Greg Blackman is a prolific musician and illustrator who has been fusing his love of Hip-Hop with his Soulful vibes for a good few years now. Having worked with BBE, Eat Good, Agogo Records and whole host of collaborations, we catch up with one of the most renowned Soul Singers the UK has to offer.
Greetings GB! How’s life treating you?
I’m hale and hearty my friend. Fat and sleek and happy as a house cat.
You’ve recently kicked off your monthly #GBRevived project. Tell us a bit about it for those not in the know.
I spent a lot of 2015 struggling to find a place for myself in the legit Music Industry rather than embracing the advantages of being a small scale independent artist who doesn’t have to answer to anyone but himself. #GBRevived is my response to that.
The tagline is “10 months, 10 new singles, no fixed genre, no more holding back” and we’re gonna do exactly what it says on the tin. On the first of every month for ten months straight I release a brand new single completely different from the last one.
There’s genre mashups, straight up hip hop joints, a soul number, a hard edged swamp funk tune, a trad reggae number, couple of totally indescribable one offs. A whole truckload of amazing featured artists and musicians. Loads of great stuff that no label would be brave enough to release on one album.
I’m just putting it all together for the first time and saying “This is what I am, this is what I do.” The time to worry about genre is over. I’m just gonna lay out all the great music made by me and Nathan Wacey (the producer of my “solo” work and the other half of The Paragons Of Goodness) over the years and let people hear it. I figure the folks who will dig it will dig it and the folks who won’t won’t.
Is this strictly a stream of downloads or will we get a physical album at any point?
The downloads come first for ten months straight. Then once that’s run it’s course I’ll be releasing all ten singles as well as about 6 other tracks as a full album on CD and Vinyl. The release is fully independent and will be available only from me.
You publicly addressed your own bisexuality on Pyro Radio recently, I think I’m right in saying for the first time on record? Was this something you felt you needed to do?
Not really. It’s not really something I make any great secret about but you’re right in saying it’s the first time I’d mentioned it publicly. And even the only reason I mentioned it at all was in response to a homophobic diss aimed at me by an inferior talent that I was asked to address during the interview.
The reason I haven’t historically made an issue out of my bisexuality is very simple: I’m %100 faithful to whoever I’m in a relationship with and for the last 7 years I’ve been married to a wonderful woman. Despite who I am underneath and my personal history, what this means is that I effectively live as a straight man and don’t have to face or engage with any of the struggle for equity and respect that gay or trans people have to. In that context banging on about my bisexuality seems like redundant point scoring off of a struggle other people have to deal with a lot more often than I do. Seems a bit crass, gnomesaying?
On this occasion I was asked to address it live on radio so I did. Even though I’m a confident bloke with a big personality I still felt that fear of ridicule everyone does.
But while you’re imagining these kinds of things you also ask yourself: what if someone who was young and certain they would be rejected socially if they came out as non-straight heard that interview, heard me talk about being bisexual as the completely normal and commonplace thing that it is, heard how I was accepted and respected by my peers regardless and thought “Fuck it. If he can do it then why can’t I?” The possibility of that scenario made me push through any personal discomfort.
Plus I have some pretty legendary LGBT friends who’s insistence on being accepted for who they are is something I love and admire about them. Shoutout to my boy Todd Dahn in particular for his no bullshit bravery about being Out And Proud in the hip hop community. His large cojones were a beacon.
You seem to be investing more time in spreading information as well as great music this year, notably in your recent interview on Pyro Radio and your ongoing #TalkingAboutTheGame series. Is this a deliberate move or has it evolved naturally?
A bit of both really. Entering the music game I always found it impossible to get any clear specifics about how and why things work the way they do. I’m not talking about the kind of stuff you can read on the Musician’s Union Website, I’m talking about the real unspoken everyday back room stuff that nobody ever talks about that actually dictates why decisions get made. The few people in the game who took a bit of time out of their day to actually explain how things work were hugely helpful to me so I decided to try and be one of those people for some of the younger musicians coming up.
