Maxwell Ansah AKA Lethal B is an artist after my own heart. Passionate about his craft, works hard, plays hard, and speaks up articulately when he needs to call a spade a spade.
Years ago after he and his single Pow, were banned from performing at clubs due to the intense energy and excitement it caused with youth jumping around, he managed to perform instead at indie music festivals, and found that the indie crowds were as intense, if not more than he saw at urban gigs. He was quoted afterwards in a cover feature of a Time Out story as saying “when white kids jump around it’s called moshing, when black kids do it’s called a riot”. As a political commentator he’s locked horns with David Cameron and more when defending his scene.
In the first week of October he starts his UK tour covering Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, London, Bristol and Brighton. Earlier this year he also did shows at numerous European beach resorts too. This is an act that is consistently working and making his mark on the music industry on his own terms. Many say that the UK’s top three successful all-round MC’s are Dizzee Rascal, Tine Tempah and Lethal B. Lethal B is mature enough to understand that playing the game does not equal selling out, he uses social media as his office and makes modern day technology work for him.
Years ago when he made his original version of Pow and started his own Lethal Bizzle Records, he had a £1000 budget and paid all the other acts £100 each to take part on the record. Today he has a new record deal with Virgin EMI, he’s a lover of flash sports cars, he’s diversified his brand with his visual image and clothing range and uses every opportunity that is in his path.
I sat down with him as he prepares to kick off his UK Denchchat Tour in 3 weeks, to hear his thoughts on a variety of subjects; after all, he’s been working hard with over 15 years in this game.
Straight chat. No editing of his words. They’re ‘’live and direct’’ LOL.
THE DENCHCHAT TOUR!
This year has been very exciting for you; you’re a standard bonafide cornerstone of the scene. You’ve got your tour coming up and its totally sold out! What makes the Denchchat Tour different from any other tour?
‘’Firstly, that’s the whole reason I do music, performing, seeing fans interact, go crazy to the songs. This tour I’m looking to push the boat out a little bit, might even get a band, do things a little bit different. I’ve been touring for so much time now, so I definitely want to switch it up and up my game a little bit, push the boundaries a little bit. I don’t want to give too much away. But it’ll be fun man. Its gonna be Dench! ‘There’ll be loads of Rari Workout going on, loads of Fester Skanking, loads of Powing, loads of More Fire OI-ing. Loads of fun man, all the hits, all the classics. A few special guests too. It’ll be great’’.
You’re like the Puffys and Jay Z’s of this world in that you like to keep your brand 360. MTV and UK TV may not allow product placement but your Dench clothing brand isn’t suffering online- YouTube and Google don’t care. For brand Bizzle, Its music, fashion, digital, property; what influenced you to become an entrepreneur? I heard someone say recently ‘’ Lethal B is living proof that a grime act can also be a millionaire’’.
‘’I got thrown into the position from the back of being in More Fire Crew, and we had a record deal, had success, and we was getting, well not even us, just the whole kind of scene at the time were getting bad press, and everything kind of fizzled underground again. Labels, major labels, didn’t want to mess with any grime, garage-affiliated artists, so it left me to be independent, and start from scratch again, and I started Lethal Bizzle Records, and then did the POW record, which did well. So from then on it kind of spurred me to keep independent, you know keep making my own moves’’.
UK MUSIC PALS AND WHERE THE LADIES AT?
You’re a real student of the game, and known for embracing new talent. Your camaraderie with the rest of the UK urban music scene can be seen on Pow 2011 which features everyone, or the Fester remix video with Wretch, Chip and more, your Rari Workout video featuring JME and Tempa T… But don’t get on the wrong side of you- I watched the N Dubz drama unfold from the sidelines when they allegedly stole something from you. Where are they now…
‘’ Obviously everyone’s gonna have their differences and not gonna be the best of friends. But I think its definitely important that you have some sort of acknowledgement don’t be afraid to co-sign someone don’t be afraid to big up someone. I went on tour last year I brought out Stormzy, a lot of buzz was going on, I thought ‘lemme hear this guy out’ I heard his song and I thought ‘yo this guy is cool’. Bought him on tour he killed the tour smashed it, now he is doing his own tour. Things like that we need to keep doing, give to the next generation, give people a chance, if you’re in the position to then I think it’s important. It only grows the scene I think. I’ve been here for a little while and I can only be here for so long, so there needs to be people to do it and continue the run. And maybe I can continue to be involved in other ways, maybe to help them to not have to go through the stuff I had to go through. It’s important to try and stick together man’’
In recent years names like Dizzee, Tinie, Tinchy, Giggs, Bashy, Chipmunk have dominated the scene. See any reoccurring themes? Yep, it’s all about the men. What’s happened to the female acts?
