Strictly Hip Hop / The Shadowman
|This article is originally
from an article in the German magazine 'ZILLO' in its April 2000 issue. The article is in
German over 2 pages, and here I have translated it for you (took me shitloads of time to
do this, so please read it ;P):
If you talk to Maxim Reality you have to be prepapred for surprises. For example how laid back the else so wild rapper is in real life. Quiet, almost shy he is sitting in the London office of his recordcompany XL Recordings, answering nicely all questions and is so concentrated and quiet doing this, that you ask yourself surprised 'is this really Maxim?'. And if yes, where are the coloured contactlenses, where the golden teeth and where all the nasty words? "Everything just stage masks", means Maxim, moves his sunglasses and grins. In his late 20ies Maxim is still an older kid, who somehow got pushed in a wrong, but exciting movie called The Prodigy. Thats what he lives since meanwhile 10 years and has become a multi millionaire and popstar with it - but still not happy with himself and the world. "You know, I was never really into the whole Rave- and Dance scene. I somehow just slipped into it cause otherwise I probably could have never have worked as MC. And thats why I had to try to fit into The Prodigy. My main job first wasn't to rap, but to encourage the people to dance. I mean, they were all on drugs anyway and just wanted to freak out. Why would they need difficult words? they were satisfied with a word here and there - more they wouldn't have understood anyway."
In the Four piece around mastermind Liam Howlett he is still really limited in what he can do. Although he is an important part of the energetic live show, but musicially his influence is rather small. Just a refrain here and there, maybe a short melody and of course as many swearwords as possible. But the music? No way, this is Howletts job and there is no way to change this. "Of course I can bring my ideas, make suggestions and write some lyrics. But the whole concept of Prodigy, that is only Liams baby."
But still, the 'Electronica-heroes' have developed in Maxims interest: away from wordless Synthie-Pop on albums like 'Experience' or 'Jilted Generation', to a more serious songformat with clever lyrics, how we know it from 'The Fat of The Land'. "Real lyrics wouldn't have been possible back then", laughs Maxim, "back then you could just go on stage and tell the biggest shit, as long as it somehow fitted to the music" And thats what Maxim almost perfectioned over the last 10 years and 3 Prodigy albums. Cause he couldn't be himself he invented a stage personality - the mysterious, scary guy with the snakeeyes and golden teeth. "I know when I have to turn that on and off", laughs Maxim. "Thats just the dark side of me that I can live in the music".
In general Maxim in real life is a shockingly normal person. Very easy to talk to and friendly he uses every opportunity to stress how much down to earth all the band members are. Then they wouldn't be what the public thinks of them, just completely normal guys that rarely go to parties. "Look, I live in the deepest Sussex and have a completely quiet life. I have a girlfriend, a child and a studio. That's where I spend about 90% of my time." A fullfilling life - but still not really. Then there are reasons for Maxim to work as solo artist nowadays. The Prodigy are in a phase of pausing. The almost 2 year tour for 'The Fat Of The Land' has costed so much energy and nerves that they first have to rest, recharge their batteries and then slowly work on the next output. And this shouldn't only sound completely different than the '97 bestseller - it even has to. Cause the four can't continue as they used to, they have to look at the time, which is for already a while now over Rave, Electronica and Dance.
A situation that Prodigy are aware of. Not without reason they have already on their '98 tour recruited a live drummer and with this won on further dynamic. And even now that they are basically on vacation, they dont lie under palms on some Caribic Islands, but already think about new ideas and concepts. "We can't just turn it off. Even when I lie in bed in the evening it happens that I start to sing some melodies or lyrics. As soon as I sit or lie somewhere relaxed the best things come to mind."
At the moment Liam Howlett is working full on on the systematic development of the Prodigy sound - and this in his home studio with exclusion of the public and even the band. "At the moment Liam doesn't let anyone approach him", explains Maxim shrugging his shoulders. "He has hidden in his livingroom and won't come back before he has some firm ideas. Until that we are on our own"
And thats what the other 3 do in different ways. Firestarter Keith Flint drives Motorbike races ("a real speed freak"), dancer Leeroy is recording a solo-album (according to Maxim "a real rap record, that has nothing to do with Prodigy") and Maxim himself returns to where he comes from. He works as MC, somewhere between Soundsystem and strictly HipHop. A travel to the middle to late 80's, when Reggae poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson or Yellowman dominated the sounds of the clubs and next to guitar bands of the class of '86 (Primitives, Wedding Present, Mighty Lemon Drops) were the underground in the Kingdom of Fish & Chips. A time that the young Maxim lived very intense:"I was every eve at some concerts and have seen acts like Lone Ranger, Operation Radication or Supercat. They were amazing vocalists. They are actually still around, but nowadays more in the Drum 'n' Bass scene. They are MC's that rap to very tight beats, while my own style has alone changed a lot cause I spent such a long time in the Dance scene. Due to this I more became a performer than an MC. And cause I'm not so much in practise anymore and more concentrate on writing music, what comes out is a very unique sound that somehow is a bit old school."
