RIDIK EMCEE: THE OREGON-BORN HIPHOP ARTIST MAKING HIS MARK IN THE MIDLANDS
Friday night welcome the Some-Antics Spoken Word event taking place above the craft specialist pub BrewDog, Matt Knight caught up with rapper/spoken word performer, Ridik Emcee, about the cultural differences between the UK and the US, forthcoming projects and his experiences with live performances
Stephan Harris, also known as Ridik Emcee, has been living in the UK for seven years now since leaving Portland, Oregon, to live with his wife and daughter. I thought Ridik would make for an interesting insight into the UK’s hiphop scene and it’s cultural surroundings.
He was taking part in the poetry slam at a surprisingly spacious venue above the pub we were sat in, we caught up over some interestingly-priced pints in a corner of the fairly busy, delicately decorated downstairs.
Ridik was introduced to hiphop vocals through the likes of the thrash metal style of Rage Against the Machine, immediately relating to the message they were conveying through their songs: “I thought, fuck me, that guy can spit, and he’s doing it over heavy metal. He’s making it work and he’s making tonnes of money and he’s sending a message and that was just it for me. That’s really what started me rapping, and I started doing poetry at the same time. Trying to make beats and stuff was much later, much later, like 12 years later, I never really messed with it before.”
The conscious and thought-provoking path the Leicester hiphop scene has adopted is something that Ridik is fully in support of, when he noted the difference in dominant hiphop styles between the UK and his hometown: “They might hate me if they hear me say this but I almost want to say it’s a wannabe West Coast, kinda gangster rap stuff. It’s a lot of this, kinda like auto tuned stuff, snap and clap, a lot of mumble rapping. I hate that shit. In this country I find it more positive as well, there’s a lot more conscious rap, a lot more positive topics emerging, people trying to send out a meaningful message.” More specifically, Leicester. Ridik admires Leicester’s hiphop community and the content that people are sending out, “People seem to be, especially in Leicester, moving away from this kinda like, rapping about beating up women and stabbing people, you don’t need any more of that shit. I don't think many people want to hear that anymore, personally I know I'm tired of it.” He expressed that there is a diversity amongst rappers in the States, “Obviously there’s always the exception, we do have conscious rappers, we do have positive MCs, but I think the mainstream in America, people still want to fucking shoot each other and call each other weird names and I don’t think that shit flies over here.”
Leicester’s hiphop community has been on the rise as of recent times, with diverse sounds coming from all corners of the city. The scene does nothing but inspire Ridik: “(It’s) extremely positive, extremely focused, there’s a big focus on conscious rap. On fusing RnB, dance and other genres with it. Really being uplifting good vibes, and lots of reggae influence that goes along with that. People in Leicester are doing fucking things, things are popping in the East Midlands, I really want to be a big part of it. I'm trying to catch up it feels like, almost.” The city has welcomed him with open arms, it seems, “The reception has been really good even though I'm blatantly not from around here. I love this city, I rep this city with my heart, I will never leave here. I think it’s got to be one of the best local scenes I've ever seen: it’s compacted, yet it’s doing massive things and it’s within an hours walk of each other, it’s fantastic. I think people here are genuinely good hearted, there’s good and bad everywhere but I think there’s a lot of passion behind music and culture in this country and I'm honoured to be a part of it man.”
YOU HAVE TO BE WILLING TO STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE, YOU HAVE TO STRETCH YOUR BOUNDARIES OR YOU WON'T PROGRESS
The 20th of March will see the release of his forthcoming single Stand Tall: “I'm going to donate the proceeds to that, I'm still trying to work out where. That one’s going to be a charity track, that’s going either to HQ’s project that they’re doing at the minute in the city, that’s going to be my first effort to give back to this city, and give back to HQ and the things that they do for people.” There is also a five track EP in the works as well, “All the beats are produced by me, I'm going to book in at Clarence Street probably in the next couple of weeks and just get the whole EP smashed out. That’s going to have a couple of bluesy sounding tracks on it, where I do a bit of singing and a bit of rapping.” There’s even going to be a little upbeat MCing going on, “There’s a dance track on there, where I'm going to MC over it, I’m still trying to work out what the other track is going to be on that. Then there’s going be a spoken word track, and one of which I'm performing tonight, I'm hoping to release that this summer.” His diversity in the beats can be matched by his consistency in narrative direction, “Not sticking to one style but at the same time definitely sticking to one sort of theme, the theme is definitely going to be more of this, self respect, self dignity, that kinda stuff. Maybe I'm a little bit cocky in that respect, but I like to think that what I do is give a voice to people who maybe need it.” He took a swig from his beer and sat up eagerly, “So the biggest thing in the media that struck me lately, and the main track that I’m working on, is about that dude, his girlfriend was abusing him and beating him up and shit. His girlfriend’s been sent to prison for seven years for being coercive, she was pouring boiling water on him and stuff like that. I've also got a mate that stayed with an abusive partner for years, he was beating her up and all that. So this track is really about people standing tall and strong and moving away from that, and recovering from that it’s something that, you know, I dealt with it when I was a kid from my stepdad. Not that grievously to be fair, but it’s just about people not taking it, and moving on and being strong. That story really struck a nerve with me so I'm definitely writing a song about that, the whole EP is going be about representing yourself and reaching your own best potential.”
