Many emcees struggle to make the progression from underground street corner rhymer to nationally-known rapper, but Margate-born Mic Righteous has prepared for it from day one.
Writing as an escape from a troubled upbringing, which saw him left to raise himself from the age of 14, Mic, born Rocky Takalobighashi, turned days spent penning incisive bars about life in the bleakest parts of British society in his kitchen into weeks spent into the studio, and eventually nights opening for international rap acts like The Game and J. Cole.
With one two critically acclaimed mixtapes, the most recent being Kam-Pain, a collaboration with producer Preston Play, a 1m-times-viewed guest spot on Cher Lloyd's street single Dub on the Track and mainstream exposure following the BBC choosing to censor his highly-politicised lyrics, 2012 is the year Mic Righteous' carefully planned career blows up.
TaleTela caught up with the witty, contemplative 22-year-old as he puts the final pieces of his long-term vision into place...
Coming from a very difficult background, which are the biggest events you can pick out from your past that shaped you as an emcee?
Some of the most memorable times were when I was 16 and going to the studio in Margate. It was a bit of a squat and I wouldn't usually associate with [some of the people there] - well I didn't really associate with anyone at the time - but I got on with these guys so well and I was working in the studio for about three weeks.
Those were the most memorable times because the owner of the squat is now my manager. At the time I made up a lie and said that I'd paid him £100 to use the studio. So when he eventually turned up there I thought I was going to be in a bit of drama. But they were cool and they helped me out, came to my house, saw where I was living, and picked me up.
So you hustled your way in?
Yeah, kind of. Well, I lied my way in. Which is not such a good thing, but there's such a thing as a 'good lie'. If I didn't make that lie up, I'd probably… well I'd probably be dead.
Things were that bad?
Things were that bad, yeah man. I don't even like going into it sometimes because it's one of those times I'd rather forget. I'm on to bigger and better things now. That's something I always think of now, I've already been through this much, there's not really much anyone can really do to me these days. No matter what anyone says about me or the amount of criticism I get, it doesn't really bother me because what I've been through is hard enough.
What got you into it - why did you start emceeing?
Because I just wanted to be a rapper, man. I couldn't do anything else. The one thing I found myself doing was actually rapping. It kind of stuck with me.
Who was influencing you most at the time?
Well as I say at the time there wasn't really anything else around me. All I had was four walls around me and my CDs, which consisted of 2Pac, Eminem, Nas, DMX, D12. American artists were 'the ones' at that time.
Then I got introduced to UK artists and the first one I came across was Frantic Frank. At this time it was like a new wave, a new sound. I was flabbergasted like, 'Yes, there are actually UK rappers!' That's what I was thinking and then I got introduced to Lowkey and Logic, but it all started from Frantic Frank, who's now English Frank, and I'm very good friends with.
That must have been cool, becoming friends with the guy who got you into the music.
I remember sitting with [manager] Jack and I said to him I'm never going to be a good as this lot. I'm listening to their CDs and thinking 'they're too sick, we're never going to get this level'. And then he turned round and was like turned me one day you're going to turn round and work with these guys. A year later I was in the studio with them. I'm trying to lead by example. So people can be like this boy can be from Margate and he just achieved that. Who's to say we can't? Because right now they haven't got no one telling them that.
When did you decided politicising your raps was important to you?
It's just always been apart of what I've done. I've always spat about how I feel, what I've done and what I was aware of. I'm still not trying to pretend that I know the ins and outs of politics, because to be brutally honest I just about know who's in charge of the country. But one thing I do is connect with the feelings of people who are being neglected or ignored. I'm not really touching on subjects like 'what is going on in politics this week', but I can tell you how someone will feel as a result of their decisions.
How did you link up with Preston Play for the Kam-Pain album?
Basically there's one song on Yob Culture called 'Take Me Away' and that was produced by him. He found me on YouTube on a video called 'Running'. He'd been looking for an artist to work with. You know producers, they search for the artist that would sound good to their music, and I think he found that in me.
So when he got in contact and we got in the studio and recorded [Yob Culture track] Take Me Away I guess we thought we were destined for more. So the next time I went to the studio I was meant to be there for two days and it turned into a full month. In that month we wrote and recorded the whole of Kam-Pain. He taught me how to mix down, master, it was kind of like a learning experience for both of us.
What are your thoughts on the 1Xtra 'Free Palestine' scandal?
None of us expected it. They drew more attention by censoring it in the first place. If I would have actually said it and it not been censored, I don't think people would have made much of a fuss about it. It would have been 2 words amongst a 13 minute freestyle.
But because they censored it I think that's what brought light to the whole situation, which is a good thing. But I didn't back the way people started making threats to people I know. Like members of 1Xtra that have helped me in my career started receiving threats, which I didn't like.
What sort of threats?
