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To The Top: Merky Ace

Hailing from Lewisham, the same South East London borough as fellow spitters Kozzie, Blacks and P.Money, Merky Ace is a man on a mission. Restlessly prolific  he’s just released ‘Play Your Position’, his second album of the year and what he considers to be his most complete body of work yet. Fizzing with energy, ‘Play Your Position’ contains all that made grime such a revelation in the past, as well as hinting where its set to go in the future. Cuts like the title track and ‘Madness’ find Merky spraying bars over hyperactive beats with a swagger and confidence that belies his 21 years and hints at someone truly comfortable with their artform. Backed by his Family Tree crew, Merky proves that whilst much of the attention focused on Grime may currently be lavished on the producers, there are still MC’s such as himself worth shouting about.

Catching up with Merky recently, Hyponik spoke to him about the new album, his ambitions and the scene in general…

Hi Merky, thanks for taking the time to talk to Hyponik. For those who don’t know, just take a minute to tell them who you are, where you’re from and what your about?

I’m Merky Ace, I’m from Lewisham, South East London and I’m an MC in the Grime scene.

‘Play Your Position’ is out now. How did you approach this album, what were you going for?

I wanted to show people myself in a CD, I wanted to personify myself in a CD. For all my people that listen to me, it’s a great picture of me and where I’m going to be taking my music to come. The way I went about it was, when I made ‘All Or Nothing’ I also made ‘Play Your Position’, I made two CD’s at the same time. That ( ‘Play Your Position’ ) was always going to be the better one obviously, it’s the better one of the two. So it’s the work that I got most faith in at the moment.

What are some highlights on the record that you think fans are going to like?

The title track ‘Play Your Position’ a lot of people will like, but I reckon the track for people that understand me and Family Tree will be ‘Invincible’ cos that’s just got everyone on it. I haven’t even got a verse on it, I do the chorus. So everyone that likes us will like the tune.

Family Tree feature heavily on your album, how important is it to have a crew like that backing you up in the Grime scene?

Its important no matter what you’re doing to have a team behind you, y’know what I mean? Because more people work better than just one person and I think its a benefit that all of us do music so we can help each other and we can be helped.

What were you looking for when you were choosing the beats you jumped on? You’ve got a lot of in-house production there with Splurt Diablo and Faze Miyake…

And also Jack Mason, he’s another FT producer who’s heavily featured on the CD. We got a certain sound that we’re liking at the moment, especially me. We’re just picking out the best beats, we’ve gone through and made beats specific for the project as well and just ran with those. The rest of the beats from other producers, they’re ones that they’ve just given me to work with for my CD and just like favours really, y’know what I mean? Good peoples.

There’s an obvious Trap influence in the beats and of course you’ve got ‘Trap All Day Pt.2’ on the album as well. Is Trap something you find yourself listening to alot? Does the fact it originated in America dilute the Britishness of Grime?

Not really cos to be honest Trap is just like a phrase innit? It actually means something. So sometimes I use the meaning of the phrase as opposed to referring to the music, do y’know what I mean? But also at the same time it is an influence. It’s just an 808 basically. If you listen to the tunes that are on top they are Grime tunes. Its like a fusion type thing, its not like a direct imprint of trap.

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10 years or so ago, Grime used to be almost exclusively a LDN thing bar a few MCs, whereas now MC’s can be found up and down the country and producers come from all around Britain and the world in general. How do you think this change has benefitted the scene?

I think it has. Grime is what you make it at the moment and I think it’s better. You don’t have to follow a blueprint to be a Grime artist. Different artists make different types of Grime. Our type of Grime is completely different to other people’s within the scene. Our type is very unique. So I reckon it’s good, it gives everyone their own avenue. Everyone still likes the music and appreciates it for what it was, but you have to move forward with the times.

Are there any producers or MC’s left out there that you’d still like to work with?

Not really. But I’m up for collabs. The majority of the people that I’d always wanted to work with, I’ve worked with or crossed paths with in some form of way or we’re going to do work. Before I done a tune with Dizzee that would’ve been the first answer to that question, y’know what I mean. But in terms of producers I’m not really sure. Probably some form of an American producer like Baauer or something. Someone that’s like not from my world, cos I’ve worked with the best of the people around me, so there’s not much left for me to do, it’s about taking it different places.

