In Depth - MC Nelson
MC Nelson, a Liverpool born and bred rapper/producer's combination of story telling, rap style, music videos and jazz productions are the cleverest I've seen for a long time. To the general listener his talent is most certainly to be admired. Upon listening deeper however, the political and personal meaning behind them become so much more profound. I caught up with Nelson to find a little bit more about him and these overwhelmingly impressive projects.
So you hail from Liverpool. I hear you began with Grime?
I started off as a Grime MC. I was in a crew called OMD. We used to rap to each other in the park and stuff; nothing serious.That of course fizzled out and I carried on writing on my own.
Was your rap name MC Nelson then too?
I've had so many awful rap names, so so many! I was Black Magic for a bit. MC Neptune. I had so many names I just couldn't settle up so went for MC Nelson in the end.
Your first name is Nelson right? Keep it original, why not?! I like Black Magic though.
I might resurrect that one as an alter ego!
Your music's on a different path now. What began that change?
Hip Hop was always really big in my house. There were a lot of albums that had a big influence - 3 Feet High & Rising, Madvilliany, Illmatic and many more. They changed my perspective of what the outcome and goal of a song should be. When I was a Grime MC, I just wanted to spit a million bars and all you care about is being the best singular MC. Then I started to think about things, like the depth and aesthetic of musical projects and what picture you could paint. It became more that just bars, bars, bars!
What’s your focus at the moment?
I'm concentrating mainly on rapping and working with different producers.
You moved from Liverpool to London right? How long have you been there and how're you finding it?
I've been here for almost a year now; I’m half and half between here and Liverpool. There's loads more opportunities here than in Liverpool - although the scene is bubbling up there. There's way more places to perform but not even just in terms of Rap, just abstract music in general. I've made some really good connections here in London so I can't complain.
Can we know about any collaborations?
I haven't got any really notable collaborations yet but I've got a couple of tracks with Lethetette coming in the pipeline.
I'd like to talk about Stepmother. Can you tell me about the journey you took for the project.
The song itself is only a few minutes long but the story it tells is about colonialism, the relationship Nigeria had with Britain and my families journey from there to here. It's about how the two identities overlap and a story that’s been in the making for hundreds of years.
You visited Nigeria to see your family?
Yeah last year it was my Granddad’s 90th so we all flew over there, we had family from all four corners of the globe, it was really a rare occurrence.
Had you already started writing Stepmother before then?
No that came after. That trip in general had a huge impact on my music making and a lot of themes of the trip are tied into the project. It’s definitely made the backbone of the project.
I absolutely love Stepmother, when I first heard it is reminded me of happy days, the song's uplifting and really beautifully written. I understood some of the hidden meaning however when researching the song, I was taken aback by how deep the story runs through this project. It’s really unexpected so made a huge impact on me. I personally love art that promotes social and political change and you do just that with such a creative and imaginative twist to it.
Thank you very much. It's always a tough balancing act, especially if your dealing with heavy subject matter. You don't just want to make the project super dreary and depressing. I wanted to make something that reflected the summer a little bit as well as telling the story.
Was there anything you specifically wanted people to take and learn from the song?
To be honest, it's more on the side of me telling a story. We decided to do the explanation video that gives a little insight into the lyrics. I do think the reason why my music began to gain traction this year is because I'm not making music for an audience any more. I'm trying to be be authentic and make what I want to make and often that means making something more personal. Something about myself or my family, it's quite self-indulgent to an extent but if people enjoy it and if people listen to it, then I'm happy with that. The political side of it is a huge part of it and again that's the sort of thing that can affect your audience and career. I was reading recently an article about a Black Soul band from Liverpool in the ‘70s. They were big and had number ones but their second album was really political. They had a lot of backlash due to the nature of it. You’ve just got to make music for yourself; that should be the main goal.
Have you thought of any other topics you're interested in and you'd like to also write about?
That's really interesting because there are loads of topics that I want to do songs about. Of course I write bars for fun; some verses are purely just for that. There are however a lot of over arching subjects I want to tackle. There's a few I've been trying to tackle for a while now. I’ve written a couple of songs on the issue but I don't feel like any of the songs do them justice. Issues such as immigration, race relations and things like that. Especially as people have rapped about them before; it’s hard to get a new perspective and add something fresh to it.
As well as Stepmother you have By The River; two fantastic pieces with a strong message behind them. Tell us what By the River is about?
The song itself is about Liverpool but through living by the Mersey and using water as a metaphor for Liverpool. As you said, the history of the Docks it crazy; both the slave trade and the role it played as a Maritime port. We were once called the New York of Europe but things like urban decline has left it almost forgotten. There's so much history that;s been forgotten such as the race riots in 1919. I’m trying to put all these things and bundle them together into a neat package.
Both videos for Stepmother and By The River are very powerful and are shot by Leech right?
Yeah they're personal friends I grew up with them. It’s an artistic collective that's developed in Liverpool over the last couple of years.
Obviously the water scenes in By The River are an important part as you talk about the docks and Mersey are there any specific meanings behind the raft and the bath scenes?
The raft represents the challenge of trying to stay afloat in Liverpool!
Both videos are creative and artistic and certainly tie in with your music style, they're certainly different to the stereotypical Hip Hop video.
As much as I love rapping in the alley way and love that life, we had to go a bit further afield to match the music.
So you have this new tour Welcome To My City with Brick London?
There's 5 of us - myself, Jerome Thomas, Vanessa Maria, SVGA and Lady Sanity. Each of us are headlining at our own city over 5 days from the 28th of August to the 1st September. Manchester, Liverpool, London, Southampton and Birmingham. All the acts are dope, they're definitely like the next generation of UK Hip Hop and R&B. I can see everyone going on to do big things!
What're you looking forward to most on tour?
Of course playing in my home city of Liverpool, you've always got to give it that little bit extra. I've done a tonne of shows in Liverpool and done a fair few shows this year.
What's been your favourite show this year?
The one with Nightmares On Wax; that was really dope. The one recently with Bishop Nehru was really good too. Africa Oyé was probably my favourite festival this year because it's a festival in an area where I grew up. I've been going there since I was a kid and it was really nice to perform there and my parents came down so definitely was my favourite.
Aside from this huge tour, have you got anything planned?
I'm gonna be releasing my debut mixtape later on this year. The date isn't concrete yet, we're just ironing out some of the kinks and getting all the last bits perfect. There will be a lot of political content on there. Leech and myself have another video planned.
Are there any artists you'd like to collaborate with?
I'd like to do something with a group called Nutribe. In terms of collaborations though, asking someone to write about such a political and deep topic is a lot to ask and quite difficult. I don’t know how it would go down saying oh you fancy collaborating? Cool, can you write about all this real political stuff!?.
Have you ever thought of some how incorporating your storytelling and raising awareness into some sort of charity work?
Yeah that's definitely an interesting question. I've worked with charities in the past and I would definitely like to do perhaps some music workshops with kids or something. I went to some rap and poetry workshops when I was younger, it really helped me loads. I'd love to do some music outreach with the kids because I don't think I really had any older to tell me how to navigate through the music industry. So it perhaps has taken a bit longer than it should. There's not many people from Liverpool who had any real real knowledge to share with younger people in terms of Hip Hop. I would really like to take the story that much further and help children where I can, one rhyme at a time.
Well, you really are inspirational thank you every so much for taking the time to talk with me. I do think you can really make a difference to younger people and create some sort of social change. I'm looking forward to seeing your future projects and catching up with you again. See you at the show!
Interview by Jess Daly
Images by Kev Barret & Chris Rathe