Photography: Michele Rosas
Introducing Ample Aptitude… A brand-new label from one of jungle drum & bass culture’s most prominent and dominant US MCs – T.R.A.C.
An additional outlet to his ongoing work with V Recordings, Ample Aptitude is described by the Brooklyn artist in a classically underplayed way as “a mission of curiosity for now.” But, like everything he’s done in his career, you just know that he’s thrown himself into this neck deep.
A place for fusion, a place to represent and uplift Stateside drum & bass culture, a place for connecting related movements and help more music fans make sense of drum & bass, which is still very much underground and niche, Ample Aptitude has exciting potential… As proved by the launch release – Sonically Speaking, a full hip-hop / D&B album by T.R.A.C himself and fellow US artist Maverick Soul.
Bringing together their first musical love and the sounds they’re best known for, Sonically Speaking is another timely reminder of how jungle drum & bass and hip-hop are intrinsically related and have grown from the same roots.
“I’d say most people here got into D&B through hip-hop over here,” says Maverick Soul. “It’s difference in the UK, it’s part of your culture, but here it’s very underground. Hip-hop was my underground scene then when I heard about D&B I was away…”
T.R.A.C’s roots go even deeper with years working behind the scenes in hip-hop and also his ongoing collaborations with 4Hero’s Marc Mac on similar fusion projects. On Sonically Speaking, however, the flavour is full American as the duo both push themselves and the boundaries of both hip-hop and drum & bass.
“The beats aren’t classic styled hip-hop ordeals,” says T.R.A.C. “They got a bit above and beyond. That’s Mav’s magic. The drum & isn’t something a lot of listeners over here might understand, but they’ll have a feeling and that’s a start. Music is an open gateway for nuance, right?”
For more nuance read on as T.R.A.C and Maverick Soul interview each other about Sonically Speaking, Ample Aptitude, their journeys, their influences and their hopes for US drum & bass…
Maverick Soul: What do you think the state of MCing is in drum & bass right now?
T.R.A.C: Woah! We’re not messing around here. Well I love what DRS is going, what Duskee is doing, what Degs is doing. Riya and Colette are doing something very cool right now. There are a lot of people doing some very consistent things and representing the better side of what we do and I’ll always check for them first. Even in here in the States we’ve got guys like Armani who’s been my guy for a long time. legend. We’ve got Astro in the south, West coast is bubbling with Woes and Dre. Valiant in Toronto, too. Quality is what we want and there are some serious cats keeping the benchmark high and that’s the most important thing, right?
Maverick Soul: For sure.
T.R.A.C: As far as I know, a lot of your stuff has been a very soulful, chilled vibe. I wanted to find out more about your love for making these chilled instrumentations…
Maverick Soul: My best friends are turntablists, so the whole thing about sample culture wasn’t lost on me. But a lot of people were doing the turntable thing, and it didn’t speak to who I was. I learnt piano at a young age. I took it seriously enough to be good at it but not serious enough to become a piano player. Once I learnt about production that’s what I wanted to do. I’d rather craft something in the studio rather than play it live. I love manipulating things to get them to how I want them. Once I decided I was going to do drum & bass I focused on the unique sound I can bring. And that was by playing.
You got a lot of people out there doing a lot of cool things. But, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to like my music it’s because of what I’m playing and doing. I try and do that genuinely. I stay true to the musical aesthetic I grew up with, but I do throw out the occasional deeper, heavier thing. I also grew up listening to Kemal, Konflict, Bad Company and all that stuff, too, so of course you’ll hear that. Sometimes I’ll do a jazzy thing and it will go dark. I love those two things. I think it helps me fit in a little better. People want something different, something a bit spicy. That’s what happened with Total Science. They needed some keys and I can provide that different dimension. Just playing around, keeping it fresh.
T.R.A.C: Just playing around? Haha, you’re kidding me!
Maverick Soul: Seriously. So obviously the pandemic has been nuts, it’s changed everyone, but how has it changed your outlook on music and your career in music?
T.R.A.C: Wow. This guy’s out here throwing bombs! Great question! I want to say it’s not like you can plan for it. There was always this notion that kept me at ease. It was like ‘okay, this is going to pass, I’m not worried about it, I’m going to keep on preparing for when we come out of it’. I think that helped me with my creative projects. Then when we realised it wasn’t going to pass I sat very still. I wanted to get involved in things but there was no way to do it. I started picking up on new talents and came up with a lot of ideas and the I got very very hungry. Hungry like the wolf, you know? I wanted to get out and do my thing. I didn’t appreciate just how much I’d miss being on stage.
