In Conversation with Rider Shafique
Rider Shafique is one of the country’s most respected artists and lyricists and is synonymous with an array of musical styles, especially ones that are bass led. Equally at home on dub, drum & bass, reggae, dubstep and beyond, he has blessed tracks from a variety of producers and artists and stages all across the globe.
We caught up with him to chat about what he’s working on at the moment, his musical beginnings, influences on him and his music, race and identity, recent live shows in India, how his hometown of Gloucester shaped him as an artist and his work with everyone from Swindle to Sam Binga to Young Echo.
What musical projects are you working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
I’m doing lots of features at the moment. I feature on a project with a producer from Australia called Monkey Marc and he’s recently done a tune with Ninjaman called Badness. Him and Pinch have done a remix and on the remix there’s a lot of Jamaican artists and U.K. dancehall/dubstep artists so there’s me, Killa Ps on there, Riko Dan, Soom T and possibly a few others so that’s something that’s coming out soon. I’m not sure when that’s coming out but they’ve been shooting a video in Jamaica recently. It’ll be coming out soon. There’s loads of things that are being released. I’m working on a solo project as well which is something that’s going to be a bit more stripped back, more acoustic, more dubby. Maybe a bit more spoken word from me.
Are you working on the solo album at the moment?
Yeah I’m working on that at the moment.
You feature on a couple of brilliant tracks on the new Swindle album. How did that session go?
I’ve known Swindle for a while, from touring and stuff and I think it was in Belgium or Switzerland, we were actually on the same bill and there was a mutual friend Von D and we just got speaking about ideas he had for this project, that was a few years ago. I was also connected with him through his management, Elijah and Skilliam from Butterz Records, so they hooked it up and played him some of my stuff, so we’ve known each other for a while. He just said he had an idea for this album and he wanted me to do the intro and the outro, that’s how he envisioned it. Automatically I kind of got e idea that he wanted. He invited me down to London, to Red Bull studios and that’s where I recorded the introduction for the track We Do and it was exactly what he was thinking. A few years later, once everything was finished, he called me back to do the outro.
You’ve also worked a lot with Sam Binga. Can we expect more material from you in the future?
Yeah, yeah. I was in the studio with him recently, messing about so he’s helping me with my solo project as well.
Who else are you working with on the solo project?
On the solo project, instead of working with producers, because ultimately a lot of producers just send messages with beats and get me to do my thing on top of it. I want to focus on my message and so I’ve stripped it completely back and I’ve got a percussionist called, I don’t know what name he goes by now actually but can you remember Huntkilbury Finn?
Yeah, he was on Son Records.
Yeah, so Finn, I did a session with him and a West African drummer so together we’ve put down some basics, some beats, just some progressive type of stuff so I’ve been writing to that and Sam Binga, he’s helped me to put that into a dubby kind of format, a beat type of format. I’m writing to that at the moment so I don’t know if in the future I’ll get other producers to work and remix it and different bits but I want to focus on me rather than the producers sound because when they give me beats, I can write to how the beat makes me feel, I didn’t want that, I wanted to do it the other way.
Do you produce and make beats yourself?
I dabble in it. It’s something I will explore in the future. I used to do it a long time ago a lot more but the people around me more are making beats that I’d like to make myself and that’s what they do so I let them do it haha!
You have also worked with a wide variety of artists, from Karnage to Om Unit to Gantz. Who have you enjoyed working with the most and why?
Everybody does things differently. Everyone’s got their own sound. I really like working with Von D, I really like his sound, I like performing with him as well. It’s just different people. The person I’ve worked with the most would be Sam Binga, he’s got a studio in Bristol, so everything we do together is a lot more organic, we’re both in the studio at the same time. He gives me a bit of direction, gives me what kind of thing he wants and I just deliver it and it goes from there. Other producers, like Karnage is in Japan, and although I did have a session with him in Japan, it’s very difficult to meet up!
Who would you love to work with in the future?
I like Konny Kons productions from Children Of Zeus. I like that kind of U.K hip hop, soul, reggae kind of sound so I’d like to do something with him in the future possibly.
What inspires you as an artist to make the music you make?
Other music haha! Lots of things, how I feel, my emotions, what’s surrounding me and the environment I’m in. Hearing other people do something really, really great. Other lyricists. I always write to music so that is the main inspiration as well you know. It’s how the music makes me feel.
