STRIZZY STRAUSS: THE MAN USING HIS PAST TO EDUCATE THROUGH HIPHOP
In amidst the Leicester hiphop scene is a father of three and captivating storyteller, Strizzy Strauss. With his debut album at the finishing stages, Matt Knight had a chat with him about how he got into making music, his next project and more.
Strizzy Strauss, a 34 year-old hiphop artist from Leicestershire, is known for his real life bars and the structural narrative of his songs. I was looking forward to meeting him as he came round my house some Thursday afternoon after he finished work.
He arrived at my house with a relaxed and down to earth demeanour, in which later I would find out is not an act and is innately a part of his character. Music has always been in his household growing up, so music had a some-what gravitational pull towards him: “There was always music in my household and my Dad used to always play hiphop music, my Dad’s music collection was crazy, it was all cassette tapes then. So the first music was like Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg, it was a lot of West Coast. I was just drawn to it, there was something that was subconsciously drawing me to the ting, it’s always been in man.”
The notion of spitting bars came about after his Grandma bought him some Sherwood turntables for his 14th birthday: “Me and my bredrin Louis, we used to make tapes in my bedroom. We was MCing, we’d speed up all the tracks, we’d get like RnB and hiphop tracks and speed them up to 140 on the turntable, and we’d just be spitting trying to make tapes and take them youth club and listen to them like that.” It was his cousin Ashley that prompted him to pursue rap further as he looked up to him, then once university came around, his aspirations for rap became a little bit more solidified, “My dream was to be a rapper so I thought I'm gonna go uni, I'm gonna meet another guy that’s rapping, then we’re just gonna start something from uni. There was a group there called Phoenix Quarter, and I was friends with all the guys but I met them all individually. They showed me a different sound of hiphop, it was UK but they weren’t rapping with American accents, I couldn’t dig that. I came up in a garage era where it was all about your accent like Manchester, Birmingham, Leicester, it’s their identity.” Then whilst round a friend of a friend’s house on Jarrom Street, he put down his first 16 on a track, “I was nervous cos all I used to go to bed thinking about was, all I wanna do is put one 16 down and I’ll be happy, one verse. So then I put a verse on this tune and he’s like, yo what’s your name? My bredins at uni called me Strauss cos my names Levi, I was like yo I'm Strauss, so that’s how it started.”
I KEEP IT LIKE BRUCE LEE, STRAIGHT TO THE POINT
Music comes as a therapeutic regime for Strauss, giving him a chance to alleviate what’s on his mind by putting the pen to page: “It’s more than the music, it’s cathartic to man, it helps me get things off my chest. I had a massive issue with my past, but through music, I kinda got through that. I was getting sick of hearing me going on about it, till it was like rah I'm over this now. I’ve got three kids, so I'm trying to make an audio book for my youths. All I'm trying to do is make audio books for my kids so if they ever get stuck in life they can listen to their Dad’s projects, each song will have some lessons that they may be going through at a time.” His children and family are one of the main driving forces that keep him writing, although the honest answer is quite simple, “The reason why I keep doing it is cos I love it, that’s the simple answer, man love it. I can’t imagine life without doing it, even when I’ve got writers block man is still writing.”
With the Leicester music scene thriving in all areas of the underground spectrum, Strauss is feeling optimistic about the hiphop scene in his hometown: “I think it is very fertile right now, it’s healthy right now, I feel like everyone’s figuring it out. It’s more than just a track here and there, man are trying to put bodies of work together, put quality videos out there, get merchandise out there and what not. It’s a good thing to see, everyone’s trying something innit, something’s gonna pop, and even if it don’t pop mandem have got the passion there. It’s all inspiring, you feel like you’re in a scene innit, it wasn’t so long ago when mandem before my time were probably feeling like they were rapping amongst themselves. Where now, everyone’s got something to say, from all different spots of the city so it’s creating a market, an industry.” That self-belief and intrinsic motivation that a lot of artists are showing are traits that Strauss finds within himself, “That’s my whole thing, it doesn’t matter whether I get big, massive or not, because I’m gonna keep doing it. I’m big to me and my dons.” The city of Leicester has notably become more unified, especially in terms of the hiphop scene and culture, Strauss reminisced on how it wasn’t always like that and how grime plays a big influence in this shift of attitude, “It’s been divided for most parts, but I think now for some reason, you're right it feels like there’s a unified feeling. I think that’s grime influenced for some reason. I feel that the grime scene, every man is unified, and I think there’s a lot of grime artists in Leicester that do hiphop and they’re quite close in generation to man that do hiphop now innit, so it’s an inspiration.”
