It’s been twelve years since Malawian born Kid Acne, (emcee, b-boy and graffiti artist) dropped his last album Romance Ain’t Dead (2007). While the album, received high acclaim, Kid Acne honestly admits “I was never really happy with that third album”. Either way you look at it, twelve years for your next release is long enough for a random artist to make it and then disappear into obscurity. But isn’t there something liberating about his ability to make music as and when? Indeed, Kid Acne took the decision in 2008 to “focus” on his “artwork again”. Far from the fear of ‘obscurity’ as the driving agent Kid Acne’s latest album Have A Word has come about when it needed to.
The fourteen track album blasts off with Crest Of A Wave transporting listeners to some dingy low ceiling venue where bodies collide in ecstasy. The album never really let’s up from that old skool energy introduction as references to Clubber Lang, Spike Milligan and EPMD firmly Kid Acne as someone influenced by the late 80’s and 90’s. And while these references could alienate and make the album seem dated it doesn’t. It’s a fresh album juggling sensibilities for a new and old skool audience.
Long intro done let’s Have A Word with Kid Acne.
Have A Word with us about Kid Acne when his acne was bad. What were the driving forces to his eventual path?
I began using the name Kid Acne in 1996, when indeed, I was a spotty teenager. I’d been writing graffiti for maybe 5 years by this point and had already become disillusioned with the graf scene to some extent.
I decided it was time for a new identity, which wasn’t trying to emulate 80’s New York but still paid homage to the things that had inspired me. I felt ‘Acne’ was self-deprecating enough to be authentically British and ‘Kid’ was in reference to Kid Panama who I’d seen in the book Subway Art. The name could be used for my illustration, music and painting in the street as we. I was into screen printing, DIY fanzines, skateboard graphics, super 8 films and making experimental 4-track tapes and 7” records – as much as I was into graf/Street Art, so it felt right at the time.
The name stuck and now in my 40’s, but why not? I still prefer it to my real name for making art and music.
You traverse art and music (we know that they can be one and the same) but how do you differentiate them as tools of catharsis? Do you get something from one that you do not get from another?
With art I’m more autonomous. I’ve collaborated with other artists over the years, but I prefer painting, drawing and printing on my own. I don’t really like discussing my ideas with other people in that sense, I just prefer to get on with it and figure things out for myself.
With music, it’s the opposite. I like collaborating and working with producers, engineers and emcees to find interesting end results.
I enjoy art and music equally but have learnt through trial and error my preferred methods of working. Right now, I feel in a good place with both outlets.
Your releases are characterised by long breaks. How do the breaks help in your creative process (if they do) – do you need to sit with ideas for releases for a while before embarking on the practical aspects of the creativity?
The breaks are not always intentional. In the late 90’s / early 2000’s I was releasing music as part of two groups, Mongrels and Toah Dynamic as well as the Kid Acne stuff. We were quite prolific for a few years, recording music in our crummy flat and signing on the dole. We got offered proper record deals for each of the projects but had just set up our own diy label, Invisible Spies, which we were determined to get off the ground. It soon proved hard to navigate everything and it became a bit overwhelming, especially as I was doing my artwork too.
By the time I did accept a record deal (with Lex Records), the music I’d been making with Req had started to lose momentum and then his hard drive broke halfway through our third album and we lost a bunch of stuff. I rebuilt the album with the help of producer, Ross Orton in Sheffield, by which time Lex had done a joint venture with EMI.
I ended up being signed to EMI and then had to strip a bunch of samples out before the record was released. So, in total, we ended up making that album three times, by which point I’d lost interest.
We did a ton of live shows and played some cool festivals, but I couldn’t really justify dedicating so much time to one project, while so many other art and illustration opportunities were passing me by.
In 2008 I decided to focus on my artwork again, which was the right move.
I did release a bunch of MONGRELS music for a few years on our Invisible Spies label, which got me back into it and eventually lead into this album. I met Rob (Spectacular Diagnostics) at just the right time and this has been such an enjoyable record to make in comparison to previous efforts.
We’re already working on the next couple of releases, so hopefully the breaks won’t be as long now.
One gets a sense that your 3 prior albums and subsequently this release all have subject matter which are connected in a story as such. Talk to us about the ‘story’ of the albums (as it were) and how does Have A Word (if it does) fit into that ‘story’?
The original 3 albums; Rap Traffic (2001), Council Pop (2003), and Romance Ain’t Dead (2007) were meant to be a trilogy to some extent. As I mentioned – things started going wrong part way through that process so the records didn’t get ‘better’ in my view. I was never really happy with that 3rd album. The first 2 are still fun but totally naive in many ways.