You mentioned the Monkey Marc track you did, the Badness remix that had Ninjaman on it. Was that a big thrill to be on a track with Ninjaman?
Yeah, so Ninjaman was one of the artists I looked up to growing up, as a performer, his stage presence and his costumes, everything, his persona was really inspirational. That’s what made me really want to do music in the first place. Through Monkey Marc, there was a connect with a lot of other Jamaican artists that I’m excited about, and also when I work with Dub Stuy, having a release with Burro Banton on the same vinyl, stuff like that is exciting and it’s kind of nice to be featured alongside these people you’ve looked up to for a long time or regarded as your musical heroes or inspirations.
Who else are some of the biggest influences and inspirations on you as an artist?
I grew up listening to a lot of dancehall. Back then, everyone was a bit more about their own individual style so I really liked the likes of Ninjaman, Supercat, Shabba Ranks, Spragga Benz, Buju Banton, all those kind of artists really inspired me. I also liked a lot more conscious stuff and things that were a bit more lyrical as well so obviously, Sizzla, Turbulence and people like that. I then got introduced to hip hop and liked people who were a lot more lyrical and had conscious lyrics like Mos Def. I really liked Goodie Mob and that kind of Southern style. I liked Busta Rhymes, vocalists who had that kind of tinge of reggae attached to their style.
How was the experience of your recent trip to India to play live shows?
India was really cool man. India was very different but they’ve got a great energy. India’s just bustling with life and energy, everything’s just happening, it’s never quiet. The people were really appreciative and really respectful so it was really nice to see that and inspire them in a way to do their own thing, I’m just a normal guy but they kind of view me as some kind of superstar! It’s nice just to be able to encourage them and give them a bit of vibe and energy to do their own thing.
Have you got any other gigs planned at the moment?
I’m going to be touring with Swindle, doing a few of his live shows. I did some late last year, maybe December. I did that with Swindle and I’m going to be doing some more shows with him and then whatever comes up really.
Where else have you played across the globe and where would you love to play in the future?
I’ve played in Japan, that was really nice, toured Japan. I just got back from Australia and New Zealand at the start of the year. All over Europe, we’ve done all over Europe for years. New York. In terms if where I’d like to play. It’d have to be the right place in terms of understanding, so it wouldn’t be any good taking a dubstep set to Jamaica! I don’t think they’d really get it. It’s wherever people really understand the music but I’m up for going anywhere, I like traveling.
What would you say you bring to your live performance to deliver the best for the audience?
Live performances are different as well because when I’m performing live, I’ve never really performed just as Rider Shafique. I have done my theatre play which was Rider Shafique, which was very different, I was very honest. That was quite comfortable as well as I was actually able to be myself. Other live performances, I get booked to do everything from jungle to dubstep to trip hop kind of madness do it’s not always easy for people to understand or it’s not the right arena for me to really be Rider Shafique if you understand what I mean. Sometimes in a drum & bass rave, people aren’t listening to a lot of lyrics.
It’s more the hype element.
Yeah, so if I’m there spitting a long bar or whatever, it can get lost in something like that. I try to be real everywhere I go.
Will you tour as a Rider Shafique when your solo album comes out?
Yeah, hopefully. I’m known for my versatility so I can do most genres and I am booked for a lot so hopefully I do stand out as an MC who has his own style and does his own thing.
Growing up in Gloucester, what shaped your musical outlook? It’s a very diverse place.
Well, music was always played at home. Being mixed and classing myself as a black young person, you didn’t really see yourself in the media at that age, you wouldn’t see yourself on television or you wouldn’t see young black males on television, or cartoons, comic books, movies or whatever in the light that you’d hope to so music was a very strong way of finding your identity because they were ultimately people who looked like you or spoke like you or had a similar life experience so you would reach out further than the U.K and look to Jamaica or look to America where they had a stronger black influence. It’s trying to find your own identity and music was a great tool to find that.
Was there a big soundsystem culture in Gloucester when you were coming up?
