Words: Isobel Trott
Ahead of the free hip-hop workshop he is running for us on 3rd May, academic, teacher, hip-hop head and musician Steg G took some time out of his hectic teaching and music making schedule to tell us a little bit more about what they can expect from the digital workshop. Steg dives into why teaching hip-hop in various contexts is so important, and gives us some expert knowledge and recommendations on the flourishing and varied Scottish hip-hop scene.
So Steg, what are you up to at the moment? What’s happening for you music-wise?
I’m always working on music and got a few new projects in the pipeline at the moment. About to relaunch my record label as well in the autumn and got quite an ambitious plan for that too. And definitely excited about that.
You’re also involved with Sunny G Radio in Glasgow, is that right?
Yeah, I’m the station manager for Sunny G Radio. I love being part of Sunny G, it helps to do a lot of good work for the community. It helps support local artists, it helps to join the dots of community life together, such as [with] musicians, with activists, with community workers, with young people, with older people. I really see Sunny Govan as like a tapestry of Glasgow. We’ve got like a hip-hop element, a folk element, our young people, our old people, our recovery element, you know, it’s just all these different patches that make it a very colourful broadcast. That’s how I like to see it anyway!
And how’s the fundraising going for Sunny G?
Yeah fundraising is good... Fundraising is always challenging for being a small Scottish charity, we kinda rely on fundraising, even pre-COVID as well we would be quite active fundraising. Sometimes it’s hard to get money for radio activities. Although that’s changed a little bit – changed a lot actually because of COVID, because people now realise the value of radio. Whereas pre-COVID people were sort of bypassing radio for new media, etc, etc, etc. Not realising that accessibility is really, really important. And also what we offer is up to the minute – up to the second – updates, so that people can find out a bit what’s happening.
At the moment we’re [all] thinking about reopening – as in society reopening. So that means certain businesses are reopening. But they’re only maybe half reopening. So we’re hoping to attract some advertising to let the public know ‘this business’ has reopened ‘this day’. But there’s going to be some conditions to that as well.
In terms of the hip-hop workshop on 3rd May, you’ve got coming up with us, could you tell people a bit more about that, what it’s going to involve? What they can expect?
Well, firstly, the hip-hop workshops we do with the Academy is fun. You don’t need to have a big, massive, huge experience of making hip-hop or being involved in hip-hop. If you enjoy hip-hop music, that does help a lot, but certainly, we will help participants learn more about how they can refine their rap skills. Maybe they’ve never rapped before and its all about helping them find their voice and give them confidence to express themselves. Because putting yourself out there sometimes – well, it is – it’s really personal. And that can be a big jump for people going from the paper to performing.
We give people who are maybe a bit more advanced in songwriting and lyric writing some tips, some tricks, some examples about how they can refine what they do. And again, we never really want to the take away from the participants’ creativity, we just want to support them to grow in a direction that suits them. Not everyone wants to be a rapper though, a lot of people want to be involved in hip-hop and find out how to make music or record raps or get into the music production part of it too. So we talk about that. And we show people how they can make music using a phone, or a tablet, or a laptop using free software which is widely available.
I’m a big advocate of music for everybody. That’s one of the things that attracted me to hip-hop initially, the fact that this is music which does not necessarily have a barrier to entry. You don’t necessarily need to save up to buy an instrument. You don’t necessarily need to spend years on your music theory. If you’re creative and you’re passionate and you’re wanting to get involved in music, then hip hop’s always been a great vehicle for that. And I always encourage people to get involved in music because it’s a vehicle for everyone. We live in such a time of technology it has made it… not necessarily dead easy, because you still need to be creative, still need to have good ideas to make music… But the technology can help us to speed up the process, and maybe get rid of a lot of the… a lot of time that we take maybe to even master [things like] playing a guitar. We can bypass that a little bit with technology these days. And that’s not taking away from the music that’s made via technology, the music is still incredible and still very, very expressive and creative. It’s just, I like people to know that music is for everyone. Whether they’ve done music before or are not experienced in music. And hip-hop is a great tool for that.
