To many connoisseurs of drum & bass, Carasel needs no introduction. Over the years, he has gained a well-deserved reputation as one of the most versatile, reliable, and talented MCs in the game.
In early March, he released his sophomore LP. Titled Dreams of Paradise, it touches on a variety of themes including the challenging times he has been through over the past couple of years, as well as his musical origins and the eternal possibility of a better future.
Despite being a pure hip hop album, Carasel has managed to procure features from artists across the drum & bass scene: Crissy Criss, Inja, Break, Harry Shotta, Jam Thieves, Navigator, Dynamite MC, David Boomah and DRS all appear on the album.
We sat down with Carasel earlier this month to talk about Dreams of Paradise, his relationship with hip hop and drum & bass, and what the future has in store…
I saw you were in Berlin and Prague for some shows recently. How was it?
It was wicked! It was my first time travelling abroad since the pandemic, so I can’t lie the routing with 5 flights made me a bit anxious. Once I was on the road (or runway), all it did was remind me about how much I love getting out to these countries and how blessed we are to be able to spread this sound around the world.
The Berlin show for Hospitality was super cool. I had to do three and a half hours out there for Danny Byrd, Lens, and Whiney. It was a bit of a soldier shift, but the vibe was incredible in Gretchen Club and the DJs smashed it which makes my life easy! For Prague, Tonn Piper was ill, so I stepped in to do Andy C’s set which is always an honour!
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I bet the crowds were going wild for that…
Yeah, Roxy is a great club. Amazing lights, amazing sound. Perfect atmosphere. It went off. When the Executioner calls on you, it’s essential that you step up! Big up the Dazed gang for putting on the weekender.
It’s great to know that drum & bass gets people going across the world!
Definitely! Even though jungle originated in UK, it has so many different elements in it, from the soul, to the hip hop, to the samples. It resonates with people across the world. The music is just energy personified and people connect with that. There’s nothing else like it. I feel like It’s bigger now than it has ever been, but it’s been a worldwide thing for a long time.
There are so many different elements in the genre which people can relate to. Whether you listen to rock, or hip hop, or techno, you can probably find a style of drum & bass which is familiar to you taste but injected with energy.
You do a lot more than just drum & bass though…
Yeah, I dropped an album in the first week of March. One hundred percent hip hop, boom bap soulful style with a whole heap of incredible features. It’s called Dreams of Paradise, and I’m really proud of it. It’s taken a while to get wrapped and done, but it’s out there and doing bits! The feedback has been incredible. I’m enjoying circulating the music and performing it at some live shows.
Putting it out was quite cathartic. I’ve had a lot of stuff going on, so it was nice to finally get it out.
It was a great way to round off a difficult period in your life, to say the least!
Absolutely. Just before lockdown, my wife became pregnant. Our son was born, which was amazing, but it was set against the backdrop of all the difficulties of lockdown, not being able to see family etc.
Him arriving was incredible, but very quickly we realised he was not very well. After a couple of operations and investigations, the doctors realised he had very serious liver disease. We were shipped up to Birmingham in an ambulance and ended up staying there for over one hundred days while we were waiting for a new liver for him.
This was a really testing time, and the album touches on that on a few tracks. It definitely forms the backdrop for the album and also meant the project had a few understandable false starts; it was super tough juggling all that and trying to make music.
I am proud that I can look back on that moment in my life now and say we came through it as a family, and to have this musical soundtrack to that adds another layer again. I have something in my legacy which I can reflect on, listen to and realise ‘wow, that was crazy for a lot of different reasons’.
Hip hop is all about keeping it real and spitting bars about your experiences…
It is, but of course the whole album isn’t just about what happened there. It’s called Dreams of Paradise because when we were in Birmingham, there was always the hope of us going back to Bristol. It’s the place we love so much. It’s where home is! And that’s Dreams of Paradise. We wanted to be back there more than anything, we just wanted to get our son home.
But yeah, Dreams of Paradise can mean lots of different things which are touched on throughout the album. Experiences, talking about Bristol… it just felt right!
