Interview: Chillman

The up and coming UK rapper chats about his debut LP Abstract Patterns and working with producer Verb T

Interview: Chillman Chillman is a Hereford based MC, and he's just released his debut LP Abstract Patterns through In The Balance Records, a new label headed-up by legendary MC/producer Verb T. Bearded caught up with him to chat about the new release.

'I got into hip-hop when I was living in Africa' says Chillman. 'I lived there for half of my life. My uncle used to come around and play me a load of hip-hop, and I just used to be amazed by it. That's what got me into it. I've always wanted to write, but I never thought I could. I used to have a mate called Krazy Paul who did some crazy freestyles at parties and stuff, and I just thought fuck it, I'm going to try this myself'.

I'm aware of some South African hip-hop, through watching a film called Tsotsi (2005) (trailer) which I mention to Chillman, and I wonder whether there as a scene as such when he was growing up in Eritrea. 'That name does ring a bell' he says. 'All the youth there are inspired by hip-hop, a lot of kids listen to hip-hop and dress that way, but there wasn't a lot of rhyming going on or anything like that. It might be different now if I went back and saw the older generation, but no, not so much when I was there'.

Chillman is a member of the Hereford collective Verbal Highz, and I ask how the crew first formed. 'Well, I was telling you about my mate Krazy Paul with the freestyles; I said to him why don't we form a group together? I'd just started producing back then, so I was like I'll make you the beats, you spit on them, and then eventually I got into writing and my mate Koosie joined me as well, he's South African actually. My mate Goose and Jason Hurley also joined, this was about four years ago maybe, and yeah we've been going ever since then'.

Are there any projects available at the moment? 'Yeah, we've got our first one which we made about three years ago, it's just called Verbal Highz. We put that out on Bone Dry Records. We've got a new one coming out, maybe next month, with all of the new members, so that's going to be cool'.

Chillman released his debut LP last week, and I ask him to talk a little bit about the process of making the album. 'Verbs and I have been working on it for about two and a half years, we've not been rushing it or anything. I met Verbs at Welcome To The Future, that was three years ago in Bournemouth, and I I actually missed my set'.

I spoke to Verb T a few days before our conversation, and he told me his side of the story; 'There was a competition, an open mic-night type thing that me, Leaf Dog and guy called G from Backyard Boogaloo which is a night in Bournemouth, put on together; the aim of it was to find some dope upcoming MC's, but also to create that sense of community for the younger generation. It was cool because it really seemed like it worked, groups from Birmingham, London, Bournemouth, Hereford all coming together for that first one, and a lot of them have worked together and stayed in touch. Chillman was the first person I met, and he seemed like a real safe dude, he had a vibe about him where I was like 'I bet this guys going to be pretty good'. I'd heard his music, but it's one of those things where you meet someone and you have a good feeling about them. I think it was 8.30 when every MC had to be on stage. He was like yeah, cool, and went away. It got to 8.30 and everyone was there except him, luckily for him he was picked to go last. It got to the eighth MC, and Leaf Dog and I were calling his name out, getting the crowd to call his name out, joking around like 'He's throwing up in the back' or 'He's back there taking a shit', and he just didn't show up. I was like 'Man, he must have bottled it', and then he shows up like an hour later like 'Right, are we going on then'? I was like 'You've missed your thing', and he was so gutted man, I felt bad for him. He still got on the open-mic that night and killed it, but that first meeting has always stuck in my mind. It's funny that we've ended up doing an album together'.

'I had a mate with me who's a bit dopey' says Chillman. 'He was like 'let's go for a spliff', and I was like nah man I've got to go on soon, and he said 'It's 11 o clock that you're on, I'm sure; I'm so sure about it', so I was like cool, whatever. We went for a spliff, came back, and I said 'Right, I'm ready to go', and they were like 'You're an hour late (laughs)'. It's quite funny. It turned out my way anyway, so maybe it was a good thing'.