You’ve run a few short courses for us before. I know you’ve had some interesting people turn up like Karen Dunbar before. What’s the response to those been like?
Oh, yeah, I love the short courses that we do because I never know who’s going to come through the door – metaphorically speaking on Teams at the moment. But I always get inspired by the participants too. I get inspired because they are keen to develop their musicality, and that inspires me to see they have made a jump, a significant jump, to go and get involved in music education and a music training programme.
I’m also very inspired by the diversity of the participants. And of course, there’s young people, there’s older people, there’s celebrities, there’s Reverends, and everything in between. Really to see how such a wide demographic can embrace and get something out of being involved in making hip hop music is dead exciting. And I also almost get an insight into the future of Scottish hip-hop – because I get to see the talent before everyone else does. So I quite enjoy that too.
It’s interesting you say there’s been such a broad demographic in attendance and lots of people seem to be interested in it. Do you think hip-hop tends to have a stigma around it? And some people have a certain pre-judgement about it?
Yeah, there’s a stigma. Or, an idea of what people think hip-hop is. Unfortunately, that’s due to mainstream media, sensationalist journalism, etc. The hip-hop that we hear on the radio, see on TV, it’s not really reflective of ‘true’ hip hop. That’s reflecting a mainstream Hollywood record industry style of hip-hop. And not necessarily hip-hop that gets played in people’s houses, or people’s cars or people’s Spotify playlists, you’ll find that’s a lot more underground what people are listening to as well.
“I like people to know that music is for everyone. Whether they’ve done music before or are not experienced in music. And hip-hop is a great tool for that.”
It’s good it’s increasingly being seen as more open. And that hip-hop is being taught more as well!
I think people are seeing themselves reflected back in hip-hop and Scotland as well. For the first time, people are seeing people like myself, people are seeing female MCs, people are seeing transgender rappers, people are seeing older people, younger people, celebrities, all getting involved in it. And not necessarily seeing big gold chains and that model of gangsta rap that we get subjected to a lot. It’s really starting to relate to more people as a vehicle. And people are thinking, ‘I could do this’ or ‘I could use this in my music,’ or ‘I could use this to express myself as well’.
Also, I know that people are sometimes scared to go to hip-hop shows because they don’t know what to expect. They think that crowd is gonna be hostile, or a testosterone-filled environment, which is not a friendly place to be. It’s the total opposite! In Scotland it’s the total opposite. When people do go to these events, they find that everyone appreciates people for coming and [they] want to get involved and to find out more. We don’t have a certain ‘dress code’, people can look like they want to look. And also the music that people are rapping and performing is relating to a wider audience too. So people might come and they might go and witness a rap battle, but when they go, they realise it’s just normal people having fun, enjoying music, and they’ll tend to bring the friends along the next time. So I definitely see it building.
In terms of the Scottish hip-hop scene, from what I can tell it seems like there’s definitely a real underground flourishing scene going on. What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah Scottish hip-hop is at a very exciting place at the moment. It is a little bit behind England. And England is a little bit behind the rest of the world as well [laughs]. We’re also starting to see English MCs like slowthai being critically successful, critically acclaimed with their music [globally], people like Stormzy are always top of the charts. There’s also an underground movement in UK hip-hop as well.
Scotland is a little bit behind that, Scotland has always been a little bit behind on media because of geographic position as well. And maybe a little bit of the ‘Scottish Cringe’ has held us back throughout these years. Scottish people used to hate to hear themselves back in the media. They call it the ‘Scottish Cringe’, and basically we were told – taught by school – that our accents, our voices, sounded lower-class. Because we never used to hear Scottish accents on TV, that’s why I didn’t hear people sing in Scottish accents, the only one that we’d hear was The Proclaimers! Years and years ago. And they would get a lot of slagging for that too.
