Apex Zero, one half of the rap duo First and Last is as forthcoming in interview as he is when throws down on the mic. The London emcee and End Of The Weak & Speakers Corner veteran is about to drop his first solo album but has found the time to fire off some smart answers to my demanding questions. Apex is a clever dude!
What was the first rhyme you ever wrote and can you remember any of the lyrics?
I wrote my first rhyme when I was 12/13 years old – my brother was a garage DJ and was mixing on a set with some emcees and I was sitting there watching and listening. I thought, “boy, this is ill – I need to get on this”. I got some paper and just put down the first things that came into my mind. I thought it was sick – it wasn’t! I don’t even remember what it was – just some bate garage ‘I’m heavy’ sh*t. After everyone had left my yard, I spat it to my brother and he laughed in my face! It was great advice – if you’re gonna do this you gotta be good, you’ve gotta bring it.
What was the first record / CD you ever bought?
I don’t remember exactly what the first CD was but to be honest it was probably one of them ‘Now 35’ CDs!! I used to get a few of them, they might have even been tapes! I was proper young and that’s what my generation were on – we got force-fed all these pop acts, brainwashed into liking them and then went out and bought or stole them! I can’t even remember the first Hip Hop record I bought. By the time I started properly getting into Hip Hop I’d discovered how to tape stuff off the radio.
Then when I was about 12/13 the first CD-r’s were just coming out. One kid in my school used to sell copies. I remember buying DMX ‘…And then there was X’ off him. I think the first proper Hip Hop CD I actually bought from a shop was ‘The W’ by Wu-Tang.
When did you decide writing lyrics of a ‘conscious’ nature was to be your Hip Hop mission?
Once I heard ‘Let’s Get Free’ by Dead Prez. When I was about 15/16. I’d been writing a few garage bars and clashing heads around the ends and doing sets, but even then I was probably more into Hip Hop – it spoke to me more, but because garage was seen as this ‘UK music’ it felt fake to try and write to Hip Hop.
But when I heard that album, it opened my eyes up in a next way to things that I had already been living. They offered me answers to questions I was asking without even knowing it – why are people of African descent treated so badly? Why do the police always stop and harass us? Why have my parents struggled so hard their whole lives? They introduced me to figures like Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey and from that there was no turning back. I still wrote about less ‘conscious’ things, because I was living it, but all the time those ideas were in the back of my mind, and crept into most of my rhymes, and this affected my growth as an emcee in the same way it affected my growth as a person.
Are you a self-taught music producer?
Yes and no. I started making beats myself after I was given a copy of Fruity-Loops. It was really weak sh*t, not because of the program but because I couldn’t use it. But the more you learn to use it you pick things up. Plus a lot of heads around me were into it too and you all kinda swap ideas and teach each other – especially my brother OMeza whose in First and Last with me. He was bang on making beats from the start and I learned a lot from him. As I got older and began working with more people I picked up techniques and software and hardware from different people – heads like Craze and Hoax (before they were called Craze and Hoax!) who we did a lot of our early work with.
It’s a communal thing, you all work together and pass on knowledge that you’ve gotten from somewhere or developed yourself. I did do a BTEC in Music Technology, but I barely learnt anything there, it was really disappointing. Everything I got there just sort of supplemented things I was learning on my own and with the heads around me.
In addition to zero, what other numbers are important to you?
None really. I guess they’re all important – I think that if we as a species were more developed or intelligent (or maybe something else) that we’d be able to map out everything on Earth, maybe even beyond Earth, in terms of numbers and be able to understand it all in it’s entirety, at least the physical aspect of existence. But I’m weak at Maths! I’d love to understand how deep numbers go but I can’t even scratch the surface!
All I can do is philosophize on the concepts that people who analyse numbers bring out of them. Like Zero – it’s the point between positive and negative, the start between now and infinity. I guess 8 is important to me if you turn it on it’s side – infinity, it’s a really important concept. Our potential, love, the Universe or Omniverse, possibilities, what some people call God, maybe time – all of these could be considered as sideways 8’s if you take that stance!
As an experiment would you ever live your life by the dice for 1 week only?
