There’s being broke, and there’s being TONY BROKE. With the Liverpool MC having just dropped his first record Broke As F$£k on Blah Records, we pitted him against Big Dada’s Bang On to see what two different generations of hip hop connoisseurs would have to talk about. Enjoy the ride…
Bang On: Whereabouts in Liverpool did you grow up?
Tony Broke: The north end of the city.
BO: How was it then compared to now? In terms of, like, the recession.
TB: Erm, it’s probably similar to how it was when I was a kid, like, people struggling. Wherever you’re from, all over Liverpool there’s a lot of people struggling financially. The whole Tony Broke character is born out of that, you know – I’ve got a full-time job, at the same time I’ve still fuckin’ got bills and bailiffs at me fuckin’ door, I’m struggling to survive. Basically it’s similar to the eighties, there’s a lot of poverty.
BO: Alright, when did you first become aware of hip hop?
TB: Erm, probably in the late seventies when I heard, like, electro and bits of funk and stuff like that. I’d say really late seventies/early eighties is when like b-boy and electro and funk took off.
BO: So were you almost into the movement before it became…
TB: Yeah, I was into it before it became known as hip hop! I mean it was known as hip hop in the States obviously, but when it came to England, there was the movement that happened with it, so it was all about young lads from all communities everywhere wanting to breakdance or b-boy. In Liverpool you had a choice, you were either into football or into boxing. And then when hip hop came everyone just got gripped by it.
BO: Was there much of a subculture then, or was it just you and a couple of mates heavily into it?
TB: There were a few north end individuals and little crews doing it, but the south end b-boys were on it and they were smashing it. But it sort of died out in the north end when the likes of Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa came in, then the next minute everyone was smoking weed. I did a little bit myself, but at the same time I still loved it [hip hop] because it gave me something else to do besides boxing and football, and it became like a passion. I was always involved in some way, either being a fan or going to shows or listening to DJs playing tunes or whatever – I was a fan of it and I’m still a fan.
BO: If you were to critique current rap and hip hop, would you maybe say that there’s something lacking or missing from it?
TB: I don’t think there’s anything missing. I always say this: you’ve gotta put all the music that’s out right now in a colander, shake it, shake all the shit out, and you’re left with the best shit. A lot of people aren’t aware of what good music is, or what good MCs are, because a lot of people are sheeple. They just get told the next big thing and they follow like sheep. But if you’re into it, you should do your homework and research, and if you do your research on music you’ll start to identify different categories of music. There’s loads of quality stuff, but there’s a lot of shit stuff as well.
I think what you’ve got now is too many artists and not enough fans. It’s alright to express yourself, and I’ll never say that anyone should not express themselves through rap, ‘cause that’s what I do. But you should acknowledge that if you are not doing it at a certain standard and you’re skilled at something else – do something else and leave the space for the people who live it and love it and breathe it. If you’re gonna step in the rap game, and I learnt this from the past, you’ve got to be good at what you do, you’ve got to be passionate about what you do, you’ve gotta project your personality into it. When I first stepped on the stage, the pressure on me, especially being a white MC and all that, I had to fight against the stereotype of somebody wanting to be like the black rappers, where I was just trying to be myself.
BO: It’s been a long time putting together this album: is it just good to have a complete and utter compiled album now?
TB: Do you know what, it is. I was messing around [for years] doing freestyles anytime there was like a hip hop or open mic night on, doing a couple of battles here and there. And then I started realising I had nothing to sell, I had no product, nothing to show. I was just a memory in people’s brains who were in that club at that time. And I thought, “Well that’s not good enough”, ‘cause people wanna have something in their hands and say, “that’s him”. So I thought, well I’ve got to go in the studio now and start recording.
BO: Does the album have a sort of message? Because obviously Tony Broke is you, but it’s almost an extension of you.
TB: It’s me, but a mixture of other people that I’ve seen around me. There’s circles I move with, people who fuckin’ get off their heads on beer, weed, drink, everything. People who just live that lifestyle. As I said earlier on about people just trying to get ahead, make money how they can, and people are just assuming music’s gonna pay your bills and stuff like that, when it’s not. You’ve gotta have a job, you’ve gotta do this and that, you’ve gotta just survive, basically. It’s a bit negative, it’s a bit dark, but you can only reflect your environment to a point, and sometimes that negative environment brings a depression. And that happens from the lifestyle, and it’s purely economic because, you know, only so many people can be rich, and there’s more poor people than there are rich people. And I represent the working class, the poor, the fuckin’ downtrodden. People who are just trying to make a living.
BO: Everyone must be able to understand that, like.
TB: You’ll relate to having to ask your mate for a fiver so you can get some fuckin’ ‘leccy in, or see if there’s any work going. You know, anyone who’s in that position where you’re struggling will get it. So I’m just talking from that perspective, and if you’re broke you’ll relate to what I’m saying.
BO: And everybody’s broke at the minute, so Broke’s never sounded so good, as they say.