Who is Mister Digital? I was asking that exact question a week ago after listening to his Bandcamp. It turns out he's a lot of things... Artist, producer, MC and a genuine sound bloke. I hooked up with him to talk about beginnings as one half of Gutter Dwellers and working with the SFDB crew to future plans. It turns out there's a lot happening in the world of Mister Digital, amongst several releases including a new album, working on tracks featuring long time collaborator Clarity, Farma G from Taskforce and MC's Phillip Morris and Tame One from across the pond. We also get first glimpse into his latest project 'Hiding Behind The Crates', which will include a multi platform concept based around a comic strip. Before I give too much away...
HJ: Welcome to EMW. Could you introduce yourself to those who might not know your work?
MD: Thanks for having me. For those who don’t know me or my work I am Mister Digital formerly Mister D. I'm an Artist, Graphic Novelist, MC and Hip Hop producer born and raised in Rumney, Cardiff but now based just outside Newport. I have been around the UK Hip Hop scene for almost 7 years now but I have worked with various artists all over the world.
HJ: How did it all begin?
MD: I started off as an MC it was me and my mate Barnzy a.k.a. the Gutter Dwellers rapping on instrumentals and recording them with some awful music maker package that I picked up somewhere for free and a £10 microphone I bought out of my dole money. My new deal advisor always joked about the fact she had never seen me without headphones on and every time I had to look for a job I always wanted something in the music industry. In the end she pulled a few strings "god bless her" and got me a meeting with Paul Gray from the legendary Psychedelic Punk band The Damned who offered me the chance to learn music production. He hooked me up with my mentor Martyn 'Ginge' Ford who some may know as the drummer for the band Skindred. I spent a few months with him learning production techniques and started making my own beats and recording them in his studio, Nottin' Pill in Newport.
After a couple of weeks of that I popped into the studio one day and Leroy Fashions, local promoter and a close friend of the GLC was in there listening to our tracks. He loved them and offered us a gig the next week. To be honest, we didn't think for a second we would be doing gigs already as we had only just started rapping a few months before, but we took the gig and got thrown in at the deep end. A 20 minute set at TJ's in Newport as special guests at a Rock gig smack bang in the middle of two Death Metal bands! The faces in the crowd were priceless as these two rappers jumped up on the stage, but we smashed it and at the end we were asked back to perform again. We even had a write up in a newspaper the next day, that was when I realised this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
"The faces in the crowd were priceless as these two rappers jumped up on the stage, but we smashed it and at the end we were asked back to perform again."
HJ: So after that first gig everything snowballed? How did your collaboration with the SFDB crew come about?
MD: Actually that was at the next gig like two weeks later. We were opening up for Humurak D Gritty, Clarity and Conrad Watts from Secondson's Label SFDB. I knew of Gritty... I was a fan of his work and Secondsons album, 'Secondson and his Orchestra' had just been released. That and Gritty's 'Rags 2 Rags' were on constant rotation at my place so I was looking forward to it. We did the gig and afterwards Secondson gave me his number and told me he would like to work with us. Me, Barnzy and Gritty stood outside Cyphering for an hour and we all got on so well it was like we were already part of the family. We linked up a week or so later at Gritty's record release party and got signed to the label the same day. At first it was just as MC's but then Clarity let slip that I made beats and I started making them alongside Secondson for various projects within the label. He taught me tons about beat making. The guy is a real genius! We recorded a ton of stuff and did a load of shows together but unfortunately the label closed its doors and I decided to start working freelance. I miss the SFDB days it was such a shame the label went down. We had some of the strongest MC's, the best beat makers and DJ's around.
HJ: And this is when Krate Krusaders came in to the picture?
MD: Well I had a little time off after that and signed myself up into university to get my degree in production. But yeah Clarity went across to Krate Krusaders and I liked what they were doing so I started working with them. I did a few beats for the upcoming Clarity and Crucifix album 'Self Assembled Messiah'. I also did the album artwork for that one and it will be coming out soon. I just got the first track of mine back and its sick!!! Clarity, Crucifix and Devi from Krate Krusaders are all on a track together on my album and it's dope. I love the atmosphere with the Krate Krusaders they are all on my level I find that this is the most important thing when you’re working with someone. We just click.