Yeah, probably – but there’s a lotta sh*t I wouldn’t do!!! If the dice told me to kill my brother it aint gonna happen! It’d be a good experiment, even just to see what could have happened even if I didn’t do it.
What was the earliest historical fact(s) you learned that blew your mind?
That black people from the Caribbean are African. When you grow up in London and you’re from African-Caribbean descent, you grow up thinking of yourself as ‘black’ or ‘mixed-race’ (or ‘half-cast’), or even ‘Black-British’, ‘Grenadian, ‘Jamaican’ and the rest. You’re told during so-called ‘Black-History Month’ about Martin Luther King and that we were slaves, and you either think that it has nothing to do with you because that was in America, or that our history began with European-powered Transatlantic slavery. Africa has little to do with you.
When I was encouraged to learn a bit more and put two-and-two together it blew my mind to discover that being kidnapped and forced across a water-mass doesn’t change your origin, even if certain socio-historical or cultural developments have happened since. Then from there you read more and realise this image of Africa you’re fed as ‘uncivilised’ and ‘underdeveloped’ is a lie and that any underdevelopment is the direct result of the attack on Africa by Europe and the displacement of millions of people to another continent or to the next world.
Then you read more and find that before this we had incredibly highly developed civilisation all across Africa throughout the millenniums right back to the so-called ‘original civilisation’ of Egypt! BOOM – mind blown!!! When something the size of the lies you’ve been told about yourself and your people since primary school explodes inside your mind it’s going to make an impact!
If you could make a documentary what kind of facts would you tackle?
Boy – where to start! I’d like to map the exact legacy of European economic development and the underdevelopment of Africa as being the same thing and exposing how this is still maintained today – naming the families and businesses (and ‘charities’) involved. I think a lot of people don’t even see these things. We’re made to believe that the only reason Africa is still struggling economically is the corruption of political leaders. Who funds and profit most from this corruption? And why are their nations in the 21st century still named after the things that rich Europeans stole and continue to from those regions? That’s what I’d like to report and document.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A footballer – from a very young age. I loved football, nearly all I did in my early childhood was play football, every chance I could. I would have made too but I got a bad injury when I was 14 and gave up. By that time though that love had been corrupted. Behind the scenes, especially in the lower leagues, football is all politics – and its full of d*ckheads and racism and bullsh*t. That killed my love for the reality of being a footballer and of it as an industry, but the game itself is beautiful, it’s not a joke. If I’d really wanted to fight through that injury and make it I could have, but once the love’s gone you can’t or won’t do anything.
Jackie Chan VS Jet Li – who wins?
[Laughs] In a fight I don’t know, they’re both deep, we’d have to see it to find out! In terms of their films, for me, Jet Li straight up. ‘Hero’, ‘Fearless’ – the cinematography, the choreography, the philosophical story lines – they smack the sh*t out of Jackie Chan films, especially the newer ones.
Is there a word that you always misspell?
Every word! My spelling’s terrible!! I’m a product of the spell check generation – we’re lazy! I always spell ‘definitely’ as ‘definitly’ – that one’s particularly bad.
As Sun Ra once said, “Space is the place”. What are your feelings on the Universe?
I’m no expert in String Theory or Quantum Mechanics but I definitely (definitly!!) think there’s a great chance that every atom of every thing contains a universe or universes and that this continues infinitely. Our universe is within an atom, or something smaller, and the universe that the object or material that that atom is in is in another atom and so on infinitely. The fact that the space within us that’s between our atoms and molecules is exactly the same as the space that exists between planets says a lot to me.
Space is the place, because we are space, we are the universe, we are a universe, we are infinite universes – they are being created and destroyed within all our cells all the time. So it’s likely that one day our universe will be destroyed, and perhaps even reborn, because energy can never be destroyed, just transferred.
Can you recommend a must-read book that changed your life?
‘The Wretched of the Earth’ by Frantz Fanon. He analysed the colonial history and society of the anti-colonial Algerian Revolution that he was fighting and produced one of the most powerful decolonisation/revolutionary theories that has ever been written. It works on the philosophical, political and psychological levels and in many of the revolutionary struggles that followed it, particularly those where race is a factor, many brothers and sisters labelled it the bible of revolution. I’ve read it a lot of times, in whole and in sections, and I’m still learning from it.
