Klashnekoff’s New Beginning...

Words: Jesse Bernard
Photography: Hyperfrank

Klashnekoff’s name is a play on the Russian rifle AK-47, for a reason. On occasion, he’s known as Ricochet Klashnekoff, and if you were to describe his flow—particularly on his 2004 underground smash “It’s Murda”—you would agree that it’s akin to the rapid, piercing sound of gunfire. When we chat over the phone, he talks at length about why he never considered himself UK hip-hop, and while a lot of people may put him in that category, Klashnekoff tells me the scene was far too broad to ever belong in one space, even back in the mid-2000s.

One of the many reasons why Klash was able to create such a legacy for himself was through the way he disregarded the barriers that were felt between UK hip-hop and grime. He’d worked with the likes of Ty, Rukus, Yogi and Baby J on the remix to “Let It Go”, and each of them were already household names within the hip-hop scene (Yogi went on to sign with Aftermath Entertainment). Then there was his appearance on the “Sometimes” remix with Kano—which, in some ways, helped boost the young MC’s profile beyond grime. And at a time when Jme and Skepta were still making their mark, Klash joined them on “110 Sessions” produced by Just Blaze in 2007. He showed MCs that it was okay to cross over, and if you observe the spaces where Kano, Jme and Skepta have been able to take their music to over the years, he was pivotal in reducing the friction between both scenes.

Klashnekoff’s last album, Back to the Sagas, dropped in 2010 and since then, life has gotten in the way—he moved to the Midlands and had children, but he doesn’t consider this a comeback, more so a new chapter. During that time, he had plans to release another, but his mother’s health issues and subsequent death two years ago halted them. His upcoming album, IONA (due Nov. 8), is a dedication to his late mother, whom the album is titled after. Klashnekoff has always been considered a heartfelt, expressive rapper that cuts straight down the middle with his words, rather than skirting around the edges, and on IONA, we hear an older and wiser but at the same time, grieving version of the spitter from Hackney. After fifteen years since the release of “It’s Murda” and his emergence on the scene, Klashnekoff says this stage in his life is “the end of the sagas and the start of a new beginning.”

“The UK hip-hop scene used to be a bit of a boys’ club, and I didn’t subscribe to that shit because I came from the street.”

Talk to me about the album’s name, because there are a lot of references to your mother on there.

I don’t usually have a concept when it comes to making albums, but with this one, it was dedicated to my mum; even going as far as naming it after her. “Freedom” was written before she passed away and I was in Nottingham recording with Joe Buddah; that’s when I first got the phone call that she was ill. She had a couple of strokes and was on dialysis so I wasn’t even sure if she was gonna make it. Subsequently, she was okay for a few years but died after some complications.

Have you been able to come to terms with the way she passed away?

It’s only now, when the album’s coming, that I’ve been able to. For the past couple years, I’ve been dealing with all of her affairs—her pension, the house, and all the things you’re never prepared for when a family member passes away. I’ve been on autopilot so, in terms of coming to terms with it, I don’t know... I would say that chapter has been put to bed and I’ve laid her to rest, but it took me about two and a half years of dealing with her affairs. And that’s not even the emotional side of things.

There’s a quote on the album where you say, “Dedicated to mum: Paulette Iona Kandler, end of the sagas, start of a new beginning.” Is that in reference to having ended that chapter?

Yeah, definitely. And also the relationship between me and my mum wasn’t always easy. There’s a song on Lionheart called “Rest Of Our Lives”, where I talk about the things we went through and how the relationship affected me, in terms of how I interacted with other people and my personality... I mean, that’s my mum innit! Our relationship wasn’t always a good one. In that regard, I feel like I evolved into someone who was much more mature and I let go of stuff that was affecting me for years. Putting her to rest helped me put that part of my life to rest. It’s an end to who I used to be and the person that went through all of that shit.

Did the album give you some sort of respite in any way while you were recording?

It was a difficult time. I was dealing with my mum’s stuff, and I have children myself. I also wasn’t earning. Balancing all of that was a struggle but the album itself kept me sane; it felt like a sense of achievement. No matter what was going on that day, I’d find my way to the studio and I’m coming home with that song! I was fucked up throughout the whole thing. I was in a bubble. It wasn’t cathartic like it is for a lot of artists who dedicate albums to loved ones, it was just more about me getting it done. I was in the midst of the feelings so I couldn’t say I was aware of all that.

I can hear that on some of the tracks, especially on “M.B.K.” It felt like you were just venting and getting stuff off your chest; those emotions you were feeling definitely came through on there. No one ever really talks about all the things you have to do when a family member passes away, and it’s something that you often have to deal with by yourself.

Yeah, bruv. I’m an only child and our relationship wasn’t great—we hadn’t seen each other for seven years prior to that. It was a very surreal thing to come back into her life, look after her and take care of all of her affairs by myself. I didn’t even have the money to bury her—she sat in a freezer for a few months. I did have people around me, but they weren’t able to help. Even talking about it now gets me vex, bruv.

Have you been able to speak to anyone about it professionally?

Nah, not at all. I mean, it’s something I feel like I should get. But if I did, it wouldn’t be just about that situation because, when I was young, I saw some counsellors. It’s surreal going through all of that. Witnessing how people react when others die is interesting. Nothing’s sacred. You think that people will begin to show their humanity when people pass, but you see the true colours and all the jancro. It was very hard, so doing this album was amazing to me. I can’t believe I actually made it! Now when I look back at the album, it feels special.

It really is a special album and it feels as though you came back at the right time, although the circumstances behind it weren’t so great.

