When it comes to UK hip hop I must confess I haven’t seriously dabbled with it since the days of HiJack, London Posse and Gunshot. I had pretty much written it off once the grime scene took hold but every now and then I uncover a hidden gem. One such jewel in the UK underground crown is Mr CRF who has just finished up a collaboration with Elements Raw. Mr CRF is a seasoned emcee/Dj who has been involved with the hip hop scene in one form or another for well over 2 decades and has even managed to grab the attention of Public Enemy’s front man Chuck D, who was quick to offer him a slot on his Rapstation radio network. I recently caught up with Mr CRF to discuss all things hip hop.
THHF: let’s start at the beginning. When did you first get interested in hip hop?
Mr CRF: I first got into Hip hop around the mid 1980s. My older brother was part of a crew called “The Pizza Muffin Posse” so I just tried to hang out with them as much as possible although that wasn’t much as I was only quite young back then but it was really through them that I got into the Hip hop scene. My brother had a set of turntables and a fairly decent record collection building up. I’d wait until he went out of the house then I would sneak into his bedroom and start playing around on his decks. I always had to remember to leave them exactly how I found them though but that always proved easier said than done! So yeah my introduction and love for hip hop really started from there. After a few years I got my own set of turntables, bought a 4 track tape recorder, an old sampler etc and started messing around trying to make beats, then I’d start to write down a few raps and try them out over the beats. My interest just grew bigger and bigger from then on.
THHF: So how did you go from being a hip hop fan to getting more involved in the scene?
Mr CRF: Well like i said earlier, my love for Hip hop came about after hearing the music my bro was playing back in the days. Ultramagnetic, Poor Righteous Teachers, Run Dmc, Kane, Ice-T & The Rhyme Syndicate, X-Clan, Ruthless Rap Assassins, Caveman, Hijack etc. From an early age i knew I didn’t want to be just a fan of the music, I wanted to be involved in some way, if possible be a part of the scene. I bought some cheap equipment and started to learn how to sample & make beats, I bought a mic and learnt how to emcee, bought some decks and it went on from there. I’ve been through all the old sending demo tapes to companies, routine stickering lamp-posts and walls, tried my luck at the Graff side of things which i failed big time at and even the Breakin. I could do a couple of moves way back in the days but definitely not anymore. I’ve even ran my own Hip hop website and put together and had printed a hip hop Fanzine which ran for a few issues which I gave away free of Charge. Through doing that I managed to connect with other artists and do interviews/review music and things. It was just another way to stay connected.
THHF: I know your a prolific collector of classic albums. When was your favourite time in rap music?
Mr CRF: Probably the early 90s, you know, my teenage years going record shopping every weekend. Going from shop to shop checking out all the new releases. I loved them times. There was a lot of really good Hip hop back then, that classic early to mid 90s sound. The scene was dope back then. Me and a few mates had our own little crew. We used to Hang out on the streets with the Ghetto-blaster just chillin listening to the likes of Epmd, Das Efx, Big Daddy Kane, Ice Cube, Hijack and Caveman. It always puts a smile on my face when I think back to them times. Of course its different now, I’m married with kids so unfortunately the chillin on the streets with the Ghetto-blaster had to stop. But you know, right now is a good time as well. I’m working on new music, my radio shows going well, I got a good crew with me and there’s some good music coming out on the scene once you see past all the commercial manufactured sounding tripe.
THHF: I totally agree. The hip hop scene is really starting to heat up again. Some excellent new talent coming through plus a few veterans putting out their best material in years. The music is going back to it’s roots again when lyrical content mattered. Who has been your most influential artist/group?
Mr CRF: Well that’s gotta be Public Enemy and the Blastmaster KRS One. What they have achieved over the years and are still achieving today is unbelievable really. They are still packing out venues all over the world, still doing incredible live shows, still putting out great music and their back catalogue is second to none. I mean Public Enemy just released 2 excellent Albums over the last 12 months or so, “Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t appeer On No Stamps” and “The Evil Empire of Everything” plus they just put out a new Greatest Hits album to celebrate there induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. They’ve got the longest running artist website with PublicEnemy.com, own their own Radio Station and record label. Then Krs One, The Teacha is exactly that, “a teacher”. Constantly spreading the word of Hip hop or should i say the Hip hop culture “gospel”, not just Rap but every Element of the art form. You know, those of us who have followed Krs since the early BDP days know the message he tries to get across but each year there’s a younger generation coming through who only really know about what they see on television or mainstream radio so artists like Krs are still here, still relevant, still teaching the new generation because their not gonna learn much through watching BET & MTV these days. Rap is something you do, Hiphop is something you live and the real hip hop is ova here…..Real Talk. There`s a lot of other artists and groups who I’ve been inspired by but PE & KRS are the main two.
