We know very little about the British Hip Hop Scene. Firstly, it’s because our musical education is based on US rap classics of the 80s and 90s. And mostly because the Media has been stuffing us full of American artists for so long that most people don’t even realise the extent and diversity of the movement. But if you scratch the surface you quickly come across some authentic British Labels, Independent groups like The Four Owls, and you begin to understand that UK rap right now is going through its most glorious years. These four owls haven’t come out of nowhere. Fliptrix and Verb-T have already had loads of solo albums out, Leaf Dog put out a remarkable one in 2011 and all have significant mic experience. They were brought together by the High Focus label, alongside its many other great artists. You’ll most definitely start following this label if you listen to any of their tracks. On the day of their concert, I had prepared myself for what I was going to see, it had been a while since the excellent track «Not like before» had been the top of my iTunes list, and «All alone», by Leaf Dog and Fliptrix, still haunts me every time I listen to it. Yet, the masked rappers surprised me, as much by their stage presence and razor-sharp flow as by the sheer humility and simplicity of these four rogues that I chatted to for a few minutes before their show.
Jacker / Why did you choose the Owl ?
BVA / There is a cypress hill song called “spark another owl” where they’re talking about spliffs but they calling them «owls». Leaf, Fliptrix and I were obviously burning loads of joints or ‘owls’ whilst making a project that was originally a 4 track EP and then we decided to make it an album. Got verb T involved so it was a four man thing and at some point... at some point after smoking many ‘owls’ it was called the Four Owls. (laughs)
J / How did you meet? And how did "The Four Owls" come about ?
Leaf Dog / We met through the festival scene and the music scene. Verb-T is obviously been raping for years, we grew up listening to him.
Verb-T / We met at Kashmir’s in the south west and that’s when I first met Leaf and BVA, but we never kept in touch, that’s why it’s weird we came together in the end to make a group.
Leaf Dog / It happened naturally over a matter of time.
J / It’s been two years since ‘Nature’s Greatest Mystery’ was released, every track is like a punch to the face, is it important for you to transcend that kind of energy ? How would you describe the overall vibe of that album ?
Leaf Dog / It’s exactly like you said, a lot of energy, we weren’t setting out to be full of energy nor anything like that but when it all came together with the beats that we chose, you could tell that we were all hyped. When we made that album we were excited and I think that did transcend, making every track punch you in the face basically (laughs)
Fliptrix / Every track has a meaning, there is a lot of vibes and we cover loads of different topics. It’s raw Hip-Hop. That’s the sound that we love, sick bars and meaningful lyrics.
J / Your Label ‘High Focus’ is gathering more and more artists, rappers and Beatmakers. How do you handle that independent production ? Is keeping a Family vibe important to you ?
Fliptrix / Family vibes, definitively important, that’s what the label is about. Extended family and friends from the same scene. We all sort of came together, nothing was really planned, it just evolved and grew naturally. I didn’t plan to open a label either, I just made the album that I wanted to release professionally and at that time, there were no labels I wanted to take it on so I thought, fuck it, I’ll give it a go and I ended up doing it quite well. Then Backs had an album, then Leaf... It just grew from there, naturally. We are putting a lot of effort into it because we believe in it and love Hip-Hop so we are trying to get it out there and reach a bigger audience.
Leaf Dog / For people in France trying to do their own Hip Hop thing, it’s all about rolling as a unit, there is strength in unity, and everybody knows that.
Fliptirix / And if we were doing it separately it wouldn’t be as fun.
J / How is the Hip-Hop Movement evolving in London ? What are the Major differences between UK Hip-Hop and American Hip-Hop ?
Fliptrix / I think Hip-Hop is evolving quite well, but not just in London, across the whole of the UK. The scene is getting stronger which is a great thing, there is a big movement and a lot of people are feeling the vibes. It’s good, it’s positive at the moment.
Verb-T / I think the UK is in a golden era for Hip-Hop, artistically something different, creative and we have freedom of expression. It’s starting to attract a bigger audience, and for the artists this is a good thing because you can still say whatever you want while making a living from your releases. It’s not always been like that, over the years American artists were always put ahead of us as they came from big labels that made loads of money, that’s the people we always hear on the radio. Now people are looking for alternative things and there are a lot of talented UK artists. Also, in terms of production value, quality has increased a lot, mixing, mastering and the actual beats people make all have a much better sound quality than before. It stands up to American Hip-Hop . Also the UK has its own identity, it’s very specific to the UK and perhaps not as many people from other countries like it but we are telling our own story, we are not trying to copy anyone else.
J / Your masks are great, where do they come from and who made them ?
Leaf Dog / It’s a secret (laughs)... They came to us from the sky, an owl actually flew into my house and dropped four masks by the window.
Fliptrix / And took a shit on the doorstep !
J / Any uplifting words for any independent artists ?
BVA / Keep going, don’t fucking stop, fuck money, money is for dickheads, music is for sanity, the people and it helps you.
Verb-T / If you believe in it, just work hard. You need to put the hours and even if you are not getting there straight away and you really love it, you need to keep pushing and keep going. Stay positive, and if you believe in what you doing then don’t stop pushing.
Leaf Dog / If you’re doing it for the money, then don’t bother, it’s not worth it. We don’t need no more than what people earn. You are just fucking shit up for everybody else. Peace to the underground.