Beatmaker’s Corner: Prince Rapid

Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography: Hyperfrank

Prince Rapid is a man of sentiment. As our chat begins in Shoreditch, East London, I’m curious to understand the significance behind the spot he chose to have pictures taken. As he explains, I notice a piercing happiness that befalls his demeanour, as he reels off on the site’s history. “It’s a basketball court in Limehouse, where Roll Deep, Wiley, DJ Target, DJ Carnage, Flow Dan used to hang about,” he says. “I used to go there and play basketball, looking up to all of these guys and thinking, ‘Wow! This is the legendary Wiley people speak about.’ It has a lot of memories and a lot of musicians have passed through. It represents the beginning of a culture and a sound. No social media, mobile phones or anything—for someone’s name to ring in your ear, they had to be making heat and noise on the streets.”

All of a sudden, it all made sense. As gentrification has already swallowed up the remnants of an old East End that birthed grime, along with a lifetime of moments the genre will never forget, it was refreshing for someone from the area to pay homage to one of its last artefacts. Of course, as the main beatmaker behind one of grime’s greatest crews, Ruff Sqwad, Rapid knows a thing or two about legacy. However, this can be a brooding concept, associated with a self-reflection in the midst of a career that may be at its end. But this is far from the case. “I don’t really think about [legacy],” he explains. “It’s nice when people tell you how influential I am to them, or when up-and-coming producers say they were influenced by me. When you’re in it and doing it just for the love, you don’t really realise that. But I’m still sick and dope; my productions are still hard. Maybe the time to assess it is when I stop making music, but I’ve got loads of petrol in the tank.”

It still doesn’t quite hit me that I’m sitting opposite a man who, without his input, the music that dominated my early teens might not have been the same. Whose beats blared from my older brother’s desktop computer speakers in our shared room in Camberwell in the early 2000s, because he comes across so collected and hungry to demonstrate the breadth of his musical prowess. It has been quite the career so far for Rapid, having played his part in elevating Ruff Sqwad to the status of icons in grime, crafting rampant, domineering instrumentals worthy of the time but also beats futuristic in scope, sampling everything from classical to bubblegum pop.

First making waves with “Tings In Boots”, Rapid labelled his early instrumentals ‘garage’ but as time was running out on the genre and grime was emerging, he was forced to co-opt the new term for his sound, which was more aligned with Pay As U Go’s “Know We” than DJ Luck & MC Neat’s “With A Little Bit of Luck”. Rapid chalks his journey down to his youth listening to all kinds of music. “I listened to a lot of African music growing up,” he explains. “Dipset were important to me because they added big drums and orchestral elements to their music, and I loved garage and drum and bass. I’ve always been about different sounds. Some of the first mixtapes Ruff Sqwad ever made, like Guns N Roses, there’s a variety of music on there. We used pop samples, rock samples, hip-hop, so that’s always been my influences. I’ve always been the one to experiment, but people took to my grime tunes more, especially with the MCs on it.”

“Producers are disrespected sometimes but their role in the scene is very important.”

The proof is in the pudding; on an instrumental like 2004’s “Anna”, which sounds like an anthem for an arsenal of grime soldiers, containing a horn section that would have classical music OG Beethoven bopping his head. Or immortal classic “Together”, with a female vocal sun-kissed by UK garage, and a guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a classic 1960s rock track. But Rapid refuses to be categorised by his early days. In fact, recent single “Fresh N Clean” is a groovy, modern take on late 2000s funky house, representing an experimental itch for Rapid to scratch at every turn. It’s reflected in his creative process which—as he’s taken on new responsibilities outside of music (he runs a charity with Ruff Sqwad brethren, Slix, fostering the next generation of music talent)—has restricted his productivity to one-two sessions every fortnight, he admits.

“Back then was different,” he says. “I would sit in front of a computer and make whatever comes out of my head or what I’m feeling. Now, I’m more mature and experienced and I have a business hat on, so whenever I make music I’m not as free or experimental as I can be because you’re thinking who the beat is for—is it like the last tune? Are radio gonna play it?—when before, the beauty was you were making it for the sole purpose of playing it on radio four days down the line. That was the motivation, so you had something to keep on working towards. I’m not in that mind-frame anymore. I’ve got loads of beats now that I just keep to myself and play.” Though giving off more of a content vibe with modern music and its reach, I can tell Rapid is nostalgic over the early days of grime, and a different meaning of impact that came from the unknown. The early 2000s were pre-social media, the days of the Nokia 3310 (Google it, kids, it was great) and where the weight of these hood stars could only be felt on the streets. If their radio sets banged enough.

“It felt magical,” he laments. “There was no way to tally up the people who were listening; you’re doing a show and you might miss calls after you say, ‘big up yourselves if you’re locked in’, and after that you go home. There was no YouTube telling you how many hits you got, you hear it in your own world or you hear it on the streets, like you’re on a tape that’s going around. That’s what made it special: the mystery of not knowing what the MC looked like and being amazed by them.”

The battlefield was even harder for producers who, other than a shout out from the MC riding their beats, rarely got the credit they deserve for creating the soundscapes now synonymous with grime. Shifting the narrative must have been difficult, but with the likes of Steel Banglez making serious moves in UK music right now, the levels of success producers can achieve in their own right seems limitless. “It’s positive because producers are disrespected sometimes but their role in the scene is very important,” says Rapid. “You can’t go to a rave listening to a cappellas all night. They’ve needed to get their due for a while and it’s finally happening.”

Constantly chasing the need to test himself musically, Rapid has evolved, determined to stay away from the current musical trends of the day and ride his own wave of self-satisfaction. He reminds me throughout our conversation of his upcoming collaboration with one of his favourite artists, Nigerian Afrobeats star Wande Coal, and I can sense his excitement as he enters a new phase of creativity. And while a quintessential disciple of grime, Rapid’s story is forever one of constant movement and self-exploration, and long may it continue. “There are still loads of things I want to do that I haven’t,” he concludes. “Maybe it’s fear or being busy that’s prevented them from happening. But I don’t care about being the best artist or being on stage saying I’m the man and being a big celebrity, I just want to make music. If I can sit next to you, a music fan, tell you what I’ve got coming and you’re like, ‘Rah! Really?’ then that shows I haven’t done enough of what I can and need to do.”

Posted on September 27, 2018