Verb T (Bird T), Fliptrix (Big Owl), BVA MC (Rusty Take-Off) and Leaf Dog (Deformed Wing) accompanied by DJ Madnice – all from the upcoming label High Focus – got together in 2011 to form not less than a British Rap Supergroup, called the FOUR OWLS. For their first performance in Austria the four owls attended this year’s Krunk Festival as headliner. However they did not act like normal headliners would: Despite their performance took place on Saturday, the owls arrived already on Friday so they had the chance to watch Austrian acts perform, play Basketball, go skating and get to know the festival’s audience. Before their show, the birds flew into the interview location, a disused carriage, to answer questions about the production process of the album, Europe’s distribution of wealth, Ol‘ Leaf’s “Hippy Shit” attitude to life and why they are not the british Wu-Tang.
Interview: Felix Diewald & Jan Braula
Photos: Daniel Shaked
TM: Have you been surprised that you were booked for a Hip-Hop festival in Austria?
Fliptrix: Absolutely, I mean we sent CDs and material out to several countries, so it was clear that there are interested people outside of the UK. Additionally, platforms like Youtube and Facebook helped to spread it further and further, but to get booked into headliners is definitely a special thing, especially at our first performance in Austria.
To be honest, we did not really know what to expect. Therefore we had been surprised by this organic, “roots” Hip-Hop festival and the crowd which was more enthusiastic than in England.
Which expectations did you have when you heard that you will go to Austria?
Leaf Dog: I did not know what to expect. (laughs) Apparently it is better than I thought. I looked it up to see what is going on in Wiesen and as I saw some pictures of the area and that the Sunsplash also take place there, so had a better idea of how this is going to be like.
Why did you choose the owl to symbolise your supergroup?
Leaf Dog: I guess for the wisdom, it is definitely a very wise animal.
Verb T: To be fair, we chose the name first, before we had the whole idea behind it. First we simply liked it as a name but when you start to write the lyrics you experience that there is a wide range of stories about owls, all meaning different things. Through that it is relevant to what we do because we show a lot of different sights to us on the album: There is crazy shit, straight up HipHop, wisdom and dark stuff as well. Cypress Hill’s “Spark another owl” is where the inspiration really comes from. Without that song, we would not have recorded the album.
Leaf dog: For me it was kind of a joke, like “how funny it would be to wear masks and shit”- 24 hours later it was a real idea and we were doing it. (all laugh)
You all have different styles of writing and producing. How can the production process of “Natures greatest Mystery” be imagined? Did you meet each other in London at the HighFocus-headquarter to do studio sessions or did each of you write their verses separately?
Fliptrix: When Leaf Dog came to London to work on his solo album, we started to work all together in the High Focus -headquarter when BVA came down as well. First we had a variety of 600 beats that Leaf has made in the past one or two years. Next we chose 40 of them and then cut it down to 14 beats. As we had recorded four tunes, we decided to also get Verb T involved.
BVA MC: After finding a concept for every beat, we parted for 2 ½ weeks to write our verses, then we came back to finish the recordings.
Fliptrix: In fact, it was a completely spontaneous move, we did not even know that we had just finished an entire album.
Did you already decide to only use Leaf Dog’s beats before beginning to work on the album?
Leaf Dog: No, not at first, I just had so many beats that no one had ever rapped on.
BVA MC: I also do not think that many people had the opportunity to go through all of them (laughs)
Fliptrix: Additionally it showcases Leaf Dogs production, from the moment on when the album came out, everyone knew about Leaf Dog beats.
Leaf Dog: Even if I already made beats before, that was a very good push for me as producer. It worked out much better than I imagined.
You said “Natures greatest Mystery” was a nice push for you as a beatmaker. Now you are working with Vinnie Paz and KRS-One. how did this collabos happen and when will they be released?
Leaf Dog: It is simply a consequence of what I did. I’ll hit people up on Twitter, sending them millions of messages, basically everybody in American Hip-Hop history got a message from me. Literally. (laughs)
The KRS-One and Vinnie Paz features are on mine and BVA’s album “Brothers of the stone” which is coming out on High Focus in early july. I produced three beats for U God’s album “Keynote speaker” which drops on the 27th of July.
Many “HipHop–Supergroups” consist of few gifted artists combined with simple weed carriers, most of them grew up together and come from the same area.
If we look at the Black Hippy Gang as an example (Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock) besides they are very diverse as well, they even describe themselves as a group drafted on the drawing board. Would you describe yourselves as such a Group?
Leaf Dog: I guess in a way, but it was no drawing board. I think the Black Hippy Gang was definitely orchastrated.
Verb T: There was not the thought behind it to start a Supergroup and take over the scene.
Fliptrix: It was fun for all of us to do a group project, because it is something complete different. Especially for me, I made three solo albums in the past and to have three other people rapping on each song is just a whole different thing. We had a productive, competitive atmosphere while working and it makes it interesting for people to listen to, because everyone of us sees things from different angles. As a result the four owls have a lot more diversity and variation in their lyrics, in their flows.
