THE SPECTRE: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Growing up in London’s bourgeois district of Kensington, Ludovic Vickers, aka The Spectre, doesn’t at first glance fit the typical profile of a potential rap superstar. Boasting an MA together with an upbringing in one of the UK capitals richest zones, his background goes somewhat against the grain of a genre renowned for its poverty ridden, so-called gun-toting associates. In fact whilst many established artists have never even held a gun or pushed crack, their post/zip code has granted them a credibility that record execs often tend to value over any questionings of raw talent. Such considerations could possibly explain why such a talented emcee has yet to find a deal, as modern society and its businesses appear more infatuated with the marketing of its image, rather than the more pressing concern of discovering true talent.
Of course certain options do exist besides the obvious fundamentals of persistence. For example the “backpack” scene in hip hop has seen many non-ghetto rappers find success, thanks largely to its focusing on everyday life issues, philosophy and political activism. Whilst “gangsta” rap is stereotypically interpreted to be simply hood music filled with misogyny and violence, the “backpack” rapper is contrarily stereotyped as being the sub-genre of “intellects”, a generalisation that subsequently leads to it being classified as more “bourgeois”.
Opening up a potential marketing avenue for a non-ghetto rapper, the fact remains that the art of creativity should lead one to express himself in his or her natural way, a theory left suffocated by the pigeon-holing boundaries laid down by commercial businesses. With profit therefore being favoured over the true expression of one’s art, The Spectre and anyone else hoping to break it into the music industry must contend with simply being told what type of music to make, based on a quick categorizing glance at one’s background and general physical appearance.
Whilst I have no doubt regarding the value of a versatile artist, I do feel the music industries methods of practice do to some extent take the heart out of the music. For example I remember several years ago reading about a successful rap artist, who whilst searching for a deal received offers that threatened to undermine everything he stood for. In fact besides being told what type of music he would have to produce, he was additionally told to grow an afro and completely go about changing his whole style and dress code.
So why is it that the likes of Soulja Boy, Gucci Mane and numerous others rake in millions a year off mediocrity, whilst many true masters of the art are left on the scrap-heap? Maybe it’s down to luck, or the fact that they were seen as marketable, a factor that is steadily proving Nas’ theory of hip hop being dead as true, that is at least on a commercial level.
Putting the analyses of record company policies to the side, I first came across The Spectre in 2004, thanks to a chance encounter with one of his closest friends “Smitims”. In fact when Smitims first informed me that one of his mates was a rapper, I couldn’t help but think that this friend was one of the many on the post 8-mile bandwagon. Having already come across hundreds of other self-professed emcees, I had begun to almost predict that The Spectre would be another one of those recording inaudible bars with a shit mic and lack of charisma.
As you’ve probably already guessed this couldn’t be further from the truth, as my first introduction, a track called “A Syndikut remix”, sent me a bold warning of the talent that he possessed. Whilst hardly flawless, the track already began to show the birth of a worthy flow, an aptitude that has continued to flourish over the past 6 years. From radio freestyles to numerous mixtapes and live performances, The Spectre’s 9th year as an emcee appears to show no signs of fatigue or creative discouragement. Remaining hungry as ever in his quest to leave a mark on the industry, Openheartzoo took a brief moment out to catch up with the emcee as he prepares to unleash his new T-Shirt range, together with a brand new mixtape.
OHZ: When did you start rapping?
I started rapping when I was 14. I had just bought the Dr Dre 2001 cd in late 2000 and would keep rapping those tracks all the time. I used to hit http://www.ohhla.com to understand all the lyrics and learn them by heart and ended up meeting a blogger who introduced me to rapping and how to rhyme. I started rhyming from then and writing as much as I could, whenever I could.
OHZ: Who would you say are your main influences?
Obviously Dr Dre and Eminem motivated me to start rapping. I suppose because what they were doing at the time was approaching rap from a more humorous angle and that detachment from the gangster image was great to listen to. But I also used to listen to lyricist lounge whenever I could and was obviously inspired by the greats like Pharoahe Monch and Black Thought. To this day I claim Pharoahe to be the greatest rapper alive. I also used to love listening to Wu-Tang as well and loads of French rappers. Stylistically, I still think French rap is unbelievable, as I feel the French language allows for more emotion in the rap somehow.
OHZ: According to dictionary definitions, spectre is an object / source of terror or dread. What is the story behind your choosing of this name?
First off, according to my definition, a spectre is a ghost. Simple. I’ve always had a million names, I guess that’s the Wu-Tang influence, but I always had trouble picking one. For a really long time, I was mc siik (pronounced sick), but I felt I needed an add-on you know, like Shyheim the Rugged Child or Jeru the Damaga and shit so I created Spectre. I had always liked the name Kasper for some reason, I think probably because I watched Kids and identified with the main dude, (not because he’s raping chicks and getting AIDS though), so I ended going with the spectre, and that’s what’s stuck ever since.
OHZ: What are your thoughts on…
– The great “Hip Hop is dead” debate?