If you could hop into a time machine you would request to go forward or backward to which year and once you arrived what the hell would you do there?
I’d love to back as far as possible, to the beginning of time (if there is one), or maybe of humanity and just learn what happened for real. But given the choice I’d probably go forward 1000 years, maybe 2000 and see what we’ve managed to build and achieve as a species, and see if we’re still here. Some of the things we’ve built might have been bombs that killed us all or maybe The Matrix or Skynet! If that’s true, I’d either choke to death from the toxic air, get caught and dissected by intelligent cockroaches or join the human resistance!
Austerity for many is making each day a battle, what kind of food do you eat in order to tackle the system, or as Peter Tosh called it ‘the shitstem’ head on each day?
I think one of the worst situations that Austerity has created is the inability to get good quality food at a price we can afford. I’ve been trying to be vegan for about 9 months now, and I’m on the brink of stopping because I really can’t afford the food I need to replace the nutrients that you get from meat. And because I have to grind a lot because everything’s so expensive I don’t have the time to prepare the meals properly that can give me those nutrients. I’ve lost a lot of weight and I did this for health reasons – I don’t think you can call it healthy to loose a load of weight and get mad skinny and have less energy.
There have been some benefits and I’d keep it up if I had more money and time. This shows that healthy food is a luxury that many of us can’t afford. And this lack of resources is blatantly going right up the production line – so the food your getting, even vegetables, aren’t gonna be as healthy as they should be because of corner cutting by producers. I’ve boycotted McDonalds and KFC and all that for over 10 years now, I know its all poison, but I think the only real way to fight the ‘shitstem’ with food is producing your own, or our own as communities, because buying form supermarkets, and even some smaller shops still aids mass production, corporations and exploitation at many levels – especially in so-called ‘developing’ countries. But again, this is requires time and money that many of us don’t have, especially in cities like London.
Many voices declare Hip Hop Is dead. In your opinion is it alive and kicking and still fresh? Or in intensive care but fighting back?
Hip Hop can never die, its just going through a new phase, a metamorphosis – same as Blues has, Jazz has, Soul has, like even Classical has. They’re all still here, maybe not as popular in the mainstream as they were, but they’re here, in a lot of ways they’re here in Hip Hop. And Hip Hop is still a lot more current than them, plus it has had such a huge impact on contemporary culture and music – DJ’s and decks revolutionised the hardware and software that developed after their birth or creation.
Like anything that people are drawn too corporate industry is going to exploit it, and that can only stop when corporations and industry as we know it are eradicated. So Hip Hop is alive, it exists in all of us who love and rep the culture worldwide and in the new forms of music that stand on its shoulders, which is nearly everything that’s come out since its birth. And even if you think certain aspects of it are dead – I’m bringing them back! Me and my people are giving rebirth to the rugged, gritty, lyrical hardcore Hip Hop that we grew up on, we’re bringing it back in a new form – Neo-Hardcore, Tru-Skool Hip Hop!
What nerdy skill or hobby are you concealing?
As you might have guessed I read a lot of history, dunno if that’s nerdy or necessary, maybe both, and I like science-fiction. I guess the nerdyist thing I’m in to is Anime – I love it. Manga, Anime I’m all over that. I don’t dress up or nothing or go to conventions, just whenever I get the chance I’m looking for a new series to watch or read. I’m not into all the weird childish stuff, it’s the more grown up philosophical stuff I’m on – the sci-fi, historical, samurai, fantasy and psychological stuff – things like ‘Berserk’, ‘Ghost in the Shell’, ‘Cowboy Bebop’, ‘Neon Genesis Evangellion’. ‘Berserk’ is my favourite – the manga is one of the greatest stories ever created and the art is amazing. See, I’m geeking out now!
Explain the meaning behind your album title ‘Reality Provoking Liberation’.
Reality Provoking Liberation is my philosophy, based on the theories and lives of Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X and The Black Panther Party. Revolution is a process, it’s not something that happens out of nowhere. Fanon said that in colonised countries, oppressed people fight and kill each other because they can’t vent that anger on it’s source, the colonist, the oppressor. We’ve been doing that to each other for generations.
