Freddie Scragg, aka: Yama, and Asa Hugo, aka: Mezu, are no strangers to waves, both growing up around island life in Jersey. Wanting a piece of the big city, the duo found new home-port in London, and started producing together soon after. The result: a sound that is everything 140 wants and needs to be. Following their latest EP, released on their very own label, Hot Contents Records, we chatted about the journey to the projects release, what London is saying in the frequency, and any future prospects.
Humility. It’s a sad rarity these days. In a world of industry fed, ego-dwelling “I’m the next Skream” or “You’ll remember me” spouting Bristolians, Fred and Asa’s humble demeanors are a welcome refreshment. Coming from a small, often forgotten island, and making a name for themselves in the big smoke, a lack of pretentiousness seems about right. “I find it weird just using artist names. Because It took us so long to find our titles. We thought, what kinda music are we making? It’s a dark, underground sound. That led me to wonder, what are the names of the guardians of the underground in different religions and faiths, Yama is in Hinduism and Mezu is in Buddhism. It doesn’t really have a wider meaning or applicability to us, but it does sound nice and definitely comes from a place of respect”.
Both share a love for radio. Asa had started work for Subtle FM before the forced break, “radio is a good place to get picked up and an easy way to see how people will play at an event. Radio is a key part in keeping Grime alive and how it is, every week there is someone doing a set.” Fred works at Rinse FM as a sound engineer, currently making sure all shows are online and everything is running smoothly during the lockdown period. Producing for the likes of Oblig, Slimzee and Swamp 81, his branches are intertwined with the unfurling roots of the Grime tree. “It’s the best place you can possibly imagine for meeting DJs and artists. It gives a visual picture of where you can get to”. Working alongside Grime heavyweights in the intense, isolated environment which radio often provides clearly enhances any aspirations in the scene.
Anyone based North of the Watford gap would be quick to ignore the sense of community found in the London 140 scene, contrary to the perception of London being a city of individuals all out for themselves. “At least once or twice a month there will be a free event, and everyone is there. All the decks are in the crowd, so you’ll just be stood next to people you see on radio all the time. You’ll go out and everyone is just stood chilling together and it’s quite weird how chilled out It is. They have a nice vibe to them because they aren’t in the proper nightclubs and it makes everything seem a lot more accessible. It’s a lot easier to network through people like that.” Not only does this provide a platform for MCs to keep raising the level in a battle of wits, it allows producers to get their beats played and wedge a foot in the door.
“If you get a Grime mc on a nice Dubstep beat it sounds so much better than some of the Grime that’s around today, that’s the kind of thing we want to do.”
Every artist needs some form of presence in online broadcasts, and their scenes live show ecosystem, in order to flourish. With a foothold in both these environments, the duo have built a foundation for their body of work to hit the next level. Logan delivers the piercing vocals heard on each track. It was through a run in with Logan by the toilets at Keep Hush where the seed for ‘Too Serious’ was sowed. “I find with MCs some of them are really reluctant and are just doing it (talking to you) for you to just go off, but when we met Logan it was completely different to that. He’s just a sound bloke.”
While finalizing a beat in the studio, Yama and Mezu again spotted Logan nearby. “He came back, me and Fred were just messing around but realised we had to get as much done in the next 10 minutes as we could so he could know what’s good. He was recording an all-star track for Lord of The Mics tape and he saw the beats we had and just said straight away he wanted to do it. He started writing lyrics when he first heard the beat. It’s sick watching Logan work, if he does something, he does it properly and it really affected us when we first started working with him. Loads of beats we had probably never would’ve been used and just stayed in the hard drive. His work rate is second to none.” The way the whole package has come together seems as if it was fate. In reality,
it is the determination of each individual to their craft and a collective understanding. A real hunger for greatness.
Their devilish trifecta with Logan bears all the symbols of classic grime, from writing to distribution, everything is DIY. “We had loads of ideas for videos but we couldn’t get anything prepared so Logan got his mate to film him on 1 road and edited it himself all in the 48 hours before the release.” This release stands testament to the fact that potential barriers can always be hurdled, irrespective of time constraint or resources. Fred and Asa live through their work, constantly itching to put out music. “We wanna get hot contents (their own record label) going and have others release on that too. We were speaking to Zha who does White Peach, he started signing people for at least 3 releases, but they can release on different labels as well. The 140 scene is good for that. We have said we definitely want releases on other labels. Gigs are just something that will come, we want to focus on DJing and getting our tracks sick.”