Maverick Soul: I think we all took it a bit for granted then you realise nothing is promised to us in this music thing.
T.R.A.C: We really did. We didn’t expect it to be this long, either. But my first time rolling out, you could really feel the energy and appreciation. I only touched the mic for two seconds but it felt like much more. The energy and vibe. People were really happy that I was out and about for the whole situation. It made me hungrier, it made me more ready.
Maverick Soul: Yeah I think we’re all more ready because of this.
T.R.A.C: So now I’ve got a ‘fill the blank’ for you. Music is love but drum & bass is…
Maverick Soul: If music is love, drum & bass is passion. You have to have passion for it to love it. if someone likes D&B they’re probably worth some of your time on one level or another. We are all connected on this understanding that this music is the dopest thing ever. Once you get it, you get it.
T.R.A.C: I used to call it an acquired taste but it’s deeper than that for me now. When you get into it it’s like ‘What the hell is this?’ Then you dig deeper and deeper and you want to go to every D&B party every week.
Maverick Soul: That’s right. But when you look at it, there are only a few people making serious money off drum & bass. For most of us this is a passion project. It’s never going to make bank. We’re all contributing to this bigger scene. That’s how I looked at it ever since I’ve been making it. I don’t care if only 10 people are into my stuff, I make it because it love it.
T.R.A.C: I love that.
Maverick Soul: What would you like to see happening the most in drum & bass in America?
T.R.A.C: There’s so much I want to say here but the bottom line is that I want to see people not be scared to move forward and not be caught up and confined by how they feel or what they saw that made them hold on. But we set our own mode, we set our own bar, we bring validity to drum & bass and even right now I’m trying to surround myself by more progressive types because I’m tired of hearing the same thing I’ve been hearing for the last 20 years form the same people who’ve been doing the same thing for 20 years. We should be right there with techno, with house or even arguably with hip-hop and rock. We shouldn’t be kept so subdued and away form things. I used to love the side room, you’d have the main room with the big mainstream artists then you’d have all the junglists rawling out in the side room. That stopped a long time ago, which is a shame. The new guys are killing t, they’re festival ready, but I don’t think some of the older people involved in the scene are quite so progressive and open minded. It’s a shame because we all want the same thing; for our music to be appreciated and respected as the artform it is.
Maverick Soul: 100%
T.R.A.C: So who are your favourite producers right now?
Maverick Soul: Do you have enough time for me to list them all? There’s so much talent out there! I’ll try and keep it brief, but Phaction is killing it, Hugh Hardie, Redeyes, Echo Brown, Winslow. You got the legends like Break and Lenzman and everything they’re doing. Another stateside dude whose music I love is Gridlok.
T.R.A.C: Oh man!
Maverick Soul: I always felt he was a little underrated, but I’ve followed him for a long time. Then you’ve got the producers who got me into this – Kemal, Ed Rush & Optical, Matrix, Bad Company. Also I want to mention Billain. He’s in his own lane. No one is doing things like him. Guys like Fanu, too. He’s such an OG and he puts out so much good stuff. Apologies to everyone I’ve left out, I know there will be many!
T.R.A.C: Too many!
Maverick Soul: I feel like one of the things the pandemic gave you was this second creative spark. You started making videos. Now you have the label. What do you plan on doing with it?
T.R.A.C: Well I’m just trying to work out the best way I can do things and do them the best I can. Maybe it’s not the right way but who knows that the right way is nowadays? It’s just got to be right for me. Curiosity led to this, really. My experience in hip-hop for many years, working for many years behind the scenes and being an artist, it was like, ‘Okay let’s do this and see where it goes.’ I want to turn it into something special. I feel like these are the baby steps right now. This album is the label’s first release and I’m excited.
Maverick Soul: Do you think you’ll release other artist’s music?
T.R.A.C: Anything can happen! I’ve thought a lot about flipping other genres, like we’ve done with this album. I think essentially I want to celebrate anything that’s on the outskirts of drum & bass but still makes sense to what we do and just create another outlet for creativity. That’s the most important thing for me.
