Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A Ruff Guide To Tricky AKA All Hail The Patron Saint Of Reluctant Superstars

Back in 1984 in a town called Bristol in the UK, a16 year old kid sits at home and watches old movies and plays his favorite records and tapes rather than go to school. He feels out of place there, he can feel people staring at him as he walks down the street. They wonder not “who” he is...more like “what” is he. His pronounced features give him away immediately. His face doesn’t look like everyone elses. His hands are much darker than those of his classmates. He doesn’t feel comfortable in the school house, he’s rather be at home doing something interesting like watching movies, reading some music publication or listening to his favorite tunes...he’s not getting wrinkles in his brain by going there, he’s merely getting more and more irritated at being continuously gawked at.

His name is Adrian Thaws, he’s never met his father and while he did have a mother, he doesn’t really remember her that well. She was not well when he was little and she ended up committing suicide when he was only 4. He read somewhere that Quincy Jones' mother wasn’t around when he was a child, either. Quincy Jones instead immersed himself in music...Adrian did the very same. He listened to music of all genres but he really identified with Hip Hop. It helped to give him an identity in a place where no one else looked like him...not even his own relatives. When he looked into a mirror he saw himself but he knew that other people did see what he saw what he looked in the mirror. They were all stuck on his exterior appearance and they immediately drew conclusions about his demeanor and how he felt inside based on it solely. Being stereotyped and narrowcast was the one thing Adrian hated the most in life...he also knew it would happen to him as long as he lived and breathed in his skin.

He began writing rap lyrics and poems that would later become song lyrics. He also began to get wrapped up in the world of the streets being that he wasn’t going to school and he was just hanging around the neighborhood. How else could he afford to buy that new vinyll he wanted or those new headphones so he didn’t disturb his grandmother at night while he blasted The Specials or Run DMC from the stereo? He got caught up about a year later and detained in HMP (Her Majesty’s Prisons) because an associated of his snitched on him. He spent his time incarcerated dreaming of getting out and pursuing his life’s dream...making music. How? He didn’t know. But he knew he’d pursue it with every fiber of his being and every active cell in his body once he was released from the cage.

Fast forward to 1986, Adrian is know known as Tricky Kid and he is down with a crew/soundsystem known as The Wild Bunch. He wrote rhymes, studied the art of showmanship and he eventually got his first taste what it was like to make music and have people respond to it. The words you just uttered could be repeated by kids on the corner all over your postcode. The beats you just made would be beatboxed and banged out on walls in hallways, bathrooms and lunchrooms all over. The properties of music weren’t lost on Tricky, he wanted to pursue them even further. The Wild Bunch received a fair amount of fame, but they eventually transformed into a collective called Massive Attack. Tricky was at the time a fringe contributor, he was more interested in learning more about how to create different sounds and various aspects of production than anything else. Massive Attack were making headway in the burgeoning Bristol music scene and Tricky merely went along for the ride.

Tricky threw himself into music, learning theory and experimenting with any instrument he could get his hands on. While he loved Hip Hop, he knew his voice was a strange one and it could limit his appeal to listeners as an emcee, therefore he threw himself into production and learning the board in the studios that he travelled to with his friends in Massive Attack. In 1988, they recorded their 1st single called “Any Love” (above) that raised a few eyebrows. In 1990, Massive Attack scored a minor hit with another single called “Daydreaming” (below) that he was featured on. In 1991, Tricky’s life would be forever changed.

He was recording with Massive Attack (for what would be their breakout album “Blue Lines” ) and during that time he was always working on music with his various roommates and members of Massive Attack in his flat. The flat happened to be around the corner from a school. A girl always seemed to wander over behind Tricky’s apartment while he was playing music or trying to record some demos or just lay down some tracks that he could submit to Massive Attack for use on future projects. Tricky would notice this girl regularly taking cigarette breaks during school hours and one day while he was outside he asked her for a cigarette and they struck up a conversation.

After a few encounters the girl mentions that she sings, noticing the music that would often eminate from his flat. Tricky asked her to come by and see if they could possibly lay something down. She came by and Tricky was blown away by this girls voice. She had a unique quality to her voice and her sound was pure. She didn’t have the same hang ups that many trained studio singers he encountered had (he hated that). She was a clean slate.Her name was Martina Topley-Bird and she would serve as his first muse. Once Massive Attack’s “Blue Lines” (above) album dropped, things exploded in Bristol...the album was a critical and commercial success. Massive Attack were hailed as the “next big thing” in music. Tricky’s appearance on the title track thrust him into the spotlight. It was an akward position for him to be in all of a sudden.

