I’ve known Random Impulse for a little while now, mostly from watching him tear down mics at Hardknock on a regular and hearing his name bandied about on the grime scene. I knew that he cut his teeth in grime but what’s always intrigued me about Random is his refusal to conform to type. Hailing from North London, Random doesn’t carry himself as an archetypal ‘Grime MC’. He’s always polite, rarely about on the ‘scene’ but prefers tinkering in his studio, likes indie music and, most recently, has begun playing the guitar while he spits. So, with all this in mind, I decided it was time I gave him the ‘AirsnGraces’ grilling.
Who is Random Impulse?
Me. Jovel. Random Impulse is a grime MC that had the stupid idea: ‘hey I’m going to pick up a guitar and learn it’, that’s obsessed with Anime and is a bit of a geek, who writes songs about the stuff that’s so obvious that everyone goes through it everyday but no ones writes songs about.
What’s the name about?
I used to run around like a mad man and I used to just say what ever come to my head and it’s like ‘this kids so impulsive’ and I was like ‘Impulse, Impulse’. Then Dizzie Rascal came out and he had a double barrel name and I was like ‘I want a double barrel name’, and like random kinda meant the same thing so, I was like yeah ‘Random Impulse’
How did you get into the grime scene?
I was proper into my schoolwork and this and that. I was moved up a couple of years since I was 4yrs old so, I’ve always been about the academic and with English and stuff like that. I always took it in when it come to things like onomatopoeia and asonyms, alliteration and stuff like that. I used to hear little MCees in the playground in secondary school spit and be like ‘that’s terrible English, it really is terrible English’ and they were like ‘you can’t do better’ and I was like ‘of course I can.’ In the beginning I didn’t have any feeling or attachment to music, this was before all that double time syllable rhyme, I used to write technically, that’s why my style’s so technical. It blew their heads off. Being a true Leo, they were all like: ‘he’s amazing, he’s sick, he’s sick’ and I was like ‘really?’ and I was doing it for the attention. Then I actually started to get connected musically later on and then just took it further.
As a self proclaimed ‘academic geek’, how did you end up infiltrating such an urban scene?
You know what? It’s weird! Like, all the friends I made through college and school they’re like, and I didn’t know cause I’m so naïve, they’re all the deepest drug dealer/gunman whatever on road and I didn’t know. I just thought they were cool people! So, I used to hang around with them and the circles they used to hang around with used to listen to grime and this and that. Then I was on Freak FM and then I did a mixtape. I said ‘I know how to infiltrate grime, I’m gonna do a mixtape with 44 tracks and I’m going to sell it for £4.44’ and I thought with that alliteration ‘that’s good gimmick’ because my music’s not got a gimmick, I needed a gimmick. This time everyone was coming out with their little sleeves and I was like ‘No. I’m gonna press it properly’, double CD: 22 tracks hip hop, 22 tracks grime, I’m gonna have an eight page booklet, and no one had an 8 page booklet at the time, and have a sticker on the front. All that shit. I did that and just went selling it like a mad man and it clocked up about 8,000 units in about six months and everyone was like ‘who the fuck is this guy that sold 8,000 units?’ So, people knew about how much I sold before they knew who I was. So, the gimmick kind of worked and then they got into the music.
Didn’t that make them hate you?
Yeah, first of all. It was funny because musically and artistically, it’s just like cut and paste to me, its like my survey. The tracks are so far and wide, I don’t contradict myself but in terms of what you want to do musically, what genre you want to do: do you wanna be a deep artist? Do you want to spit about fun things? It was so few and far between but I did that deliberately. So, when people listen to it they’ll be like ‘that tunes sick or that tunes sick’ and then I’ll know what people take from me. The song that they like was this tune called ‘What a Day’ and I was just talking about what a day I had and they were like ‘that story’s sick, it’s like I imagine it in my head’ and I was just like ‘It’s just a story, it’s easy’. That’s how Full Metal Alchemist was so story orientated and then I was like ‘let me push the boundaries even further’. The people who listened to my first one, like on the forums and stuff were like ‘He’s the shittest MC ever, he’s so shit’ and then when Full Metal Alchemist came out, cos it got such critical acclaim, like fair enough you could say ‘that ones heavy’ but they went as far as to say ‘You should hear his first one, his first one’s sick as well.’ Like you get loads of hate but its clearly like ‘fuck him, he’s new I don’t need to show him props’ just for the sake of it cos the same people are like ‘your first ones a classic as well’. So, I got my far share of hate but you just press on and ignore it.
Recently, it seems you’re making a departure from the grime scene. Are you trying to break away from the grime/urban side of things?
Nah not at all man. I’ve got a whole 14 track/video I’m going to be putting out. Me and Dot Rotten are doing this thing, me and him got an EP coming out. Yeah we’ve got loads of things popping.