I wonder if there was any pre-disposed plan for the LP. 'I think the plan kept evolving as we made the project. It kept switching and we went with it. We just wanted to make a solid project, that's pretty much it. It started off as we were just going to do a track together, and then it was going to be an EP, and then T said you know what, I'll just send you a load of beats and we'll make an album. That was well cool. Verbs just helped me with it the whole way, direction-wise, structuring the album, planning it out and all of that sort of stuff'.

I ask Chillman when him actually joining In The Balance Records happened in the timeline of it all. 'You know what, it's funny' he replies. 'I never knew I was joining In The Balance, Verbs never actually told me (laughs). I always wanted to, and when he said he was going to do the whole album I guessed it was going to come out through In The Balance, but he'd never actually told me that I was ON In The Balance (laughs). I figured it out soon enough (laughs)'.

I wonder if there was any part of him that wanted to work with a variety of producers instead of solely with Verbs. 'Not at the time. Obviously when he said about doing the album I was just really happy about it. I used to listen to Verb T and the High Focus lot when I first started writing, and I thought hopefully I can get on a track with one of these guys in the next ten years. For Verbs to hit me up I was sort of surprised man; there's all of these artists out there and he came to me to make a project; I was just really happy man. I would have rather worked with him than anyone else; he's a good man, he's inspirational, he knows what to do and he's a good guy to have on your side'.

The Abstract Patterns LP has a very cohesive sound to it, and I ask Chillman how collaborative the process of refining the direction and sound of the album was. 'Well, we talked about it a lot. T would call me a lot, or we'd see each other at a show or something. We wanted to make the beats quite different sounding, and I came in and did my thing. We talked about a lot of the topics and the direction and the whole sound of the album together, we crafted it together. He featured on quite a few of the tracks as well, so I'd say it's a very, very collaborative album'.

There's some nice collaborations on the album, including Moreone and Leaf Dog. The LP closes out with a posse-cut, and Chillman speaks about the LP's finale. 'I think that every album I make I'm going to have a Verbal Highz posse cut. They're all Verbal Highz MC's on there apart from Joe Publik, he's part of Born In The Barn, they're some really cool guys and they've got some great music. I met him at a festival a few years back, he's a cool guy so I got him on that. The other guy at the end, the harsh sounding guy; he doesn't say he's in Verbal Highz but we say he's in Verbal Highz, we call him the old cunt of the hive, whether he likes it or not'.

With a performance at Boom Bap Festival to look forward to at the end of the month, I ask Chillman what he enjoys about performing, and whether he prefers it to the recording process. 'We've got a good club in Hereford, well it's changed now, but two years back we had a pub which used to get a lot of good acts, and I know the promoters so they used to get us on all the time. Performing is the heart of it, it's fun, there's nothing like it, getting on stage, having a few drinks on stage. I love performing with the Verbal Highz guys because we've all known each other for so long, we just bounce off of each other so easily. I wouldn't know whether I prefer recording or performing, I also love making beats; I couldn't ever put one thing on top of the others'.

Has he ever done any self-produced tracks or projects? 'No. I've produced a few songs for Coosie, I've got an EP coming out with this girl Zoe Laughman, she's a really dope singer and an MC as well, we've got a few tracks down for that and they sound pretty cool, that'll be out maybe November, December time'. Has he not rapped on his own beats consciously? 'I find it weird. Maybe because I've listened to them so much when I'm making them. I know every aspect of that beat. I feel like I can't really fit on them, it's weird. I give it to other people and they do their thing on it, so maybe that's one for the future'. I've read a producer talking about this, and he mentions how he's not listening to the kick or the snare, but how he's EQ'd and processed the kick or the snare, and I relay this to Chillman. 'I know where everything falls and I find it hard to fit my rhymes in the right pocket, 'cause I think maybe that snare's a bit drurry, maybe it's not, it's complicated. I'm glad you've told me that, that's the one (laughs)'.

As our conversation draws to a close I ask what Chillman's got planned for the rest of the year. 'I'm just going to be writing for my next album, that's going to be half Verb T and half J-Max, he's a producer from Bristol; I've known him for a while, he's a real dope producer so that's going to be a cool collab. Then I'll be doing shows if I get booked for some shows. I'll see how it goes'.

Abstract Patterns is out now through In The Balance Records