On The Record: A new series of extensive interviews with collaborating producers and MCs. First up AC MC and Skuff.
Best known for his rapid bars on the jump-up side of drum & bass, earlier this year AC MC flipped the switch with For Certain, a collaboration with Skuff released on DJ SS’s Formation Records.
Fusing personal references with a universal message of positivity and wry political observations, AC showcases an entirely different side to his skills that he developed during his time in the world of hip-hop.
Producer-wise Skuff was the perfect partner in vibes for the job. Having showcased two very different sides to his sound in recent years, with releases on the likes of Rebel Music and Balearic Breaks, he complemented AC’s flow with subtlety and depth.
With more expected to drop in the near future, we caught them both on a call to find out more about their shared roots, their chemistry and why vocal drum & bass is in such a good place right now.
How did you two link up?
AC: Through Mr Alfie who runs Raw Motion Records. He and his wife Zoe thought we’d be a good team together. Skuff sent over a beat and I was into it. I’d written the lyrics to another liquid tune but thought they’d go nice with his beat so I wrote a new hook and then we went back and forth, back and forth. SS signed it and the rest is history. Skuff sent me a few more beats since then and they’re all amazing.
Skuff: He’s got very different vocals. They’re not the usual style you get with MCs in drum & bass. They got more of a raw story vibe and a hip-hop feel to them. Apart from the chorus, there’s no repeat or repetitive bits so it gave me a different challenge as a producer to complement with that type of style.
Do you work with a lot with MCs?
Skuff: I’ve started to. I’m working with Illmatika at the moment and a few others. I’m really into what me and AC have come up with. It’s had some great feedback.
It feels like your most personal track AC…
AC: Definitely one of my most personal. I’ve done some personal things in hip-hop too, but in drum & bass it definitely is. Previously in D&B my bars have been with Jayline and Ego Trippin and my boy Fury. They were more like battle bars and boasting bars, but this was a more introspective tune.
I’ve wanted to do that for a long time and liquid is definitely the best style to complement that – the pianos samples and orchestral samples are good to go deep over. I’d been looking to find a producer to do that with for a long time so linking with Skuff was a blessing.
Was it scary to put yourself out there in that way?
AC: Yeah a little bit but the vibe of the music brought that anyway. It gels real nice. I got in the zone and the vibe of the music made it feel very natural to tell this type of story. Maybe after we recorded finished it I thought, ‘Are these bars are a bit too personal about me?’ But I’d done it on hip-hop before, so it doesn’t matter.
People like authenticity and realness. Anyone from a broken home, or feels the blues, will relate hard. Throw in an observation about politicians being crooks and you’re singing to a pretty big choir!
AC: A lot of the time in electronic music we’re being encouraged not to be political but in hip hop we were told to say what we wanted so I was very political. When I came back to D&B in 2010 I toned it down a lot, but now I’ll say what’s on my mind. That’s healthier for me anyway. To use music as an outlet, to get my stresses out there. I don’t want to restrict myself.
You’re right about hip-hop being political. Jungle was always political. To ignore politics is to bury your head in the sand…
AC: People are worried about losing bookings so they’re afraid about things like that. Some people might not like your opinion and might not book you, it’s understandable, but I’d rather be surrounded by people who are letting me be free than people who want to stifle me.
Are you a political man, Skuff?
Skuff: I’m a make love not war type of guy. I try and push positivity with everything I do.
AC: We talk about that on the tune. About people getting sucked into the negativity and the repercussions it can have. I’ve been working with young offenders for years and I see that so much. A lot of stuff that gets pushed to young people now. It’s so negative. Some people live in a very negative environment and they have that lifestyle because that’s how life has taken them. But others look at things like a fashion. They start jumping on a bandwagon and bad things happen to them. I always want to dispel the myth that being bad will pay off in a good way. So yeah we both push positivity.
Another thing you have in common is that you’ve had a past in D&B and then returned…
Skuff: That’s right man. I started off in the pirate radio days and had a family and completely stopped for about five or six years. It was only after a six year break I got back in on it and had to start from scratch.
AC: That’s similar to me. I started in drum & bass in 98 and around 2001 it got a bit serious. But by 2004 things were popping on the hip-hop side of things so I followed that path, had a label deal, was on MTV and all that. It was a mad experience.