With this album, I’m seeing it as a reset. Episode 1, Season 2. In terms of the ‘story’, I want to take it back to the things I felt were good in the first place, such as linking the art and music together by incorporating interesting imagery into the lyrics – but this time we’re also applying a higher production value along with some wisdom and life experience too.
The press spiel calls the album a ‘cinematic voyage’ does this ring true for you and how?
Well, this album does feel like a journey for sure. I thought a lot about the running order, the number of tracks, the switches in tempo, the significance of the guests, the snippets of dialogue, the songs titles, the hooks – all of it. Rob (Spectacular Diagnostics) and I wanted this record to be an experience from start to finish, with each track playing a role – not just a bunch of songs thrown together for a playlist. So yeah, I’ll accept ‘cinematic voyage’.
I like how the album opens and ends with reference to the sea – from the shipping forecast to ancient mariners. It loops round nicely and having Sebash and Nosaj onboard made total sense to bring it round full circle.
We must admit we did not know about Scotty Hard prior but a bit research and of course you did artwork for his release Science of Sesh – what makes him a collaborator that you keep returning to and indeed, tell us about his input on Have A Word?
I met Scotty back in 2006. My girlfriend was living in New York at the time and I was put in touch with him and Sebash via Skiz Fernando who ran the Wordsound label. I was a huge fan of their group New Kingdom in the 90’s and Wordsound had subsequently released their follow-up projects, Kill Dog E (2013) and Truckstop. (If you don’t know about Scotty Hard or New Kingdom, look them up).
The plan was to link up and make some music together, but instead we just hung out each time I went to New York and became good friends over the years.
Some of the stuff I recorded with Sebash did wind up on the Mongrels album almost 10 years later. Scotty did a remix for me and in return I designed his album sleeve. Me and my girlfriend went back to the New York for the launch party a couple of years ago, which was hosted in Max Fish – the same bar we all originally met in 2006.
Have A Word is full of references to the past (as it were) Spike Milligan, Scotty Pippen. Could these references alienate a younger audience and indeed why the old skool references?
I try not to think about that kind of stuff. You can’t please everyone so there’s no point in trying. Like Doom said: “Whoever ain’t get it ain’t supposed to”. We’re not trying to recreate 90‘s boombap and I’m not bothered about rhyming over trap / grime beats to be relevant either – both options would sound pretty tragic in my view.
This record is very much set in the present day, but the old skool references do tend to seep into the lyrics. That’s just how my mind works. Personally, I think it can make for a more timeless record if you’re not rapping about current affairs in real time. Something ‘now’ can sound totally outdated in 18 months, which is how long it can take to make an album – but if you talk about something from 18 years ago instead, it can sound totally fresh because no one else has been banging on about it while you got your mixes, test pressings and artwork together.
If this stuff only appeals to people my age, that’s fine by me but I don’t think that’s the case. One of the guests on the record is Juga-Naut, he’s at least 10 years younger than me, but still references Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park (1993) and ‘Goonies on Betamax’ in his verse. To me, it doesn’t matter what era it’s from, it’s more about presenting imagery in the rhymes and transitioning between those ideas in an interesting way that works with the track.
I grew up listing to plenty of rappers referencing stuff I had no clue about, without the luxury of Google to find out either. Some bars took years to make sense and that’s ok. Not everything needs to be understood by everyone right away.
Tell us about the South Yorks / Illinois soundclash and how that team up materialized?
Spectacular Diagnostics reached out to me about doing some artwork initially. That went well so he suggested a music collaboration too. I was a bit sceptical at first, but he was true to his word and sent me a ton of instrumentals to choose from. Before long, we had an ep together, which soon became an album. I got back in touch with Lex to let them know what we were up to and they jumped on board. It was really that simple.
The artwork (which we must talk about) features that symbol of broken Britain the council estate and you looking like you are in the throes of some graffiti work. Talk to us about that image and how it ties in with the subject matter on the project?
The album cover is a photo of one of the SLOGAN murals I painted up at Park Hill flats earlier this year. Park Hill is the biggest grade 2 listing in Europe. It’s synonymous with Sheffield and sits behind the train station dominating the landscape. Parts of the estate are boarded up, but the whole place is gradually being redeveloped.
I painted some stuff up there 10 years ago and was lucky enough to gain access again this year, which coincided with a month long exhibition I put together in the converted garage block (now S1 Artspace), which centred around my typographic pieces – all inspired by lyrics from the album.
Tell us about coming performances.
There are none. I did the solo exhibition instead and am making a bunch of videos with friends too. I’m not interested in playing live right now. I’m just keen to get back in the studio and record the next one.