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"I love the atmosphere with the Krate Krusaders they are all on my level I find that this is the most important thing when you’re working with someone. We just click."
HJ: You and Clarity have forged a strong working relationship. The Social Distortion EP is available as a free download on your Bandcamp. What other projects are you currently working on together?
MD: There's a couple of Krate Krusaders releases up there for download as well as some of the old SFDB stuff. Me and Clarity stayed pretty close after the label went south he's a real nice guy and I have a ton of respect for him. When we were on SFDB together we always chatted about doing an album but it never ended up happening. Now we have the opportunity we are getting a ton of strong tracks down. We work together under the name 'Half Baked Alchemists' and at the moment we are making some off the wall tracks using lots of samples from Japanese Anime, it's crazy stuff and a complete departure from the usual Hip Hop beats I make. As an MC he is so versatile and has the best work ethic I have seen, he's like a robot. You give him a beat and the next day it’s finished, amazing! Like I said earlier I’m also doing some bits on his album with Crucifix and also on his solo album but that will be at a later date. I've got like 5 beats set aside for that one.
HJ: You do all of your own album covers?
MD: Yeah, I am an artist as well as being involved in music so I like to do my own artwork. Also I have done some for other artists’ albums and EP's. I guess my idea on it is why get someone else to do it if you can do it yourself. It’s like the graphic novels I am doing now. I had never done something like that before but I had the idea that I wanted to do one so I taught myself how to use Photoshop and Illustrator to make it happen and away I went with it and it's now turning into it's own business. You have to be independent these days. It’s not that it’s hard to find someone to do what you want it’s just hard to find someone to do what you want just as you would like it. Also it’s always good to have plenty of tools at your disposal that way you don't have to rely on support as much.
"It’s not that it’s hard to find someone to do what you want it’s just hard to find someone to do what you want just as you would like it."
MD: I am dropping an EP with Step2Records this one is an Instrumental EP and will be coming out there really soon its actually in being mastered now and promo will be going out soon just waiting on a release date the project is called 'The Get Set For Digital EP'. I did my own artwork on this one also it’s a parody of the get set for digital adverts that were played out this year.
HJ: How did you hook up with Step2Records?
MD: Actually I got linked up with Dan from Step2Records through my man Billy Phono. They run the label together he is on the same course as me in Uni and is a massive fan of Secondson he nearly blew his gasket when he realised I was on SFDB with him. We got chatting and I hooked him up with some of the old releases on wax. He showed me some of his work and we did some bits and pieces together he makes some ill beats. He has a new project in the works at the mo with Broke MC called ‘Broke and Phono’. I can’t wait for that one to be finished up. Anyhow he approached me on behalf of the label to drop a release with them and I put something together we also hooked up to do some stuff for the label launch night it’s a really good label and they cover loads of genres not just Hip Hop, which is perfect for me because I like to experiment and the links are there if I want too.
HJ: You've been working on an instrumental ep that is just about to get released on Cardiff based label Step2Records. Is this your first ep that doesn't feature any MC's?
MD: Yeah it was a new thing for me to think of my tracks as instrumentals because I had always made them with the MC in mind The tracks on this ep are still true to that format so MC's could still rap over them if they wanted to. The basic structure of your average Hip Hop Beat is still there I suppose it was more of a nudge in another direction rather than a big leap the big leap comes on the next one.
HJ: How did you find the transition from working with vocalists to working on soely instrumental pieces? Did you find you had more freedom to experiment with your productions?
MD: I definitely feel I have more freedom knowing that what I am working on doesn't have to be structured for somebody else to understand I have always loved being a bit wild with my beats there's nothing better than switching up the tempo mid track with a massive drop but this becomes a problem if you’re making hip hop MC's can’t accommodate for that in the middle of a verse it throws them off I remember when I first started making Beats for SFDB I gave Secondson a disc with like 16 beats on it he played them to a few MC's and phoned me later on to tell me I had to strip them down to the basics because they were just too wild and MC's couldn't get their heads around them in fact the only MC who would attempt them was Clarity he got it straight away and wanted them all but that man is a rare breed he could rap on anything. I would say it’s more like going back to my roots and as a producer I have worked in other genres of music other than hip hop so the transition wasn't that bad it’s nice to take a look at things from a different angle sometimes it gives you a new perspective on your music.