Not even, bruv [laughs]. Depending on what type of fan you are, it will depend on when you think I came back because some people stopped listening after Focus Mode. I feel like I barely ever come back. I drop something and then I disappear again, so I don’t feel there’s ever been one but now is the right time to ‘come back’. It’s also about bringing some balance that’s missing.

Do you have long-term plans in that regard?

Yeah, it’s just about staying consistent. There’s a lot of music that I’ve sat on. The album features K9 and Ricko, who both appeared on Back to the Sagas, and that’s when they were first around me. I’ve got a couple side projects with them but the bottom line is that I’m trying to bring through a lot more talent.

“I think a lot of the people that are winning right now are either my fans or peers, and I’ve got a lot of love and respect out there.”

It’s a completely different climate to how it was when you dropped that project, even going all the way back to 2004 when the first album came out. How does it feel when the landscape doesn’t look the same?

The scene’s in a healthy place. In some of my older interviews, I talked a lot about artists taking back control. Technology has helped artists and, even with me, I’m always trying to keep up with it and I’m a fan of the game itself. I think a lot of the people that are winning right now are either my fans or peers, and I’ve got a lot of love and respect out there. I’m in a good place right now; it’s a new beginning. There were certain things I was doing which people were frowning upon, but the UK hip-hop scene used to be a bit of a boys’ club and I didn’t subscribe to that shit because I came from the street. I knew this moment was going to happen because the people power is strong.

A lot of the people that were around way back when aren’t here anymore.

Remember, I was one of the first UK rappers to make a tune with Kano and Jammer—I was on Lord Of The Mics. I did stuff with Skepta and Jme, so I fully embraced the grime man and they did that with me. Part of that was because a lot of the MCs were from my area and people I grew up with, so it was natural for me to spit in double time. That’s why I used to say in a lot of my interviews that I wasn’t UK hip-hop because it was a boys’ club, and I got slated for it but I don’t think people understood what I was trying to say. I’ve come through this channel because it was one of the few that was available to me—but because of my area, I was trying to tell these guys that there’s a whole other lane where street guys aren’t listening to hip-hop. And UK hip-hop man weren’t listening to them, but then grime became big and now it’s road music that’s big. There were so many other areas I was involved in when it came to music that I don’t even dwell on what they were saying back then.

Now people are saying grime is dead.

This is what I’m saying. It doesn’t really matter if you came through grime or not because the culture we’ve been brought up in is hip-hop, grime, reggae, soul, soca, bashment and lover’s rock. I’ve got a mad eclectic taste, so that’s why I could never subscribe to just UK hip-hop. I understand why people get put in certain categories because that’s all they know. When I dropped The Sagas of Klashnekoff, it was loved by the streets, the hip-hop scene, intellectuals, Muslims, Turks, the grime heads. I’ve done shows with Congo Natty where he’s brought me out at a drum & bass event and I’ll come and perform “It’s Murda” and destroy the whole place, after the audience has just listened to a jungle set or something. He told me that this crowd of people wouldn’t necessarily go to a hip-hop show, but they love my music. I do think my music connects with so many people because I’ve been able to share a connection with all types of crowds.

All of these scenes are all branches coming off of one tree. It’s weird how the divide has been brought about because no one’s listening to just one genre.

This is it. The culture that I come from, we’d go raving and there’d be girls there. When we went to hip-hop shows, there’d hardly be any girls there unless they came with their boyfriend. So it was very much a boys’ club, and I think a lot of it was down to the way people dressed. Trying not to judge but the culture I come from, we take pride in the way we look when we go out and the hip-hop shows were very grungy. They used to frown on you if you sang on a track, if you did double time—they thought you were trying to be grime because it was so rigid. There’s less boundaries now because that’s what music has always been about and the gatekeepers put these things in boxes because it’s easier for them to understand and control. Now I’m going to events and seeing audiences absorb different sounds in one night; now they’ve got much more of an eclectic taste.

You mentioned earlier that you moved away from London. Has that helped to give you a semblance of some peace of mind?

I moved in 2011, but it’s a funny story because I came to shoot a video and I just never left. I made some good friends and I felt like I could be myself because no one knew me. I was free to take time out and reflect on life. Coming back to Hackney was weird because I remembered that I’m a friend, brother and son, because I stayed away for so long. It was nice to come back, but at the same time it was a culture shock. I came back and there were new people, new buildings—it was like I just came home from jail or something! I still saw bare crackheads, though. That was a weird culture shock, seeing the consequences of gentrification.

“I love rap, but I don’t want it to be the only reason that people know me. There’s more to me than just Klashnekoff.”

I was wondering how much your environment influenced the end product, and tracks like “One Time” articulate that.

I was in the thick of it. Even when I was writing “M.B.K.” and “One Time”, I was at my mum’s house and money was low. I was writing songs with tears in my eyes—I was in the thick of it! Normally, I write after I’ve processed whatever I’m going through, but this time I wrote most of it while I was going through it bar the intro. The day after my mum passed away, I wrote the longest lyric and I was so surprised with myself because it was the first time I was able to put whatever I was feeling, straight to paper.

There’s no hook to “M.B.K.” either, so whatever you were feeling at the time is expressed vividly and you can hear it in your cadence.

I knew it was always gonna come out like that. I remember sending voice notes to Ricko and I was gonna use some of them as skits. He had a similar situation where he lost someone really close to him, and it kind of brought us closer together because you’re already working out who’s a real friend. It’s mad how people react when people die. I was very angry at the time; it was next-level anger.

So what’s next for you in this chapter of your life?

There’s still a lot I want to do creatively. I used to act, so I want to get back into that. I used to have all these characters on my projects so I’m looking at ways to bring my ideas to life. I love rap, but I don’t want it to be the only reason that people know me. There’s more to me than just Klashnekoff.

Posted on October 10, 2019