Move along a few years, I went independent and saw more new talent coming through in D&B. That was inspiring to see new talent being championed so much so I entered various competitions and got back involved. At first it was purely jump up because that side of drum & bass has always been better for bars and giving MCs freedom. But I always had my eyes on liquid, so to be able to do a liquid tune is something I’ve always wanted to do for a long time.
We’ve reached an exciting point for MCs and vocalists now I think. DRS has done bits for that. Skuff; was there a moment where you were suddenly inspired to return to the music? Were you always paying attention when you took a break from it?
Skuff: No. For a while I did completely turn off from the music. I went through some very challenging times and wasn’t in a good place. But I moved into a new house, I became a father again and I got inspired. I still had the decks so I got myself a little set-up and got back into it. I hooked up with Uniques and we had a project called Diverse Reality for a while. We did a few live PAs and a few festivals, which was fun, but it fizzled out. So now I’ve concentrated on finding my own sound, which is hard!
It’s the holy grail! So can we expect more from both of you together soon?
AC: Yeah I’m taking some time off my job to record lyrics for two more tunes. I teach at the Guildford and London ACM on their rap and MC course. It’s the first ever degree course of its kind in the country so that’s quite intense.
Yeah tell us about that!
AC: the course started in 2019. I was asked to do some masterclasses and they had some jobs come up. I did a Zoom lecture, got the job and that was a blessing because music money was dead at the time! I’ve been there since October 2020. It’s inspiring man, it’s the first MC and rap degree and the first pathway to a diploma too.
Changing educational history! Would you believe you’d be doing that when you first started on your own pathway?
AC: Never in a million years! There’s been challenges but it’s been good and there are some great tutors there. All experts in their fields who I learn a lot of stuff from. I also learn off the students who show me new music all the time and I share my techniques with them. Breathing techniques, writing techniques, all the genres. It’s been a really inspiring thing to do.
That’s amazing. So Skuff; you’re working on an album, right?
Skuff: I’m working on two! I’ve got one for Balearic Breaks and another one for Rebel Music. I was lucky, I bought myself a Mac just weeks before the first lockdown. I jumped onto Logic (from Ableton) and put my full time in the studio. Lockdown was perfect – I could stay in and make tunes. When I’m in my flow I can knock out a tune in a day.
AC: lucky! I was driving up and down the country teaching. For the first part I was working for a company called Junior Jam teaching kids from reception to year six how to make music and animation on iPads. Then I was working with young offenders as well on the weekends. I was exhausted man. Did you get furlough, then?
Skuff: No, I’m a delivery driver for a Chinese restaurant so I was working in the nights. But I could get a lot of music done in the day.
AC: You are a machine bro. These recent beats you’ve sent over are fire so I’m looking forward to getting them down.
Do you already know what you’re laying down on them?
AC: Kinda. It’s interesting. I got the hooks nailed in my head, but not the verses. Usually it’s the other way around. I want to do more of an introspective story telling vibe. You mentioned DRS earlier and he’s a great reference point; he was a huge influence for me on a hip-hop thing before drum & bass. I used to go up to Manchester and we’d see each other way back in those days. He’s smashed it man. Well and truly. I think there’s a great movement and focus on vocal drum & bass full stop. Across all genres.
Yeah it’s a great time for vocalists isn’t it. Conrad said in an interview last year how everyone’s got bars these days!
AC: It’s true! I think if the vocal side wasn’t stifled in the 90s then D&B would have flown around the world so much quicker. I used to think it was too late for me but I’m seeing these great talents coming through and it’s inspiring and great to contribute to the new movement. It’s happening on both sides of the genre. on jump up you got Azza & Grima, Traumatik, Shabber and High Level with Tanz, Endo, Swift. Also Spooka. You got guys like Duskee coming through. You’ve got enough man coming through! Too many to mention! Take that Alcemist tune with Coco on it. That’s huge. Then you’ve got Bru-C taking it another level. I think it’s opening people’s eyes to the potential of what’s out there. People are realising the talent that’s out there and really starting to champion it.
Absolutely. It’s an exciting time man. So Skuff… Final words are with you!
Skuff: Yeah I agree we’re in an exciting time and, for me, I’ve always loved that vocal side going right back through to the jungle days. When it’s done well it hits you just right and it’s an example of the diversity within this music. No other genre has that rich spectrum. Long may it continue. Shouts to Ben from Rebel Music, Darren and Jazzy from Balearic Breaks and Science Of Man!