Sadly, not many acts from the early (‘golden’) era of UK rap are around; or even still held in any regard today. So, with this in mind, it’s great testament to the strength of preservation as well as the ability to adapt that see’s the Foreign Beggars remain not only relevant, but enjoying their best years to date.
Active since the late 90s, the band made up of MC’s Orifice Vulgatron and Metropolis combined with DJ Nonames and producer Dag Nabbitt have had to hold onto their originality whilst adapting throughout the changing UK scene for well over a decade. The peculiar monikers go some way toward signalling the strange diversity possessed within the group and the different ethnic origins of members (Indian, Ghanaian, Iraqi-Israeli-German and English) truly reinforce this. With diversity and a general aura of the ‘unusual’ pervading the Foreign Beggars, it's no surprise they’ve been successfully meshing their sound across the multi-faceted genres of Rap, Grime and Dubstep to great success for well over a decade.
Now in 2012, Foreign Beggars are heavily into a cultured plane hopping, genre bending way of life and they’re showing no indication of slowing down. Right in the middle of overseas touring, Orifice Vulgatron allowed himself time from the hectic schedule to have a sit down and discuss all things past and present.
The name of the group, as well as the names of individual members gives you guys an upper hand, in a sense of having new listeners pretty uncertain of what to expect. Firstly, how did the names come about, was the strange nature of it something that was done consciously?
I remember I was listening to Kyza, (former Terra Firma member) he mentioned the word “Foreign Beggars” on a track, we were about to put a record out and didn’t really have the name for the band. There were a lot of issues surrounding foreigners and immigration at the time, add to the fact that we’re from all over the place, speak different languages and just a mixed up bunch of people. It was slightly controversial so we thought, “Why not? We can make this work”.
What kind of stuff were you guys listening to coming up?
The first rap shit I was listening to was 88, 89 shit, NWA, 2 Live Crew, Public Enemy. When I first started rhyming I was bumping Redman ‘Muddy Waters’ album, Heltah Skeltah, Outkast, Tribe (ATCQ). The first UK shit that caught my ears was The Brotherhood, then it was Skinnyman, I was in love with that shit, all the rappers around at that time. I was also into Drum and Bass at the time heavy, but lyrically I was always a rapper from the start - there was more space for creativity.
It might be the golden era for some people but there’s a whole bunch of talent in the scene nowadays that they haven’t even heard of.
Do you still look back on the early-mid 90s as the golden era?
Erm, that was a special time for UK rap music, there was a lot of energy, a lot of parties and the music coming out was really special. It didn’t really catch on to the mass media and wasn’t given a chance by the mainstream music industry cos of fuck-ups they had with Hip-Hop before so they didn’t wanna take the plunge. It was a special time but you know, people underestimate the present, the power of the present. It might be the golden era for some people but there’s a whole bunch of talent in the scene nowadays that they haven’t even heard of.
Around the turn of the 00’s, you guys came out with ‘Asylum Speakers’ and Skinnyman and Klashnekoff also came out with their classic debuts. Were you aware at the time you were dropping seminal pieces of UK rap history?
That was our first album and as an emcee coming out at the first time. Even just moving to London and feeling the competition, I felt like I had to be really saying some shit. The levels were really really high at the times. We didn’t really look at our album like “yeah this is some classic shit”, we’re just glad it did what it did, you know?
Also, in those early days you started the label Dented Records to help get your music out there, this is something we rarely see from independent acts even today. There must have been all kinds of struggles and challenges in starting that up?
People’s attitudes towards helping other people were pretty cold, it was “change this, change that, get some singers in your band”. I even got fucked over by a certain someone with bad advice when I was pressing up my first record – ended up wasting money and time. I think the real challenges were mainly distribution and promotion really, cos to get distribution you had to have a certain level of PR and we were doing everything independently. Putting out a 12” was like three to five thousand pounds, you had to do a few records, maybe a video. People were buying records then so the money would come back but it was tough. It was fun though; we didn’t see it as challenge, were just happy to be spreading the music.
As you’ve gone on you’ve incorporated different sounds and genres into your music. Do you notice a difference in reactions towards the group if you’re presented as one genre over another?