THHF: Ok so while we are on the subject of Public Enemy’s legacy, I understand you are involved in one of the groups media/radio outlets. What’s the story behind that?
Mr CRF: Yeah I present the Critical Beatdown Hip hop show on Chuck-D’s Rapstation.com. Basically I’ve been presenting my own radio show for over 17 years now. I started off on a Friday night on the 15th floor of a block of flats near Old Trafford in Manchester on a pirate station called Buzz Fm which was ran by a guy called Eric B at the time. That was back in the mid 90s and since then I’ve presented my show on a number of different stations over the years from pirate to community to Internet radio. Then a couple of years ago Chuck D heard the show and offered us a slot on his Rapstation Network and so the relationship with PE grew from there. So all those years of being a fan of PE, Buying their music etc and now I got a show on their Radio station! I gotta also big up my man Mr Spin as for the last few years he’s been a part of The Critical Beatdown show either presenting alongside me or working behind the scenes on the show. He’s also running the official Rapstation Radio group page over on Facebook which is well worth joining/checking out as it keeps you up to date, not only with The Critical Beatdown shows but also all the other shows and great Dj/Presenters on the station.
THHF: OK So who’s your favourite Emcee?
Mr CRF: Well you know i got a few favourites. Every now and then the old debate comes up. Whos the Greatest Emcee of all time. A lot of it is down to personal Preference. For me though at the top of the list in -no perticular order- its the likes of Krs One, Big Daddy Kane, Chuck D, Rakim,Ultramagnetic Mc’s. I remember when Critical Beatdown dropped, Kool Keith & Ced Gees lyrics & rhyme styles seemed to be so advanced back then. I’d find myself rewinding the tracks just to study the lyrics. PMDs always been a Favourite of mine. When you start to think about it, there’s quite alot who could sit up there at the top. K-Solo was a big favourite of mine back in the day aswell. His spellbound style of rhyming and story telling was quality. I speak to and connect with a lot of excellent emcees, a lot of legendary Emcees. If any of them read this they`ll probably be thinking why arnt I on that list (Lol). They are all dope but the ones I just mentioned are my favourite ‘favourites’. Actually another emcee I’ve always rated is Chip Fu formally of the early 90s crew The Fu-Schnickens. I think his vocal skills are unbelievable, some of the words / flows / styles he comes out with are superb. I’m thinking of loads more who I can add to my favourites list right now. Blade, Mcm, you know back in the late 80s –early 90s Ice Cube was right up there, LL Cool J aswell. Infact lets move onto the next question….
THHF: The UK hip hop scene has come a long way since the 90’s, but it still appears to be mostly concentrated in London. Being from Manchester what’s the hip hop scene like in the North?
Mr CRF: There’s quite a lot of Emcees / groups etc doing their thing in Manchester at the moment. A lot of shows happening and people working on tracks and things. I’m not gonna start mentioning names though because you always get someone saying how come you left me off the list or why didn’t I get a mention. Saying that though I don’t really have much time to just follow or keep an eye on what’s happening in Manchester. There`ll be a lot I don’t know about. I get that much music sent through from all over the world that I can’t even follow sometimes what’s going on in my hometown although I do try to stay up to date with it as much as possible. Big shout to everyone in Manchester though.
THHF: What’s your thoughts on the current US hip hop scene as it stands today?
Mr CRF: A lot of people talk about how the scene has changed in America. How commercial its gone, how everyone tries to sound the same and how the Hip hop fashion has changed from Tim Boots and hoodies to Skintight jeans and blouses…lol. I guess there is alot of that shit but if I’m dead honest with you I don’t see or hear much of it. I dont watch shit like Bet or Mtv anymore, don’t listen to any of the commercial stations and i don’t even familiarise myself with any of that type of Hip hop. Actually I shouldn’t have used the word Hip hop there. So aside from that I think there’s some great music coming from the US scene at the moment. I say, just listen to my Critical Beatdown radio Show for futher Proof. Czarface (Inspectah deck & 7l/Esoteric), Demigods, Bumpy Knuckles, Tek Tha Supah LAtin, Wise Intelligent, The Goondox, Maestro fresh Wes, Action Bronson, Masta Ace, Joey Badass, Sadat X & AG, Wu Tang, Ra The Rugged Man, AZ, my man Donald D, Cee-Rock The Fury, Mikey D & The Elements Of Hip Hop, Large Pro, Mellow Man Ace, Imperial Brothers plus many more all recently putting out quality new music. Some newer artists and some Legends still doing it so yeah I still think there’s a good scene, but a lot of garbage in the way but just do what I do and ignore that.
THHF: Tell us about your new EP release?