HJ: As mentioned before you’re currently residing in Newport? Does where you are affect your productions?
MD: Not really it’s easy to stay in contact now with the Internet and social networking being so widespread I have made beats for MC's from all over the world via email I am working with a dude from the states at the moment in Chicago, Philip Morris he is amazing and I linked up with him through a Facebook comment. I sent him the beats and he sent me back his recorded vocals and then I just edit them my end I can pretty much get my beats to anyone anywhere and most MC's these days have a studio local where they record so it’s all good. Sometimes I might have to travel to record someone or they will come to me it all depends on how the MC works really
"I also have my own album 'The Digital Switchover' in the works featuring some of the cream of the crop of UK artists... "
MD: I also have my own album 'The Digital Switchover' in the works featuring some of the cream of the crop of UK artists... My main man D. Gritty is on there, he has a new album of his own coming out too, and I’m recording some of it at the moment. I have two beats on that one myself, actually, I personally can't wait for this album to be finished Gritty was the biggest inspiration I had when I first started out and I'm still excited that I get to work with him now! The stuff he did on SFDB was killer his 'Rags to Rags ep' is a classic and it still gets plays all the time at my house. I also have Farma G from Taskforce, Genesis Elijah, Baron Samedi, Clarity, Crucifix and Devi. The last three are all from the Krate Krusaders Label and all respectively have tons of albums and E.P's out that you should give a listen to. You can catch some on my Bandcamp or at the Krate Krusaders Website. Caskade is another MC from Cardiff who I recently worked with on an EP called 'Dirty Ink' that’s out now on his Bandcamp. Ral Dukes from my Squid Ninja family, a group of MC's and producers from Barry that have done some amazing things check out 'Revenge of The Blowfish', you can get it from iTunes, and it’s a killer album. Also. Joe Blow and Skamma from the same Group.
HJ: Joe Blow and Skamma are crossing over in to the Dub Step sound right now?
MD: They have been working with Stagga on some amazing Dub Step tracks. Stagga actually did a remix of one of mine and Joe Blows' tracks' for his Upcoming Album 'Dead Man Smoking'. The track is called 'Hour Glass Timer' and I love what he did with it. Just sick, sick production from that man! Joe absolutely murdered the beat I gave him. He's one talented MC between Joe and Skamma they have been smashing out sick hip hop tracks for a long time now. It’s no surprise they can lend themselves to the Dub Step domain so well.
JOE BLOW HOUR GLASS STAGGA REMIX by squidninjaz
Genik Riddim (stagga feat skamma joe blow) bbc radio adam walton show.. by squidninjaz
HJ: Going back to your album 'The Digital Switch Over', you're also collaborating with a couple of MC's from the States?
MD: I've got Phillip Morris, my favourite nerd and Tame One on there from the States. Tame one is my favourite MC of all time and has been since I was like 11 maybe 12 years old. He was still doing stuff as part of the Artifacts back then and I have followed him since. It's amazing to even get to speak to him let alone get him on a beat I am still such a fan of his. I have also just linked up with this guy Phero he's dope so I got him on there as well. Philip Morris and Phero are both from Chicago and I got the link to them both through Redphone Records. It all came about when I linked with Matt Maddox and Just-1 for talks about them doing a track on "The Digital Switchover". Matt came over to the UK recently during his world tour but with him touring we had to put their track on hold. He is back now so we can start looking into getting their stuff finished up soon as poss. Redphone Records are definitely a label to keep your eye on they have some major talent coming out of there. I am also still in talks with a few other people about collabs, but mainly just finishing touches and a few verses and that one will be done. There are a few other MC's in the states I would love to work with maybe I will get them on the next one.
Phillip Morris - Stick to my adidas from mister digital album by MisterD
Phillip Morris - Stick to my adidas from mister digital album by MisterD
HJ: You're also working on a new website? Can you tell us more about that?
MD: The website is for a new project called "Hiding Behind The Crates" this one really has my blood pumping at the moment. It’s a full graphic novel that tells the fictional story of how Mister D became Mister Digital. The characters are all friends of mine from uni and family members and the whole novel is sort of a Film Noir detective story without the detective and a backdrop of some of the best beats I have ever made the eventual set up will be that the whole thing will be played out panel by panel in a standalone application that comes with the novel and as you play through the panels the sound effects and music will trigger, loop up and create the suspense and action feel it’s something that hasn't really been done before so it’s a massive project especially as I am doing the whole thing myself from the music to the art to actually creating the application but once I get it all down its going to be epic this one is the big leap!