Yeah, there’s lots of soundsystems in Gloucester. Everybody does music, everybody’s parents have some kind of affiliation to soundsystems, collect records or have a stereo setup at home to play their music so my peers, my musical peers like Mr Melody, he introduced me to working with Pressure Drop, he started off on soundsystems. I remember going to see him in the park, Gloucester Park when they used to have events, there was always talent contests and things like that at the park where we used to get involved or aspire to get involved. During the summer there was always so he kind of musical thing in Gloucester Park. Sound systems are a strong element and that’s some hung I want to explore in the future, the effect of soundsystem and I want to interview all the old soundsystems that were in Gloucester. I’ve been researching and looking into it and there was many.
Are there any artists in Gloucester right now that you are feeling?
Yeah, whoever’s in Gloucester, I’m supporting. There’s lots of artists who are doing their thing. Griz-O, there’s lots of young ones, Caviar Crew are coming up, a lot of young MCs such as Dank and Blues. Blues is the son of Mr Melody who I started off with musically so we’re all connected. I think we should support each other and I think Gloucester is lacking that and that was kind of my message on Swindles album is that we’re all ultimately doing the same thing, don’t be divided by genre because genres and things always change. We’re doing the same thing so when our parents were doing soundsystems or our grandparents were doing soundsystems, and we’re doing whatever it is called today, whether it’s grime or trap music or whatever, it’s still the same thing, the essence is still the same. It’s about joining together rather than dividing and understanding that. We need that support in Gloucester, we need venues, we need places where we can be safe and express our creativity because it’s something we should be proud of. Like myself, I’ve gone all over the world, I’m respected all over the world and working with people all over the world and I should be respected here, at home as well. The same as people like Dread MC and Dynamite MC came from Gloucester. A lot of the musical greats in drum & bass and U.K music have affiliations with Gloucester or come from Gloucester so that should be respected.
With Bristol being near to Gloucester, was the rich musical history of the city an influence on yourself?
Well, I tend to do a lot of my work in Bristol because, like I said, Gloucester has no scene, we have no venues, we have no outlets. Bristol, you have record stores, you gave radio stations, you gave places where you can go out and perform your music. There’s community centres, there’s nightclubs. Gloucester has none of that so if you wanted to do a night like that in Gloucester, it’s very difficult. Bristol is respected all over the world for its musical output, its only thirty odd miles down the road so I do the majority of my work there just because it’s at another level than Gloucester. We’ve got the raw talent but I don’t know who’s producing records here and pushing music here. Bristol, they’re doing that. There’s a whole range of festivals that go on, there’s people that produce vinyl, that tour, that live off music.
Your track I-Dentity was the first track released on Young Echo Records. It still sounds as inspiring now as when it was released. What are your memories of creating the track?
I was asked to do a spoken word, I was involved in a theatre company in Gloucester called Strike A Light and we were having a few conversations and they wanted me to write a play so it started from scratch there but I’m not an actor so I tried to use my strengths and we were talking about race and why a lot of black people aren’t necessarily involved in theatre and there trying to overcome that. After a lot of thought, I was writing my piece about identity and me and about who I was and making sense of that so I was given the backing track just because I always wrote to music or sound because it helps to keep my timing and my pace. I was writing to that track and I had a few ideas and spoke to one of my friends, Malachi Patterson, who I’ve worked closely with over the years and I read the first few lines of the poem to him and he said “wow, this is amazing”! I think it always helps when someone encourages you and having that support. He said this is amazing and that spurred me on to keep on writing it and I came up with the track I-Dentity which is me making sense of who I was, researching a bit into the history of the names that were given to people who were mixed race or half-caste or whatever it has been called over my lifetime at least. It was me making sense of all my feelings and how I understood things and collating it all together.
You mentioned working the theatre, is that something you’d like to do again in the future at all?
I’m a creative, man so whatever avenues are opened. I like to collaborate with people. I work on my photography projects. Just creative things I feel there’s a need for in society and instead of complaining about what we don’t have, I’m just going to do my best to make this happen. Theatre, anything really.
Will you be doing more stuff with Young Echo?
Yeah of course, I’m a member of Young Echo so I’m constantly collaborating with them and making new music with them. It’s difficult because there’s so many members now and everyone’s doing their own thing respectively but definitely.
What would you say you bring to the Young Echo sound?
