There’s no avoiding Trigga right now. Forever on the frontline as an MC, since splitting with the Shadow Demon Coalition, the Manchester veteran has been relentless in his output both live and on releases with drops on the likes of Souped Up, RUN and Liondub this year alone.
On screen he’s just as ubiquitous; his unique presence and energy has been felt on the new series of Top Boy (as the dark underworld figure Speaks) and in his more conventional MC guise via the totally unconventional Apple & Onion on Cartoon Network.
Now time to level up once again: this week sees Trigga launching his new label No Joke Records. A brand new platform, in additional to regular releases on his SDR imprint, No Joke will drop weekly releases from the MC from here on in, making everything else he’s done in recent years seem like warming up.
Flexing his entire spectrum and range from rap to drum & bass, No Joke is an ambition he’s wanted realise for many years as it brings together everything he stands for and has come from… Including his years on the frontline of a very different culture.
Growing up as a youth raised in a life of crime, Trigga (real name Tundy) was heavily entrenched in gangs. Over the years he lost too many loved ones and experienced numerous attempts on his life, including narrowly escaping death at the age of just 18 when he got shot in the head and lost an eye.
For Trigga it was a reality of growing up in Moss Side during the 90s – a deeply underfunded, overlooked community that was low in youth investment and opportunities and employment and high in crime, gang and gun culture – but he’s noticed a growing trend in glamourising gang culture.
With the weight of years of losing his best friends and relatives to gang culture, and the many personal traumas he’s spent the last 20 years processing, he’s now dedicated to being a positive role model, breaking down the raw reality of gangs in the hope people don’t actively choose criminal lifestyles when they don’t have to.
No Joke kicks off today with the single Check In produced by Canadian producer / in-demand grime producer Abstrakt Sonance, weekly dispatches are expected to follow for the foreseeable. We caught a rare and highly revealing interview with him to find out more.
The label… It’s about time!
I’ve been releasing a lot of things with Cygnus Music on SDR, providing a platform for rising D&B talents like Rowney, Shadre & Salvage, Alphaze, Mofes, Sinu8 and Maze. Also learning from my peers like Chimpo, Sam Binga and Zed Bias and now I feel I’m getting to where I need to be for No Joke.
It’s all in the timing…
That’s it. You’ve got to learn from a lot of mistakes before you can run down that road and miss all the potholes. Speak to any label and they’ll tell you how many mistakes and fuck-ups they’ve made before they became a success.
Same for careers. Longer build up, longer tenure.
Yeah. I see a lot of kids being thrown in at the deep end but then getting dropped because they’ve got no performance experience, they’re not seasoned. People last a few years in paradise before being thrown out. When that drop down comes they haven’t got the experience to keep going or bounce back. They just want to be the headliner again, at the top of the flyer again.
I remember Clipz once saying to me how you have to be happy in the troughs to appreciate those highs…
Yeah. I’m in my 27th year now. If you count my radio years, it’s 29. You’ve got to ride every wave. The sounds change as new people come through and put their stamp on it. You’ve got to let them be free to do that, respect them and embrace them.
That’s how you stay relevant!
That’s why I made Veteran with Bou. I could hear he had a sound, he had an energy about him and that was inspiring.
I love the Manchester spirit. It seems like when one person shines, everyone does…
That’s how it goes and that’s how it’s supposed to be. It was like that with all the rock bands years ago. My manager was the drummer with Stone Roses. I learnt a lot from him. The bands were all rivals but they still championed each other and championed Manchester.
Don’t forget the influence of Tony Wilson, too. The Hacienda founder. I’m mates with his son now. I was MCing in Hacienda when I was 15. A place so influential that they auctioned the bricks and people now own them and treasure them. It was the heartbeat of the city and was a big part of the UK rave culture.
And you were in the thick of it. But also living another reality in gangs…
That’s right and that’s what my music and label are about. I got shot when I was 18. My cousin got murdered when I was 17.
When was this? And what can you remember of it?
It was 1998. I remember all of it. What I was listening to – Mystical and Master P and Tupac’s album. I was waiting for my dad and we left the house at 10, rolling up the road for something to smoke. I seen a car of guys in balaclavas, shouting something on the approach and get a funny feeling. then as we ride back, another other car blocks us off. Bang. Drive by. I pressed my front brake. Windows come down and I’m in a hail of bullets.
First bullet hits me in the face, straight away. I jumped off my bike, land on my feet and my heads ringing. I hear my dad’s voice, ‘Run run run!’ Long story short, eventually I end up in an ambulance and the man by my side is the police officer who’s been chasing me all my life.
