Buzz is building around Rory Graham, aka Rag’n’Bone Man. Ahead of his show at Manchester’s Deaf Institute, 19 March, the crossover artist shares his thoughts on UK hip-hop, and tells us why blues is in his blood.
You’re a blues musician first – how did you get involved with the underground hip-hop scene?
I was playing around pub open mics and jam sessions when I was introduced to Gizmo and DJ Direct. They’d already put a nine-strong crew together of rappers, DJs and producers but I started recording hooks on the existing tracks and Rum Committee was born. We gigged, partied a lot and put out a joint called Bluestown, which was really rough but got me a lot of love.
How does it feel to be getting recognition from the likes of 1Xtra and Xfm?
I always knew I’d make a living from music but never thought it would get this far. People like MistaJam and Huw Stephens have been so supportive. I’m really grateful. When I first heard myself on radio it was a trip. I had to bell my old dear up. She didn’t really care though – if it’s not Terry Wogan she ain’t interested.
Is UK hip-hop on the rise?
I feel like hip-hop in the UK is the strongest it’s been since the early 2000s. Support from big festivals, airtime on national radio, videos getting millions of views. I do however feel like it lacks a bit of imagination at times.
The lyrical content of mainstream hip-hop can be quite controversial. How do you feel about the image that portrays?
Money and sex sells so it won’t die out. People love it, and buying rubbish they don’t need, unfortunately. It’s not all doom and gloom though. I think real music and lyricism is back on the rise – listen to the likes of Jam Baxter or Cappo. It’s real thought-provoking stuff. I can’t relate to a track that consists purely of bum lyrics.
Why is the blues so timeless and adaptable?
It’s tribal. Blues comes from gospel, and gospel comes from Africa. It’s infectious, and it’s in our blood whether we like it or not. My earliest memory of music is blues. My dad would play records. “The sky is crying but it’s raining in my heart.” I wanted to know all about the lyrics. Whatever it was it must have been painful.