HJ: I can't wait to see this! What inspired you to take on this unique and obviously extremely personal project?
MD: It all came about from this one track I was working on called 'Tonight'.
The beat was originaly going to be the background for a 40's style Film Noir detective based computer game. My brother is a computer game designer and it was for a project we were working on. Ideas were being thrown around and somewhere in the middle of it all came the phrase "Hiding Behind The Crates Hip Hop". If you listen to the track up on my Soundcloud you will see exactly what I mean it has such a feeling of suspense, action and intreague. I could picture the whole thing in my head so I got a pad and pen out and started jotting a few ideas for a cover and then that turned into a comic page which then turned into another page and then a storyboard then a whole story. I pitched the idea to my tutors in Uni and it became my final year project which is amazing for me because it affords me the time to work solely on this project and not to feel pressured with having to finish up another project on top of the ones I already have and still get my grade. The reason behind it being the story of Mister Digital came when I decided to use photos as well as comic book art my first practice shots were of myself and from there I just thought it would be cool to involve people I know and, (let's be honest~ed) who hasn't wanted to be a comic book hero?
HJ: In terms of influences who or what has been most prominent throughout the creation of 'Hiding Behind The Crates'?
MD: My main influences throughout this project in particular would have to be Frank Miller and the Sin City series I really got back into it when I was doing research for the computer game. It reminded me just how slick the stark black and white could be and had a major effect on the way I created my own work. My biggest influence however has to be the music I had been revisiting all the classics of the Film Noir era like Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller all these songs got me in the frame of mind of intricate plots trenchcoats and Hiding Behind Crates from bad guys with guns. when the project eventually gets finished up into an app thats what I want most out of it. I want to be taken by the music into that world and feel that I have some part in that. Even if my role as a reader is just to flick to the next panel I want that flick to be exciting. When the next sound effect triggers and the music is building suspense with every panel scrolled through. I want that to be immersive like when you read comics as a child I want it to feed the imagination.
HJ: In terms of future collaborations who would you most like to work with?
MD: Theres a ton of MC's I would love to work with but there's this dude Homeboy Sandman, I think he's from Queens, His flow is banana's we chatted a few times on facebook and i hope to hook up something with him on the next album he's super dope. Man there's so many I have worked with Farma G and would love to work with Chester P and Remus if I could get all of them together I would be in my element Taskforce have been a big inspiration in my career they have made so many of my favourite tracks. Same goes for Jehst and Skinnyman. If I had my own way though I would love to work with Aesop Rock the way he spits is crazy his lyrics are off the wall and I love that. Its mad though I have so many beats that I make that I would love to see certain MC's on, it's just a pity money always seems to be the issue these days.
HJ: What is your main piece of equipment you couldn't live without?
MD: My Pro Tools rig for def. I do all my work with it some producers think it's crazy to make the type of Hip Hop I do with Pro Tools there are plenty of other programs out there but its the way I learned to work and the sound quality is always the best. I like to know when I send a beat out it sounds the best it can and for that you need to have the best tools so yeah definitely my digi.
HJ: Any advice for future beat makers?
MD: Keep at it and always stay true to yourself and your own style will come. Just remember beat making like all the elements of Hip Hop is an art form and with enough practice and persaverance you will notice the things you found hard at the begining will become like second nature. Also there are a ton of programs out there now that can get you started pretty easily you don't need the most expensive equipment on the market to make a good beat as long as you have a good work ethic and the right attitude you will be fine. Networking is a must get to know your local MC's you would be suprised how many sick bedroom MC's there are out there and once you start linking up with them they will hook you up with more. There are hundreds of MC's to each producer and if you work hard enough and become a good one they will come to you, also dont be scared to ask for pointers. Some producers guard their production techniques but others like myself will gladly help out if you drop a polite email we all have to start somewhere.
"Networking is a must get to know your local MC's you would be suprised how many sick bedroom MC's there are out there and once you start linking up with them they will hook you up with more."
HJ: Do you think that Hip Hop in Wales is in good health at the moment?
