Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey is a celebrated hip-hop artist from Glasgow’s south side, famed for his acerbic rhymes and precocious talent.
Over the last decade the controversial rapper has come to define the city’s hip-hop attitude through razor sharp public commentary and his work with youth organisation Volition.
With a name lifted directly from Norse mythology and Marvel comic strips, his music plays with notions of fantasy and reality to relate a grim narrative that has its grounding in the everyday but is extreme in its imagery.
As a recovering alcoholic who has been temporarily homeless, Loki is no stranger to hardship. He’s also been on the blunt end of recent welfare reforms and economic crisis, all of which provide him with a heady brew of inspiration to draw from.
We spent a few minutes with the hip-hop bard to learn how his background has influenced his music and figure out what opportunities exist for young musicians coming of age in Glasgow today…
How did you get into making music?
My family are all creative in one way or another, so we were all encouraged from a very early age to express ourselves in some way. I was always into writing and music, and got into hip-hop as a teenager. My friend got me into it. We would just mess about with beats and lyrics and funny little freestyles. But then I started to take it a bit more seriously and it evolved into a hobby. I wasn’t really sure what it was because I was doing it before I knew it was rapping.
When was your first break?
By the time I was 17 or 18 I was already pretty capable at writing because I’d been doing it for so long. I went out into the city and found open mic nights and people were surprised by my skill level. I think that’s why I had a big impact early on.
As a kid I was so serious about making music that I managed to pick up the skills pretty quickly. So when I came out into the community I had a lot of experience already. I think a lot of people introduce themselves too soon but I didn’t really want to show anyone what I was doing until I knew I was good at it.
What were those first open mic nights like for you?
I used to sell my tapes in school and then I sent a tape away to a filmmaker to use as a soundtrack on his film. He put me in touch with a guy called Big Div who was a pioneer of Scottish hip-hop. I would cycle through to his house in Paisley and we would record music.
Eventually he released a vinyl and he asked me go to see him. As part of that he said I could perform a verse on stage with him. I practised it for ages – I knew it back to front. I waited in the open mic crew but no one else there knew me. They were all established and it was quite cosy. I just remember the look on everyone’s faces. They were all thinking, ‘Who the fuck is this person? Where did he come from?’ When I got that reaction I got hooked, and that’s how it worked out for me.
What was going on up there at the time?
The generation before me, who had developed the hip-hop scene up here, had been going for about 10 years. There was a new wave of artists coming up. Hip-hop exploded into the mainstream in 1999 and 2000 and that had a huge impact on how people perceived the culture. I think people had a lot more freedom to do it than they might have in the early nineties. It was really a case of figuring out who was good at it and who was just doing it because it was a fad.
What’s the scene like in Glasgow at the moment?
There’s a massive hip-hop scene here in Glasgow and every week I keep hearing about another MC or graffiti writer or DJ that’s producing art to a really high standard. So as much as everyone in the Glasgow community knows each other, there are also pockets of people that exist independently. It’s really exciting.
Why do you think it’s so popular?
It’s a culture that speaks to people in a very particular way. It’s accessible and participative culture by nature. That’s how it was born. It’s about using the things you have close to hand. Whether you are rich or poor you have access to certain things and you can use them to create your art – whether it’s drawing on a wall, dancing on a bit of cardboard or beat boxing with your mouth. A lot of the social conditions that help hip-hop emerge from the ghettos of seventies America have equivalents here in Scotland. It’s a natural evolution of art because some people don’t have access to musical instruments and ballet classes but we still have that urge to express. Hip-hop is a lot more accessible.
What’s your particular relationship with Glasgow like?
I was born in the eighties and brought up in Pollok on the south side of Glasgow. I’m just a normal Glaswegian. You have a love-hate relationship with the place. It’s directly linked with my ability to get out of the place when I really want to. I’ve not always been able to do that. You want to get out of your own city and there’s an element of small-mindedness sometimes. But I don’t think it’s unique to Glasgow. Any city that suffers deprivation because people don’t have much focus on little things that irritate them which others wouldn’t find important. I’m like that too. Sometimes it drags me down – worrying what other people think or what others perceive you to be. It’s just small-mindedness really.
But I think the most important thing Glasgow has given me as a writer is a muse. It’s got so much texture and there’s so much nuance in the character of the people. You could write about it forever and as you mature you see it from different perspectives. Whether you want to be poetic or political, there is lots of subject matter to wade through as a writer when you’re sitting staring out directly onto Glasgow.
Picture credit: leading image by TDSLR Photography