Originally, I was going to call the album Bittersweet Sunset (the first track of the album), because the whole time was just a bittersweet experience. There’s the beauty of life, and my successes in the drum & bass scene, but then COVID hit and a lot of plans were scuppered. For every win and success, there seemed to be a bit of a bittersweet haze to it. At the time, that title seemed apt.
Then DRS gave us the vocals for the album finale track. I originally did the hook, but then I sent it to DRS to do a verse and Del, being the genius that he is, did a verse and a whole new chorus which totally blew me away. He sings about dreams of paradise and I just thought, ‘that’s it. That’s the title of the album!’.
After every sunset, there’s a sunrise which comes the next day!
Absolutely, we say that in the bars! I wanted to move away from Bittersweet Sunset. I wanted it to be a positive thing.
Looking at the other features on the album, there are a lot of names who have their roots the drum & bass scene such as Break, Jam Thieves, and Harry Shotta… How come you decided to get those artists involved in the album?
Drum & bass is my bread and butter, my week to week. I’m very much embedded in it, I love the scene so much! Hip hop is more like a passion project to me. I love it as well, and listen to it religiously, but I’m not as involved in the hip hop scene as I am drum & bass. I do run a label called AFT Raps and put on some shows with my brother Blacksmith, so maybe I am underplaying it, but I’m not embedded in the scene like I am with drum & bass. To me, it only makes sense that I would reach out to my peers in the drum & bass scene for the album because I’m around them all the time!
Having Break produce a hip hop track is just such a beautiful thing. He smashed it. I was touring with Crissy Criss across America pre-pandemic too, and he is sat on an unbelievable amount of hip hop with lots of amazing MCs. I managed to pull some of those beats from him. When Skiba passed, Crissy was playing lots of unreleased tunes they made together on his Instagram stories. All hip hop! Crissy makes loads of incredible beats that don’t see the light of day, so I had to lean on him to let me have them. Trust me, he has loads more in the stash!
Involving those producers was definitely a great choice!
I have to big up Hozay too. He’s a Bristol-based hip hop producer. I probably had his beats first, before I knew where this project would go, or if it would even be an album, but then suddenly you have a few tunes stacked up, they start to take shape, and that’s the catalyst for the whole project!
Back on the drum & bass side of things, I also saw you hopped on a track with The Sauce towards the end of last year…
Yeah, I love those guys! I love The Sauce. Stir It Up did really well, we’ve got some more stuff we’re working on and a few shows together, too. I love working with those guys. Big up DLR, Spinback, and Hydro. The Kings of the Condiments!
The lyrics on that track are great! Are you a big fan of cooking yourself?
I like to cook it up sometimes! Definitely!
What’s your favourite food to make?
Brown stew chicken, or jerk chicken… different curries and stuff. The chef is in the kitchen! I wouldn’t say I’m a crazy chef, but I can definitely turn it on when needs be. For that record, I just wrote a load of sauce related bars before the studio session and Stir It Up just came out of that!
Do you have any more drum & bass releases stewing away at the moment?
Absolutely! I don’t want to talk about it too much because these things can be a bit long, but I do have an EP forthcoming for Born on Road which I’m putting the finishing touches on.
I’ve also got some tunes with Critical Impact and T>I which a few DJs are already playing. I’m also working on some more bits with my label, AFT records, and of course some remixes for the album!
Are any drum & bass remixes set to appear?
Yeah, we have five or six done already! I’m looking to drop the first remix in May. There is going to be everything and anything on there, though. A multi-genre remix album, but mostly drum & bass.
Not long to wait!
Not at all! I’m also sat on three music videos which I haven’t dropped yet which should be coming out in the next few weeks.
So that’s all about the future… let’s take things way back now! Why did you decide to get into MCing?