But Maxim has already worked as teenager on his own beats and rhymes. "I was 14 or 15 and had this friend from Nottingham, who wrote incredibly cool tracks. So I made the fitting lyrics for them - until this got too boring for me and I started to write my own music. Somewhen I then ended up with The Prodigy and I started to learn. Meanwhile I know how to use sampler, keyboards, compressors and equipment. I have been learning in steps. Thats why I have been waiting so long - just that I could start with something really good."
And cause Maxim since years is writing and testing, he has now got a collection of thousands of DAT's at home. He has had the idea to try it once as solo artist already for almost 8 years. But he only made the real step to become a solo artist in 1998 - on two samplers for the 20th birthday of his label 'Beggars Banquet': One with the Rolling Stones Cover 'Factory Girl' but also with an own track called 'Dog Day'. And that turned out to be a big surprise: No Electronica as with Prodigy, but a dark, scary HipHop. "My music isn't conventional or commercial", thinks Maxim with reason. "The songs aren't structured, havn't got pop appeal and for sure don't meet the taste of the masses. For that they are much too hard and obscure."
And thats exactly the same with his EP 'My Web' from last year: Maxim is on a clear anti course to the global victory of The Prodigy. He doesn't want to be hip and cool, doesn't want to climb the top of the charts and also doesn't want to end up on front covers of the magazines. He could do that easily, if he wanted to. But that's not what he is about. He just wants to have some creative freedom and do something else after 10 years band context, dark, scary and almost only instrumental. "The EP was a sort of test for the album, that will of course contain much more singing and MC-ing. The funny thing is that people think I have just only started to rap and that why I would operate so careful. They have no clue that I have been doing this for my whole life, and that of course annoys me a lot."
Maxim responds in his own way, with innovative thoughts - as far as this is possible with modern music culture anyway. He is much more going back to the roots than The Prodigy, is not as technical and never as frontal. Instead of hard beats and full sound he more produces some HipHop minimalism, scary atmospheres and spartanic rhymes. Avantguardistic rap or pure minimalism - and even if its only to draw borders and prove his own ability. And thats why he firstly doesn't care about commerce. Not without reason is that 'My Web' came out without advertisement, without big press and without any airplay. "That was of course completely as I liked it", smiles Maxim. "It should be a real Underground EP". A record for HipHop fans - not exactly what would be a mainstream compatible sound. Maxims label had to play the game. What else could they do? Prodigy are the most profitable act on Beggars Banquet so to annoy them could have a fatal end. And for the following album 'Hell's Kitchen' Maxim is following a completely different strategy. On the 12 tracks (two of them instrumental) he doesn't sing himself, but works with known artists of the international Rap- and Rockscene. So is on the first single 'Carmen Queasy' no one else than Skunk Anansie front woman Skin singing, while on the other tracks you can find Guru or also Poetic fromthe New Yorker Grave Diggaz.
"If you want a new Prodigy album then leave our fingers away from my record", warns Maxim. "Cause you wouldn't understand it anyway." And who still thinks that the title is a hommage to the New Yorker district in which every third De Niro movie is playing, should really wait for the next band epos. Then the 'Hell's Kitchen' doesn't have any excuses:"It is a dark, yes even diabolic album on which I use everything that isn't conventional and especially not normal," Maxim is philosophing.
And exactly cause the album is so difficult he doesn't want to bring it on stage for a start. No one would turn up anyway - and especially not stay. "Thats nothing that could be realised live, and no one ever said it would. In the end I don't actually have to promote it, but I can just put it in the shops as it is. It isn't the start of a solocareer. Hey, is my name Mel C? I am just an artist that needs some freedom", he says and grins satisfied. With good reason: Should it turn out to be a flop he still has the band. And they will be back no later than 2001 with a new album.
Get more info about 'Carmen Queasy' and download the MPEG of the promo video [HERE]