People were getting at 1Xtra, writing letters, writing threats to [presenter] Charlie Sloth saying this and that. I ended up being quite annoyed and sending out my own message: 'Anyone that disrespects any of the people I know is not a friend or fan of mine. So after that it was pretty much dead. But really none of that did me any favours, it just stopped the raves, stopped the BBC from playing my music or having me on the radio station.
Really, they stopped you coming back?
They didn't have me back until everything died down. I was meant to be going on there to promote my new single with Margs and DVS and TK called 'Iron Mic', and they wouldn't let me on there. This is the funny thing, you're talking about DVS and Margs, and they wouldn't let ME on there! [laughs] But it's all calmed down now, I'm back in the booth and it's all good now.
How did you get involved in Cher Lloyd's song, 'Dub on the Track'?
Good question! I obviously signed my publishing to Sony/ATV and [Lloyd's Sony imprint label Syco] want her to appeal to a more underground, urban crowd. So they must have thought: 'Right, who can we holler at? Who are the most nastiest, grittiest most underground rappers out there that we can put this innocent little girl on the track with?' And they must've thought right Ghetts, Dot Rotten, and this nutter called Mic Righteous who keeps barking on tracks! Cher Lloyd actually picked us out as well.
But I was in the studio with my publisher at the time and he was like, 'They want you on this tune. He played it to me, and at first I wasn't sure, I took a little bit of time to think about it. Then I thought, 'No, it's a good trial, a good thing to test to water. To see was reactions from current fans would be. And it was a wicked little test. I think I smashed it.
So you were happy with the reaction then?
Yeah I'm overly happy with the reaction. The build up [to the track coming out] was pure hatred, people were like, 'I hate this guy!' But the truth is when the song come out they were like: 'Oh, I love this song. Cher Lloyd's cool now.'
I might have lost some supporters, but I've also gained. I've worked with a No.1 artist. I've worked with Dot and Ghetts, who are obviously big names. I got on a video that got put on YouTube and within a week it got a million views. I don't think there's really any bad side to this. When I weigh up the pros and cons of doing a track with Cher Lloyd I think the pros outweigh the cons. Massively.
With that said, how much cross over success matter to you? Would you be happy to stay underground forever?
I think the cross over thing is quite a big thing to me because people can't expect me to be underground forever. All that'll happen is I won't make any money, I'll starve, my family will starve and we'll probably all just end up broke. I don't want that for any of the people I live with. I want them to be proud of me. I want them to know I'm actually achieving something. I'm not just rapping for nothing. That would be so silly.
That's a pretty honest view of it.
I love the underground, that's where I was born and I obviously understand that fact if I'm in the mainstream I'm not going to be able to say the things I can in the underground. But I've said what I've said. I've had the underground on lock for a little while. I think everyone on the underground knows who I am. What else is there to achieve? I've made a track with everyone in the underground.
The underground is full of rappers. The fans are rappers, everyone's a rapper. When you're trying to rap for the rappers you're not rapping for anyone else. I'm pretty sure every rapper knows who Mic Righteous is. And when you've done that, it's kind of 'Well, I'm done'. There are artist that conquer the underground and that's it. But then what happens… not much.
What's happening with the new album? Have you started work on it?
Yeah I try and keep myself prepared. I signed my publishing deal with Sony before I made Kam-Pain, so I already had access to massive million pound studios and beats from some of the best producers in the country, features from Emeli Sande and generally working with some people you wouldn't expect me to work with at this stage in my career.
I created the basic structure of my album before I even made Kam-Pain, so that's just sitting in the bag waiting to be released at the right time. As for the album, I'll probably have an EP coming out in the middle of the year and an album towards the end. Exciting for any Mic Righteous fan.
When you say the 'structure', what do you mean? What particular attention have you paid to putting this together?
Well what I consider as the fillers. The Mic Righteous tracks, the tracks that mean something. The only thing I need to put in there now are the singles, the tracks that are going to sell. The rest is what you've been hearing this whole time.
Does that mean you've got features from people like Emeli Sande, are you planning collaborations for the singles?
I think for the singles It's just going to be me. I think the only collaboration I might do is with True Tiger, the producers. I think were going to come up with an anthem. A club track, a banger. And for features - I'll probably get told to shut up again - but we've got some big ones [playfully argues with label rep in background]... It's meant to be a surprise but there is a feature from Emeli and a few other massive American names.
What do you want from 2012?
I just want everything to run smoothly. We've got our plans made, I just hope it runs smoothly. I don't want there to be any drama with anyone. Hopefully my EP does really well. Hopefully I get a No. 1 - well I don't really care about a No. 1, I think rappers care too much about No. 1s, but hopefully I do something that does really well. Hopefully I write a few bangers, hopefully this interview gets a lot of exposure for you and, yeah, I think that will be the best start to this year.
Mic Righteous will be supporting hip-hop legend Talib Kweli next week on his UK tour, kicking off in London on Tuesday 20th at The Forum. Click here for tickets.