Post 21 August 2017

GRM Exclusive: Charlie Sloth on ‘The Plug’, favourite UK rap songs & more

21 August 2017

Seven years ago, Tim Westwood conducted an interview introducing the newest member of the BBC 1Xtra team, a young man called Charlie Sloth. Nobody could have anticipated the impact he would have on the scene in such little time. Well, except the two people in the room. Sloth had always harboured ambitions of becoming not only the number one DJ but the most influential. He let it be known to Westwood that night in his presence that he was coming for his spot. Westwood, perhaps light-heartedly, recognised and acknowledged that the person standing before him would one day be the person to replace him.

Many people still fail to recognise the feat of Charlie replacing Westwood on Radio 1Xtra and Radio 1. Westwood is a pioneer of delivering hip-hop to the masses not only here in the UK but worldwide. To replace such a figure on the most important radio slot for urban music takes a special person. Someone with extraordinary talent, drive and personality.

Someone just like Charlie Sloth.

The scene for our interview was The Heights, a modern restaurant a few minutes away from the BBC studios. If the breathtaking views of the city were not enough to be inspired by, when you’re around Charlie, you’re captivated by the positive energy he exudes, and the eloquent and thoughtful answers he provides.

“Self-belief, determination and not taking no as an answer. If you put those three elements in any recipe of life, you’re going to be successful. I wake up and assert positive affirmations every day. ‘You’re the greatest. You’re going to achieve something today that you didn’t think was possible’.”

This mantra has propelled Charlie Sloth throughout his career and presented him with the opportunity to release The Plug. When asked what the album title reveals not only about him, but also the themes of the album, he is forthright in his explanation. It’s a name he has been given by UK and US artists and these very artists who feature on the album are “people I have done something with or connected something for along the way.” He has a natural relationship with all the artists and many have featured on Fire In The Booth and account for his most popular videos including K Koke, Avelino, Ghetts, Fredo, Giggs, Bugzy Malone, Stormzy and Potter Payper.

The Plug showcases the depth and versatility of Sloth’s musical knowledge and having produced every track on the album, he made the conscious decision to make each song sound entirely different from the next. “I could have made a UK rap/grime album in ten minutes and then called everyone ‘yo come drop a verse’ but that’s too easy. There is no challenge in that for me.” This project is not only an opportunity for Charlie to showcase his talents, but also the artists, and you sense the excitement Charlie has when he speaks not only on how this can benefit artists but the scene altogether. The Plug is an iconic moment for the culture and Charlie wants people to look back on this album in the future and recognise how it helped elevate the scene.

Each artist played a distinct role in creating the respective track they featured on. “I never wanted any artist to feel forced to be on a record so whilst some beats where made when I was on tour, there were others that were made there and then in the studio with the artist.” He used the example of the Lil Kesh, Olamide and Not3s record, “Angelina”, to detail how all three had different inputs in terms of not only bringing their own sound but how their individual sounds collaborate. Charlie was inspired by working with talented artists from different parts of the world, explaining that “they all bring something new that you can learn from.”

Having discussed the motivation for The Plug, the conversation gravitated towards Charlie’s experience of making the album. For him, Donae’o is “the most incredible musician I have ever worked with” citing his versatility as distinguishing him from the rest. “It’s enabled Donae’o to be a key player in each defining sound of our culture from garage, to funky house, grime and rap.” To Sloth, Donae’o is a “certified O.G” who has not lost the hunger for creating music with the newest, hottest and most creative artists.

“Donae’o is a calm dude away from music, but as soon as he’s in the studio he becomes a beast. You see him bouncing off walls, causing mosh pits. He even knocked out seven tracks in an hour with me. The guy is insane!

“Giggs is another artist who is like ‘just fling the beat on’ and he wraps it up in ten minutes. Straight bars all from his head. Doesn’t write a thing down. Incredible.”