Eventually that anger begins to chaotically be expressed against the oppressive state. We’ve lived the evidence of this in the student protests of 2010/2011, the 2011 uprisings after the murder of Mark Duggan by the police and many other events throughout the western and westernised world. Fanon says that if true revolution is to grow out of this chaotic violence it must be organised. That is the goal that The Black Panthers, following the teachings of Malcolm, tried to achieve.
That is what we must do now, not just through art or books or music, but in material, physical reality. We have to recognise the Reality of our lives – that we are oppressed and exploited by a common enemy – in order to Provoke and inspire each other to mobilise and rise and take our Liberation for ourselves, by ourselves. And our Reality as oppressed people – working and hustling and surviving – is already Provoking in us the training that we need to fight for our Liberation, we but we need to learn how to focus and organise it and ourselves correctly. That’s the meaning of Reality Provoking Liberation – and that’s what I’m trying to do with my music and in my life.
In addition to making us laugh out loud, stand-up comedians can speak a whole lot of truth, who’s your favorite comic?
Dave Chappelle. He drops things in a way that highlights the reality of a situation, but in a way that you just have to laugh at. But you’ve seen it – and you remember and dwell on it for that reason. He isn’t alone in that, there’s loads of gifted comedians who can pull that off – Richard Prior, Bill Hicks – check out Eddie Griffin talking about ‘discovering’ someone’s car the same way Europeans ‘discovered’ what we now call the Americas – the Indigenous already had a name for it. I saw a brilliant comic the other day, Trevor Noah, he’s from Azania, what people call South Africa. He grew up half-African half-European during apartheid and his show was hilarious and fascinating at the same time. I could really relate to what he was saying. He’s ill.
If these were the only 2 choices available, whom would you choose to set upon the government with the instruction to Seek & Destroy – The Avengers or The X Men?
That’s a hard question. Avengers have Hulk and a god, but X-Men have Jean Grey. Most of the time they’re both sell-outs anyway – backing the US government in some way. But if I had them onside I’d probably choose The X-men as long as Jean Gray is in Pheonix mode – but conscious! I ask for a lot! You can’t f*ck with a conscious class-5 telekinetic telepath! She could turn Hulk inside out!
You’ve organized a round table to discuss and analyze the journey to achieve revolution and peace. Who alive or in spirit form would you want to be sat amongst?
Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Huey P. Newton, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Che Guevara, Maurice Bishop, Walter Rodney, Patrice Lumumba, Steve Biko, Confucius, Mo-Tzu, Mencius, Hugo Chavez, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Huo Yuanjia, Marx and Engels, Chinua Achebe, and a representative of every indigenous people from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia, maybe even some oppressed states in Europe – like those from Ireland. Plus I’d need a universal translator from my trip to the future. We’d probably argue about religion!
Would you ever consider providing your lyrics on your digital or printed album sleeves?
I’d love to but to be honest I can’t afford more than a 4 page booklet at the moment! CDs are a luxury as it is in this era with our budget, but I’m planning to put the lyrics online. My brother Le Hornet has just put out a published poetry book called ‘Just Your Everyday Thoughts’ so he’s opened up that possibility to the team – I’d love to do that at some point.
Imagine there’s no …………?
…need to make music about and fight against revolution, poverty, racism, exploitation and oppression.
Creatively, what’s your next move?
My album ‘Reality Provoking Liberation’ is coming out on October 28th. I’ve put a band together for the launch event on 2nd November at Vibe Bar in Brick Lane and for the shows that are coming up after that. That’ll be the first time I’ve performed with a band since I was about 18 so hopefully it’ll bring an extra dimension and inspire some new stuff.
My brother OMeza Omniscient is working on a few solo projects that I’m involved in with beats, lyrics and a few other things so we’re working on that at the moment. I’ve been jumping on a few other people’s projects, so you’ll hopefully hear my name about and in terms of beats I’d like to start working on some instrumental stuff. A lot of the time life and the struggle can get in the way of these things, but music and the fight are intertwined with me. We’ll see how it all goes.
Interview: Delphina Scott (twitter @RawBlueCheese)