My meeting with Urban Chess takes place in a coffee shop in the Derbyshire town of Glossop, a place which doesn’t exactly sound like the most likely place to come across a rapper, I think you will agree.
It turns out that I will only be meeting James Haggerty (or Haggerty as he is known), one half of Urban Chess as Tumi is moving house and thus will be communicating via text for this interview. This leaves us looking like we are having an awkward man date but nevertheless we push on.
The reason for our sudden chat is the fact that Urban Chess have been rather busy recently getting involved in an all manner of activities over the past months.
As anyone with a T.V will know, last month saw 4 days of rioting and looting in the UK by what the papers like to call “the youth of today.”
Haggerty explains to me how he feels that younger people are being unfairly stereotyped as violent or out of control and illustrates his point by claiming “We were in Manchester once, doing a bit of rapping and beat boxing and someone walked past and said, Oh these are probably some of the rioters, which triggered our minds to think yeah we are being stereotyped.”
But did he take it on the chin? Or take action?…”We got some banners saying “Youth against riots” and put the I love Manchester t-shirts and got a camera and erm performed on Market street and got loads of interviews with people, we got a crowd in and explained what we were all about and performed Keep Stopping Me and you know we had a wide range of people, from fourteen to like seventy year old seeing what we were actually about instead of the stereotype.
All very well, except does rap music with it’s talk of guns and crime and “bling” not have something to answer for in terms of influencing young people? Again the answer comes straight away and apparently the problem is people “stereotyping rap” and there are some rappers who are “just making club beats and there are loads of genres, it is just poetry really, that is negatively portrayed.”
An interesting argument, that leads on to “Twice You Looked” the first Urban Chess video which is the most popular of their videos with 9,000 views on You tube…with lyrics like “Gonna slice you up, dice you up” and “All this money I’ve withdrawn” surely it too is typical of the violence and flashiness that people attribute to rap music?
Haggerty sighs, smiles and launches into an explanation he has clearly had to give to explain this video before, “It was a college project, just us messing about was to emphasise grime and maybe some people don’t understand that it is not what we are about.”
He then concedes “that sometimes when we do freestyles we do take the piss out of each other and use that kind of language but it’s for a laugh and not we are really like.” To settle the point I ask him to “doss” me in a rap style as he would in a freestyle, to see how easily negative or violent words come to him. He looks uneasy and laughs and refuses and points out “there is no beat or anything.” When I bang a spoon against a glass as a beat, he laughs again and refuses…he seems to be telling the truth, they aren’t about violence and such like.
The earlier talk of “Twice You Looked” and its popularity moves the conversation onto the upcoming mix tape It’s more than just a game which he tells me”hopefully if we are eager enough we can get out for early in October.”
Will “Twice You Looked” feature? Apparently not because he reckons “ It has helped them build a fan base and it’s time to move on.” All very well, but is that not like having a number one and never playing it again? Seemingly not, as he replies instantly “Not really because obviously we don’t want the negative image it has from emphasising grime and that’s not what we are about.”
The reluctance to talk about “Twice You Looked” suggests a regret or bitterness towards it, so I ask do they regret doing it under the Urban Chess name? “No, some people took the piss and I remember that but I look at them now and I’m doing what I want to do, words don’t damage me any more.
So if they ain’t grime, and they don’t do crime what are Urban Chess about? Haggerty relaxes after steering me away from “Twice You Looked” and explains the roots and influences behind “Summertime Love” one of the songs they are including on the mix tape… “It’s like, during the summer everyone is happy and smiling but when it is raining everyone is miserable and we noticed that and we just think Summertime Love is what we need and can also be a great video.”
And warming to the theme of their upcoming music, he is keen to press the fact that this isn’t all just rap music “If you don’t like track 3, you’ll like 14 or whatever, we are going to do some acoustic, some dance beats. Hopefully we can get it right to do a big rock sound on one track.”
It is obvious to me from his several mentions of cameras and promo videos, that James has a passion for behind the camera directing work as well as music and so I ask him to describe to me how the Summertime Love video will look “ Well get a great location, volleyball on the beach, beautiful sunsets and you just get a feeling of happy…probably Aya Napia there are some beautiful locations there.”
And it is to Aya Napia that we venture with our chat and more specifically, the time they spent over there this summer, working with MC Dadge who they “knew through my sister from back in the day” and who they filmed promo videos for, in return he set them up with gigs at venues such as the Castle Club. And of all the subjects discussed, this is the one that gets James going. He launches into explanations of meeting Kele Le Roc the rapper and garage act, and tells me about filming her new video for her. It started with Dadge saying “Get a picture with Kele and then we started speaking and she was like want to film One Man, my new video…so we was like yeah okay.”
As James explains more about the video for One Man, Tumi texts James to give his take on there time in Aya Napia saying that not only did they “have an unforgettable experience meeting some big artists” but it meant they got to “spend time as a group maturing and you will hear that on the new record.”
So they fight stereotypes, make videos, write songs and freestyle. Is there anything Urban Chess can’t do? It appears not…though Octobers mix tape will be the time we really find out what they are about. One thing is for sure…they get around.
Urban Chess on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100001592607021
Red Rose video interview with Urban Chess: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Qe9IaQM7R8
Acoustic version of Keep Stopping Me for Red Rose Music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGX8Mz2j9wE