But you know, there’s always been Scottish bands, from punk to funk, to folk to rock. They all use their own accents now. So we’ve come through quite a transition as a culture, as a society, where we’re embracing our own accents, own words, own identity. And that’s a very very powerful thing. Again, the media, the mainstream things like the BBC saying that you need an Inverness accent – that this is the acceptable Scottish accent. If you live in Pollock in Glasgow, your accent is only on the TV for comedy purposes, mostly at the butt of a joke. Thankfully we have people like Loki now who is challenging that and flipping that narrative on its head now. So exciting times for Scotland for Scottish hip-hop. And I do feel like we are on the cusp of having our first superstars, whoever they may be. I don’t know who that is. Obviously, I did wish I knew who that was [laughs]! But I think we’re on the cusp of that, well, that’s this year or next year, but very soon.
How about yourself, how did you get into hip hop? What introduced you to it?
I got into it because I was always into music, playing guitar. Then I discovered hip hop through breakdancing, through what they call B-boying. But I was really into the music first, the dancing was sort of a reaction to the music. But I loved the fact the music was so different from the music that I was being brought up on. I was brought up on my parents’ music collection and their influences. But when I heard hip-hop it was raw drum machines, samples, and recorders. It sounded like music of my generation. It wasn’t my parents music, it was something that was new, something that was fresh, something that I could get involved in. I always loved a bit of hip-hop, even being a white person from Pollock in Glasgow, I always knew that hip-hop was for everyone because the messages rappers would say – it was always about reflecting their environment, reflecting their community, reflecting their own experiences. And I love that about hip-hop, so I really got into it quite quickly, and stuck to my guns, and said I’m just gonna go blinkered, do hip-hop, and be a hip-hop artist.
Which artists acted as your first introduction into hip-hop? Who are your favourites?
I have to say Public Enemy. Public Enemy was a massive influence on me for lots of reasons. They had the Sonics. They had the message. They had the team behind them as well. Public Enemy was a movement. It wasn’t just one person rapping a song, it was – let’s reflect our community, our society, let’s try and change, let’s educate people. And let’s empower people as well.
So I really liked that about Public Enemy. But then technically, Chuck D is a great lyricist, he’s got the voice of power, such a powerful voice – and the production of Public Enemy is so intricate and layered, and dense and musical. But it sounds almost like a wall of sound at some points just due to how advanced they were back in the day. It still really sounds good too. And Public Enemy are still doing great records in 2020 as well, making amazing albums right now. So really, it’s about the day. Lots of people coming up now – far too many probably to list! But then I’m also the kind of person who doesn’t look back too much in hip-hop. I like to look forward and see what’s coming next, what’s coming up right now. I will look back more one day, but not jus’ now.
Yeah. It’s easy to get nostalgic about.
Yeah, I think so! There’s still a lot to be done, that’s what I think. And I think, I mean, I’m optimistic, but I think the best hip-hop is still to be made…
In terms of teaching hip-hop and applying it to education and in music schools, what do you think the value of that is? Why hasn’t it been done as much as other areas of music teaching?
Yes. It’s a great question. I guess there’s a few reasons for that. There’s been a stereotype of hip-hop, that it’s derogatory to women, it causes violence, it’s materialistic – that’s not going to work in the classroom. That stereotype straightaway is a block. But again, that’s the element of hip-hop that people experience through the mainstream. So if you are an educator, and you don’t know hip-hop, and you’re only exposed to Tupac, and NWA and Dr. Dre or whoever, then that’s what you’ll think hip-hop is. So it won’t translate to the classroom. But if you experience some of the great lyricists, some of the great hip-hop records, some of the canon of hip-hop, you’ll learn why that’s respected and why it’s part of the canon. Then that certainly can access the curriculum and open up teachers’ minds.
Although teachers are changing. A lot of hip-hop people are now involved in education. Whereas before it was maybe traditional musicians or rock musicians or mainstream musicians that moved into education. Now hip-hop artists are moving into education as well. And not just music education – and not just hip-hop artists! Hip-hop fans can be head teachers, they can be police people, they can be the pillars of our society now. And I know that they are.