Well I’m the only reggae/dancehall vocalist. I’m a bit older than the rest of the guys as well so I’ve got a bit of experience there and a different view of the world maybe. People like Kahn and Neek, they create a lot of dub sounds so I’m the vocalist for that, I voice that and also Neek and Amos from Jabu, some of their tracks I vocal as well. It’s just nice to have a collective that we just push the boundaries of sound and mix different genres together and different vocal and production styles.
You started out as half of Black Canvas. Do you have fond memories of those days?
Me and Martin, we’ve never ended Black Canvas so we’re still together in that sense it’s just that we’re both busy doing other things.
But you will work together again?
Yeah definitely man. We’re family so it’s never going to end you know. This year I want to do more work with Black Canvas and me and Martin have been meeting up and maybe introduce a few other members to the group and kind of revisit some of the stuff that we’re doing.
What was the first event that you ever performed at?
I don’t know if it’s my very first event but I remember going on tour with Pressure Drop, so it was me and Martin and we were onstage after Burning Spear in Montenegro. It was like huge crowd and it was daunting but you just get on with it and it helps having someone else onstage with you. It was like jumping in at the deep end and just do our thing.
Do you get into the same mindset when you’re playing a live set as you would when you’re laying down a track in the studio?
I always prefer studio work. Live is different like I said. The Swindle thing was a lot more where people came to hear and respect the music. Sometimes in a live event or live venues, you get lost in the environment and people are not necessarily there to hear lyrics. It is a performance but it’s more about vibes and energy. I prefer to do things that are, maybe because I’m getting a bit older, but more chilled and more where people respect the art form and come to listen where you don’t need to be drinking or whatever else you’re doing to enjoy the music. It’s more about focusing on the craft or the art form.
You talk passionately about race and racism on social media. Have you experienced any racism yourself in the music industry?
Racism is not necessarily what we understand it to be. I do t think people really understand what it is so there are acts of racism where people will call you names or discriminate against you but my focus is more upon the systematic effects so there a lot of bigger issues. If you talk about racism in the music industry. This is a black music which is white run and the people making the most money out of a black music, a music of struggle, a music which is of black pride and black redemption. A message of repartition of Africa and knowing yourself is still white people you know, there are still things we have to address but I don’t know if people are really ready for that conversation or people are ready to go there! We just have to chip away at it as best we feel we can.
Do you feel that music is the best way to educate and influence?
Well, like I said when I went back to my own education. Music, especially through roots reggae music, it taught me a lot about myself. I think reggae music and all music generally, plants a seed so hip hop, grime, dancehall, whatever. It’s a social commentary. We’ll say what’s happening in our surroundings. We’re talking about issues that relate to us so to me, it plants a seed and from there you can go and research and look into things deeper and get an understanding. I think music opens doors, it’s easy for people to take and it’s an easier pill to swallow than a direct conversation, it’s a bit of sugar in the medicine!
What have been some of your ultimate highlights in your career so far?
It’s just about slowly getting recognition and that’s not just from other musicians or producers or famous people like it. It’s also all the people in India who recognise me. Young guys who are 17, 18 coming up to me and are really excited to speak to me. That’s all over the world really. To me that’s inspirational, meeting these people and the telling me, yeah I like your message and this has helped me and my life. Also, I’m happy with what I’ve produced. I’ve done dub poetry things with acts like Dubkasm so it’s nice to get into that kind of scene as well. Just being able to grow organically. I cover lots of different genres in music. What I started off doing isn’t necessarily what I imagined I would do. I would always do dancehall or hip hop, I was influenced very strongly by American hip hop so the dream would be to work with Organized Noize or producers like that but the people on this side aren’t really creating that kind of music that you’re inspired by it you’d want to work with someone like Sly & Robbie but you have to be flexible, you have to be willing to fend you know, so what I started off doing wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do but now I’ve started to break into these genres. Monkey Marc is creating music that’s really reggae/hip hop influenced and I really like that sound. Some of the people in New York I’m working with, we’re creating those early reggae classic tracks that I’m really feeling, Von D, OBF, people like that are creating a new kind of steppas and dub music that is really inspiring, the people that I’m working with, they’re creating the music that I want to hear. It’s nice to be going in these directions.
I’m a music journalist based in the U.K. with a love for bass music in many forms from drum & bass and dubstep to hip hop and grime. Always looking to check out new music as well as digging back for the classics and attending as many events as possible.