I'd like to learn some in Dutch though, I think that would sound interesting.

As for me being a "hippy-hopper" haha, yeah, I'm at this point where I'm a bit opened, emotionally, so that's why I give off this hippy-ish vibe that you’re talking about. I was really analytical and logical when I was 16-18, quite anal and specific and demanding about things. Then I think falling in love, and discovering spirituality, looking beyond what you see, that all starts turning you in this direction of being opened. Opening up, like a flower. So that's the process me and my hip-hop have been going through of late. Surviving on, and living through emotions. That's the first way I connect to something- emotionally. That's why when I listen to people like Coldplay, I don't make fun of the simple lyrics or look down on them like these pseudo-intellectuals or snobby music-reviewers.

“...I can dig Chris Martin, he's not an idiot, he seems like an intelligent guy; it's just that his lyrics are very understated, same with Seal, I love Seal...”

Cos I can dig Chris Martin, he's not an idiot, he seems like an intelligent guy; it's just that his lyrics are very understated, same with Seal, I love Seal. That guy knows what he's doing. And that's what it has become with my hip-hop lyrics, and my musical approach. I say things that may seem obvious sometimes, or cheesy at other times, but if you stop for a second, you'll find the depth, you'll feel how the words can be looked at from many angles and interpreted many ways- so I like that, cos when you feel so much inside- you don't want to go into specifics sometimes. You can't! You need to just let it out in a raw form. Which is probably linked to why I never really dug all these complex, supposedly "clever" metaphors that rappers like Canibus and Eminem used, cos it can feel contrived. The key is balance, which is what I'm learning these days.

Tell us the concept and themes behind the album "Flowers and Trees"

YoshiMan, 'Flowers & Trees' is a little jewel of a 14-track LP I made, which is all about childhood, positivity, the art of being creative, and what it means to be an artist and ‘an interesting human being’ living in this cocaine-world of boring plans and secure money. Overall it's just a very positive album, and it was made in a spirit of childhood innocence, and that's what it reflects. I hope. I'm a naïve dude, that's what some people often say, which I take as a compliment. Just the other day at my friend’s birthday party I say to my friend, "Won't it be crazy when we're all adults sitting here at birthday parties?" And this other lady who I'd just met started laughing at me because I said "When we're adults" and hey, I'm basically in my mid-20's so I guess that sounds crazy. But I said it to her just as I feel it: I don't consider me an adult. Not in that sense. So that's the main theme of the album… taking, or maybe keeping the essence of what made you young, tapping into it and using it as a grown man in this world. Some things you can't keep… like urine-soaked trousers. But there are so many things we really can learn from these youngsters amongst us. So that's my philosophy! That's my "mission statement" haha! My curriculum veeetie!

How successful do you think you were in your mission statement?

It's so crazy giving form and structure to the music that comes from you without any thought of form or structure. That's what you have to do afterwards to give it an angle. I don't want to do that though. This is just wicked music. People seem to really like this kind of hip-hop I do, and it sticks in your head and it's catchy, so I think it's successful in that respect.

How do you approach production?

Well I just have ideas. In the shower I come up with loads, the chorus and lyrics for 'When U see the future' were composed in the shower. I jumped out and e-mailed someone I knew and told them, "this is going to be a wicked song". Walking home at night-time I come up with a lot of ideas too, I like to walk home early after I've met my friends… I'm known for leaving early… because I get to walk through the busiest part of town at the time when everyone's in the club, or on their way in, and I'm on my way out. So that inspires good ideas and lines.

“...It's so crazy giving form and structure to the music that comes from you without any thought of form or structure...”

Then I just get home, sit down and make the concepts in my head into reality, and watch how they never cease to change and evolve once they're out of my head, and how no idea or concept no matter how good it is, will stay completely the same in your mind. John Coltrane spoke about the same thing with regards to getting the music in his head out into the real world of sound. But anyway, technically I use my computer, I got a mixer, a nice mic, and a Korg Keyboard, two nice monitors and a compressor which doesn't work right now. It's all about what you do with it though, what's in your mind.

You talk a lot on the album about your affinity for Brighton. What are your thoughts on the Brighton hip-hop scene?