Hip-hop’s not a scary thing. And also, it would be silly for teachers and academics not to recognise that’s where the kids are listening to and learning from, in terms of engaging in music. Hip-hop is a massive thing in communities. My experiences in communities in Scotland, hip hop’s a massive thing for young people in communities in Scotland, and I think teachers are kinda catching up on that and thinking, how can we embrace this energy? How can we channel this into positivity and how can we use this as part of our curriculum as well?
I do see pockets in Scotland, like I worked in Peterhead, and Peterhead is a very remote, North of Scotland, fishing Village. I was sent up there to do some work last year. I didn’t know what to expect, but all the kids up there were listening to hardcore drill music! They’re listening to the same music the kids in London are listening to and making the same music. Because of the internet there is no such barrier anymore. There’s not even that time delay. Whereas before, you’d have to wait til a record came out or seen a video on MTV. It’s quite instant now. And it’s great to see the young people up there – and I’m talking people from 8 till 14/15, – kids at that age are really into hip-hop music. And thankfully the teachers up there identified that and knew there wasn’t a lot of educators in that area, so they brought me up to help get the kids a little plan of action and to give them some tips to make their music.
It’s sort of taking away those negative attitudes towards it and finding the value in it to teach it as well? It’s such a global thing, it would be silly not to acknowledge its power and its influence?
Yep. What I find myself teaching young people a lot is Literacy as well. Sometimes our Literacy or our English lessons get neglected in school because of the way they’re delivered. People are not interested. But if you talk about some of the poetic techniques that you might learn in English, but learn it in a hip hop context, then you start to learn what alliteration means, what assonance means, you start to learn more about language. And that’s a great skill for young people.
Yes! Much more accessible to some kids than just teaching Shakespeare or something?
Yeah, yeah. And that makes young people more confident with using language and grammar. And that obviously gives them some great life skills as well.
Like you said, using the patterns and rhythms and rhythms of hip-hop can be used to teach subjects like English too – writing and poetry. As well as they themes and stories a lot of hip-hop talks about can be applied to History and other subjects. It’s great more people are aware of it in that sense, as well as just teaching the music.
Exactly. There’s a lot of life skills to be learned from getting involved in hip hop, like any musical genre, there’s a lot of skills that will benefit people in lots of ways throughout their life.
Is there anything else you’re working on at the moment?
It’s all top secret the moment! [laughs] – I hate to say it but yeah. No, it’s not top secret, there’s just nothing 100% confirmed at the moment. I’m waiting for a couple of commissions to be confirmed in the next couple of weeks. And then I will know my lay land for the next few weeks. But I’m always keeping busy, I guess my big news is the relaunch of a record label Power Cut Productions to give a home for Scottish hip-hop artists again.
I did notice through my last release – my last release did extremely well in terms of sales and engagement. So I definitely see a growth and interest in Scottish hip-hop and music, but nowhere really promotes and supports and gives home to Scottish hip-hop. So that’s what we’re aiming to do for the winter season.
One last thing, if you were to recommend three Scottish hip-hop artists for people to go to and listen to if they hadn’t heard any Scottish rap before, who would you suggest they listen to?
Straight away my mind goes to Empress, Empress being one of the greatest rappers in Scotland. She’s based in Paisley, she just put out an album last year called Love Wins. She’s just a fire rapper. Going to have to say Loki, Loki he just gets better with age like a fine wine you know! Or should we say whiskey in this country! [laughs]. Even though he’s in the public eye in a different light, that’s made his pen game a lot stronger when it comes to hip-hop. Because in his heart, Loki is a hip-hop head, who happens to write books and make TV programmes. But hip-hop is his thing. And really he’s just been phenomenal. I don’t know if the world sees that, but his hip-hop is at top tier at the moment, I think it’s getting overshadowed by his TV and media coverage, etc.
And I’m going to shout out my good friend Dave Hook from Stanley Odd as well. I think that’s three good examples. Stanley Odd are a more… You can’t really put Stanley Odd in a bracket either, they’re such a great innovative outfit. Poignant lyrics, heartfelt songs, some songs you can just party to as well. So that’d be by three artists. Empress, Loki and Stanley Odd.