HANDSOME DESGRACIAS

I approached Coolio Desgracias about doing a quick EP to keep busy in the first few weeks of lockdown. He jumped on the idea, suggesting we model it after Champion Sound – both of us working separately, spitting over each other’s beats. We immediately hooked in, a fun no-stress exercise smashing something out ahead of the long-gestating Northside Swag Unit EP (more on that next time!).

Needless to say, Coolio’s beats were awesome. For my production, I sent him a handful of beats with samples chopped from records from my last trip to Japan – consider it the latest Lion’s Mansion instalment – and some of my recent raids on new mecca Championship Vinyl. Coolio has an inherent distaste for ‘keyboard beats’ so I sent him my most Madlib-esque flips. Though my favourite track ended up being Nonsense Rhyme where I mixed 60s psychedelic rock with my own trap production, an arrangement idea I took from Pusha T’s Come Back Baby.

As a rapper, I knew I needed to put myself into a box. My rules for this project were 1. No standard hip-hop flexing, slang or ebonics, and 2. No stream of consciousness – every song had to have a story.

Firegolds, Part One is a 1920s mob vignette, about a young buck’s first day bootlegging and the bloody outcome – crime doesn’t pay, kids! The ‘part one’ is a nod to the fact the song abruptly ends at its most climatic moment. There’s definite flavours of A Prince Among Thieves, especially my roping in of Nick to play a between-verse radio announcer and Coolio to play a heavy!

Tierwater Blues saw me riffing on the first chapter of T.C. Boyle’s A Friend Of The Earth. I was so taken with the imagery and premise I started trying to turn it into a song before I finished the chapter. Consequently, both stories start in the same place and slowly deviate. The wizened voice I adopted was character-acting, reflective of Boyle’s aged, ornery protagonist. And yes trainspotters, that is an interpolation of Prince Far I’s classic Under Heavy Manners in the chorus!

Lone Wolf & Chill came about differently – I heard a flow before I had a concept. I quickly got it down on my phone, vocalising a mixture of nonsense words and broken Spanish. The Spanish felt natural as I was hearing an open vowel sound on the end of most of the lines. At first I thought I might even try writing the rhymes in Spanish, but when my thoughts turned to what other languages have similar phonotactics, Japanese came to mind. Pretty soon the couplet ‘Back in Edo / Ogami Itto’ came to me and the rest fell into place. I definitely would like to write more like this in future.

We both finished the tracks quite quickly – Coolio crushed it, listen to him go full Chali 2na on Get Your Boat On! – but getting the cover artwork delayed it somewhat. The first artist fell through and while I was organising a second one, I suggested we do one more track with both of us rapping on it to tie the project together. Day In, Day Out was the result – I provided the chop and Coolio provided that killer hook, which still gets routinely stuck in my head.

Day In Day Out was the only song to make reference to the lockdown – we saved the rest for the cover. I asked Gustavo to draw us as The Big Lebowski and Mad Max, a la:

I also suggested he draw us in the Fortress of Solitude, another reference to lockdown. And lastly, we called the EP ‘For The Good Of The Realm’:

I love Simon and this was such a free and easy project to do – can’t wait for the next one!

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