Open Your Mind: Nasty P interview
Edinburgh producer Nasty P is passionate about Scottish hip-hop and raising awareness for his local scene, but as he tells The Skinny, he also has his own creative ambitions
Since Young Fathers won the Mercury Music Prize in 2014, it feels like every other music critic in the western hemisphere is suddenly an expert on Scottish hip-hop. They tend to cite individual examples of success: rap-rock group Hector Bizerk were nominated for the SAY Award, Paisley grime sensation Shogun went viral last year, and six-piece Stanley Odd can officially count First Minister Nicola Sturgeon among their fans.
But while these achievements demonstrate the talent that lurks within the Scottish scene, they haven’t led to the wider legitimisation of Scottish hip-hop as a mainstream movement – at least not yet. Aged 39, Edinburgh producer Paul Rutherford, aka Nasty P, knows that better than most. Over the course of his career he’s seen artists and trends rise and fall in the blink of an eye. “I remember seeing Alloysious from Young Fathers on the bar of one of the clubs I used to DJ at,” he says. “I guess I’ve met everyone – it comes with age. I’ve been active for too long.”
Age doesn’t explain the work Rutherford has put in over the years. His long list of collaborations and support slots includes Ghostface Killah, Rakim, Groove Armada and Jamie Cullum. Most impressively of all, he’s made these contacts without decamping from his Edinburgh home. It’s a city he’s proudly represented since discovering hip-hop during the early 90s as a teenager. It was a time when the genre was at its artistic zenith, with acts like Nas and Mobb Deep releasing classics that would be immortalised years later. Rutherford recalls first hearing these artists in videos of his favourite skateboarders. But it was the production side of things that made him want to make hip-hop music himself.
“I remember I loved a film called Juice [which starred 2Pac]," he tells us. "It hasn’t aged well but it had scenes where they were mixing and scratching on decks and stuff. That really got me into it. Then I think I got my first gig for about 10 pence when I was 16. Before I could even buy a drink.
“Once I started I did so much stuff – it’s hard just trying to jog my memory. I worked with some of the earliest Scottish hip-hop groups, like Scotland Yard [Emcees], and there was another guy called Silver Bullet who ended up being on Top of the Pops. I then ran a night called Soul Biscuits, where we’d throw rap battles and stuff – it was an 8 Mile kind of vibe back when battles were still all freestyled. I remember guys like Hudson Mohawke and Profisee would come to events. It’s amazing how things develop.”
That’s not to say Rutherford has remained static while others have moved up around him. He dryly points out that if he’d worked on “even half the stuff promised by labels [he’d] be working with Jay-Z at this point.” Ultimately, the closest thing the Edinburgh producer has ever got to Jay-Z was sampling him for a mash-up track in 2007. But the fact he’s run the city’s main hip-hop club night at Bongo Club for the past six years tells you his commitment to promoting the scene at home is still very important to him.
“I guess a lot of stuff that gets promised doesn’t really come to fruition,” he says. “So I try to capitalise on getting guests. For example, my first album had [UK hip-hop legend] Skinnyman on. Off that, I secured Akil from Jurassic 5 – then, when his DJ was ill, I ended up performing with him live. It was all just networking – these things feed other things. Once folk hear one thing, you’re the guy who then supports hip-hop acts when they come to Edinburgh.”
Rutherford’s commitment to the genre he grew up with is all the more remarkable when you consider the moves made by his peers. While the accent can be a stumbling block for emcees, it’s easier for DJs to appeal to an international audience. And given the success enjoyed by Glasgow producers Rustie and Hudson Mohawke since they moved from hip-hop into the realm of electronica, it’s perhaps unsurprising even Nasty is feeling the itch.
Step in Rich Mundi, not only the name of his new album due out this month but also his “more schizophrenic” alter ego. The album doesn’t necessarily mark a frustration with the limitations of hip-hop – the first single alone features no fewer than four American emcees – but the eclectic array of styles betrays his wider ambitions as an artist. “I’ve wanted to move in this direction for a while but I’ve not had the balls,” he says. “It’s not just about making different music to sell out but taking new stuff on. I love boom bap, but there’s more to do. You don’t see many hip-hop DJs headlining festivals on their own after all.
“When I first started, I was inspired by guys like DJ Premier and developed a skill set from using samples. He could use three notes and it [wouldn't] get boring – I wanted to get slicker and slicker like that. But you also need to get to a point where you can confidently make songs without any samples.”
Fusing rap with EDM, R'n'B and soulful instrumental jams, Rich Mundi is the natural reflection of what happens when you DJ in different environments. Despite all Rutherford does for hip-hop in his own city, he gets just as much pleasure performing festival anthems at Outlook Festival in Croatia or “more experimental soul material” with his frequent collaborator and vocalist Naledi Herman. “Naledi adds something that a beat alone sometimes can’t," he tells us. "With her, you can convey an in depth experience and tell a story in a different way. There’s a track on the new album with her that I’m really proud of because it captures the energy of my own experience.
“When I put music together, I work with skeletons and then fill around as the concepts start coming. I had about 50 tracks for this record and I didn’t know how it would all fit until I got there. Some tracks have the signature drum parts, there’s some 808 synths on others, some are centred around Naledi, and then some are really minimal.”
However, it’s not only artistic expansion on Rutherford’s mind. For him, the key to opening minds to Scottish hip-hop music and culture is to normalise it at every opportunity. Having worked with Scottish, English and American rappers over the course of his career, he’s concluded that little separates us other than accent and geography.
“When I last played Outlook, I remember there was a dub tent kind of vibe so I started on things like Nancy Sinatra and ended up on grimy Edinburgh hip-hop,” he says. “That’s how you get folk interested. If someone’s diet is McDonalds, you’re not going to just give them tofu straight away. You have to introduce it to them slowly. You can’t go in all guns blazing with Scottish hip-hop. A DJ’s skill is in curating the music so that you don’t even notice the change until you’ve got there.”
Rich Mundi is released on 18 Sep via KFM Records
Nasty P plays Fool's Gold with Maseo (De La Soul), La Belle Angele, 12 Sep; Kanye Fest, Liquid Rooms, 19 Sep; Domino Club, Cafe Voltaire, Fridays from 10pm