Athletes call it “entering the zone,” but for the Manchester-based MC DRS, it’s called “entering a state of flow.” We’re referring to those moments in life when time seems to stop, and the mind, body and creative soul seem to come together and flow effortlessly. Athletes have it, dancers feel it, and musicians and artists of all stripes seek to attain it in everything they do.
Having just released his genre-bending Mid Mic Crisis LP for Soul:r (the album is available to buy exclusively via Soul:R for a week and will be on general sale next week), featuring the likes of Addison Groove, Calibre, Dub Phizix, Chimpo and Intalex, we thought it only proper to touch base with the MC, skater, illustrator and all-around artist known as DRS to take a closer look at his own creative process—in hopes of discovering some deeper truths we can use in our own pursuits of those moments of creative enlightenment.
You’re involved in so many different forms of creativity, from MCing to illustration to skateboarding—which is a great place to start! It’s a skill that not only requires a tremendous amount of mental and physical ability, but at its very best exemplifies this notion of flow that’s central to your work.
Skateboarding is and was the catalyst for everything good and creative in my life. Most people, including myself, who find a lifelong love affair with skating, are usually the kind of kids who are always out in the streets getting into trouble. But from the first time you stand on a board and just roll—it can be just for a few seconds—but if you catch it, your life will never be the same! Skating introduced me to so much music, art, culture, design and just a new way of thinking and looking at the world as a playground! This never changes, and it’s why skateboarders never grow old! I love you, skateboarding!
Your art is another great place where I imagine you achieve a state of flow in the midst of creation. What does it feel like to you when you sit down and are translating an idea or image in your head into something on the page?
My art is my sanity, my silence, my calm, my total freedom from everything! When I pick up a pencil, I never know what’s going to come out of it; I just start and see what happens. I can start drawing and lose 10 hours! Seriously, it’s like I black out and when I wake up, there’s a picture of some kind. Art is my freedom, and it’s the same with music.
With MCing, another element is added to the mix, so to speak, as other people are involved and a new kind of language has to develop between you, your ideas/voice/lyrics, and the producer and his beats.
When I get a beat, I know in the first few seconds of listening whether I like it. If I like it, I’m already getting words popping up in my head, so I just start jotting lines and lyrics in my phone memo pad.
Some beats are hook/chorus beats, like Enei ft. DRS “Obsession,” for example; or DRS ft. Enei “Count to Ten” was a verses/bars beat. I also establish that early on when listening. It’s usually the space the producer leaves in the music that determines that. Like I said, I work quite fast; so once I start writing, I will get a topic or angle worked out, and I’m away.
“The Puppeteer” seems like another one of those moments, as you and Jubei seem to just lock in on the same wavelengths! When you were putting the album together, did you give producers free reign to create whatever they wanted, or was it a more of a guided, collaborative process?
I never told or asked any of the producers to make any kind of tune or vibe for my album. I just wanted them to do them! That’s why I was asking them in the first place. Pretty much every single person I’ve worked with on both of my albums are people I respect, and real friends who I know personally. “The Puppeteer” was just another of those situations. I wanted Paul [Jubei] involved in the project, and I was lucky enough he said yes!
Everything we’ve been talking about takes place in the studio. When you’re MCing live, you having to enter yet another kind of creative space—one that I imagine is more related to skating, in that you have to be flexible, you don’t know what you or the DJ is going to do next, you’re just riding it out and staying in the moment.
Yeah, live is different again. It’s getting your point across, entertaining, being a tour guide, making the DJ look good, and emphasizing different layers and emotions in the music. I just try to move and adjust tone, vibe, style to what’s happening musically, or to the general vibe of the rave, festival or club I’m performing at. Both the DJ and MC should give each other the space to do this. When this happens, it goes OFF!
I imagine you work with a lot of artists who all have their own different ways of getting into a creative state. Give us a glimpse into the process of someone you’ve worked with that changed the way you look at the creative process.
Last year, Toddla T and me went to New York for a gig and a few days’ work in an amazing studio that we were borrowing from a Grammy Award-winning band while we were in town. Toddla had been trying to arrange sessions with various rappers, and all were out of town or locked down recording albums or projects for other people, etc., and being as we were in the city of hip-hop, we were both a little disappointed.
So we get a call from a well-known singer/songwriter’s manager saying she was in town and was down to come and jam. T and me are both a little nervous, as we don’t know what to expect; we’ve also heard stories about how the artist in question was a little quirky and eccentric. She arrived dressed head-to-toe in the purest white linen, these biblical-looking wrapped robes, with a matching headscarf. Toddla welcomed her and went to give her a hug.
“NOOOOOOOO!!!” she screamed. We looked at each other, shocked! She said, “I’m sorry, nobody has touched me for six months,” and then went on to explain how it was part of a yearlong cleansing process. Obviously, this has set the session off to a weird start.
She proceeded to ask T how many beats he had. T had around six beats prepared. “You’re gonna need at least 20!” We both laughed. “No, I am not joking, you’re gonna need at least 20 beats!” Oof! T proceeded to frantically flick through his hard drive for loops, beats, instrumentals, anything we could use. He came up with around 12–15 beats in the end.
Toddla pressed play, but before a single bar of music could play: “NOOOOOOOO!” she screamed! T pressed stop. “I don't listen to the music until I go in the booth and start recording.” So Toddla laid all the beats out on the screen in one continuous line, and the whole time, this is mind-blowing for me! This Biblical-looking woman is about to record and write 12–15 songs without ever hearing them before now! Live!
She went down the corridor through the kitchen and into the mic booth. Toddla and me were looking at each other like, WTF IS GOING ON!? But by this time, we both knew something AMAZING was about to happen. We weren’t wrong! The best way I can describe it is: MAGIC!
Each beat was around three minutes long, and from the second he pressed record, she began to hum, shriek, and sing noises frantically! One of the weirdest sounds I've ever heard in my life; like the sound of a wild animal falling into a trap and it scrambling to grab a branch or find some kind of grip or some kind of Tibetan shaman or something.
This went on for the first minute of each song; by the second minute, she had the melody and a few words; by the end of each three-minute beat, she had a full song written—and not just “a song,” an absolute banger! She did this 15 times, and I swear it’s one of the most magical things I’ve ever experienced musically and just in life in general. Madness!
Even with the madness, it seems the perfect example of how creative expression—whether through skating, illustration, MCing, music making, etc.—all seem connected at some deeper, life- and soul-affirming level.
It’s just all ART and different ways of expressing my emotions. I’m just lucky I found a few ways to do it. Without art, skating and music, I hate to think where I would be, as life growing up in the northern [Manchester, UK] inner-city of the ‘80s and ‘90s didn’t hold many options, did it?
I imagine there are a number of young bloods out there who were just like you: filled with ideas, energy and creative impulses but not sure how to shape them into something concrete and meaningful. What sort of wisdom can you share with them now that you’ve come out on the other side?
Just live life. Experience things! Listen to the language around you in your local area—words, slang and sayings unique to where you live and come from. Think about what the things are that all people share no matter what race, sex, sexuality, background or education they have. Connect with them. Make statements with purpose, hope or some kind of point. Don’t just repeat stereotypes and templates that keep young people and lower classes locked in a cycle. And finally: SPEAK THE TRUTH AND BE YOURSELF!
By Chris Muniz
This article originally appeared on Insomniac.com.