Pickles his name is. He’s crying. Telling me to survive. Praying. First time I ever saw a policeman have a soul. He’s squeezing me, ‘Don’t die, please don’t die.’
My whole perspective changed about police there. I’d love to meet him and see him again. I’m awake all the way. 15 needles in ICU, he keeps me awake. I’ve traumatised his whole life. I’d love to see him and apologise.
Have you ever seen him?
Nah. He got some big promotions. Locked up a lot of people from the ends. A lot of my friends. He was instrumental in stopping the gang violence. Dave Pickles his name was. I’d love to see him again.
How about your rehabilitation?
The bullets that were lodged in me were removed. I was in there for eight nights, temporarily blinded in the other eye because of the impact. I remember when they took the bandage off and unveiled it. I cried all the way through it. I didn’t like how I looked, so I cried about that. I couldn’t walk so I had to rehabilitate myself. Insomnia, anxiety, paranoia. It took a long time to recover.
I was going to ask how long. Life goes on though, so I’d imagine you were back doing street things not long after?
Yeah it didn’t take long. But I stayed inside and healed for a while. I did a lot of writing. Listened to a lot of music. That helped with my therapy. I was trying to build the rap group The Moss-Sidaz but I was full of vengeance so that didn’t work out at that point. But yeah I got back on my feet because I was back on stage three weeks after.
Yeah it was Leicester. Club called Starlight 2001. I thought, ‘Fuck it, I’m going now or I’ll never go.’ I hated my appearance. I wore a patch at the rave. It was only when I uncovered it I got popular. People seemed to gravitate more to me. It made people love me more. The very thing I thought was going against me. That voice in my head, ‘No one will like me, girls won’t like me.’ But if I didn’t do that, I’d probably never gone back to the stage. I felt like shit. Morale was bad. I was numb. Everything told me to quit.
The devil’s in your head
Get what I’m saying? And the reception I got was like, ‘Nah I’m not giving this shit up. This is what you’re here to do, Tundy.’ Never looked back.
That’s incredible. I guess you’ve been processing it ever since.
First it’s normalised life. Then you have your traumas. Then you deal with them and get back to life. You have to deal with your traumas. I went through it all. I took a photo shoot where I got shot. I go to the graves of my dead friends and dead cousins.
Anything that’s been written about Manchester gun crime. That’s my life. All these kids chatting ‘gang gang’ now haven’t seen shit…
There’s a responsibility isn’t there? To try to prevent people chasing this vision of a gangster lifestyle…
Don’t talk shit unless you’ve experienced it! Don’t shout gang gang like it’s fashion. People are getting killed. I nearly lost my life in gangs. My friends did lose their lives. Gang is not a word to be played with. I still walk the streets now and feel the traumas but I’m in control of my emotions.
You’ve made it through. It’s a responsibility to yourself to take your art as far as you can…
Yeah I’ve made it through. I’ve had rap in my life since youth. I opened the 2002 Commonwealth Games with my group The Moss-Sidaz. RIP Pierre Webber AKA Bishop. We made history. Got seen by 1.2 billion people. This made me proud of where I’m from. We’re from Moss Side and for the last 20 years all the press did was demonise us but look at what we did for queen and country mate. Moss-Side was a trap. People who’ve got nothing will do anything to get something, but despite that, we still rose above it and created something positive to offer the world.
That’s beautiful. I’ve spoken to guys like Fox about the teaching culture in Manchester and empowering the community. You must have been a positive influence in that?
Being shot was instrumental in the truce here. The police can’t stop what happens in the streets. They can police it but only the people on the streets can stop it. We stopped it. Gangs stopped it. And yes, it’s our duty to spread a positive message in any way we can. I’ve been on TV to do this. I’m working for Cartoon Network now. I do motivational speaking. I’m writing my biography, it’s almost finished. I was going to finish it with the break-up with Bassman but that’s a negative. Now I got another positive twist to end the story so far.
I was going to ask about Shadow Demon… What can you say about the legacy?
Us separating was the start of me becoming the man I am now. But Shadow Demon Coalition gave me purpose. When we started it Bassman had the biggest legacy so I told him, ‘Let’s build it around you – the Shadow Demon.’ I brought Skepta in and made In A Corner with him. This was Myspace days. I could see how bringing the genres together would help us all benefit.