Plus, to be perfectly honest, people were starting to inbox me a lot asking for feedback and advice about stuff simply because they knew I had a strong opinion about it based on practical experience. I thought I may as well just make some of this stuff public and save them the trouble.
Okay so, with that in mind, if you could eliminate one thing from the music industry to make it better what would it be?
Oh that’s easy. With one ungodly sweep of my hand I would eliminate all micro genre specialist and genre police marketing “Experts” from the A&R departments of all labels.
I would wind the clocks back to the days of old men with deep pockets who knew absolutely fuck all about music and released stuff in the spirit of “Well I don’t understand it but the kids seem to like it so let’s press some on wax and put it in the shops!”. The kind of men who gave us Zappa.
Modern Big Labels are full of super cool Tarquins who are completely absorbed in their own bubble of super specific genre specialisation. The kind of people who will tell you with a straight face that your song is not the right genre for their label because your tune is 139 bpm and they “only release 140”. The kind of people who can back up their nonsensical prejudices with articles from Vice but have never played a fucking instrument in their lives.
(If you’re reading this going “I can play an instrument: I’m GREAT with an MPC.”? I love you to bits but I’m rolling my eyes heavily at you right now.)
People who sign their mates and their mates bands and their mates girlfriends and call it a “Scene” actually run the major labels. Talent has fuck all to do with it – it’s a giant lazy nepotistic circle wank and always has been.
These people choke the creativity of their label’s output down to the intellectual and spiritual level of a rich 19 year old white boy trying to pull in a shoreditch club to some suitably ethnic sounds in order to look a bit less like the future bank manager he fucking is and I hate them with all my heart. They are the gatekeepers of all the money, they control every last resource artists need and they make damn sure only the most lightweight combinations of Dim and Pretty ever get their hands on them.
They are the reason every time I see someone dressed like a soho hipster I just want to dick punch them into The Dark Dimension. They are the reason I can’t walk about Brighton any more without ending up shouting like some raging incoherent marxist tramp.
I personally loathe what micro genre experts have done to mainstream modern music; accounting every last emotion into ever smaller boxes like librarians of the soul, making sure everything in the world is hushed down to the minimum level of intensity and relevance.
Fuck them for turning the major label industry into a massive day glow toilet where (as in all toilets) gold sinks to the bottom unseen and shit floats to the top.
Bring back the clueless old men who pressed your shit and waited to see what happened instead of doing a bad impersonation of all knowing prophets of a completely unpredictable industry. The blandness, heartlessness and nepotism of the major label scene proves again and again that these “Experts” wouldn’t know shit if they had a mouthful of it.
Big up MY people: the weirdos, the freaks, the unclassifiable ones. The unmarketable and unglamorous types who care too much. The ones with fierce political views and zero chances of being the next Robin Thicke. The indie kids, the nerds, the punks, the troubled ones and the ugly ones. Big yourself for even surviving this long in such a ghastly strip lit neon catwalk of a world: next time you see one of life’s eternal Cool Kids slap them for me and set fire to their trainers. They can afford new ones.
(For those delightful people who regularly ask me: “You’re so good! Why aren’t you signed to a big label??” By now it must be pretty clear: you wouldn’t put a hungry old lion in a room full of tender young gazelles and expect anything other than a gory outcome. And neither would the gazelle. )
What are your personal musical highlights of 2016?
For me the most rewarding moments are when I hear someone who’s been in the game a long time, who’s worked with the best and who really knows what they are talking about compliment my voice or my writing. I had one of those moments BIG time this year with the living legend that is Tom Moulton.
If you don’t know who Tom is just check his wikipedia page but basically the guy invented the remix. He produced the first 3 Grace Jones albums and he’s worked with pretty much everyone in the soul music scene. He’s a living legend. This year he voluntarily remixed the opening song from the album Low Fi Classics which I co wrote with producer Mr Bird saying that when he first heard my vocals he just pretty much played the song on a loop for ten hours and had to work on it. That alone was a pretty big stamp of recognition.