Check out the track on the album, Flashback. It’s a collage of all my inspirations! The hook literally goes, ‘my inspiration was built on the foundation of One Nation tape packs, Wu Tang tracks…’. I’ve always been a massive hip hop fan, listening to it religiously. Buying every Wu Tang CD I could possibly get, every single week.
For drum & bass, I was when I went to Sanctuary in Milton Keynes. I wasn’t even a massive drum & bass head; I just went there to party! I was underage, hyped, but when I got there and saw there were MCs on stage, huge stage presence, spitting bars, and everyone knew their lyrics. Fearless would go ‘boom boom boom’, and the whole crowd would go ‘boom, selecta!’. And of course, Skiba, bless his soul, watching him for the first time was just mind blowing!
I grew up listening to American MCs and a few UK Hip Hop MCs, but just to see a big place like Sanctuary with several thousand people going crazy to these MCs was just a massive lightbulb moment. I already MC’d to hip hop at house parties, but after that, drum & bass gained a totally different meaning for me.
What was the drum & bass scene like in Worcester, where you grew up?
Worcester didn’t really have a drum & bass scene! We tried to build one, but there were two clubs in the whole city. It was very restricted. Plus, we were underage anyway, putting on events we were legally too young to be in. Special times though! As we got older, we brought some bigger names to the city alongside Vibe, and as Ambush. We carved out some decent events, but the scene was always small and restricted. It was definitely looked down on by the other clubs and bars.
In your track Born And Bred, you talk about moving back to Bristol. Did this move shift your drum & bass journey into top gear?
When I was seventeen or eighteen, I did a competition for Drum&BassArena judged by Eksman – which I won – and ended up playing at The End! That probably put me on the map, and I was getting bookings in the Midlands. I moved to Bristol for uni and started putting on nights with my Ambush brand. Since then, I’ve just aimed for year-on-year progression!
Bristol really is a special place for drum & bass!
Absolutely! Every day of the week, there is always something going on. The music scene is so active, every single style of drum & bass is catered for, and it’s popping off all the time! There’s something in the air down here. It’s a great place to live and the drum & bass community is a beautiful thing.
I want to talk a bit about another track from your album, Jack Of All Trades, and how you straddle hip hop and drum & bass. There’s a lot of shared history with the genres, from sampled breaks to their roots in sound system culture… Do you think this historical connection helps you go between the genres easily?
I think the BPM slots together quite well! Drum & bass is basically double time hip hop, so my lyrics work well on both genres. Grime bars might not work as well on drum & bass, because it sounds a bit off beat.
But I do love the samples and the breaks! That’s why I love The Sauce so much. They use hip hop breaks before the drop a lot, and then they just roll out. Plus, you have MCs over the top. Apart from grime, you don’t have many other dance music genres where the MC is so important. And of course, that all comes from hip hop and sound system culture.
Would you like to see a lot more drum & bass draw from hip hop?
Personally, yes! Especially as an MC it would be great if the breakdowns went that way. But styles come, and styles go. I love every style of drum & bass. I pride myself on having different flows for different shows. However, I will always love hearing hip hop beats on a big system!
Anything else you would like to share with us?
Check out the album and take it in! I also want to shout out all the MCs in drum & bass who are making albums; DRS, Dynamite, Navi, Inja, Mr. Traumatik, TNA, Harry Shotta, Degs, T.R.A.C…. and those are just the ones off the top of my head… In the drum & bass scene, we really need to support those artists because a lot of MCs are very happy to be the hosts and do the weekly raves, but they don’t want to step into the world of putting out tangible projects. I think it’s very important for us to have a legacy; for us to have something to look back on.
I would love to see more albums from the artists I love so much! All the MCs in our scene are super talented. It’s why I love drum & bass. There are so many MCs with so many different styles, ragga, slow chatting, hosting, signing… I just want to hear more tracks and albums from all of them!
My focus is on making drum & bass for the foreseeable. I want to make a full vocal album for drum & bass at some point.
Shout outs to all the collective over AFT Raps and Records, everyone who contributed to the album and all the promoters, labels and ravers that support me week in week out. The love is real.