Bassrush Records and Insomniac Records join forces to release a jaw-dropping album project from the UK-via-Shanghai-and-Los Angeles DJ and producer known as Conrank. Titled The Big Smoke Beat Tape, Conrank aims straight for the dancefloor with an eight-track, genre-blurring selection that mashes up influences ranging from dubstep to trap, grime, west coast bass and beyond.
His roots in the beat-box scene shine through as does his ability to surface on collaborative projects ranging from heads like G Jones, Bleep Bloop, Yheti, and DJ Shadow while his own solo cuts continue to crush on imprints ranging from Circus Records to Saturate and Wakaan.
To celebrate the release of his long-awaited and highly-anticipated album project, we thought we’d sit down with the man himself to clear the air behind The Big Smoke Beat Tape project. So settle in and lock your copy in here.
What a year it’s been for you! Have you had a chance to take it all in and catch your breath?
Barely! I keep having to pinch myself…the fact that it’s all happening is unreal.
Part of your success has been your ability to crank out an ungodly amount of tunes. What’s the secret to your productivity?
The secret is to just be there, ready for that lick of creativity. When I’m not on tour, I literally wake up, walk into the studio, fire up the computer, go have coffee and breakfast, then park myself back in the studio. I remember reading an interview with Flying Lotus and he talked about putting yourself right there where you need to be, ready to catch that magic moment, and that’s stuck with me. If you talk to anyone around me, I’m very strict with myself, and a lot of the time I won’t allow myself much time off when I’m not on tour.
Some days I might bash away at absolute garbage that comes to nothing, some days I may watch cat videos on YouTube until the early hours, but then some days I might start like four tracks. Sometimes, even on the cat video days, there might be a sudden spurt of creativity where I knock out eight bars and a week later that seed becomes a full track.
Let’s talk about The Big Smoke Beat Tape project you’ve just wrapped for us. What’s behind the title and your overall vision for the project? This a nod to all the ganja crew?
The title is actually referring to London, which back in the day was nicknamed “The Big Smoke,” although I’m sure the release goes nicely with a blunt too. The concept for me was to kind of take a cross-section of things that go on in the studio. I’m quite an eclectic producer and after chatting with the Insomniac and Bassrush Records team I got the feeling they were open to me doing what I wanted to do, and so I had a lot of freedom to really show my different sides going in.
From my more signature sounds like in “Special” to “Street Lights,” which is straight up UK grime vibes, it’s like a big melting pot of me and my influences, if that makes sense. It’s not really an album in the traditional sense; I see it as more of a gallery, exhibiting a selection of music sounds, which is why I called it a beat tape. Some of these beats may have never seen the light of day, so I’m really thankful to Insomniac and Bassrush for being open-minded and letting me do my thing.
You’ve got some sick collabs on here as well. Talk a bit about the homies you connected with and the tunes you guys banged out for this project.
Zean is a legend, he’s one of my best mates and he’s worked his ass off over the last few years learning production and DJing. When we first met he had zero knowledge but he knew what he wanted and now he’s crushing it. “Street Lights” was a track we bashed out deep in Shanghai late one night and it really shows off our love for grime.
We also collaborated on the beat for “I’m About,” once again on that grime vibe. Illaman absolutely smashed the vocal. Me and him chatted for years about working together and one day I finally booked him for some shows in China. We had never met in person and suddenly we spent 10 days touring around the East. Luckily we became good mates and this track was the outcome of the trip…we’re about innit!
Onhell and I linked up in Oakland. We have a funny relationship where we basically just take the piss out of each other constantly. We love each other really, but in amongst all the shit-talking “Listen” was born.
The others on there, Bohan Phoenix, one of the dopest Chinese rappers around, Dirt Monkey who needs no introduction, and one of the friendliest producers in the game, Holly, all came from a mutual appreciation and respect for each other’s craft. We either met on tour or on Facebook Messenger, and the creativity began.
I don't think I have ever cried from a song. Actually, 'PYT' by Michael Jackson made me cry once but it was girl-related.
Looking back on your discography so far, is there a tune or release that you listen to and are really proud of?
My most proud would have to be “Yi By Yi”—it’s got so much emotion and power, I really love that track.
What happens to all the tunes you started but just couldn’t finish for some reason?
They sit there, forever and ever, damned to my external hard drive for eternity. I’m a hoarder.
What’s the last tune you heard that straight up made you cry? If that’s too emo for you what’s the last tune you heard that blew your mind?
I don’t think I have ever cried from a song. Actually, “PYT” by Michael Jackson made me cry once but it was girl-related. [Laughs] The last track to blow my mind was probably Nite School Klik’s “Posse,” which just blew my mind technically. Either that or Action Bronson’s “Bird On a Wire.” I had that track on repeat for days! Also, I can never not mention 808 State’s “Pacific State.” Wow, just wow.
Let’s go even farther back. What is the first record, cassette, CD, 8-track, mp3 you ever remember buying? How old were you and where did you buy it? With what money?
Oh, man. It was “Rhythm Is A Dancer” by SNAP! It was probably like 99p! I was young, I went 10-pin bowling after I bought it and made my mum play it in the car on the way there. I used birthday money to buy it. Big spender!
Just think, out there somewhere, someone is downloading your tunes for the first time based on this interview. How do you prepare a complete stranger for what they’re about to listen to?
Its mad to me that people choose to listen to my music in the first place; it makes me so happy. I would first warn them that it’s kinda loud and pretty energetic, then I would tell them to hide any flammables. [Laughs]
From Circus to Bassrush to remixes and compilations, you’ve got all the bases covered. What should we be looking out for next from you, project-wise?
There will be another Circus release before Christmas, that’s all I can really say for now, but there is A LOT on the horizon, so keep those eyes peeled. And to anyone reading that supports what I do…thank you, sincerely.