Initially, live shows came as a nerve-racking experience for Strauss. He explained how a combination of Instagram live feeds, daily 16s and an council funded arts programme developed his skills and confidence when it came to live performances: “I used to be mad nervous. Before I dropped my EP I was shook to do anything like that, I was prang. I used to try and avoid it, I’d always think of a 101 reasons not to do the show, why I couldn’t do the show and that. Then I got my Instagram live, before the EP came out, I started doing freestyles, like spitting verses and that and people were digging it. I kept doing it and then I dropped a 16 bar every day until my EP dropped, I did like a verse a day, so from then I was like rah people were feeling it.” Then once his EP came out his confidence grew and the live shows started to become more prevalent, “Shows started to come and people were asking me to do gigs here and there, so I did that.” A council funded arts course hosted at the 2funky Music Cafe taught him the skills of live performances, “They showed man skills and gave me information about the industry and stuff. From down to holding mic, now when I hold a mic I feel like there’s a clarity there. I was working with a live band and that just did me wonders. I just went hard after that, all I wanted to do was gig. Last year was crazy I did Festival 2funky, I did Leicester Riverside Festival, the Leicester Caribbean Carnival, Leicester Cosmopolitan Carnival, I did Wild Side festival, I was just gigging. I was going in trying to build the skill of a performance.” His love for live performances derives from the crowd interaction, “It’s the crowd innit, it’s the feedback. The direct feedback, the interaction, the chance to mingle with the crowd, let them see that I'm just like you I'm just fortunate enough to rap and you probably could to. Anything I can do you can do as well, I'm just trying to build that connection, that bridge.” He feels that artists’ sit too high on their ivory tower and don’t appreciate the fans that surround them, “I feel like a lot of artists, they use their talent as a way to be better than man, so there’s a disconnect there. They feel that they can’t chat with me and mingle with man on a level, they’ve got to maintain an image, a facade. How you see me now, is how I’ll be on stage, just try and keep it 100 man. Cos my music is different anyway, like my music is for the everyday person, it’s another narrative. I just talk about every day issues, I'm talking to my babies, I'm talking to my children, but the beautiful thing about that is it applies to everybody. So when you get to perform your tracks live and the people receive it and feel it, that’s a beautiful feeling.”
Strauss shows no side of a false pretence, just raw modesty and genuine honesty: “That’s the aim, I try fill in the gaps that other man are too macho to miss out. I show you my flaws, that’s cool to me innit cos I'm calm in myself, and I think that draws people in as well.
“Artists like J Cole, Tupac, I was drawn to them because of their brutal honesty. Certain man won’t say something cos it don’t match the facade, it doesn’t match the image, and that’s one thing I feel like I do well.”
He is currently sat on his forthcoming album, Trust The Process. Whilst he awaits for the mixing and mastering to be sorted he stresses how he doesn’t want to rush himself: “That album is recorded now, on the final parts just mixing and mastering and figuring out a roll out. We’re just figuring out where we went wrong the last time and just planning it a lot better really, but it’s funds. I'm a family man, man got three youths, got a house to maintain. It’s getting there slowly but surely. I’ve got some features on there mandem are just not going to expect innit, like serious things, it’s a good balance.
“I’ve got some local man and I've got some mandem from out the bits, been putting some work on this ting, trying to get that artwork sorted out and that.” I wondered if the album will have the same storytelling, gritty vibe that the last EP had, “It has, but the thing with the last EP it was done for two years before it even came out, so by the time it came out I was almost sick of it. I'm past that now innit, we’ve progressed and on another level now. This is more real time, that was more of an introduction, like a brief introduction of Strizzy Strauss. But this one here, I’m very proud of this ting, I feel like this one here is gonna put man in places where I need to be. The first one was like okay, mandem are looking and seeing like yeah that was nice, but what’s your next one saying? Everyone can have a good debut, so this one here I feel like it will solidify man.”
Trying to push your music without a label can be a struggling process, as Strauss is not signed his music is done solely independently. Strauss wants to keep control over his music so any label talk would be kept local: “Like if my don was to set up a label and be there then I’ll go with my bredrin, cos then it’s relatively independent still. It’s not major corporations dictating to the kid. There’s a few talks right now, I'm talking with a don about trying to arrange some kind of deal, just helps free up a bit of funds innit, to do other stuff.” Relating back to a point made previously, the reason why he does this must be more than the music itself, as he wouldn’t be investing the money into it, “If it wasn’t more than music mandem wouldn’t be putting the money in that they’re putting into it, because a lot of the time you’re putting money in that you’re not going to get back really. It’s hard to claw every penny that you put back into it unless you get to that certain level. At these levels here, bro you’re throwing money at something and that’s what it is and if it isn’t more than music, then you’re not gonna do that.”
The upbringing and background that Strauss comes from is used as way of motivating similar people to reach for bigger and better things: “We come from a place where it’s shit, when it’s shit it’s shit, but when it’s good it’s good, and it’s like yo it doesn’t mean we can’t go out there and progress and do stuff, we’ve just got to work a bit harder, man will reap a bigger benefit. I'm just trying to show that I'm just the everyday person but man just rap, so that’s what inspires me cos I feel like I've got something to show the world and give.
“I’m for the people, that’s just my whole thing. I'm just for the listener and the people, my flows they’re not overcomplicated, I keep it like Bruce Lee, straight to the point. Those that feel it are meant to feel it and those that don’t won’t, and that’s just how it goes. I’m just here to help build man, I'm trying to help build my brother, a better me is a better you.”
March 2nd 2019