While Massive Attack were recording songs for their own projects, Tricky spent a fair amount of time on his own trying to craft gems. He and Martina had become increasingly closer and she became a fixture in the flat. He would write lyrics for her and she’d go learn them and sing them from the paper right then and there. She wasn’t self conscious about how she sounded or delivered the lines, either. This really drew the listener in and Tricky knew he had something special with these recordings so in 1993 he submitted them to the members of Massive Attack. They unanimously turned the track down so Tricky decided to press the joint up himself with his own meager earnings as a Massive Attack “contributor”, a title he was growing increasingly dissatisfied with as time went on.

The song was a demo track called “Aftermath” (above) that he pressed up a few hundred quick white label copies of. The response to the track was overwhelming in the UK and eventually Tricky was getting calls from labels offering him deals. He eventually signed with major label Island/PolyGram and immediately got to work making his own solo project. They released his vinyl in America through Island US imprint 4th & Broadway, the former home of one of Tricky’s biggest influences, Rakim.

Massive Attack asked Tricky to contribute some material for their new studio album, he gave them some some half ass material due to the fact he was really concentrating on his own material and upcoming solo album. Massive Attack’s “Protection” (above) album was released in 1994 and became an even bigger success than “Blue Lines”. He appeared on two tracks on “Protection” called “Karmacoma” and “Eurochild” (“Karmacoma” is seen below and became a single and it had a video that became huge on MTV). Tricky wasn’t proud of his accomplishments with Massive Attack because he felf they were becoming too popular and mainstream. He also felt that he had a lot more to contribute than a few verses here and there. His production never made it onto a Massive Attack project and besides, he wanted to gain respect on his own terms...not as a “contributor” to a pop collective. After “Protection”, he never worked with his mates from Bristol again. It was HIS time to shine.

After a few promo singles were released to create a buzz, Tricky’s first solo album “Maxinquaye” (named after his deceased mother, Maxine Quaye and seen below) was unleashed upon the masses. Much to his surprise, the album recieved overwhelming critical praise and the public adored in as well. He became the “next big thing”, gracing the covers of magazines like NME and The Face, and having write ups made about him in major magazines like Spin, Rolling Stone and Vibe. His songs “Overcome” and “Hell ‘Round The Corner” featured some of the same lyrics he used on Massive Attack’s “Karmacoma” and “Eurochild”...he was merely saving his best material for himself. Martina’s vocals propelled this album into the stratosphere, he also introduced the world to Allison Goldfrapp with his song “Pumpkin”. He convinced Martina to cover the classic Public Enemy song “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”...the result was the classic reworking called “Black Steel” that would become a favorite at live shows. Tricky was unnerved by all of the attention he was receiving...with good reason.

He would read his own press and simultaneously read between the lines at how he was characterized. The pictures that were taken of him all painted him as some dark, brooding, sullen man. He was the opposite in real life. He was living his dream of making music on his own terms with his own sound. His voice was rough and gravelly and his accent was thick as hell which didn’t make for easy listening music. His voice was his greatest instrument, but it was natural...just like his face and his own natural appearance since birth. It wasn’t an act or a marketing scheme, he wore no mask... it was all in the DNA that made up Adrian Thaws. When outsiders and journalists saw him they didn’t just see a man who happened to be an artist, producer and a musician who was baring his soul to the world at large.

To them he was an alien, a phenomenon, an “event” merely disguised as a man. A new “thing” that arrived on the scene at a specific moment in time to take modern music into a brand new direction. He was viewed much in the way the UK viewed Jimi Hendrix when he first appeared on their shores, difference being he (Tricky) was British himself. He was sick of the Black male stereotype that pervaded the world and music industry in general. The eyes were all back on him again, just as they had been walking the streets as a child and an adolescent back in Bristol. He became increasingly uncomfortable with it all.

The trappings of celebrity were not at all enticing to Tricky. He did enjoy the access it gave him and the connections he was able to acquire because of it, though. It allowed him the opportunity to meet and have an audience with all of the people, artists and musicians that he admired. The people that made the music that he heard in his headpones in his flat beck home were coming up to him and telling him how much they enjoyed his album. The directors of the films he watched at home or went to the theater to see would ask him if they could use his music in their next project. Life became surreal for him. One reporter once asked him how it felt to be “nearly God”. He named his next project in 1996 “Nearly God” for that very reason (seen below). (My copy of “Nearly God” is beyond repair and no one else online has me, I searched!).

