Lethal Bizzle - Bizzness Is Booming
Monday, 10 September 2007
The MC – real name Maxwell Ansah – has high hopes for his latest album, Back To Bizznizz, which, as with Dizzee’s work, is pushing the frontiers of grime.
Lethal B is nothing like the mainstream stereotype of the menacing grime MC. He’s all affability. 3D World catches him playing pool at a friend’s club. It’s not exactly an ideal environment for an interview, but Lethal B is accommodating.
“I’ll jump in my car!” he hollers down the line. Originally Lethal B was a member of the More Fire Crew, who enjoyed a hit with Oi, but, alas, their label went under. He quickly re-established himself in the underground, launching his own company, Lethal Bizzle Records.
Ironically, Lethal B was banned from performing his comeback Pow! (Forward) because of its effect on punters. “It sounds stupid, doesn’t it-,” the MC laughs.
Reportedly, fights broke out when it aired. What’s the true story-
“It caused so much chaos in the clubs that people used to just go bananas - like moshing and crowd surfing.”
This, Bizzle says, “scared” urban venues, who had never witnessed anything like it.
“They banned my song in so many clubs that a load of clubs in fact put notices up saying they can’t play Lethal Bizzle – therefore I couldn’t perform there, either.”
Pow! (Forward), a favourite with Jay-Z, was dropped from radio playlists because of its gun references. Regardless, it was a crossover smash. Pow! (Forward) regenerated UK garage, together with Dizzee’s Boy In Da Corner.
“It just came out of nowhere to a lot of people,” Bizzle ponders. “It felt like the country wanted that track to do well.”
Undeterred, he issued his debut Against All Oddz through V2 in 2005. The MC touts the follow-up, Back To Bizznizz, led by the street Mr, as “more musical” after he toured with indie acts on 2006’s Club NME bill. He’s even collaborated with indie musos – but more on that later.
Lethal B gigged with rockers when urban clubs wouldn’t have him. No wonder he’s spoken of the “stigma” of being associated with grime. Ironically, Bizzle has used it to his advantage.
“I got to a point where I wanted to break more barriers – ’cause I’ve proved that the music I’m known for is good by dominating the charts.”
The MC was gratified to be welcomed by indie crowds, describing the circuit as “a real saviour”.
“Indie rock is the new pop right now,” he says. “I really wanted to try and open that market up, ’cause I started realising a lot of the music buyers are music fans, not necessarily just listening to one type of thing.
“By doing collaborations, it’s helping me break barriers to get to those fans who buy Kanye West and who buy Pete Doherty and who buy Linkin Park and who buy whoever. And doing collaborations is helping to change perceptions of me as well. People see that, despite where I’m from and what I’m known to be doing, I’m a musical person – I’m a musician. Just ’cause I’m known for doing hip hop and grime doesn’t mean that’s all I listen to. On this album I wanted to involve all my influences as a person – what I listen to on a day-to-day basis and what I’ve grown up with.
“It’s really opened a lot of doors for me and broken a lot of barriers.”
There are surprises on Back To Bizznizz. Bizzle has recorded with the aforementioned Babyshambles’ frontman Pete Doherty on the grindie Boy. Lethal’s producer, Statik, pals with Babyshambles’ bassist, connected them. Lethal B was raised on his father’s reggae and hears that in Babyshambles.
“I can hear a lot of reggae influence, a lot of hip hop as well – like Pete’s also a real hip hop fan – and that drew me to them.”
If you read the glossies, Doherty, Kate Moss’ ex, cuts a tragic, sometimes bizarre, figure – a modern Byron. Lethal B met the rock’n’roller in the studio and warmed to him immediately.
“Pete was cool. It was more like playing computer games around at your mate’s house than a studio session, it was just so much fun. It was like everyone cracking banter and jokes and just having a good time – and making a song while we were having fun.”
Lethal B was aware of the “bad press” surrounding Doherty but found him to be different to his grungy tabloid persona.
“When I met him I was thinking, ‘Wow, don’t believe what the papers say ’cause he’s just a down-to-earth guy – like myself.’”
Bizzle isn’t forgetting his roots. He’s defended grime – and hip hop – from Tory politician David Cameron. Cameron accused Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood – and the urban artists he supports – of inciting crime through music. Lethal B published a response in The Guardian. Cameron emailed him, apparently backing down, and so Bizzle assumed that they had begun a positive dialogue. Then, Cameron, referring to their exchange, lambasted Lethal B in another article. This time the rapper declined to reply.
“I didn’t wanna get into the political thing, ’cause I’m not a political person,” he says.
Nevertheless, Lethal B does return to the subject on Babylon’s Burning The Ghetto. He has no regrets about challenging Cameron.
“I think it’s put me on a platform where I have a voice now – people wanna hear my opinion,” he says.
Lethal B, a Londoner of Ghanaian extraction, is socially in-sync. The MC believes, not unreasonably, that, through his indie, he’s providing viable jobs. In contrast, Cameron has no idea about life on Britain’s impoverished council estates. Grime, Bizzle argues, is a manifestation of the “other” Great Britain.
“We don’t incite violence,” he says. “The only thing we talk about in our music is things that happen in our lifetime and where we’re from and people we know – we talk about experiences. That’s what being an artist is about – expressing your art. That’s all I’m doing. That’s what a lot of other artists are doing. But [the politicians] are misinterpreting it, trying to blame us – using us as scapegoats.”
Lethal B has much going on. He also has a project with Fire Camp. But the MC intends to visit Australia – and hints at joining Big Day Out.
“I wanna come now, man!” he cries, enthusing about the country he’s seen on soaps. “I’ve been getting messages from Australia for a few years now.
“I definitely wanna get out there soon.”
WHO: Lethal Bizzle
WHAT: Back to Bizznizz
WHEN: Out now through Shock