During a subsequent interview he spoke at length about the sincerity, heart and real world grit missing from modern vocalists and how my vocals had those in spades.
Imagine one of your paintings being praised in detail by Van Gough. Imagine Chester P talking in an interview about what a sick MC he thinks you are. That’s what it was like for me.
Not just because it was a lovely compliment but because it was coming from someone who’s worked with some of the best voices around and knows whereof he speaks. That was the year’s real highlight for me personally. Shoutouts to Ash Beedle, John Oliver and my very own Fairy Godmother Jo Wallace for helping to make that happen. Love you guys to bits, you’re amazing.
You’re known for a love of collaborating with other talented musicians. Looking forward to 2017, who can we look forward to seeing you work with?
Oh all sorts of wonderful people. I feature on a track from Ty’s next album which I’m very proud of. I’ve got a dark as fuck tune in the pipeline with Strange U who I’m a massive panzu of so that’s gonna be ridiculous. I got roped in to do a heartbreaking hook on a tune by Mongo, which was huge for me as someone who used to rock “itchy town” in their car as a youth. I’m planning on some more original music for french label Radio Krimi Records.
There’s also the possibility of me and a couple of other well known independent rappers on the scene linking up for a completely unique group project but I can’t confirm anything yet or talk names. I’m just going to subtly drop the hashtag #RRDY before anyone else does and leave the tease there.
Plus on my own songs I’ve roped in a LOT of independent producers, rappers and musicians who I’m really excited to work with. Keep your eyes on #GBRevived is all I’m saying. The best is yet to come.
Which other artists are inspiring you right now?
As always the independent music scene gives me life on an untold level. I’m really looking forward to hearing Eva Lazarus album now that her crowdfunded is complete. She’s hugely talented and a versatile songwriter with great hooks. I look forward to seeing her shine.
Children Of Zeus have only just begun to show us what they can do. I’m looking forward to hearing their vocalist Tyler Daley’s collabs on the new Goldie project as well as anything new they turn out. Much respected and admired contemporaries and I hope they continue to get a light shone on what they do.
The names are too numerous to mention but basically if I big you up on Facebook at any point this means you. There’s so many people out there right now putting in amazing work I can barely keep up. It’s a great time to be a music lover with your ear to the ground.
You’ve talked a lot about quitting music in 2016, and yet it seems like we’re getting more great music from you than ever? Are you still quitting?
I can understand why you ask that so let me clear it up. The answer is Yes I am basically quitting my “Career” in music, but not yet.
I plan several years in advance of the stuff you actually see released, when you have as many projects across different disciplines in the air as I do that’s just how it has to be. The music I’m now releasing as part of #GBRevived was mostly created between 2012 and 2015 and this is just how long it’s taken to see the light of day. So even if I wanted to quit tomorrow I couldn’t. It’s just not an option. I’ve got whole albums I still need to find homes for and release first.
BUT it is true that I’ve decided to change my “Main Career” from music to illustration once all my current backlog is released. Barring any massive changes in circumstance by 2020 I no longer want music to be my main full time career. Obviously if the big leagues come a knocking or something alligns correctly that lets me take a step up I’m not going to turn it down. But it’s more likely I’ll downgrade music to a profitable hobby I do for love in my spare time and put my professional collab prices up so high that the only time I work for anyone else is on the rare occasion they can afford me.
Music is a great way to feed your soul but it’s no way to feed your kids, your self esteem or your mortage. Drawing dope pictures for lots of cash is the sustainable way to do that. But there’s more than 6 album’s worth of great music to come before that point. You haven’t seen the last of GB yet by a long stretch.
Thanks Greg, and best of luck for 2017 and beyond.
Blessings homeslice, and big ups Wordplay!
Words by James Kennaby
Images by Andre Kimche