Ridik want’s to firmly imprint his mark on the UK hiphop scene, with intellectual beats and well crafted tracks: “I want to put out music that people will remember. I don’t want it to be bog standard rap, I want interesting sounding beats, compositions, I want new lyrical ideas out there. What I want people to say, and I hope this will happen, is that they’ll look at East Midlands hiphop and they’ll hear all the talent here that’s homegrown, and then they’ll hear me, and they’ll think he’s part of it. He’s found his niche, I want that to be a part of the history.”
With all the gloom and angst that blankets the world nowadays, Ridik uses his music as a means of an escape from it all: “Oh the world’s depressed, the world’s manically fucking depressed. Alcoholics, drug addictions, just walk down that street mate and see all the people that are out there and are suffering on drugs, starving and not taking care of themselves. It’s easy to blame the individual but you can also look at the picture from a societal perspective can’t you, you can see we’re spending three years to try and pull together this Brexit shit but shit’s not getting done outside on the street. I think people need an outlet man and there’s a lot of people disconnected in the world today, I hope to be able to be a piece of that, just a little piece of it.”
The soul reason as to why Ridik picked up a pen in the first place was for a means to vent his emotions: “I just needed a constructive way to vent my anger and frustration, because I got beat up a lot in school. I got bullied a lot, I was a skinny kid, I had fucking greasy hair and a bit zit covered nose. Women used to diss me, I used to absolutely hate my life. My stepdad was a dick he used to bump me on purpose and slap me in the head when my mum wasn't around. I had some good times as a child but I had a fucked up childhood and I needed a way to vent so I didn’t choke somebody.” This unfortunate upbringing came as a surprise to me, judging from his joyful exterior. His music has gone down a different path to some extent, with his darker narratives ending with positive twists, “I rap about heavy shit. There’s still graphic imagery, there’s still a lot of dark humour and stuff like that, but I think the point is I used to be very fatalistic in everything I write about. Now I always try and put a positive twist at the end of it.”
His experiences with live shows ranged from gigs in Leicester to surrounding areas such as Corby, he recalled one particular show in which didn’t go too according to plan: “My first one was really bad, my mouth went all dry, I fell off the stage and fucked up all my lines. There was just six people kind of like,” He imitated a slow, effortless clap, “You know, and left. But most have been sound.” The joy in which he felt after facing that one unfortunate performance was something that all artists must go through, “I felt amazing afterwards cos I had the nuts to do it, and I knew I was coming back. Anything you want to do in life that’ll make you successful or get you anywhere, you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone, you have to stretch your boundaries or you won’t progress and that was a big part of it. You do the same shit you’re going to stay in the same place aren't you.”
Before Some-Antics kicked off later on Ridik was feeling relaxed about the whole thing, despite never having performed poetry live before: “This is relaxing to me you know, it’s not the same to me as if I’d go onstage and do a five song set in front of a big crowd and shit like that, I'm just chilling tonight.” The poetry slam runs over a period of nine months, then each poet is scored by selected judges and you work your way up the leader board, “You just compete for the title, it’s fun. I like to compete, I enjoy it, but I don't want to be cocky about it, I don’t know if I’ll win or not. I don't want to take a casual stance with it.”
When asked about future career prospects and how he saw his future in five years time, he chuckled at me: “Hopefully making money from music as opposed to paying money to do music, that’s a pinch of salt with that one, maybe a couple of grammies under my belt, we’ll see how we go.” He then brought it down to realistic aspirations, “Probably doing the same stuff I'm doing now man but on a much larger scale. I want be doing shit in the rest of the UK, and I’d like to go back to the States and do some stuff there as well, back in Portland and around the US, I’d love to do that.” His patriotism and fondness towards the UK was refreshing to see, as he conveyed the notion that people here need to be more representative of the country we live in, “It’s a great country, it’s still a great country, people over here need to know that though. They need to stop saying it’s shit man, it’s not shit, it is what you make it.”
The topics and focal points of a lot of hiphop artists in the UK are expermenting with has influenced Ridik’s own style of rap: “Since I've lived here in Leicester, the positive aspects and the conscious aspect of what people are rapping about have spilled into the way I do things. I do it deliberately because a) I think it’s nice, it’s a breath of fresh air, and b) that’s what people here like, so if I want people to listen to me I need to try and position myself. It’s good because I think at the end of the day, I’ll feel better for it. If I try and make songs that are about pretty positive, nice things.” Jealousy was a demon that Ridik has had to fight with in the past, “I’ll be the first to admit it you that I didn’t listen to any hiphop for a long time, especially when I took a break from not doing it because I was disgruntled with my lack of success, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was jealous. That’s something I have to deal with and I make sure everyday that I try and fight against it. I find the problem I have is I can’t listen to hiphop very much, without comparing myself. Without thinking I've got to rise to this challenge, I've got to rise to that, it can be maddening. But I don't want to compete, I want to support people that are doing that because I respect what they do.” He finds that with rock and metal music, he can totally relax, “But where I listen to metal or blues music and rock music, I just fucking relax. I just listen to it, I usually listen to that stuff when I write, when I work on my book and stuff. I just listen to that and chill out and I don't get any of that because I don't really want to do that stuff.”
A couple of hours later Ridik’s name was pulled out of a tin box and he jumped on stage to tear down the poetry slam, reciting a quicktime accapella rap which resulted in a hefty cheer and some fairly judged scores. Ridik’s attitude to the UK and the hiphop scene was a breath of fresh air, his drive and dedication to the Midlands' music community is rather motivating and gave me a fresh outlook on the goings on at this moment.
March 4th 2019