In Depth: Snips (Part 2)
One of the most prolific DJs around, Snips has returned with some fresh material the shape of his London Livin EP. Building upon the momentum of his brilliant Barbershop album which was released earlier in the year, it showcases Snips’ exploration of his musical heritage and habitat. Following on from the first part of our interview (in case you missed it), the second instalment finds Snips looking back at the highs and lows of a career that’s been spanning nearly 20 years.
Going back to a potential Boom Bap album; who would be your dream line up of artists to work with on a project like that?
There’s so many! If I could pick five rappers I would want to work with, people I who are still active now, I would definitely say Ghostface, Nas and Roc Marciano for sure. I really like Conway from the Griselda camp. Action Bronson, Meyhem Lauren. I really like Milano Constantine, the DITC affiliate. He was out years ago, have you heard any of his new stuff?
Yeah, it’s brilliant, I first heard him on the P Brothers album The Gas.
Yeah. He’s put out two or three projects in the last couple of years that have been incredible. I often get criticised saying that I don’t listen to Hip Hop anymore but it’s just the Hip Hop I enjoy tends to not be the stuff that gets played in the clubs. It’s very much that Griselda stuff, Roc Marci, God Fahim. There’s a good few MCs that I pay a lot of attention to. It’s stuff that sits under the radar though.
You produced the dope single I'm Good for Lex One and Lucian White earlier in the year. With working in your own music and everything else you've got going on, how do you find that time to do that as well?
Lex is a very good of friend of mine, we used to live together when I lived in New York. He hit me up out of the blue and said he had Conway verse on a beat and wanted to me to help turn it into a record . I put it together, put the cuts in, he laid his verse. It was quite simple to be honest, going back and forth. A lot of the time, when you’re working with people across the world, it can become quite frustrating but that was so easy.
You mentioned the Conway verse and the Griselda camp. Would you like to work with them in the future?
100%. I actually sent beats to Westside Gunn when he first broke. Then the Shady Records deal happened and things moved really quickly for those guys so I kind of lost contact. We’ve got a few mutual friends so I’m still hopeful. I’ve changed my approach now though. I got disheartened by sending beats and chasing labels so I’m going to focus on putting my own stuff out and want people to be open to working with me rather than pushing people to collaborate.
You've produced for a multitude of MCs in the past including Cappadonna, Sean Price and Skyzoo and Sway. What was the best experience you've had working with other MCs and which one are you most proud of making?
To be honest, I’d say the most enjoyable record I did and the one that meant the most to me as the BK Renaissance one I did with Sav Killz, Skyzoo and Sha Stimuli. I was living in New York at the time and they were three artists that were in that New York underground scene in the late noughties and very prominent. I was a big fan of all of them and to be an outsider living in Brooklyn and be able to make a record like that, one that really represented such an iconic place for Hip Hop with with artists who really were inherent to that borough at that time; it was quite an honour. Off the back of that, I was contacted by Steele from Smiff-N-Wesson as he liked the cuts that I did. He asked me to do some similar cuts for the project he was working on at the time. There’s a record on there with Trigga Tha Gambler on the Steele album that came out around the same time and it’s got similar Brooklyn-esque cuts that I did.
What led you to move to New York?
The music. I probably did it a bit prematurely because I was on a temporary visa and I was just trying to get gigs where I could. I was selling mixtapes a lot at the time, just trying to do whatever I could to pay rent. It was definitely a struggle but I’m actually moving back to New York at the end of this year. I’ve actually got my green card now and I’m in a much better position to try and make it really work over there so hopefully this time, it will turn into what I hoped it would be in the first place.
Had you been to New York a lot before you moved there?
Oh yeah, I’d been going back and forth for the past twenty years.
I’ve been numerous times to New York and in terms of being THE Hip Hop city, it was everything I wanted and expected it to be. There is nowhere like it. Did you feel the same way?
Yeah definitely, although I’d say in recent years, it’s become a lot more sanitised than it was when I was first going out there.
Where in Brooklyn where you living?
I was in Flatbush and then I was in Queens for a while as well.
What clubs were you playing at and what are some of your favourite memories of you playing out when you were over there?
There was a variety. I did the big Manhattan clubs. I was doing a big club called Hiro which was top 40 Hip Hop. It was horrible to be honest. It was fun but terrible music and bottle service type of club. I was there in 2008/2009 so it was the beginning of the Drake era; really terrible music, post T-Pain stuff, it was awful but I was doing a lot of the underground places as well. I played Sputnik Lounge, Sutra, Katra, which was more classic Hip Hop, Reggae/Dancehall stuff, Soul and Funk which was more what I prefer to play. I had a couple of residencies that I did which were regular bar gigs where I played whatever I wanted to nobody!
Who are some of your influences as a producer and as a DJ?
