GAWD Status: Interview

When it was first announced that King Kashmere and Joker Starr – two highly respected and established artists within UK hip hop – were joining forces to form GAWD Status, my interest was undoubtedly piqued. But I was not expecting it to reach the experimental, psychedelic heights it did. Firmamentum earned them a lot of much deserved critical praise from far and wide, including from the good people at BBC 6 Music. Not long ago, Joker Starr and King Kash announced they were doing a Q&A session on their Instagram stories, to which I jokingly replied that I might try to turn the opportunity into an interview. I say jokingly, but I had been speaking to Kash about doing an interview for ages and so when they both replied telling me to go for it, I couldn’t resist. So what follows is the result of a casual back and forth via Instagram DMs, over the last week or so. We discuss the old days, the 6 Music angle and how GAWD Status came to be, among other things. Their album is also available to stream at the end.

Okay, so you’ve know each other for years, what made you decide to make the collaboration happen when it did?

King Kash: Ten years of talking LMAO! Until the gawd Joker Starr said fuck it let’s do it! It naturally coincided with me deciding to get more on the producky. That and me needing to get it done before I get bagged… I’ve been on the run for about 35 years.

I mean ten years is about the standard for the UK scene anyway. Was there any sort of vision for what you wanted to achieve with the project or was it just a case of making the music you wanted to make together?

KK: At first it was just to make some music but it morphed into some afro-cosmic psychedelia. The sound of this project developed over time. I really like to work stuff. Especially when I heard the content Joker Starr was coming with…. it was like okay we are going THERE.

Joker Starr: The first and only recording session I turned up not knowing what it was going to sound like or how the lyrics would be received because I wanted to rap about things people don’t really rap about. All we had was the name of the group. It organically turned into this.

I love that. Just picking up on Joker’s comment about his lyrics, what was it about the content that made you unsure about what sort of reception you’d receive?

JS: It was a very unexpected turn to what I usually rap about. Even the delivery and style is unique to the GAWD Status content.

It must have felt good when the project started gaining a lot of critical praise

JS: I was very impressed when Kashmere broke down to me who is what on the BBC and what it meant. I didn’t realise the significance of all of it. It was definitely a nice surprise and a lot of it unexpected.

Kash, I know we spoke previously about your decision to step away from the mic for a bit. Did this album help to strengthen that decision, because of how well your production was received?

KK: Yeah, man. It’s definitely made me wanna do more. At first, I had no clue how people would receive my beats, but it’s something I do for myself first and foremost. If I’m honest, I’m aware people see me as more of an MC but I’ve always loved the art of production more than penning lyrics. I just love being in the lab and shit. I’m not saying I’m never going to rap again, but it’s definitely a secondary thing for me now. I always wanted to be a DJ! When I first considered participating in hip-hop I never had aspirations to be a rapper… it just happened. Probably because turntables cost money lol.

JS: DJ Kash T.

KK: Hahaha seriously. I still wanna be a DJ.

It seems to me that real fans are a lot more receptive to an artist making the art they want as opposed to the art they feel they need to make to succeed or be popular. I think that maybe it’s been allowed to change due to the way releasing music has changed, thanks to the evolution of the internet… If that makes sense?

KK: Yeah, I agree. The internet has played it’s part in helping people realise they can be themselves, take some risks and still have the chance to make a dent. They don’t have to follow the old models.

Did you have a pretty solid vision for how you wanted things to sound before you started, or did it evolve as you progressed?

KK: I think Joker Starr knew what he was going to rap about from the start, but for me it evolved over time. I started out sampling a lot of 80’s funk, then moved over to 70’s African rock stuff – specifically Zambian rock which is actually pretty funky – but as I was working on it, it developed more and entered the prog and psych rock arena which is where it pretty much stayed, bar one or two beats. I really like working stuff, because along the way you discover new stuff and stumble across styles. That’s the fun of it for me.

So did you both build like that together in the studio?

JS: We recorded all my lyrics in one session which we were all present for, then I told King Kash to go and run with the baby.

Is that fairly standard for you, getting it all down in one sitting?

JS: Yeah. I prefer that, as I don’t particularly enjoy the recording process as much as I did as a young up-and-comer.

That’s understandable. Is the rest of it still as enjoyable as when you first started out?

JS: I always enjoy the results of the work and ideas.

So as the first project was so well received, will we hear more from you guys in the future?

JS: Yeah. I am sure there will be another project in the future. We have been talking about it.

KK: What he said! But seriously… you never know what’s round the corner.