If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. Production duos from Mount Kimbie to Digital Mystikz have long proven their value and advantages, and it appears to be a similar story for Yama and Mezu. “It’s good having 2 people because sometimes you doubt yourself so if they come and say nah that’s sick then things move a lot quicker.” While they pack a powerful double-punch, both artists are independently driven, with different pools of inspiration to draw from. The next EP looks as though it will demonstrate a different side, a more instrumental project that will include a solo track apiece, further building on the experimental and boundary pushing sounds they are defined by.
Despite Yama currently making beats on a ping pong table, these perfectionists set a standard of quality they never wanted to fall below. They are a duo defined by the fluidity of their interactions, the quality of their output, and the warm, real, attitude towards music making and living in London. Don’t sleep.
Yama- A ginger nut because that’s what I’ve been called from since I was young anyway so I might as well own it
Mezu- A jammy dodger because I’m hard on the outside and gooey on the inside
Yama- Head of a croc, body of a cheetah and mind of a dolphin because It would be smart, fast and deadly
Mezu- I would be a honey badger swordfish with the mind of a chimpanzee so I’m a smart amphibian apex predator
Rider Shafique is a multi-talented artist with a CV that crosses more boundaries than Roadrunner. Having collaborated with genre defining producers such as Kahn, Sam Binga, Ishan Sound, Gantz, Epoch, and QZB, his style is unfairly versatile, from reggae to Drum and Bass. Releasing on heavyweight labels like Deep Medi Musik, Bandulu, Young Echo, Peng Sound, Dub-Stuy Records, Hotline Recordings, Exit Records and Black Box, Riders credentials and sonic significance are no joke.
A calm and confident energy soaks through any feature with Rider, “I was Born and raised in Gloucester, it’s small but it’s quite intense and there’s a lot happening but also not a lot happening if you get me. There’s lots of people coming in and out from all over the world which is a reflection of me in a sense that there’s lots of influences. Growing up in a multicultural area is where I think my influences are”.
Music for Rider has always been an expression. “Music is an escapism, both now and back then, I think it will always be, and it was where I found my identity, made sense of who I was. I would learn through reggae music and HipHop, it really helped me form who I was, but it’s also so much more, you look to music for fashion… lots of things”. Everything in the house would be done to music and each car journey narrated by a song, music was like a sibling, in that they shared all the same family experiences. It was the way music was used that resonated with Rider.
So, “growing up I would mainly listen to reggae and dancehall, but it would all bleed over. There would be different things playing by my parents and sounds especially from the UK that would have elements of all different genres. People like Soul II Soul and Omar would borrow from HipHop, borrow from reggae, borrow from soul and all merge together. I wouldn’t be listening to strictly one thing and at this time there were so many new sounds coming out like jungle which was an amalgamation or the British interpretation of all these sounds”. With strong family influences, his Auntie was a singer and uncles on both sides collected records and his father and friends built their own Sound systems, Shafique’s ascendency into a life of music was seemingly predestined.
“Listening to rap at an early age, we would listen to lyrics and everyone knew the hook but certain lyrics stood out for some reason or other, because of a meaning to you and to your life, it resonated within you. If someone’s verse stood out to me, I would write out the whole of that verse and look at what the rapper, MC or vocalist would do. When starting out as an MC what me and my friends used to do was buy a reggae 7” and they’d always have the instrumental on the B-side and rap vinyl’s as well. We’d just mess around, doing it as a joke to begin with, have a clash between ourselves and people we knew”.
Having natural talent for some people can only take them to a certain point, Rider knew how to push himself and develop into the ever-adaptable wordsmith he’s become known as. A love for music and community saturates through Riders every ambition, both acting as the fuel and unending pool of inspiration in which to draw from.
“When I started out and I was wanting to be a Hip-Hop or Dance Hall MC but I’d always have an open mind when it came to tunes.” One of the first times moving away from this was when he went down to Brighton, starting to work alongside a group called Pressure Drop, who were making trip-hop, “People would say at the time ‘what you doing that for? That music isn’t what you are wanting to be doing, that doesn’t sound right or it won’t buss”.
In developing his artistry and talent, its clear Rider wanted to be a part of everything boundary pushing and exciting, branching into modern-dubstep, spoken-word, and drum & bass. “All these variations of music are still a part of me, but it is not me saying that I want to do strictly this. I have to be flexible with my music, which I love. To me personally I think it’s all the same thing; whether its grime, dubstep, drum and bass, hip-hop, it’s all the same. I write my bars to the beat, if it’s a fast drum and bass beat I’m going to try and flow like that. I’ve listened to enough music to know what works on what, it all comes from the same thing. That’s why my name is Rider because from a young age I could ride the beat, I could ride a track no matter what genre. I think some people box themselves in saying they are strictly just a jungle MC, just a Hip-Hop MC”.
