Shogun interview: Unrivaled and Unapologetic

Paisley’s Shogun tells us why he’s Scotland’s best MC

Feature by Kamila Rymajdo | 01 Nov 2016
  • Shogun

“In Paisley, we talk too loud sometimes,” says Shogun, a 19-year-old MC who took the internet by storm with Vulcan, a surprisingly self-reflective track for a teenager, earning him over 700K views on YouTube. The rapper from Renfrewshire is indeed unapologetically outspoken about his political views and the fact he won’t bow down to a certain genre, even though he’s been hailed as Scottish grime’s biggest talent.

Grime in Scotland has been flourishing for over a decade, with the Levels crew repping the country on London pirate radio stations since 2005. Now artists and producers like Ransom FA, Chrissy Grimez and Polonis are coming up, there’s a buzz about Scotland as the site of the genre’s next incarnation. With Eskimo Dance taking place in the country for the first time last month, and the MOBOs descending on Glasgow this November, it seems apt to shine a light on the MC who’s been getting the most attention recently. We catch up with Shogun, aka Joe Heron, one Friday afternoon to find out what gets him riled up about the current state of affairs.

On Unrivaled, the follow-up to Vulcan, Heron namechecks politicians such as Tony Blair and Nigel Farage. When asked him why he chose to hone in on the former UKIP leader, he says, “the most dangerous person is someone who doesn’t have intelligence but seems like they do. During Brexit, Farage just needed to seem like he knew what he was talking about. It was like, you couldn’t write this shit. That’s what reality is now, it’s like a caricature of itself.

“I don’t want to see good caring people get sent back to where they came from, just because a rich politician says so,” he continues, getting gradually more incensed. “The system we have in the western world just hurts people. It all leads to more problems because we don’t know how to fix our problems.” It’s not only Brexit which he feels politicians need to be held accountable for either. For him, the neoliberal system is broken. “It’s like advertisement. We’re being told to buy shit that’s telling us to be a certain way, or we’re being told to buy luxuries. There’s so many people who patch their dreams to get a job to afford all that.”

Heron cites a lack of self-education as a reason for why British society has grown divorced from reality. “There’s so much that people don’t think about on a daily basis. If you went up to an average cunt in Paisley and asked him to draw an African they’d draw a skinny cunt. Even the maps are drawn wrong; the Northern Hemisphere is drawn bigger.” He believes ignorance is so prevalent, because it’s been bubbling underneath the surface for generations. “We’ve been fed European supremacy since the 18th century, so there’s never been such a thing as a good politician.

“The whole idea of politics is to overcomplicate simple shit,” he continues, “but if you can’t explain something complicated in a simple way then you’re stupid. It’s obvious to me that we’re being ruled by fools.” This is why Heron’s not interested in getting involved in voicing his anger in the traditional way. “How can you protest a corrupt system by abiding by their rules?” he implores. Still, he understands, even he is a victim of western values to some degree.

“I’ve been programmed to want to be a rapper because we’re all programmed to want a certain life, to just pick a fucking avenue. Fear is what drives people,” he says. “The difference with me is, I don’t care if I don’t go to uni, or get a job.” The other difference is that people are paying attention to him, and Shogun is getting young Scots as aggravated as he is.

While much of his rhetoric is anti-establishment, music is fast becoming Heron’s job. With countless shows already under his belt, and a recent run supporting conscious hip-hopper Akala, in Edinburgh and Glasgow, Heron’s work ethic is evident from his output on YouTube, both alone, and as part of the MFTM crew, and in his considered but confident approach. “I like to drop shit without promo,” he says.

“Promo is a vital tool, but it's all about context for me. Who's doing it because they need to, and who's doing it because they want to? The only time you need to do promo is when your tune isn’t the best, but obviously, when your shit is the best it can be, it should be instantly noticeable upon listening. Good music is like drugs. Weed sells itself, coke sells itself.”

He puts what he sees as the substandard quality of a lot of urban music down to people not trying hard enough. “What the fuck is happening,” he almost shouts. “Where are all the lyrical cunts who are spitting 140 BPM [beats per minute]? Where are people using compound syllables? Grime recently has gone a bit pop-ish, then you have the massive polar opposite where it’s trying to be thuggish. There’s too much mad distorted bass with shit lyrics. I thought you’re supposed to use illusions to tell reality, it’s meant to be a journey, a cerebral challenge,” he bemoans.

Shogun’s confidence in his ability to deliver on a level extends to his distancing himself from both Scottish rappers who have gone before him, and the current Glasgow grime scene, which by association at least, he is a part of. “I don’t like half the people I’ve met through this music scene,” he tells me. “I’ve met a lot of pretenders. Cunts that didn’t used to give a fuck about me. But when they hear me spitting on grime beats now, they don’t say fuck all, as I spit better than their favourite MCs do.”

He has a few choice words for some of the people he encounters in Glasgow as well. “For this ironic youth, or the university cunts, everything is a joke. Everything is a meme to them. They’ll do Snapchat and Insta[gram], but it’s the extent that people go to here that fucks me off. Some people are too weird for me, they’re too artsy, too nuanced, they think they’re a new wave, but they dress like people from the 90s. 'You’re not the new wave, you’re an old wave re-lived.' In Paisley we don’t have time for all that fake stuff; that modern version of sitting around a campfire, sitting around a wee poofie. We do what we do, and then we get fucked up at the weekend.”

Heron explains that getting in trouble with the law is what led to his enlightenment. “I was chasing guidance in the form of older boys, who were doing fucked up shit, and they were using me to get them shit. It took me trying so hard to be real, to finally understand, that I was a pure victim in my mind.” The maturity of lyrics such as those on Vulcan, is no doubt what has so quickly propelled Shogun to where he is today, but his disregard for paying respect to older Scottish rappers is likely to piss a few people off. Shogun is confident it doesn’t matter though. As our conversation draws to a close he says, “everyone wants to be the sheep instead of being the shepherd, but not me.”