We were really like ‘left’ hardcore progressive-rap before and now you read shit on YouTube and its like “Oh Foreign Beggars are jumping on this Dubstep bandwagon” but if people dig deeper they’d notice we’ve been working with Dubstep artists and producers as far back as 2004 and have Dubstep remixes of our tracks from 07-08. It’s not anything new to me, it just so happens we’ve seen an explosion and we’re working with huge producers. We’re not on a bandwagon, for the first time ever we’re a part of a movement that’s like, born on our doorstep, basically. People see us release a couple tracks with Skrillex or Flux Pavillion and are upset cos we now look like a Dubstep band but it still makes newer fans dig deeper.
The touring has been pretty extensive over 2012 (shows in Amsterdam, Belgium Sweden and France in July alone) where has been the most memorable for you?
We’ve just been to Japan recently, had a couple shows in Tokyo and Osaka and man, my mind is blown! We’re lucky we went out there with such good people, DJ Kentaro and DJ Krush had a really good show but the place itself is just really inspirational. Very inspired by how the culture is fronted by respect and humility and humanism. Australia was a beautiful place to go to, we done the Skrillex tour and our own tour out in the States a couple weeks ago. That shit was amazing - I wouldn’t ever think Foreign Beggars would be out doing tours in places like Miami and New York.
How did the Skrillex connection come about?
Basically, I had passport issues. I have an Indian passport and immigration turned me away at the border I had to up and leave. I was on tour anyway, so I was living with Noisia and he was working on stuff with Sonny (Skrillex) so we all just ended up kicking it. I demoed a couple tracks for his album and we all became friends and he stayed in touch when he had his EP coming out with Mau5trap. We didn’t have any representation out there so his manger helped put us on. We signed up over there and they’re looking after us a lot so we’re gonna be spending a lot of time out there in future.
We’ve just been to Japan recently, had a couple shows in Tokyo and Osaka and man, my mind is blown!
Your fan base and online presence over the last 18 months; you’ve been in the game 10 years and are now finally rocking huge crowds and getting millions of views on the internet. What would you attribute to this?
We’ve been doing this a long time; this has been a full time job for me for over 10years. We’ve been constantly releasing and I’m so happy rap music has undergone a resurgence the last few years. Like, the youth have claimed it and are doing good things with it. The barriers have been broken down in the last few years, kids listen to everything now. The same kids that listen to Doctor P listen to MF Doom and they know about Waka Flocka. UK MCs have stepped up their game as well and we’re finally starting to get respect over in the States.
Your debut, Asylum Speakers was released to an amazing critical reception and your latest LP (United Colours of Beggatron) probably the biggest commercially. What would you say has been the best piece of work you’ve put out?
Asylum Speakers is a really special thing, we got to take our time and make it as dope as we could, we didn’t have any deadlines and we weren’t touring so madly. For me, I think some pieces we’ve released have been dope and it’s gone completely under the fuckin’ radar. Erm, yeah, yeah I think there’ll be a different opinion from others as well if you asked. I can’t say dude haha.
There’s obviously been a shift in the focus of UK rap towards a younger, urban ‘road-rap’ sound in recent years. What’s your take on it all?
I fuckin’ love it man. I love it! Me? I’ve seen things and done things but I’m not living a crazy gangster life but it’s a new energy, new blood and these guys have got skills, it’s undeniable. I feel a little bit sad the older generation can’t embrace it. In Hip-Hop motherfuckers need to be free and have the balls to evolve. Do what you do. People previously had the opportunity to spearhead around the ‘golden era’ phase, there were some good deals on the table and I feel personally people didn’t wanna feel responsible or didn’t wanna take criticism, they didn’t wanna be under the scrutiny. End of the day I love hearing new music, its progressive shit and it keeps you on your toes, you have to stay connected. I like something that’s dope, it doesn’t matter about age or any of that.
Finally, what can we expect from you guys for the rest of the year?
The album is coming. We signed to Mau5trap (Deadmau5 label), people were wary of us doing that as they thought we’d have to switch the sound and do straight Dubstep, but the label were really cool with it, they said “just do you”. We’ve got one massive Dubstep track on there with Knife Party, that’s the next single. There’s Hip-Hop stuff, Dubstep stuff, a whole bunch of 140bpm stuff it’s kinda like a hybrid really. Watch this space!
Foreign Beggars next UK date will be at the SW4 Weekender (Main Stage) on the 26th of August. Also look out for the forthcoming album dropping in September.
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