The last time The Moment chatted with local hero Xidus Pain – musician, award-winning music practitioner, emcee, TedX speaker and hip hop educator – he was busy carving out innovative ways to make the most of time in lockdown. Now, fresh from visiting New York – working with kids and adults alike on a series of education and music projects – he’s contemplating his next move.
Tell us what you’ve been up to since the last time we spoke, and since lockdown lifted? It feels like a weirdly long time ago now!
I’ve been working on some global music projects – I did some recordings for Hip Hop Loves Foundation when I was over in New York for hip hop’s 50th year anniversary. We had artists from Chile, Ghana, Puerto Rico – myself from the UK. We were really lucky to have a great producer, Frado 180, who has worked with RZA, Method Man (Wu Tang Clan), LL Cool J, DMX and Lil Wayne to name a few. Also whilst in New York I had the honour to jam with members of the legendary Roots Crew – the hip hop band who supported Jay Z at Glastonbury and are also the house band on Jimmy Fallon. I got to tick off loads of boxes because I loved working with those artist, and I loved working with the [schools and education] community within Brooklyn, the Bronx and West Philly as well. There were a few people who mentor out there, legendary rappers who hit me up, but we just didn’t have time to connect because I was on a really tight schedule, so I’m definitely gonna go back and do what I couldn’t do before – and much more.
Then, back at home, I’ve been working with legendary producer Sylvia Massey at Abbey Road Studios and Angel One Recording Studios – she’s worked with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Prince, Rick Rubin, Johnny Cash and Lenny Kravitz; she’s also an amazing engineer. She’s known for having the biggest microphone collection, literally – she has a museum of microphones in her house, and she makes microphones out of anything and everything! She asked one of her assistants to get her an old dial-up phone and made a microphone out of the phone, rewired it, then hooked it up to a saxophone as a ‘sax and phone’. And then she wired a lamp to a guitar so each time you play the electric guitar, the lamp flickers and it distorts the sound, making a really strange, eerie noise. She’s like MacGyver!
You’re known for always looking for and finding the positives, on getting the best from those you work with and helping people benefit from the power of music. Is that sometimes hard to do when people are so often determined to mine and exploit the negatives faced by people of black heritage?
You’ve got to remember that rap or hip hop was birthed from people undergoing systematic oppression – it’s what created hip hop as a culture. Gangs were fighting each other, and then the Black Spades – who were a New York gang – got together with other gangs and said, ‘Let’s stop killing each other, let’s battle through break dance, let’s battle on the microphone’. They were trying to amend, and make something that was positive. It’s why if you listen to old hip hop from the 80s it’s highlighting how the system has left them – it’s not glorifying negative stuff, they were telling you about their surroundings. Furthermore, if you look at the hip hop in the 90s it was actually really positive, saying to be proud of where you’re from, your culture and who you are.
In that way it’s a vital part of black history?
Yes, but when I go into schools I treat everyone the same – I say, ‘Look, your story is valid, no matter if you’re from Czech Republic, UK, Jamaica, Portugal’ and so on. I ask each person if they can tell their story because we all have an amazing, wonderful story with a great history behind it. I was working at one particular school and some of the younger black kids ran over and asked, ‘Oh, can we say the N word?’ And I said no, because I don’t use that word and furthermore that’s not the lineage that you come from – you come from people like Mansa Musa, a king who was the richest person on the planet at one point – and that’s the lineage of rappers. Some people may talk about things that sound negative, but you’ve got to think about how you listen as well. It’s like a painting – how do you view that painting? Do you see it as an aggressive painting? Or do you see it as pain? It’s about changing the perception of the viewer.
And introducing more people to it, too. The thing with rap is, while not everyone can master it, everyone can do it! People love it, it’s instant gratification. If we were to do singing in a workshop, well – not everyone can sing or understand about being in key, but with rapping you can be as simple or as complex as you like.
I just don’t know how people do it – when I hear it I feel like I’m experiencing a magic trick!
You’re always learning! And it’s the game of mastering, mastering and learning new words and new ways to flow, which comes from having conversations with people from different backgrounds, different countries – you’ll be like: Wow, you take your breaths here, I take mine here, and your syllables are here, and mine are here. So it’s a fun thing – when I deliver workshops anywhere it’s always a laugh, like we’re friends but conducted in a professional manner.
Sometimes people will say that they’re not very creative, they will say they’re not into rap or writing songs, so I’ll ask them what they are into. One example was someone who said they like working with motorbikes, redoing the oil and changing the chain, revving the engine – and that’s when we can start turning these things into wordplay, to make a rap as they mean two different things.
It’s all about making those connections…
Oh yeah, it’s about relating to them and about celebrating differences. And also, about not putting anyone else down. There was a young boy in a workshop in a school who had additional needs, and he wrote this rap, and it was amazing! His whole table were doing a call and response and then the whole class, and by the end he was the star of the day – and his work was great.
It’s that thing of elevating people so they can use that outlet of self- expression using elements of the hip hop culture, rap, break dancing, graffiti, turntablism – where they’re talking through technology and mastering sounds and scratches – beatboxing, which is like a language within itself. Because music in general is a universal language, isn’t it? It’s the one that we all share. It will always spark a conversation.