You’ve got two myspace pages, the grime and the indie/hip hop. Do you think its possible to bridge the gap between the two?
The indie stuff is not just indie music, that is kind of a bridge of grime and indie music cos its like me playing a guitar with a live band and stuff but the majority of songs are still 140bpm and I never water that down, despite what people try and make me do. I don’t water down my content or my flow at all. If I put a grim beat over my bars it still sounds exactly like a grime song. People forget that grime isn’t just the music, it’s the spitters as well. I’ll got to America and spit and they’ll be like ‘I’ve never heard no one with a flow like that in my life.’ Because I’m a grime artist, I’m not a hip hop artist and it really does show. Hip hop artists, even when they flow on beats that are 140bpm, they flow completely differently where as we’re on top of the beat. The grime half of the new stuff that I do is me, how I spit and then the music is very indie driven. So, I think that is me bridging the gap.
Where did this whole indie thing come from?
I was never road, road grime. The Full Metal Alchemist, I sampled a funk song, I sampled a couple of indie songs, there’s a lot of guitar stuff on it. When I used to work in D&G my manager used only play his shit, which was all guitar driven music. For the first couple of months I was like all this bullshit sounds exactly the same but after a while you’re like ‘this songs alright still’, ah ‘this songs alright, ah this songs alright’ and then even when it was my turn to listen to hip hop, I mean I’ve got it at home, I’ve listened to it all my life, well not all my life but since I started listening to music. I was like ‘no I wanna listen to something else ‘cos I never hear those cds at home’ so I might as well use the opportunity to listen to something else. I really got into it and I started to understand indie music because I used to go to the shows with my mate and I became just as much a fan of indie as I did hip hop. A few people have tried to do the indie cross thing but they’re so strongly in their genre and they’re like ‘that would be cool or that would make money’ so they just try it but it sounds like don’t understand the other genre. I actually understand the dynamics of how it’s made.
So you’re still primarily a grime artist?
Ooooh. Yeah! Fuck it. I’m a grime artist that plays the electric guitar!
Would you say you’re trying to evolve your style to fit a mass market?
No. I can’t sing so I can’t just make a band or I would’ve done that as a side project. I was like ‘what can I do man?’ like do some sort of mad mix and I kinda did that. As long as I don’t try too hard to sing, I can get away with it. People hear the hook and they’re like ‘cool there’s a hook.’ I’ll tell you what I did do to make it more marketable, and it was really hard, I was like ‘I have to learn to play this shit and spit or people will think I’ve just got a band behind me and I just decided to jump on’. That was really important to me. So, there’s things I do to make it more marketable. In the US, hip hop has a market where as over here, the thing we do that the US always tries to copy and what we blaze them for is bands. I was like, no disrespect to them but I don’t want to do that ‘Poppy’, synthesised shit ‘cos its not what I want to do. I don’t listen to that music so I don’t want to make that music. I like band music and the band music in chart and I was like ‘hey this works.’ It was just a natural thing I wanted to do, I was like ‘side project’. After the heroine I wanted to do Indiependance day and Indiependance day is what my album was going to be until labels were like ‘hey we can do this’ and I was like ‘I can twist things around to make it proper marketable without actually having to lower my credibility or creative essence’. There you go it worked.
You don’t seem to have the stereotypical, aggy ‘road mentality’ synonymous with the grime music scene. Why is that?
I’m not an aggy road person that’s why.
I studied genetic engineering and I cared about that and I got into music really late. I was listening to Jay-Z and everyone was hearing the crack shit and all ‘yeah I wanna do that’, I was hearing ‘wow his grammar’s amazing’. Like, the way he portrays images via words, with the flow, wow. I just appreciated it like that and I mean I sold heroine before and shit like that. I sold heroine to buy this studio and stuff. After doing that? It made me see that a lot of people who say they do a lot of shit, don’t because if they did it they wouldn’t want to do it. Selling that drug is the most fucked up job you could have ever. It’s fucked. You know you’re killing them and they’re fucked. It’s not like selling weed where they’re of sound mind, they are fucked up people and you’re just adding to that. Literally when I had the money to buy this studio I stopped. I was only doing it for like three months ‘cos the money comes in thick and fast.
What kept you focused and stopped you getting entrenched in that world?
It’s not a nice fucking thing to get involved in. An old mate was the biggest shotta around and I’m cool with my dad and shit but he weren’t around so, you kind of take to the first male influence you have and that was him. He kinda saw in me that I was smart and he kinda, not kept me away from stuff but when I was like ‘ what’s going on there?’ he was like ‘ah thingies being an idiot,’ rather than ‘he’s just trying to shot to that dude’. If anyone’s like my dad it was him. Regardless of what he was doing, he’d be like ‘nah it’s the shitest thing ever Pulse’ rather than ‘yeah you wanna get some money?’ He really, really looked out for me.
What music inspires you?
