Mercury Prize nominated hip hop hero Ty is back with his fifth album and is on a mission to elevate the genre’s status to that of a high-art form.
‘I’m not comfortable with this process, art form, culture and experience being relegated to a minor importance, just because it isn’t classical music,’ he tells us.
With four critically acclaimed albums behind him released on Ninja Tune’s Big Dada imprint and BBE, A Work of Heart is an ambitious cut filled with flavoursome samples and grooves galore.
Tackling subjects from Brixton to poverty and male fragility, it’s nevertheless an uplifting celebration of life that reveals Ty’s sharp finesse, honed production skills and collaborative spark.
Having previously worked with De La Soul, Tony Allen and Roots Manuva, Ty welcomes a cast of guests on A Work of Heart including Rootz, Tall Black Guy, Wayne Francis from United Vibrations and the legendary Umar Bin Hassan from The Last Poets.
Ahead of its release on 2 March via Jazz re:freshed, we caught up with him to find out more…
What was the thinking behind A Work of Heart – how did it come together and what themes does it tackle?
The thinking was to try and create a new label for the process: to try and honestly encapsulate the effort of making music in this century. Our music is considered ‘unclassic’ by mainstream British culture. It’s considered throwaway and vague, and I think we have become comfortable with the name tag and position.
I’m not comfortable with this process, art form, culture and experience being relegated to a minor importance, just because it isn’t classical music. A lot of thought and self-analysis goes into making music, let alone hip hop music, and I wanted to upgrade the perception a little. Whether it’s gritty bombap or polished hip hop soul, it still deserves appreciation.
The themes vary. Society analysis, to fun and games, to depression, car accidents, rape, abortion, male fragility, celebration of life, love letters, random rhymes, mantras for survival and just getting on with life. Loads of stuff!
Brixton Baby is an ode to the area. What does Brixton mean to you?
Brixton is my second home. It’s a place where I walked and formed opinions about life, where I met friends, made enemies and live to tell the tale.
How do you think your sound is evolving? Is there anything different you’re doing now to when you first started?
I don’t think my sound is evolving. I think the process of how I think and work with music and how I use my instrument is always evolving.
My faith in my direction is unflinching. I don’t listen to radio because I don’t want radio programming to affect what choices I make in my music. That suits me down to the ground. When radio shows are playlisted, you have something controlling your ears. I can’t have that.
Can you tell us about your collaboration with Tall Black Guy and your The Beat Inn Facebook group? Why was it important to set that up?
I first met Tall Black Guy a few years ago in a beat making forum that I set up and pushed called The Beat Inn. It’s seen many people go on to do great things and achieve great amounts of attention. I never asked for anything from anybody in regards to that. Tall Black Guy reached back and made me know, as an artist, we appreciated each other.
This record is a testament to that moment on Facebook where over 2,000 beat makers and producers were communicating and inspiring each other. No beat battles – just challenges to try and find ways to improve the art form. I’m very proud of what that moment achieved and look forward to being in more inspirational situations that benefit all of us musically.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself as an artist since starting out?
I’ve learned that in this life, if you don’t recognise your worth and value and genius, it’s almost certain folks won’t recognise it for you. You have to trust your instinct. I have great instincts when it comes to making music and co-producing beside others. If the vibe is right and the focus is respectful, the outcome is always a pleasant surprise. I have a saying: if I can’t eat food with you (as in dinner, not literally off your plate), I don’t want to be in the studio or on a record with you.
What artists do you look to when setting the bar for your own success?
I don’t look up to artists or recordings. I draw inspiration from my environment – normal people. Idolising artists is something I did when I was younger. Now it’s the energy and what folks do off record that interests me more.
What else are you working on at the moment and what’s coming up for you over the next few months?
A European tour with Cypress Junkies, a UK tour for the album and more music to make. I’m looking forward to the new recording sessions and getting stuck back into the cave. Playing on my two radio shows is important: big up to Soho Radio and Peroration and my co-hosts Darren Chetty and Poet Curious.
Picture by Bunny Bread.