Hip-hop has its showboats and may succumb to the odd ostentatious display, but for every artist flaunting cash, cars and jewellery, there are hundreds more keeping it real. Dr Syntax & Pete Cannon are the epitome of the latter: no fronts, fads or fakery, just solid tunes, fiery rhymes and high-energy live shows. From producing their own music videos to subverting the formality of this very interview – they do things in a manner befitting their unique style and sound – one of the reasons they’re so respected on the UK’s underground hip-hop scene.
Their new album Let’s Talk is a nineteen-track triumph, with diverse beats from Cannon and clever, witty and razor sharp verses from Dr Syntax. In short, no less than we’ve come to expect from the pair, who’ve set a high water mark from the beginning. They play live at Band on the Wall on 15th March, with Levelz MC Sparkz in support and agreed to speak to us ahead of the date. Dr Syntax drew the short straw and got lumbered with the straight-laced questions, while Pete Cannon took hold of proceedings later on, tackling some of the lighter matters…
You recently launched Let’s Talk with a London show alongside High Focus’ Verb T & Pitch 92. Were you pleased with how the new numbers went down and seeing that High Focus have recently passed 200,000 YouTube subscribers, are you pleased to see their diligent work paying off?
DS: ‘It was really cool. The new tunes are going down well I think. Big up High Focus, they’re doing it right.’
Cannon: ‘Catch us at the High Focus 8th birthday in Brixton, March 30th, oi oi.’
There aren’t many artists with the confidence or capability to span jungle, hip-hop and bass music in the course of one LP or live set. Was that diversity always something you wanted to achieve with your collaboration or did it just happen that a variety of beats were working and it blossomed from there?
DS: ‘For me, it’s always been the way – I used to tour with Foreign Beggars when their first two albums came out, and they always had a mash up of genres going on. Pete’s the same – he’s always trying to make something new and different and has a deep love of rave music and culture. We both grew up taping Westwood’s Radio 1 show, watching Yo! MTV Raps and listening to Helter Skelter tape packs – it’s the natural progression of that really.’
Is there anything you’ve ever wanted to achieve on record that has eluded you? An emulation of a production technique from a bygone era, a lyrical phrasing that just hasn’t gelled…and beyond that, do any cuts on Let’s Talk represent a first for you in terms of rhymes or production – anything you’re proud to say you nailed?
DS: ‘If I look at my back catalogue, there’s definitely things I think stand the test of time, and things that I think are a bit clumsy, but that’s life, it’s all a learning process. On the whole I am very proud of Let’s Talk – I think it’s the best album we’ve done.’
Sampling being integral to your art form – do you ever find ‘hearing samples’ to be a bit of a menace, or are you able to park the part of your brain that’s on alert for them and just enjoy listening to the music?
DS: ‘It’s all part of the same process I think. I know Pete is constantly discovering music, whether it’s digging through old collections or checking out new releases. At any point he might go ‘I’m having that’.’
You’ve self-produced a few music videos now, most recently dark and gritty visual for Nuggets. Where did you shoot the latest video and do you think the D.I.Y. production angle is something you’re going to run with on future projects?
DS: ‘Definitely. Pete has shot and edited quite a few, e.g. Middle Class Problems. Nuggets is actually the first one I’ve ever edited, and I really enjoyed doing it. It’s essential to have lots of videos now – you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t. Even at mate’s rates it’s expensive to get someone to do them all, so my advice to any aspiring artists would be to get some simple equipment and do it yourself.’
There have been some terrific hip-hop mash-up records in recent years: Amerigo Gazaway’s Yasiin Gaye project, Tom Caruana’s formidable Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers… what are your thoughts on the mash-up and its place in hip-hop culture and are there any musical mash-ups that you think would be a match made in heaven?
DS: ‘Mash ups… I mean, that is hip hop. Take something, put something else on top of it, make it fit – that’s basically the essence of it, right? I would like to hear some really po-faced UK hip hop acapellas over some classic Italian house.’
What has been most inspiring for you recently, do you tend to be inspired to create in response to positive or negative things and has 2018 got you excited about anything new or forthcoming?
DS: ‘I think I’m most inspired these days by sheer survival instinct and deadlines. Get it bloody done or it’s not happening! That usually does it. Pete has a load of new stuff with different artists coming out, I’m just starting to get some collaborations underway, and I expect we’ll be back in the studio working on our next thing when we get a chance to. At the moment though, we’re just pushing Let’s Talk, getting some more videos made, hitting the road, all that good stuff!’
Pete Cannon then took the clipboard and sunk his teeth into some questions of his own…
What’s your favourite Seinfeld episode?
The one where Jerry buys a speedboat for Virginia Wolf.
What’s your favourite sampler?
‘At the moment I’m rocking the s1100, it’s like the 1000 but on 50 coffees. The A/D converters are the last great ones Akai used in their racks before changing them up. Bare ‘90s, bare s**t FX, bare bangin’.’
What’s your favourite Charity Shop?
‘The Human Fund one in Wood Green mate. Best jackets in London, fact. Shite records though.’
What is Dr Syntax really like?
‘He’s a bloody mint guy and a big lad, I love going on tour with him, doing rap music and eating lavish dinners.’
People often comment on your hair, do you have anything to add to that?
‘Yeah, I have a nice haircut and wear smart clothes ’cause I wanna look good, you know; f**k looking like a dosser. I look good, smell good and make bangers – I don’t p**s about. Hip hop is a form of true expression yeah and I’m 100 percent me yeah, cheers yeah…GEEEEZ!’