Maverick Soul: I love the idea of putting something out entirely by ourselves. Especially with this album as we’ve put so much of our personal energy into it. It made sense to put it out ourselves. I think organically if people will like it, they’ll support it. if they don’t, then it’s not for them. There’s love in the scene, we’ve had some great help from artists on this but I think it’s good for you to have your own label. You’re an iconic brand in D&B now. You’re in a position to be able to release something you love without question, and I think that’s important.
T.R.A.C: it’s a curiosity route for now and maybe in the future it will be a testament. I also have to say I’m still 100% and love working with Bryan Gee. He even sent out the promo for this album for me, which I’m very grateful for. So yeah, let’s see what happens. For now I’m just so curious as to how far I can shoot this energy.
Maverick Soul: Yeah, like how far can this go?
T.R.A.C: Totally. So for me now I’d love to know more about Confessions. I feel like that had such a story. Riya’s album won an award that year and that was one of the hits on the album. Just knowing all you guys overall I just want to know how it all came about…
Maverick Soul: So, to go back to the start, I’ve been into D&B forever but I didn’t know anyone I could get my music to. Then, when I was aged 27, I decided to put out my own stuff and it was mainly soulful hip-hop. I put it on Soundcloud and didn’t really pay attention to what was happening on there. At some point it got some momentum and that’s how I met Crix who was an A&R at Emcee at the time. She put me onto GQ who had no idea I was also making drum & bass. No idea at all.
T.R.A.C: I love that.
Maverick Soul: It was crazy. I was chatting to Chef and GQ – shouts to them! – and I said, ‘I do drum & bass too.’ They’re thinking, ‘Yeah okay whatever’. Eventually they hear it and GQ knows everyone so he puts me on to Riya. I actually knew Riya from before but back then I was just a nobody on DOA. Anyway Riya said, ‘Okay I got this song I’m doing with Total Science and maybe you could do some keys?’ So I linked up with Total Science, they sent me the track, I played some keys and it was one of those songs that came together so quickly. Like so many of the best songs. It came together and worked perfectly. Then Frank Carter was talking to Riya at the time, they linked up and, as you know, their vocals go so well together.
T.R.A.C: It’s a marriage. A musical marriage.
Maverick Soul: Totally. So they came to my studio. Riya was over here already to shoot the video for Don’t Know Your Name. Frank came down on the train and we spent a few days working on some other tracks like We Belong. Laura and I had a synergy from the jump. We’ve done a lot of projects since then because her vocals fit like a glove on my music. She’s super talented, she’s a queen. We’re trying to pin down more time to work together but we’re both incredibly busy. Confessions was one of the most successful tracks I’ve ever done so far, so huge shouts to Riya and I look forward to working with her again.
T.R.A.C: Wow you just answered all my last three questions!
Maverick Soul: I’m gonna wrap this up, then… You’re a very busy man. While we were working together you were working with Marc Mac on an album, you’ve got your V stuff going on, you had the Life In Motion remix album going on. Why did you feel it was also important to put a lot of energy and time into this, too?
T.R.A.C: Stateside! Off top! We’ve been trying to be better represented anyway. There’s a lot of passionate people here and I want this to lift us all. We try and rock n roll-ify things over here all the time. We even did it with dubstep and that doesn’t work for drum & bass. There’s an amazing amount of talents out here; producers, MCs, singers, dancers, videographers, writers ,artists. I want the world to see that. The UK already sees it. But it’s important to do it our way and display our talents and I think that can help us all. When cats come over here there’s stuff they can relate to and work with and when we come overseas there’s stuff we can relate to. So pridefully Stateside is the reason but the main reason is us – it’s who we are, what we can bring to the table and what we can create together and make something.
Maverick Soul: Yeah. For me I started in hip-hop culture, it was my entire life for so many years. So this is my contribution to it. Our tiny little corner. I also hope that people who like hip;-hop who haven’t heard drum & bass will hear it and start exploring it more.
T.R.A.C: Oh they will for sure.
Maverick Soul: Yeah, so this is our contribution to the hip-hop community and drum & bass.
T.R.A.C: Plus I think the world, while it’s still at a kinda stand still like it’s been for so long, is ready for more vocal projects. People want to know who we are sometimes. That’s what Sonically Speaking is to me as well. This is us, this is how we do things. It’s yours if you like it…