There are many stories that Charlie details of artists on their efficiency and application in the studio, but the tale which drew the greatest reaction of amazement was of mastery wordsmith, Avelino. “We were recording in my studio and put the beat on for him and Avelino loved it. Me and my manager had a meeting outside in the lounge of my studio. We must have been out there for only 20 minutes so I went back to Av’ to see how he’s getting on. I wanted to give him space to do his thing, thinking he’s probably only just started writing it. ‘I’m done.’ I’m like ‘What? What you mean you’re done?’ and he’s like ‘it’s finished, I just finished recording it.’” So not only had Avelino written his verse, but he had recorded it as well, without any assistance from Charlie!

Charlie is quick to affirm that all the artists he worked with are incredibly talented and that’s the reason why he hand-picked them to be on such a special project of his. He said, “It was a pleasure to witness how they all have their own different methods. It was an eye opener.” The more I am speaking to Sloth, the more obvious it becomes why he is as influential as he is. This was the second time Sloth had mentioned observing and learning, and it contributes massively to his success. This is a man who is aware he is in a significant position. A position of influence. For him to remain in this position, he must never remain satisfied with prior achievements. Quite frankly, his ambition and passion for the scene is inspiring.

And it is his passion and ambition that powered him to overcome many obstacles in creating this album. “Politics was a major one. Some artists were like ‘if they’re on it then I’m not going to be on it. My track has to be above their track in the album listing.’ I’m just a guy who loves music, please don’t bring your politics to the table, especially if we’re eating dinner together.” Charlie, full of great anecdotes, gave a funny account of a potentially sticky moment, where he had a verse from a major US artist and just needed Giggs to lay his verse. He plays it to Hollowman who is feeling it, then jumps straight into the booth and completely kills his verse. Job done? Not quite!

“The track is done, and we have some food and drink, and Giggs is like ‘play the record’.” With the record playing, and everyone vibezing to it, Charlie is sensing Giggs dissecting the track in his mind, critiquing everything about it. Giggs then does what Giggs only knows; keeping it real. “Then Giggs is like ‘take them off Charlie, I don’t want them on, this is murder music that’s too soft’ and I was like I can’t just take him off! ‘Okay then call him now and tell him to send a harder verse’, but I couldn’t just do that because I have a relationship with this guy!” In the end, there was no doubt who Charlie prioritised. “I took off the other artist! Of course, I am always going to prioritise Giggs. That’s why Wake Up is only two minutes long. I’m going to use the other artists verse for something else though because it is cold!”

There were many moments that will live with Charlie forever during the process of creating this album, moments he says he is blessed to have experienced not only with his favourite artists, but people he can genuinely call his friend. “I can’t talk about some of them because they’re moments with friends and like anyone else, I want to keep those special moments amongst the people I experienced them with.” Perhaps some people would be frustrated with this answer but it was refreshing. He cherished those moments and you can only respect the fact that he wanted to keep those moments with him. Although, he did detail the usual escapades of the life around rappers. “Of course, there were moments when I would come back to the studio and I would find someone asleep on the sofa with a girl or parties going on and that kind of thing. Funny moments!”

We then move on to discuss the UK scene in general and how this year has particularly been a strong one for the scene, epitomised by the success of Nines’ One Foot Out, Stormzy’s Gang Signs And Prayer and J Hus’ Common Sense albums. He was asked what those albums meant to him and his answers were passionate and deep because he has followed each artist on a personal level throughout their journey.

“For me, One Foot Out is an incredible body of work by an authentic and very real artist who wears his heart on his sleeve. I’m from around his area and when I first saw him handing out turkeys from the truck at Christmas (Nines – “My Hood”) I sat up and paid attention. I remember seeing him around on road and thinking this kid is really about it, and knowing the trials and tribulations of what he has experienced to finally become an artist, and to put out an exceptional body of work, was a ground-breaking moment for not only the music but the culture. Nines turned negative into positive and done something good not only for himself, not only for his family and community but for other artists in the same position!