‘’That’s a good question women in music, urban music in general man I don’t know what it is but its just a perception. Lady Lykes did the diss record saying that she is as good as the boys. It’s out of my hands but I think there is a lack of recognition for female talent in urban music. I think people expect girls to sing because rap is very male dominated. Obviously Nicki Minaj has managed to really cross over that gap and bring the rap and sing as well but in the UK there needs to be a lot more. They are there people need to wake up and except them, Lady Lykes, Lady Leshurr, they’re real talented lyricists and they should definitely get the credit they deserve. I’ve worked with Lady Leshurr in the past with ‘Screwfizzer’ – a track called ‘flutes’ which is like a grime sort of banger. Lady Lykes is in my team as well; we will be doing something in the future. Those two are definitely my favourite MCs in the female range right now’’.
MUSIC, VIDEOS, PORN AND REALITY.
Your Fester skank video earlier this year was so catchy, fun and inclusive. You even had chat show host Graham Norton doing a whole skit with you in it… FesterSkank was big this year!
‘’I was in the studio with the producer and he played me the beat and I just started dancing to it, he was just laughing at my dance and so he said like let me film you doing that. So he filmed me and uploaded it to Instagram. The fans saw it and started reacting to it – loads of comments and laughing and saying that’s my dance for the weekend – and then someone said that’s the uncle Fester Adams family. Then we were just like ‘rah we could do something here’ cut a long story short, we started writing bars and half hour later song was here.
The sound is weird, my producer has different influences obviously from reggae, bashment, hip hop, dance and I think this almost like a fusion of his favourite sounds. So I wouldn’t really know what to call it everyone’s like ‘what would you call it?’ Is it hip-hop? Is it bashment? Is it grime? It’s just dench. I would just say its just good music’’.
There’s been a recent trend towards pop stars making videos that say something and aren’t about the usual sexy stereotypes of girls, nightclubs and big pimping guys…sex used to be everywhere. What’s the difference between sexual images in music and reality, pornographic images VS reality?
Porn versus reality, I definitely think there is a huge, huge difference. Maybe just like social media, we’re seeing girls looking really sexy in the pictures, and you know they’ve got this thing called photoshop, and you know Porn is almost like a very exaggerated, wild, crazy sex extravaganza, but in real life it’s like, I don’t know, you might want to incorporate I don’t know some things from that fairy tale, but in reality it’s not really like that. There’s been times when I’ve seen someone on a picture and I’ll be like ‘Oh my god! Look at this girl’, and then you see her in real life and you’re like… ‘What? Really’. So, yeah, you got to kind of weigh it up man, you can’t always take things for face value, you know. Everything is exaggerated, it’s entertainment, they want you to buy into it and think that yeah this a real life experience but in reality, it’s just like you’re going to the movies to watch a massive action film dropping from a 100 feet in the air and surviving, you know, that’s not happening and all that. So, yeah I think people should acknowledge that, that there is a huge difference, don’t think this is all cracked up, that it is like it looks like’’.
UK SCENE STRONGER THAN EVER GLOBALLY.
This past few months has seen American acts jump onstage with UK acts all over the globe. But the Americans have been jumping on our favour from back in the days I was making Tour Diary’s with Jay Z and he would do his version of your Pow onstage each night all around the world…With acts like Giggs, Krept and Konan and Skepta making waves internationally, its clear that UK grime and hip-hop have finally come of age.