Everyone and their mother was calling Tricky for tracks, collaborations, remixes, guest verses, any and everything you could think of. He travelled to New York and recorded a project called “Tricky presents Grassroots” and then finished up his next project called “Pre Millenium Tension” (below). It spawned more hit singles but his sound has grown progessively darker and denser. He was fascinated by his image (or what OTHERS perceived his image to be) and he wanted to challenge audiences. How far could he go with his sound? He felt his first album, while it was great work was too accessible and anyone could just listen and accept it too readilly. He wanted to toss all of the false fans and bandwagon jumpers off. He stripped almost all melody off of the album save for Martina’s vocals. Martina recorded two covers of classic Hip Hop tracks on this album, Chill Rob G’s “Bad Dreams” and Rakim’s “Lyrics Of Fury”. The songs “Christiansands” and “Makes Me Wanna Die” became big in the States as the video cracked MTV’s regular rotation and “Makes Me Wanna Die” and “Tricky Kid” are remix fodder for bedroom DJ’s all over the map.

Tricky began to lash out at the media for the articles they wrote about him. He broke up with Martina (they had a child together) and a magazine wrote that he was a deadbeat dad. Every picture taken of him had him scowling or looking like a damn vampire. He was often played against the UK’s other music sensation, former legendary graf artist and general of the Metalheadz, Goldie. They did often clash over trivial things (such as both of them were involved with Bjork at one point in time or another and produced for her/collaborated with her) from time to time but why did they always have to be played against the other? Other UK producers like Roni Size and Krust were prevalent as well. Tricky was very aware of what was going on and how he was portrayed by these music magazines and their double standards in their coverage of “urban” or “Black” music. Even to this day it pisses him off to no end.

Tricky used his anger at the status quo and all of those asshole A & R’s who climb mountains in their spare time and play electric guitar and those lawyers and bean counters disguised as record executives to create what he thought was the apex of inaccessibility. “Angels With Dirty Faces” (above) was to be his magnum opus of pent up angression...his own sonic middle finger to all of the record labels, music/culture critics and so called journalists that think they understand what goes on in the soul of an artist when they don’t even understand the spirit of the art that they claim to love and comment on.

Tricky’s “Angels With Dirty Faces” was merely a big “Fuck All Y’all!” in the guise of a CD. The fairweather fans that could dance to “Maxinquaye” tracks HATED it and thought it was completely unlistenable (the same way I feel about D4L). Some people felt he got progressively worse with each album...however, some UNDERSTOOD what he was doing with each project. This album is best known for the PJ Harvey collaboration “Broken Homes” (Hype Williams, a huge Tricky fan wanted to use “Broken Homes” in his movie “Belly” and was distraught when he couldn’t get clearance to use it because he directed a specific scene in the film with that song in mind).

The last album Tricky recorded in the 20th Century (he is quoted as saying “I don’t like this century” at the end of “Record Companies”) was a collaboration between himself and two of his bst friends and favorite producers in Hip Hop at the time, the legendary DJ Muggs and Dame Grease. Tricky wanted to do something completely different and he acheived it. Clocking in at just over 36 minutes long "Juxtapose" (seen above) split listeners right down the middle. He replaced Martina’s vocals with Kioka Williams, he rhymes on tracks provided by DJ Muggs and Dame Grease and he put on a British rapper named Mad Dog who rhymes on EVERY beat with the same flow and cadence that Biggie used on “Notorious Thugs” (?). Many Tricky fans were offput by this release and others thought it was just his way to get out of his contract with Island Records (as I did), a label he was completely sick of. The best songs on this album are by far “For Real”, “Bom Bom Digi”, “I Like The Girls”, “Call Me” & “Wash My Soul” (DJ Muggs did the damn thing!).

Tricky has since recorded several projects and collaborations, done various remixes and even appeared in several films and TV shows. Netflix his video collection “Tricky: A Ruff Guide” as well. His videos were gullier than most Hip Hop videos of the era, believe it. Below is Tricky’s selected discography as recommended by myself (if you have Nearly God, feel free to up it):

Tricky-Maxinquaye (1995)

Tricky presents Grassroots (1996)

Tricky-Pre-Millenium Tension (1996)

Tricky-Angels With Dirty Faces (1998)

Tricky f/DJ Muggs & Dame Grease-Juxtapose (1999)


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