Joining dots! Without jungle there is no grime or garage…
Bringing it all together. Me and Wiley were on Giggs’ first collaboration. Zip It Up. That’s his first ever collaboration. You got UK hip-hop, grime and jungle drum & bass all on one track. It’s all linked and it’s part of the foundation for the UK music industry. I’ve been there since the start.
And I always knew it would be a long one. And that there’d be false starts. I was close to being signed in 05, then landed some acting in 07. Some things aren’t meant to be and some things happen just when they’re meant to. And that’s what No Joke is about. It’s reality. I’ve not told my whole story and now it’s time. I’ve got songs for days mate.
I’ve heard two – Check In and Real Talker, that’s got some amazing bars on it
I get a little bit lyrical innit! What do you think of the production?
Love it. Big up Abstrakt Sonance and ColtCuts. You keeping things in-house or lots of different producers?
In-house for now. It works and we turn things over the way we’re meant to. I’ll always support my boys because they came in from early and supported my vision. But I’ll have other people I want to work with on other projects or remixes.
Hip-hop production is a dark art isn’t it? So few elements but everything has to real pop
Yeah you’ve got to have the melodies right and the ingredients right. People think less is easier, but it’s not. There is a real artform to it.
You’re delving deep into the artform too. I heard you got 20 tracks ready
Yeah and this is the first batch. These are the early songs. I’ll be going into club bangers and D&B. It starts with street music, that’s the message. I’m still there with the drum & bass. I want to cater for all the people including the new generation who don’t anything about me. They see me on the stage like, ‘Party party, higher vibrations.’ Then they see me on Top Boy and it’s like, ‘Okay there’s more to Trigga.’ Then they hear the lyrics and they understand and hear what I’m saying.
Do you think gang culture is rising again, the further we get away from those times? It’s not a raw memory for the younger generation coming through so it’s not lesson learnt. This is why people need it hear it from someone who’s live through it.
If there’s no one telling them about it, they dive into the unknown. Kids love the unknown. But then it’s too late and you’re broken. You find who your true friends are when you get shot or sent to jail. When I went to jail I had a few visitors but where were the 100 roadmen I was drinking 18 brandies with shouting ride or die? They ain’t visiting, they’re trying to shag your missus mate.
So when did you go to jail? Was that before or after the shooting?
2000 – for gang behaviour. A whole load of us get locked up. It was a vengeance thing, but jail was my turning point. When I came out, I was focused on music. I kept it pure. Two years later we’re doing the music for Commonwealth Games. What I’m trying to say to anyone chasing the gang life is don’t wait until you go to jail to be a rapper. It doesn’t add to your notoriety even though it looks like it does. It doesn’t. It’s real life. All them people you gassed up before you went in won’t be impressed forever, they’ll move on but you won’t be able to.
Totally. Speaking of moving on, tell me about being on Cartoon Network! That’s mad!
It came on lockdown. I was approached by them to bring my character to life on a show called Apple & Onion. We’ve done three episodes and now I’m a recognised voice actor, composer and writer for Cartoon Network.
And soon to be author…You mentioned your biography earlier.
It’s almost done. I’ve written it myself because I want it all to be in my words. I’ll get it edited but I don’t want anyone to change my words. Just touch it round the edges. I cried when I wrote it. Cried about things I’ve never felt emotion about. I’ve had a lack of empathy because of life. That’s how I was so calm on the street.
A coping mechanism…
That’s right. But I had to process it eventually. It’s like a song you’ve made and left on your hard drive and never listened to, but you’ve got to listen to it someday. You have to deal with things. You have to acknowledge things and mentally and psychologically or they’ll keep coming back to you and haunting you. You’ve got to face it head on or you carry the trauma in your hard drive.
We’re just vessels bro. Things happen to us. We carry these things and, over time, we learn how to deal with them; how to make sure they’re not affecting your decisions now and how to avoid the wrong people. That’s where I’m at now. Making sure I’m with the right people.
We’ve come full circle. You seem like you’re in the best place you’ve ever been in life…
Better than ever. I’ve found self again. Full control. It’s life management man. It’s no joke. Literally. That’s why I’m bringing light to my experiences. Real life Trigga. It’s the yin to the party party yang people will know Trigga for. It’s the serious side. The dark side. We’ve all got it. We’ve all got a shadow. Don’t pose on Instagram saying you’re living your best life like you’re living in Dubai. Show me some bills mate. It’s fun to party and let off steam but we have to embrace reality or we’re passing on false hopes. And I’m not about that…