‘’I think the UK scene is definitely standing on its own two feet now, over the years we’ve always chased the Americans, now they’re looking at us. You’ve just got to look at things like even Krept and Konan as you mentioned before jumping on Don’t waste my time remix, even when Jay Z done his verse on Pow at his concert back in 2008. People like Rihanna working with British producers, Nicki Minaj sampling a house sort of beat. Things like that, they are looking over here like rah Europe UK is popping. It feels good man, I’ve always said to myself the only way we are gonna crack not just America but the world, is if we just be ourselves and showcase our own culture, grime is a genre but its also a culture. The sound is unique, its fresh, And back in the day man, UK rappers were rapping in American accents lol!’’
So with all these young whipper snappers at your heels will there ever be a day when you call it quits?
‘’I don’t think any music has an expiry date, I think in terms of content it boils down to where you are. Grime is a culture, its based on your experiences and your surroundings. Even the other day I was listening to some of my old lyrics compared with what I’m talking about now, I’m not talking about what I was talking about ten years ago. I’m not that person now I’ve grown up and evolved, I don’t live in the hood anymore, I’m doing alright. Me being an authentic artist. I wanna talk about real things that I’m experiencing, so I don’t think there’s an expiry date. I think there’s an expiry date if you’re not talking about real stuff and you’re just making up stuff then that’s just dead. I think just be true to yourself man, if you’re real to yourself people will have that connection and hopefully aspire to where you are at and try and emulate where you are’’.
RECORD LABELS REDUNDENT?
Your story is old skool history, with new skool thinking. Record labels used to be important, now they’re less so?
‘‘These records labels, they will support you, but there’s going to be a time where they might not be on you anymore, so you need to make sure you’ve got a plan B, so that’s always been in the back of my mind. I’ve always simultaneously built up something. And from that opportunity just arose, so clothing was an immediate thing that came to mind, I saw my fans were wearing the stuff what I was wearing, so why don’t I just wear my own stuff and make them wear that? Music opens so many different doors, property is another world I’m in, which was more I’d say my family pushing me towards: they were like ‘yo, buy a house, when you get your money,’ so at a young age I was like: ‘why am I buying a house, I want to buy a car!’ and they’re like: ‘no, you need to buy a house.’ So I listened to them and it was probably one of the best things I ever did, so that was another area I started to explore as well. And yeah I’ve just realised not just musically, but in society, just how influential you can be to people, and why not have a contribution to what they consume as well, so that’s just my whole outtake on the whole entrepreneurial side of things.’
LETHAL B THE BRAND ENTREPENEUR
Your Ghanaian genes reign strong in this business; you’re the best brand champion with 100% visibility and product placement in your videos, from your snapchat, to phones, trainers brands, car brands, property and more. Your online buzz and engagement is also legendary. Your office is the digital world…
‘’I think social media has had a big part to play. Now I have direct contact with my fans. When I started back in my More Fire days it was about just being signed and letting your record label do everything else, so I’ve seen a huge change by building a relationship online and get an immediate a response from what I am doing, whether its good or bad, social media IS like my office. I take it so seriously, I don’t take anything for granted, and l listen to the fans, I see what works, what doesn’t work, its almost like market research and then you take that information and you go back and make the product, and then you present the product’’.
You’re so digitally aware of how powerful social media can be for your brand in 2015.
‘’ The grime scene has changed a lot, when I was in More Fire Crew, the internet was around but it wasn’t important is it is now, there was only things like Channel U, AKA, only MTV base, they were the only stations that used to support us. Even the way the people bought music, we used to have to go to the shop, you had to go to OUR Price, Woolworth, (people probably don’t even know what these shops are!). we bought music on tape, people probably don’t even know what tape is, like cassette tape. But its changed now man, literally from a click of a button people can just buy the music, which has definitely, helped. It’s made the world a smaller place, and the worlds your oyster now. I can get to people from all over the world. With my music I get people from Australia. If it wasn’t for the Internet they probably wouldn’t be able to come into contact with my music. I definitely think social media makes the music travel. And definitely gives us our identity back and people like authenticity’’.