YoshiYes man. I love this town. It's just a town to me, it's my town and I own it. I just can't say enough about it. The beach is responsible for so much of what I do, how I live. You know? I see inner-city kids from London sometimes. I'll never forget these kids a few summers back. I was playing ball on the beach when I saw them; they just went mad when they approached the sea. It's like they'd never seen it before and they just went wild, running around screaming with smiles on their faces they were only like 6 or 7. Brighton's full of out of towners. There's something about being on the edge of the earth that I love though, and likewise something about being inland which I find really suffocating. As for the hip-hop scene down here…? Man it's great. I'm not particularly involved that much, which is a shame. But, I think that's just me… I don't like to stay too involved in one particular scene. I make as much of an effort as I can though and the people are all great here. brightonhiphop.com is a cool thing to have! When I did my show at the one and only Slipjam: B night down here, I was just overwhelmed man. I'd never come into contact with young hip-hop heads in Brighton like that before, and they were so supportive, so cool and open-minded. They were hip-hop haha. And I think that's reflected in all the acts that are doing well down here. I need to make more of an effort to get out to shows and so on. But I'm just not one for events and being out that much if I'm totally honest.

There are a lot of elements to your music, like hip-hop, electronica, world music, even folk... do you view yourself as a hip-hop artist?

I knew you'd pick up on that, and the folk thing is something I'm really getting into now too, I like Wilco, and Woody Guthrie these days. A lot of that religious folk music from the Depression-era in America is powerful too. Plus Rachid Taha is dope. If you want to talk about an experimental artist from 'the world' haha, check him out… he's clever. But I don't know about the hip-hop thing man, I don't want to say anything where I'll be sounding like a broken record or cheesy… but at the end of the day, I believe that hip-hop can embody all those styles and genres under it.

“...Overall it's just a very positive album, and it was made in a spirit of childhood innocence, and that's what it reflects...”

Is hip-hop itself a genre? If it is then I want to transcend hip-hop too, and in that case- I'm not a hip-hop artist, I'm more. But if, as I think, hip-hop is something bigger than genres, then I'm comfortable with it, and calling myself a hip-hop artist is fine in that case. It's all about people's different perceptions. But I listen to all music, so I am all music, you know? Man, it's a dirty game… labelling… isn't it? I like to push things though, that's all. I don't like to box things, I like to make things free, and that includes hip-hop, and people’s preconceptions of hip-hop. Mangling and changing things is important sometimes.

Where do you hope to take your music in the next few years?

YoshiI hope to take it upwards, like a hot air balloon. Then, as I'm up high in the clouds, I hope to take it sideways, all across the Earth, like a hot air balloon. 'All across the universe', like John Lennon said.

What new projects you working on?

I can't tell you because I don't want to. Haha, I have just completed two exclusive tracks for some cool dudes at www.muslimyouth.net who released this massive CD with mostly younger MC's on it, and I was the big daddy of them all haha. It was a wicked experience recording up in London though. So cop that if you're interested to hear more of my stuff. But, my next album I can't tell you about now. Needless to say I never stop, thank God, and I'm working on it everyday.

What is your attitude to live shows?

I love live shows. My attitude to them is love. Love-live haha. Come and see me if I'm in your area; you'll have a great time because I put on a mad show and I talk to you. Plus I'm tryin' to incorporate a few Beatles covers in between some of my tracks so watch the space! Nothing like a MC who can't sing having the time of his life- that's what I think.

Who are your main influences?

There are too many bro. These days I have been mostly listening to.... The Beatles, George Harrisons solo stuff, Pharoah Saunders, Miles Davis, John Coltrane.. Joni Mitchell, John Frusciante. At the moment I'm listening to Foo Fighters, but I check for everything old and new man. Mars Volta are nice, Divine Styler, Mos Def. I don't give up on Wu-Tang either man. Rza is timeless. Someone in the hip-hop community should be honouring him cos of how much experimentation and diversity he's brought to hip-hop. The last hip-hop album I heard was the Edan one and I liked it. But I don't know man. Too many to name, plus I sample a lot of them, so I wanna keep it hush-hush, haha. I'm mainly on to other stuff right now though, not listening to that much hip-hop at the moment.

“...I never really dug all these complex, supposedly "clever" metaphors that rappers like Canibus and Eminem used, cos it can feel contrived...”

Shameless plugs/shout outs/rants?

Yoshi - Flowers & Trees LPThanks and praises to God for everything that is. Love to my family in the UK and USA and everyone who smiled at all the funny lines and general sillyness on my album. Mirth, I like the word mirth! My LP is full of mirth! Haha. Peace to everyone else with an open mind and an opened heart. And to those few who I don't speak to anymore, don't forget to remember me... in the jingle-jangle morning... Thanks to you for the interview man, it was funny.

“Flower &Trees” and “From a Western Box” are available to buy now.

- Nikesh Shukla


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