SKOOP rapper Tzusan on debut album Babau
We chat to SKOOP Records' co-founder Tzusan about sci-fi, sampling, and loads and loads of egg boxes
“There's something about taking a sound that’s really disgusting and making something a little nicer out of it,” says Jacob Turner, co-founder of experimental hip-hop collective SKOOP Records, aka rapper and producer Tzusan. He’s describing the magpie-like approach he’s taken to producing his forthcoming album Babau, which picks fragments of distorted found sounds and samples to construct an uncanny soundscape. “It’s quite surreal,” he says. “A lot of the samples that I used are from horrible movie soundtracks and ambient white noise, noises like people hitting corrugated iron sheets with shoes.”
Babau is Turner's first solo album as Tzusan, following his 2017 collaboration with fellow SKOOP artist CRPNTR on The Teriyaki Tape. That first LP made an exemplary record for the Edinburgh label, showcasing an ethereal and futuristic branch of hip-hop along with a signature sombre mood in Tzusan’s production. On Babau, that lo-fi melancholia is intensified. “It's a bit darker, more eerie,” says Turner. “I wanted the album to have this weird cult sci-fi feel to it all the way through.”
Turner describes an album awash with arthouse samples and sly lyrical nods to sci-fi films. “I'm a bit of a cinephile. It's a thing that I draw a lot of influences from,” he says. “There's a few directors who I rate very highly.” Too many to name them all, but it feels appropriate that those he does cite include David Cronenberg and Ben Wheatley, both known respectively for their psychological horrors and sci-fi thrillers like Crash (1996) and A Field in England (2013). It hints at an introspective brand of hip-hop, built from fragmented images into a series of vignettes.
“I think that's the world we're living in. It's quite dystopian and disconnected from itself and just a weird jumble of madness,” says Turner. “You find these crazy little stories and pockets on the internet. There's odd stuff going on all over the place, and I tried to make an album that would reflect on the weird world that we're inhabiting.”
Helping to set that tone on Babau were the dishevelled surroundings that Turner chose to record in. Early tracks like Lobster Shell Beach and No Brainer began their life in a dilapidated garden shed, which he'd transformed into a makeshift studio with the help of egg boxes hoarded from his job in a kitchen – an old life hack, he tells us, for dampening the sound. “It suited the aesthetic as well, so why not? It was a proper little cave. No windows. There's old boards with graff on them. I would work in there for ages, not see the light, make beats. It was quite apt, the rundown vibe.”
From these humble beginnings, Turner has taken Babau up and down the country, stopping off in Glasgow, Leeds and Bristol along the way. Even on his solo debut as Tzusan, he couldn’t resist collaborating with the wider hip-hop community. Babau features extra textures from artists like Glasgow’s SAMA-award winning trap MC Kid Robotik, newcomer to the Northern England scene Donimitsu, and his old-time SKOOP collaborators CRPNTR, Papillon and Skillis.
“Musically, I get influenced by stuff all the time, but a big part of that is the other boys in SKOOP,” says Turner. “Hearing what they're coming up with and trying to build a sound together. A lot of us make this dusty boom bappy hip-hop, and then some of the more producer heads make straight grime and electronic music. I think I fill that gap in the middle.”
That network is arguably one of SKOOP’s greatest strengths. There are pockets of the label all over Edinburgh’s music scene, with previous nights including a guest set at their second birthday party by drum'n'bass DJ Anikonik, and a performance of their own at a live gig curated by trip-hop four-piece Earth Wire. “There's so many different people in the collective, everyone will bring something else to the table,” says Turner. “One night we'll do a crazy hip-hop night, another we'll do a more jungly night, and another we'll do live bands.”
What started out two years ago as a loose collective of artists has amassed into a definitive leftfield hip-hop niche – one that drives futuristic bars with a heavy experimentalism. It’s exactly the setting that would produce an aural melting pot from jangling keys, ambient movie soundtracks, and Dante’s Inferno references, all the while surrounded by an egg box barricade.
“The ethos of SKOOP is quite ramshackle. It's rough and ready, do it yourself,” says Turner. “Don't be one of those people who's like, ‘I would make a banging album but I can't afford this incredible guitar’. Just get a plastic band and a cardboard box and make the noise with it. You can make anything sound good. I think the album is testament to that.”