Verb T: You also do not have to write whole songs, only verses. At a solo album there is so much more work to do. We were not combining forces with the purpose of selling records, we were combining forces just to make a new kind of project, something that sounded different. I did think that it would be like a side project, not as popular as Leaf Dog’s or Fliptrix’s solo album, but when it came out, it just surpassed everything.
BVA MC: That is the best thing that ever happened to me, because I was the most unknown MC. (laughs)
Verb T: I am not saying that we are the british Wu-Tang, (laughter) but at Wu-Tang everyone has got his own style, we each got very different styles, we each add a different element to the album. And we have two RZAs. (laughter)
BVA you are rapping: ”Without the hood the posh house price wouldn’t be higher.”
Here in Austria the 5 richest percent own 45% of all wealth (in the economical meaning). In GB the distribution of wealth is about the same percentage. In general the world’s distribution of wealth is getting worse and worse. What do you think could be done against this?
BVA MC: If I am brutally honest, there is not much that could be done. I mean these rich people will not change suddenly like Rockerfeller did. A million people can sign petitions, people need to change themselves and just be happy. And stop thinking about that.
Leaf Dog: People will always try to take stuff from you. I think people focus on that way to much. We should not accept things , actually we should try to change things, but at the same time the dollar will eat you up.
Fliptrix: You got to be the change you want to see as well. (all agreeing)
Verb T: As artists it is not about the money, I think we all had opportunities were we could have gone into a different direction. Obviously we need to pay our bills, we need to live, but in general we are doing what we want to do. If people do not value the money, if they live their life in the way that they want to it does not matter what someone else has as long as they are happy with what they have got. Than they can have their money, who cares?
Money enslaves people, it allways has done, obviously there is a certain amount where money is essential, but even if it sounds cliché, you should not let it rule your world, there are much more important things than money.
What do you think of the riots two years ago in London?
Fliptrix: I think it was manipulated and badly reported in the media. At the end of the day they had the police power to stop the riots, but they waited three days to do it properly.
There was a political motivation behind it, they were letting it happen. I was living in Camberwell (editor’s note: district in the south of London) at the time and there was police everywhere, but when the riots were happening, no police were there. And the next day they blamed it on the youth and the underclass. The newspapers manipulated the people to even strengthen the prejudices many of the readers already have about certain people. Afterwards the politics used the fear of new riots to launch tougher stop and search laws.
BVA MC: I have the feeling that a lot of these happenings just take place to have a explanation to change human rights. (laughs cynically)
Leaf Dog, why do you think many people would consider your attitude to life as a hippy shit? (This point of view also exists in Yin-Yang and in Buddhism.)
Could this show the false promise that capitalistic systems tend to make? (e.g. freedom and fulfilment can be bought)
Leaf Dog: When I was a kid I was really stupid and ignorant, but when I started rapping I came into my own mind and started realising all the things that define my life. In this verse I am talking to the 15 year-old me, that was not ready to listen to “Life in the Balance”. It is like talking to my old-self and the youth in a way they can understand it, if they were like me, not listening to anyone.
BVA MC: As you say “it took a lot of changes in me to consider it”, some people might see it as a hippy shit, because it is can be hard to take. The 15year-old you would have said, looking at you now:” Oh he’s on some hippy shit.”
Are you influenced by any british HipHop artists?
Fliptrix: For me, it is definately Task Force (Chester P and Farma G) and Skinnyman.
BVA MC, Verb T: Roots Manuva.
Leaf Dog: I was actually listening to Verb’s stuff when I was a teenager.
Verb T: I am the old man of the group.
I think we loved Hip-Hop for the American stuff, but when I first heard the british rap, that made me think that I can do this as well.
BVA MC: DJ Skitz’s album “countryman” was the first british rap album I heard and I was completely astonished.
Do you have a festival like Krunk in the UK?
Fliptrix: Yes, the Boombap Festival in september, it is like Krunk Festival basically, a nice selection of the UK Hip-Hop scene.
Leaf Dog, you began as a Drum ’n Bass MC, how did this influence you?
Leaf Dog: was a drumnbass MC at the start, but I always listened to hip hop and as time went on, I wasn’t really feeling to rap about getting wasted all the time to a lot of ravers. I wanted to say something different. That’s where Drum n Bass just ended for me. But I do still love it, if I am on a Drum’n’Bass rave and I am wasted I definitely get up on the stage to spit some bars. But I do not want to rap on 175 BPM anymore. (imitates rapping on 175BPM)
BVA MC: It is part of our childhood, but I think as a Drum ’n Bass Mc you can not really get substantial.
Leaf Dog: No, that is disrespectful. It is just me personally, I wanted to say something else. Some MCs are ill, for example Stevie Hyper D, Fearless or Skibadee.
How would you describe your standing in the UK’s music scene in general?
Verb T: The kids want an alternative to the mainstream, something that says a bit more, because the genres played in the radio are blending now. A lot of this music sounds like Jingles on the telephone, with just a few notes, but with a big production.
Our music is like the classic independent movie – starts small but influences the culture and also the pop world and will be seen by people for years.
Leaf Dog: I guess for kids, being fan of UK Hip-Hop lets you feel like you are a member of your own secret gang. The gang of real UK Hip-Hop.
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