As a producer, I’m probably of the same school of late 80s to late 90s true school producers as most people my age I guess so the Premiers, Marleys, Large Professor, Pete Rock and then later on, Alchemist, Just Blaze, early Kanye stuff and that’s in regards to Hip Hop. I think for my slightly more Housey stuff, it’s guys like Kenny Dope from Masters At Work and a few of the Detroit guys like Moodyman, Andres, Theo Parrish. The House producers who still produce a very sample based, soulful perspective. DJ wise, mainly New York guys; people like Tony Touch, Kid Capri. One of my biggest inspirations is probably Stretch Armstrong. In the UK, I would say pretty Shortee Blitz and Mr Thing are the two DJs I really look up to the most.
Do you have fond memories of your time with Poisonous Poets?
Oh yeah, that was a really great time and I learnt a lot throughout that period and I still speak to some of those guys as well. I haven’t seen Therapist or Lowkey for years but me and Doc still speak now and again. Me and Revs speak. Stylah I haven’t spoken to in a while but we’re good when we see each other, it’s always love and Tony Ds doing his battle stuff, we still bump into each other now and again. Everybody’s still doing their thing which is good.
Would you ever do anything again as a group in the future?
I would and there’s definitely guys in the group that would but then, it’s getting everyone together and I know there’s a few guys who just don’t want to do it anymore. They’ve drawn a very clear line in the sand about getting back in the studio and doing anything so honestly, I don’t think it would ever happen.
You are one of the co-founders of the fabled Livin Proof, a night that's still going strong. What is behind Livin Proof’s continued success and did you think it would still be going as strong for so long?
I really didn’t and if I’m honest it’s kind of a love/hate thing. I love the fact that I’ve been able to maintain a Hip Hop night for ten years but the honest answer to why we are still relevant is because we’ve adapted to appeal to the younger audience. This in turn means that the stuff I want to play and the stuff that I enjoy playing, there isn’t much of a place for it at Livin Proof anymore. I find that I’m DJing less and less and I’m hiring younger DJs who are more passionate about the newer stuff to come in. I’m proud of creating something or being part of creating something because obviously there were four of us involved but it’s sad at the same time as well because it’s definitely changed a lot from when we first started.
What are your opinions on the state of London nightlife in particular with so many clubs closing or facing problems?
I won’t mince my words when I say this. I think London’s nightlife is in the worst state I’ve ever seen it. I’m old enough to have been out here for twenty years or so and I don’t think I’ve ever seen London this bad. I don’t think it’s just the issue of councils cracking down. I think something’s really gone wrong with the creativity amongst the promoters and DJs. Every nights exactly the same; the same playlist in every club. Nobody takes any risks. Nobody wants to get behind a smaller, more niche sound and try to push it. Everybody’s just trying to do the same thing and it’s really, really boring.
Do you think that’s what makes a night special, taking risks when it comes to what music is being played, music that’s not played everywhere?
100%, there’s no reason that the playlist in the club should reflect the playlist on daytime radio. The whole point of going to clubs is to be put on to new music and to hear the stuff you’re not forcefed everyday by the machine.
With Livin Proof, what have been some of your favourite moments and nights since the event started?
We all agree that the best night we’ve done as the A$AP Rocky show. I wasn’t actually there, I was in the States so I missed it but that is collectively agreed upon by everyone that was there and the rest of the Livin Proof that that was the best night we’ve done. I would say when Giggs came up and did an impromptu performance a couple of years back, that was a special night. For a London crowd, to see Giggs who had just turned up to enjoy himself and celebrate his album, to jump onstage and perform, I think it blew people’s minds a bit! That was a special moment. We’ve had a few memorable ones. Schoolboy Q performing was great. The Danny Brown show we did at XOYO was amazing. He came onstage barely able to talk and somehow got through a forty five minute set and ended up getting a hand job onstage - it was mental!
You've also DJ’d for Professor Green and SAS as well as Freddie Gibbs and Immortal Technique. Who has been your favourite artist to DJ for and what do you bring to their performance to make it special?
I don’t know if I’ve got a favourite but I really enjoyed playing with both Tech and Freddie. I would say that the Freddie Gibbs shows were a little easier for me because they were in Europe and I think I know a European crowd a lot better than I know the American crowds. When it came to it, I would play a warm up set to try and hype up the crowd before and it was definitely more of a struggle, especially on the West coast with Technique, knowing the right records to really engage with that crow. As far as what I bring to the actual performance; I just try and play the role of the DJ basically. I think too many tour DJs become button pushers so I try to bring the vibe of an actual bit of chemistry between artist and DJ rather than just being there to press stop and play.
You worked at the legendary Deal Real Records. Any stand-out memories from those days?
I think the biggest thing for me and my career was when Kanye came through with Mos Def. Ironically, at the time I think a lot of people were more excited to see Mos Def as this was early on in Kanyes career. I think to that particular crowd, that went to Deal Real, Mos Def was like a God. That was pretty special, just to be spinning instrumentals for those guys back and forth for literally forty five minutes. That was pretty amazing.
Was that when Kanye was still best known for producing for Rocafella?
Yeah, Through The Wire had just dropped so I don’t think the College Dropout album has come out yet. He definitely had that single out and it was just as he was making that shift into being known as an artist rather than just a producer.
Could you tell that he was going to be as massive as he became even back then?
He definitely had the ego of a man who was going to be a big deal and that was even back then!
Interview by Gavin Brown