You know, I think the death of hip hop falls into the death of music as a whole. I’ve done lots of research on revenue in the music industry and how to still make money in this business and to be honest you’re pretty much fucked as an artist these days. I think hip hop is dead deals with the fact that the mainstream has sold hip hop out, but as whole I think the internet and downloading has sold all of music out. Look at the charts today and there are pretty much no artists with integrity. Everyone is the product of some type of manufacturing. Music isn’t about music anymore; it’s about promo and revenue, associated brands and touring associations. I’ve always been a studio mc, I love the creative process. For me, that part of the game has died. It’s now all about performance and being on the road 24/7. I think that puts a lot of pressure on artists who used to make music to listen to at home and not at a concert and kills off a part of that. I don’t think I’m gonna be endorsed by miss sixty any time soon you know?
– The current UK hip hop scene?
I’ve never really listened to UK hip hop so I don’t know if I’m fully able to judge its progression. I’ve rated certain mcs along the way, but I wouldn’t really call any of it hip hop. Bar certain acts like Jehst and Klashnekoff, it always remains grimy or dubsteppy in its own way, not that that’s a bad thing. The UK has always had its own sound and continues to create its own sound for its own people to vibe to. Garage and jungle like you hear in London for the longest only existed in London and I don’t think garage ever really got exported, or whether it was even exportable. The effect on hip hop is the result of those influences and I just don’t feel anyone has ever truly made real hip hop in the UK, or if they have, they’ve been like Jehst and Skinnyman and stayed so real to it, they never make it big. Again though, that’s a problem with the industry and the consumerist nature of the UK music market, as you have to sell out to make a buck here and basically make pop like Tinchy Stryder or Chipmunk. That’s not hip hop.
OHZ: What was the first rap record you bought?
I had bought the best rap album in the world when I was really young, but that was one of those poppy rap compilation cds you get when you’re cruising through tower records, so I don’t really consider that to be my first rap record, despite hits like Regulate or Jump Around being on there. The first actual album I went out to buy knowing it was going to be tru hip hop was Wu-Tang Forever. The crazy thing is I still bump that to this day and feel Wu Tang has never made anything so complete since. It’s not just the brilliance of the music on that album, It’s the whole vibe that flows throughout. Only a few albums like 2001 for example, keep a vibe running through like that. And to all those Wu-Tang fans who think 36 Chambers is better than Forever, UR CRAZY!! Double LP for Wu-Tang Clan, its yourz!! Haha
OHZ: Out of all the tracks you’ve recorded, which is your personal favourite?
I have made so many tracks it’s difficult to say which one is my favourite. Obviously the heartfelt ones make an impact on me even years after I’ve written them because they bring back feelings I had at the time. I think recent tracks like Fairytale or I Represent Hip Hop, which you can check on the MySpace, have that vibe in them. I think it’s important to be introspective and find your truth in order to appeal to others.
OHZ: For how long have you been actively seeking a record deal and in general how have you found the experience?
I haven’t been actively seeking a record deal. I sent demos when I was young and understood it was a waste of my time. I then teamed up with a friend of mine in Paris who was running an indie label and he produces me to this day -9side records. What I am looking for now is a distribution deal because it’s all good making an album and making it sound crisp, but then you gotta sell it, and that’s the hard part.
OHZ: What are your thoughts on the impact of the internet, downloading and the subsequent fall in record sales?
Well I’ve already kinda covered how I feel about that and to be honest I’d be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t download. I think we all do and obviously as an artist I see firsthand how that affects my plan and my potential for revenue. As I said you have to adapt to that strategy and basically become a promo and touring machine if u want to be successful. The problem is what if you’re not that type of mc? What if you’re like Enigma? They used to make amazing music but never did gigs… what happens then? If it was up to me, and I’m sure they’re working on this already, I would try to find some way to put id’s in mp3s that would prevent illegal file-sharing, or otherwise just confiscate computers. One track gets one month confiscation. But actually follow it up!
OHZ: If you could work with any artist/producer who would you choose?
I think I’d like working with Timbaland or Just Blaze, simply cuz I love the big beats and I’d love to spit over one of theirs. I love the feeling when you’re in the studio with a beat maker and he’s making you listen to all the beats and every new beat provokes a new feeling. Sometimes you just can’t wait to spit some bars. It was like that for I Represent Hip Hop when I was in the studio with Wisla. Wisla makes most of my beats these days and he’s getting his props in Paris now too, deservedly, cuz he’s got some awesome tracks.
OHZ: What is your favourite song/album of all time?
You know I really don’t have a favourite song. I have real strange taste in music. I’ll be listenin to some Westside Connection and Jedi Mind Tricks one minute, then the next minute I’ll be on some old school cheesy ass music like Bobby Goldsboro or retro French music. I got some Celine Dion in my iPod! Honestly I like a bit of everything. It’s like I said, if people are true to themselves in their music, that’s when they connect with others and I don’t believe that connection is limited to musical genres. Before I was listening to hip hop, I would swear by Guns n Roses. So rock, jazz, classical, it’s all good.
OHZ: and finally… Off the top of your head, who are your top 5 dead or alive?
top 5 dead or alive:
1- Pharoahe Monch
3- Big L
4- Big pun
5- Jay Z
I’m not sure about the order… I’m just placing these guys in order of how much they have meant to me or how much they’ve inspired me. 5 is not enough though! Where’s Inspectah Deck? Where’s Busta? Where’s Vinnie Paz? You should’ve given me 10!!