What challenges have you faced being an entrepreneur?’
‘’The challenges I face as being an entrepreneur? Well you’re on your own for once, it’s you or nothing, you know. Obviously you have team, but at the same time you’re at the forefront of your project, and if anything goes wrong, basically it’s you, you’re going to get in trouble for it, you have to deal with it. So there’s a lot of pressure and you’re taking a lot of responsibility for other people’s lives as well, because if you’re an entrepreneur you’re a boss, you have staff, you have to pay them their wages. I think being self-employed and an entrepreneur is definitely the way I’m supposed to be, it’s definitely my thing. My mum used to tell me I used to do things like sell sweets in school and I remember I used to go to Sunday market and buy fake jeans and sell them to friends for double, so I’ve always been on trying to double my money. But yeah, it’s not for everyone. I wouldn’t tell everyone yeah…you can’t always fall into this role cos it’s a lot of pressure and you’ve got to be built for it, some people just want to play behind the scenes and just have a job, that’s fine, but if you want to be an entrepreneur and really go for it, you’ve got to take the highs and lows: and there’s a lot of lows before the highs come, so you’ve just got to be aware of that.’
A hustler after my own heart! ‘A lot of hip-hop artists have gone off to make their own businesses. What do you think it is about hip-hop that makes the artists kind of stray or go into different things?’
‘‘I think hip-hop music, the culture itself just has so much different influences just on general life, it brings a lifestyle, it brings a perception that people want to aspire to and it brings a dress sense, a culture. I think that people like myself, people like Jay-Z have acknowledged that the music is more than just the music. I think hip-hop music has definitely established that whole culture and people have clocked onto that, Now, guys who’ve got their thinking cap on, like the Tidal thing, it’s like: why’s Spotify making all this money, but we’re making the music, so let’s do our own thing and sell the music to the fans and get paid for our work, so it seems like a no-brainer, but you know it’s obviously a lot harder than just doing it, it’s a long process but it’s definitely the right way forward.’
F*CK THE POLICE?
This year there have been a few themes returning to police brutality within the black community with all the repeated deaths all across the world and the recent Straight Outta Compton movie acknowledged its not a new thing. With UK musicians having a contentious relationship with police over their live gigs and the controversial 696 forms in the UK, how do you feel about the police?
‘’I think there’s always been a perception about police in general; I don’t think the perception has ever been good. It’s always going to be negative from the offset. In terms of young people, obviously that’s going to filter down to them. I think the identity of police does need to change. Maybe it’s a case of them actually speaking to young people and explaining their purpose because, as soon as you hear police it’s a negative when they’re meant to be helping us! I think its definitely a case of them going into the communities and maybe using influential people who may have a better understanding of what their job actually is to speak to the kids and maybe give them a different perception of when they see them and how they deal with them.
I also feel the police have a job to acknowledge the way they treat young people in the country, and try and change that perception, you know what I mean? It always seems to end in a negative way when it comes to the police. I know they’re here to protect us and police the country, but at the same time I think they need to go out of their way to change the way people see them.
Obviously I’m not as young as I used to be and things have got a lot worse, and I’ve got a lot more mature, but there is a lot of discrimination that goes on, I’ve seen it, I know people who are young and go through it, every single day. It’s sad, it’s definitely sad, but I think we have to do ourselves a favour and not rise to it because, you know, a lot of them probably want us to act a fool and the more we kinda play the stereotype, it doesn’t help our case. But it’s a two-way thing, the police obviously need to be aware that their perception is very bad in the young community and they need to try and rectify that’’
This years been tragic all round for deaths in police custody?
‘’Some of these recent incidents in America with the police are just terrible, to be honest, its almost like they’ve got a licence to kill, in broad daylight. I don’t even know how it’s even justified, killing a person who’s not posing any sort of threat and them not having to deal with any sort of consequences. I don’t have the answers for that, I don’t think it’s right, it almost seems like they’re above the law, you know, they’re above humanity, that’s what-what it seems like in America and I don’t think it’s right, it’s not right man, it’s not right, something needs to be done’’.