Well that sounds promising. Just going back to the 6 Music visit, which must’ve been a buzz for you guys. How did that come about?

KK: Yeah it was good, especially with it being John Peel’s son. It was pretty cool and unexpected. It came about through him being someone who is into the label (Tru Thoughts) and checking for all the new stuff, then hearing our stuff and liking it. Which was different for me, as usually it’s a pitch to get on these things, but this time we were asked. But yeah, Tom Ravenscroft is mad cool. He played our stuff multiple times and was just a chill guy to talk to. Later on I was gassed because of the John Peel link and then Annie Nightingale played our stuff too! Both those legends hosted the Old Grey Whistle Test so I was just geeking the fuck out… internally of course.

That’s wicked man. That whole station has become an ally for the scene, which is refreshing but also a bit of a shame considering how many more supposed ‘urban music’ focused stations are out there. Have you guys got much lined up this year? I know Kash is at the HF party with Zygote next month.

KK: Yeah we are aiming to get this next GAWD Status joint done shortly. Working on some new Strange U as well. Other than that, just trying to avoid pissing and shitting myself. Also trying to hook something up with my boy CHUCK ENZO. People should check him out.

Yeah I’ve heard he’s an enigmatic breath of fresh air. You’ve both been active on the scene for a while so you’ve been through the various transitions over the years; do you think UKHH is in a good place right now? From a fan/critic POV, it’s an exciting time.

KK: Whenever I see the letters POV I immediately think of porn. But moving on… I think it’s in a great place now. What people like High Focus, Blah and others like Foreign Beggars have achieved is huge and pretty much unheard of in past incarnations. Everyone has their opinions on UKHH, but the truth is these guys have smashed it and should serve as an inspiration to everyone, no matter what styles you are coming with; be receptive people, don’t be snobs. I will say though that we need more people and labels poppin’ off as well. There are people coming up such as Group Bracil, RLD, Village Live, and many more. The future is bright. I’d also say there is probably more unity these days too. But we are missing some of the things we used to have. Like a community of record shops, jams, music publications and so on. Thank Zod for Itch FM, but we need more. And I’m sure we will have more as time goes on. Of course I’m speaking in terms of London.

And also the freedom to stray outside the parameters of what hip hop ‘should sound like’ has become a lot more acceptable, so you’re getting a lot more diversity in terms of sound and style. You still get some purists moaning but they seem to be the minority now.

KK: Exactly. I mean, I do have respect for purists in the sense of the whole sticking to your guns mentality, but when you standardly hate anything new that comes along, how can that be a good thing?

Sticking to your guns is all well and good, but when it means you’re not investing in the artform in its current state, then surely you’re a participant in its demise?

KK: To a degree, yes. But then again if it’s coming from a genuine place, what can you do? Some people genuinely can’t find anything for them in modern shit, which is cool, but just don’t poison the water for everyone else.

But even for purists, there are still loads of new artists making that more traditional hip hop. For me it just seems like an unwillingness to go beyond what is presented by the mainstream as modern rap. But yeah either way, don’t ruin it for everyone else.

KK: Yeah, you could look at Griselda or what Roc Marci has been doing, but there are purists that don’t dig that either! You fuck with Al Divino?

Yeah man I got into him through Big Ghost. He put me on to a lot of those cats – Rome Streetz, Mooch, Estee Nack etc. Do you think the sort of community you mentioned earlier is achievable?

KK: You mean with the record shops etc?

Yeah, man.

KK: Hey man, anything is possible, just maybe not in exactly the same way as before. I guess all it takes is a bunch of people with the ideas and drive to create new platforms for people to get energised by and connect on. Some connection needs to be made with the internet and people congregating in the flesh. When I was younger it was a huge deal going to places like Mr Bongos and the original Deal Real, sometimes not even to buy shit but to just hang out and soak up some vibes, bump into/meet people. Or waiting for the new HHC to drop, or tuning into Max LX and Dave VJ on Kiss FM, or 279 on Choice FM, then meeting up with heads and go bombing. I dunno man, there has got to be a way. I think the heads now would really benefit from all that, but it has to feel natural.

That’s why I like what Audio Active are doing down in Brighton. I went to one of their outdoor ciphers and it was so good to see the amount of young people involved. 13 year old kids who are already writing at a much higher level and you can just see how happy they are to be involved with something worthwhile, rather than just hanging out in the park or whatever.

KK: That’s perfect. They’ll remember those days forever.

I think we’ve got some good stuff here, gents, so I’m going to finish up now but thank you very much for chatting with me. I definitely need to do more stuff like this.

KK: Word!! Nice one man.

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