Mr CRF: Yeah right now I got a Brand New EP out. It’s a collaboration I’ve done with my man Elements Raw who`s based down in Cardiff.. The EP is called “Survivors Guide” and is for anyone who likes that Ruff,Rugged & Raw Boombap type Hiphop.. The EP is available to download completely free of charge so theres no excuses for anyone not to check it. Since we put it out at the end of June the feedback from the people has been excellent. Everyone who has checked it seems to like it and we’ve also had some good feedback from UK legends Kamanchi-sly from Hijack, Mc Mello & Mcm (caveman). I’m beginning to wish we put it out on vinyl as well as we’ve had quite a lot of vinyl requests. I’ve actually worked with Elements Raw before but I feel this EP is just a taster of things to come. He’s a really talented individual who has a lot of love & respect for The hip hop Kulture, a quality Mc/producer and yeah,a pleasure to work with so hopefully an Album to follow. I gotta send I big shout to my man Dee-Rock aswell. Him & EL Raw have worked together for many years and it was through Dee-Rock that I made the connection with El Raw. Anyway you can download the New EP at the link below.
THHF: I’ve had a few listens of Survivors guide and I must say I’m really feelin it. It’s immediately evident that the production and content influences have come from years of serious submersion in hip hop. Tell us about your back catalogue of music.
Mr CRF: I’ve featured on a numbers of different projects over the years from mixtapes to vinyl releases. A few years ago I formed a crew alongside my man Noz & Dj Pressure called The Pedigree Chumps. We went on to release a couple of different EP’s on Vinyl. The first one was called “Up Norf Hiphop Edz” and the second one was called “Egg,Chips & A Pint Of Mild”. Both EP’s were well received and on the strength of them we ended up doing a lot of live shows up and down the country alongside other artists such as Blade, Cappo, Skinnyman plus many others as well as many shows on our own. Anyway last year we put out a full album called “So Far So Drunk”. Unfortunatly this release wasn’t available on vinyl but we did give it away as a free download. At the moment I can’t see there being anymore Pedigree Chumps releases so go download the Album if you’ve not heard it or contact me if you want one of the eps on vinyl..Then theres the CBP (Critical Beatdown Posse) another crew that I formed ..Big shout to AD-1 ,Mr Spin, Cashino, Original One, Noz,Presh, Slicerman, Late who are also part of / down with the CBP.
THHF: Tell me about your collaborations / Connections with US hip hop artists?
Mr CRF: Well I’ve made connections with many artists from over seas over the years and I’ve been lucky enough to hook up and spend time with some of them. Quite a few years back, me and Rack Lo, whos part of the Lo-Lifes crew did a cd together called “The United Kingdom Of Crooks”.. In 2005 I went over to New York and hung out with Ced Gee from The Ultramagnetic Mcs which was dope as Ultra are one of my favourite crews from back in the day. I actually named my radio show “Critical Beatdown” after there classic album. You know I’ve met a lot of artists over the years. Hanging out with Chuck D, Dj Lord and the Public Enemy crew was amazing. Really nice down to earth people who treated you the same way they`d like to be treated and really made us feel welcome. I’m hopefully gonna be hooking back up with them again soon and we also keep in contact over the internet etc especially now I got the radio show on there station. I’ve also worked on a couple of tracks with the Syndicate Sniper Donald D which will be on my “Hiphop State Of Mind” ep and just recently I went over to Switzerland to perform alongside Donald D and my man Lenell Brown which was a great experience. Dj Lord Jazz aswell, gotta big him up and my man DJ Jaycee.
THHF: Anything else you’ve got planned?
Mr CRF: Well right now we gonna carry on Promoting the Survivors Guide Ep and we hopefully gonna do a couple of videos for it. Then there’s my “Hip hop State Of Mind” ep which is almost complete which will be available as another free download very soon. Me and my man Slicerman are also currently working on an ep together and me and Noz are putting together some ideas for a new project and Mr Spin, plus I got a collabo with the Legendary Mcm in the pipeline, so yeah trying to keep busy. I’m also working on a track with Lenell Brown who’s an excellent singer based out in Switzerland. He’s actually just recorded a full album with Donald D which will be available later this year and I feature on one of the videos from that. There’s some other things as well but I don’t want to go into detail just yet incase it doesn’t come off, but stay tuned.
THHF: Mr Crf it’s been great talking with you and being a northern lad myself (Birkenhead/Liverpool) it’s good to know there’s more of us up here representing the real hip hop.
Mr CRF: No probs man. Thank you and The Hip hop Foundation for doing the interview, very much appreciated and a big thanks to everyone who tunes into my radio show each week. Also thanks to everyone who has supported our music and if you’ve not yet heard it, go download the Survivors guide Ep.
You can catch Mr CRF along with Tony Spin and the crew each Wednesday evening at 8pm GMT time. But don’t worry if you miss it because you can listen to it on demand whenever you like by clicking the Critical Beatdown link on Rapstation.com or by joining the Critical Beatdown Radio group page over on facebook.