MD: Most definately actually wales has just gained its own chapter of the Universal Zulu Nation, the Dragon Zulu's This is a mighty big push forward for the Welsh Hip Hop Scene as a whole. As some of you may know its the largest hip hop awareness group in the world founded by Afrika Bambaataa the Godfather of Hip Hop. The head of the Chapter is 4dee and anyone who knows anything about Hip Hop here will know he has been at the forefront of true Hip Hop for as long as I can remember. And now we have a chapter there will be some amazing things happening, keep your eyes on the Facebook page for updates its going to be big. We also have a whole host of amazing Graff writers that are taking the world stage by storm in the Secret Wars. If you dont know anything about this check out the website it has been dubbed as the fight club of live art. Basically these guys set up in random places like the basement of a bar in east london or a deserted meat factory in Sweden and battle to create the best art they can in 90 minutes with just black markers on white walls. Its mind blowing stuff and only hyped by word of mouth and honestly cardiff are smashing it. We also have a ton of super talented B-Boys and B-Girls and they are all top notch with plenty of major events happening in Cardff and Newport all year round showcasing Breakdancing battles DJ battles and open Mics its really a strong movement and it seems to be getting stronger all the time. The thing i love about the way we do Hip Hop in wales is there's no front with it you will never see a 50 cent come out of the true Welsh camp ever!
"Basically these guys set up in random places like the basement of a bar in east london or a deserted meat factory in Sweden and battle to create the best art they can in 90 minutes with just black markers on white walls."HJ: Favorite venue in Wales?
MD: Its a bit of a wierd one and I dont know if its just nostalgia but I used to love doing shows in TJ's it was so dark and dingy but it felt personal I dont like to be up on a big stage away from the crowd. I think Hip Hop is an intimate thing I like to see the crowds reaction and interact with them you cant do that if your looking down on them from some high stage with bars in front of it. I must say I would rather a packed out intimate venue with 300 people crammed in bouncing than a big stage with 2000 people you cant get involved with anyday. Then again its different being the producer when your an MC and you make beats and your at a show and your beats are playing and the crowd are loving it thats a good vibe, but man you want that mic so bad.
HJ: Weirdest gig you've ever played/been to?
MD: I can tell you the funniest we got asked to do a gig on halloween as special guests at TJ's again it was only like the third or fourth performance we had done and we had all new material couldn't wait for it to happen excited for weeks leading up to it and when we got there on the night it was like the annual Metal love and Hip Hop hate appreciation society were holding a meeting. We were being blatantly ignored! First two tracks and nothing you could see a few people were enjoying it and wanted to get involved but peer pressure was wining the battle so Barnzy decided that he would make them pay him attention. He stripped his t shirt off and started rubbing his nipples and gyrating on stage saying "what the fuck did you come here for if you aint gonna enjoy yourselves" he cracked everyone up Barnzy is one funny dude I was in stitches and that was it everyone got involved, classic! still makes me smile to this day. It's incredible how such a silly action broke down the barriers so quickly.
HJ: What are you listening to at the moment?
MD: I have fallen in love with Aesop Rocks - Labour Days again, it's one of those albums I pick up every now and again and bug out over how good it is. The beats are amazing, there's that Eric Gale sample on the Daylight track its one of those sample's I wish as a producer I would have found first just so dope. Quite a bit of Coheed and Cambria mainly the first album second stage turbine blades. Chester P - From the Ashes epic album Chester at his best in my personal opinion. Apart from that I go on missions all the time trawling through You Tube from one track to another my musical taste are very broad so it can be a mix of whatever I'm in the mood for really strangely though its mostly old library music I end up listening to the most. Guess it's the same for all us crate diggers in the end you listen to more of the music your sampling that the music your sampling it for.
"The beats are amazing, there's that Eric Gale sample on the Daylight track its one of those sample's I wish as a producer I would have found first just so dope."
HJ: What is your favourite beverage?
MD: Hands down Strawberry Crusha Milkshake every time! I dont drink alcohol at all but I would live on Crusha if I could. I must go through more milk in a day than all my kids do in a week with that stuff its insane.
So there it is. Questions answered and some serious quality releases on the way. 2011 isn't slowing down for Mister Digital. Thanks for taking the time to share some insight into the digital switch over. Don't forget to bookmark www.hidingbehindthecrates.com and join the Facebook page spread the word. This is next level shit!