All music except for country! Johnny Cash is the only guy. I love electro, I really love Justice, Air, Does it Offend You Yeah? Fucking they’re a big influence ‘cos if I played you track 10 yeah you’d be like ‘they’re a cool little indie band’, if I played you track 7 you’ll be like ‘they’re a cool little electro band’. That showed me ‘yeah you can do two different things’. Arctic Monkeys, they’re the first indie band I listened to. Alex Turner, I was like ‘he makes sense, he writes like I write.’ How he tells stories and stuff, you can say witty things and people are like it’s ‘cool’. Grimewise, it was grime in general there was not one artist I used to listen to. I just like Grime.
What do you think of Titchy and Chipmunk blowing up commercially?
Well you know Chipmunk was here right? I had a record label before and I had Wizzy Wow and Chipmunk. I produced Chipmunk’s first and second mixtape and then I passed him onto Always recordings and they passed him onto where he is now.
So how is it seeing what he’s doing now?
It’s like, he’s smart but he’s still young. He’s always been a go-getter. His second mixtape, he wrote all the bars and he lost it and he was like ‘fuck it. I’m going to do it again’ and he did it all again in a week but different songs. He’s always been a hard worker and he always wanted to make it but he did the fast track route you know what I mean? They put like £40,000 into his PR which is why he suddenly popped up and it was like ‘Oh he’s on T4’ and this and that before his album come out, which got him nominated for a MOBO award and keep shooting a few more videos and the publicity will build up and then you get a record deal. Which is fine, as long as you don’t mind making music that is just current. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t listen to it and be like ‘yeah this is like the sickest song I’ve ever made’. Making a pop song aint easy, it’s not like ‘oh lets sell out and make a pop song to go number one, there you go it’s done’, it’s an art and it’s still hard. Otherwise, trust me, there’d be a hell of a lot more people doing it. I kinda wish he was a bit unique with it, he could’ve thought about it a bit more and gone like ‘Ok there’s a few angles or there’s more than one angle to make it in the charts, what angle do I want to do?’ rather than whatever’s ‘current’. Grime artists, we’ve got a habit where we can be like parasites because we spit, we can spit on any genre of music and so that’s what they did. They were like ‘Ok that’s very current’ like Lady Gaga dominated all over the world and Taio Cruz jumped on that and then there you go.
What did you think of this years MOBO Awards?
(Laughing) I didn’t watch it for a very good reason. I knew what it would be like. It doesn’t represent UK music properly. It represents ‘let’s have an award show in the UK and let’s throw that UK artist and bone and let’s throw that UK artist a bone’. This one was a lot better I guess because there was a few more nominees. The votes, I don’t think they’re real. I think people buy MOBOS to be honest.
How do you think you get success without loosing your edge?
I think you have to come at it with an angle. Every so often you can do something that no one expected it to hit the charts and it did, like the Gorillaz. No one expected that to go Platinum, like Damon Albarn must’ve been like ‘for real? I was just doing it cos I wanted to’. You seen the documentary? Bananas there’s a guy filming them before they released the album. They never once talk about ‘Ah this will sell’ they’re like, ‘Ah fucking hell that sounds like a song, let’s do that.’ As long as you have an angle of how to reach the mainstream, you have to be aware of what makes it and what doesn’t and be realistic. The reason that I’m comfortable doing this wholeheartedly is ‘cos both sides of what I’m mixing is more a culture, more than a music form. You have to have some credibility. The indie scene is a culture, it’s a ‘scene’ you know what I mean? The grime scene is as much a grime ‘scene’. You have to do both properly or they’ll be like ‘what you doing?’ If you’re clever and give it a lot of thought, there’s ways you can be clever and come up with shit without you sacrificing what you’re credible for. If you’ve got a cool gimmick your music doesn’t have to be your gimmick. I’m a black guy that plays the guitar, there you go! I’m a black rapper and I look more like a spitter than I do and ‘indie artist’ but I’ve also got a guitar and I play indie stuff, so that’s pretty ‘cool’. I know that’s what they’re thinking: ‘he’ll be down with the black kids yeaaah!’ boom, ‘cos he’s down and he wears hoodies and shit and he talks with that like English slang and all that shit but at the same time he’s smart and he watches anime and he’ll appeal to the nerdy kids and he plays guitar, so he’ll appeal to the white kids. Yes!’
What are you currently working on?
My album, then the ‘Seven Day Project’ which is a grime project. An EP with Dot Rotten, Dot Rotten sings as well, should be an interesting with Dots Rotten’s production, my guitar playing and both of us spitting. Indiependence Day, which is like the Brianstorm project where I take it electro or indie. Expect all of these from January!
Seems like there’s a lot in the pipeline for Random so watch this space!
If January seems an awful long way off, fret not, you can catch Random Impulse performing at YOYO, Notting Hill Arts Club, this Wednesday at 8pm!