Gang Signs And Prayer was another great body of work. There was a lot of pressure on Stormzy’s shoulders from such a young age to deliver a masterpiece and he didn’t let anybody down. The album speaks for itself and I have been there and seen the whole journey from the off and I have been able to have really in-depth conversations with him and pick his mind and see how intelligent and articulate he is. He has always had this vision and he is now there and seeing his journey come together on the album is an exceptional feeling. He proved he is not someone who can just spit bars but he is an artist. The complete package.

“J Hus has delivered an iconic album with Common Sense and proved he is one of the strongest musicians of this generation. Watching how he puts things together and considering all the trials and tribulations he has also had to experience getting here, is incredible. I remember taking the album in back to front before it was released I was like ‘this is going to be absolutely huge’. This is just the beginning for J Hus. He’s going to be around for the next decade, at least!” 

Whilst the UK rap scene is continuously growing and in as good as a position as it has ever been, there is no denying that too many talented artists are at conflict between their current lifestyle and pursuing music full time. It’s understandably too big a risk for them, mainly financially. Potter Payper, who features on the track “We Dem” is currently away for unforeseen circumstances. Charlie is genuine when speaking of Potter, he is clearly someone who is has a bond with musically and away from it. “Potter is one of the most articulate, real and original artists in the game. I really hope he comes out with an outlook on life that wholeheartedly focuses on music because I know how much it means to him and where his talent can take him.”

Fredo is another artist that Charlie Sloth rates supremely. He believes despite being around for just over a year, Fredo is already one of the leading rappers in the game. “His punchlines man, he is insane. Wait till you hear the record on the album, some of the lines leave me like ‘how the fu*k did you come up with that?!’ I listen to Fredo regularly in my car and he knows that.” Charlie, who senses how eager I am to listen to the track, being a massive Fredo fan myself, plays the track. I was blown away by it. The punchlines are insane. It’s certainly, having now taken the entire body of work in, one of the leading tracks on the album. And it is a testament to not only Fredo but to Charlie for recognising that this artist, as mentioned, has only been around for a year but he is already one of the best. It proves that Sloth did not have artists on his project for the sake of having them on there. They all earned their stripes due to their exceptional talents and that transpires with such a high-quality body of work being created.

Charlie was in his element discussing the UK scene. He was evidently speaking from the heart talking about what he loves. In fact, we fed off each other’s passion for UK rap and grime. He was just as interested in my perspective as I obviously was with his. This was evident when I asked what five tracks he would play from the UK to someone who has never listened to UK rap before. “Wow this is a good question. Let me think.” Sloth had only taken a few seconds to think but when he is as sharp with his thoughts as he is, those few seconds felt forever for what I was used to with him. His facial expression exhibited someone administering deep thoughts. Then he spoke: “I wanna take them on a journey. Skinnyman – “Council Estate Of Mind”; K Lash – “Murder”; Wretch 32 – “Punctuation”; Giggs – “Talking The Hardest”.” Then another pause. He was deliberating his final choice. I advised that his final choice should be something current as you want them to listen to our music of today. “I’ll tell you what, I’m gonna play them the new Fredo track “UPS” from my new album. It’s that much of a banger!”

We had already gone way over the allocated time for the interview and could have easily spoken for a while longer, but it had to end as Sloth had other promotional commitments to attend. In fact, this was my first ever interview and he took the time for pictures and to find out more about myself which was appreciated. It was a pleasure to interview someone as inciteful, eloquent and open as Charlie. Having now taken the time to listen to The Plug as a body of work, it showcases Sloth’s ability to produce high quality, diverse tracks and that is a testament to his musical intelligence. When you listen to the album yourself, there are a few surprises but they work, none more so than Donae’o on a reggae track with Konshens called “Walk Away”. It’s a brilliant track to close of a major body of work.