Breaking onto the music scene is an incredibly hard feat to pull off, especially in a world void of the internet and far reaching social media platforms, this was the climate in which Rider broke through. People had to dish out hard earned dollar to buy tracks from record stores. The beauty was in the style of promotion, mainly playing at nights and word of mouth. This gave artists the chance to throw dub-plates with the best of them and gain recognition. Whilst the reach wasn't as wide as the internet, it cemented a bond much quicker. In some respects the dubstep scene at the time it was easier to break onto because artists would find themselves in environments consisting of likeminded and talented artists. A much smaller group yes, but one that was constantly gaining traction. “In Bristol I used to get booked to play SubDub, where you’d have people like Benga playing, you’d have Skream, D-Double would be MC’ing, there’d be the local lot playing and downstairs would be Teachings in Dub and Pinch would be there. I’d be meeting these people face to face, so at this time it was a lot about people you know and people you meet who hear you and then all of a sudden you’re connected with whoever they know”. A snowball effect of momentum and opportunities takes over when you’re in that environment and no example demonstrates this more clearly than that of Rider Shafique.
Working with a group in Japan, Undefined, Shafique released the track ‘Three dub’ on ZamZam. This is a spoken word piece that meets experimental dub and ambient interplanetary electronics. In a moment of profound introspection and vulnerability, ‘Three’ banished all thoughts of flash-in-the-pan big tunes for an incredibly deep and immersive dive. “I really enjoyed it because it’s a different atmosphere. It was dub-poetry with a live band that brings a different atmosphere, people can actually listen to what I’m saying and it is real live music. It has elements of everything I like, the heavy baselines, well we can re-create that.”
More recently released through ZamZam is a collaborative project with Ishan Sound & Kahn called ‘When Shall we rise’, a sonic expansion on the political foundations of Shafique’s spoken word, offering a valuable perspective to ongoing and systemic racism in what is supposed to be a liberal meritocratic society. The voice of Rider, in an almost mythical sense, is able to craft a message that appeals to a revelatory spiritual call-to-arms.
“If I feel the music, I can work with it. If there’s a specific theme or feeling you want me to work with just say and I’ll do it. It’s simple. It’s different though when I did the intro and outro for Swindle’s album he rang me months before and told me what he wanted but me and him are on the same wavelength anyway. When you work collaboratively with people you have to have the same sort of vision. Nothing can be 100% me because you have to respect whoever you’re working with. It all depends on how much control you have”
There is a recurring focus on the post-modern political climate that has become a distinction of Rider’s discography. In the I-Dentity EP, Rider draws on his own experiences of alienation growing up in British society to create two works of thought surrounding racial identity. When asked how this piece was created, “Someone asked me to do a play in Gloucester at a local theatre company, they wanted more diversity in theatre, so they asked me to do a piece. I just wrote on my strengths, I based it all on my spoken word, I didn’t try to be this big playwriter. I was given a few instrumentals from El Kid & Amos from Young Echo, and I wrote pieces that addressed my identity and my experiences. It didn’t happen overnight, I can go in the studio and make a track there & then but this took longer. I always write to music, always write to beats but on these instrumentals there’s not much of a beat its more just ambience”. With less, its sometimes possible for more to be heard, an important consideration for an important message, in a divisive post-Brexit Britain.
Rider Shafique is a unique, talented, and intrinsic voice in the struggling music community of lockdown 2020. Offering commentary on division and identity, but also messages of unity and togetherness. It is music that acts as this medium, and it is a platform he has truly mastered. The cultural impact that he has had on the UK music scene thus far has been done with a mere scratch on the surface of his talent and ideas. As Rider continues to surf the sonic waves with a board made of fire, unity, and love, you can be sure the next destination is an exciting one.
Favourite song of his;
Gantz - Sharkeyes ft Rider Shafique.
If you were a biscuit what biscuit would you be & why?
Ginger biscuit, little bit of spice in there, bit a heat know what I mean
What is your animal hybrid? A mix of two animals physically & the mind of a third.
Tiger, with wings & mind of an elephant
Keep upto date with Rider Shafique
Soundcloud - https://soundcloud.com/rider-shafique
Multi Link - https://linktr.ee/rider_shafique