Flipping that question, obviously everyone’s seen the whole ‘War Dubs’ hype that was popping off, which Faze Miyake and Splurt Diablo jumped on as well. Would you be up for doing an MC clash?

I’ve already done it… unless there’s some form of money involved or something then I’m not in the clash. Obviously its good promotion, it gets good coverage, but I’ve got a lane to think about. I haven’t got time to be warring other MC’s and just like helping promote them and all them things. I’ve gotta stay focused, I got tunnel vision, I can’t lose my thought process right now because its important at this time to be on my craft.

Is that what you think all this stuff is about, self promotion? The one that sticks in my mind from a while back is Ghetts vs. P.Money, where obviously you had all this hype but in the end they didnt hate each other at all.

Its all about promotion and making noise, its not really about war… if someone’s got war, if it’s actually personal then thats different innit? If people have personal war they might choose to take it out on the mic, they might choose to take it out in a different way. But a lot of the time its not that, they’re not problems, its forced problems, problems for the public.

Grime used have a darker side with a lot of actual clashing and violence, that from the outside doesn’t really seem to be around anymore, any thoughts on why this is?

I don’t reckon Grime itself has calmed down, I reckon just everyone’s grown up. The roads have kind of calmed down cos even compared to like how the streets used to before, I’m on the streets more or less and compared to how it used to be it’s different innit? Before people would get victimised y’know what I mean? Robbed for their phones, just about anyone would get it. That time in England was a very hype hype rough time do y’know what I mean? Nowadays its more like a personal problems thing or problems over money. I reckon people themselves have just changed it’s not the actual music, I reckon it’s actually just the people that are involved in the music.

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You’ve kept it raw and grimy on this record, but is it ever a temptation to try and make a pop hit given the success that other Grime guys like Tinchy, Dizzee and Dot have enjoyed? Has the opportunity ever come up?

I’ve had opportunities to make like that Pop generic music but to be honest if I’m gonna do that crossover I’m gonna do it my way. My way is going to be that no matter what else is going on its still gonna have me. So it’s not going to be a completely new person, cos for a lot of these things that these pop tunes get you to talk about you can tell it’s not me, but I’m a smart artist so I wouldn’t put myself in a box. I know how to work the game and work the music to get in these doors with the way you are and thats what I’m trying to do right now, I’m trying to find my own lane so I don’t have to jump in to anyone else’s skin to get that recognition.

What’s the number one ambition do you have for your career as an artist? What stage do you see yourself at with this in 5 years?

In 5 years I’m trying to take it to the top man. I’m trying to really just be out there, be on everyone’s lips. I want people to know who I am, what I do. Even if they don’t like it, even if they think it’s wrong or whatever, I’m trying to just put my message out there and put my people out there as well. I won’t be happy until we’re all big y’know what I mean? No matter how big I am. Just to get everyone on a high scale. We’re already international, its about taking it to places you never knew you could, that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to take it to anywhere I could have foreseen in the past.

Your music is all about the hype and most of your tracks are suited to the rave. What were the early grime raves that you went to as a younger?

I’m not really a raving type person to be honest and I’m one of the youngest. So all my friends and the people around me, by the time I was old enough to rave they’d more or less grown out of raving anyway and not that I was up to it. As a artist, I’ve hit up a lot of the Grime related raves and the ones that I’ve been booked at. The music’s gonna get played in all those type of raves, the hype ones and the venues like Fabric. Places where its about movement, cos thats what my music’s about, it’s about getting people to move and getting people to just go sick innit? Just for the night, just go sick for the night. So anywhere where it’s energetic there’s an avenue for my music to be played. If there’s something where its slower tempo? Who knows, it could still get played ( laughs ).

How important do you think being ‘real’ or ‘realness’ is in general to being a grime artist? I’ve seen a lot of producers and MC’s that definitely don’t come from the roads.

Do you know what yeah? To be honest it’s really and truly just about the music but if your saying certain things, then it’s only right that you might get tested on those things. So I just say people should just stay real to themselves innit? That’s what I do. I just try to stay real to myself and you can only be yourself, you can’t be no one else. But it’s not really important, it’s the music that’s important. When you listen to a song you don’t have to get ‘G-Checked’ before you listen to it, its just a song do y’know what I mean? I reckon as long as your good at what you do it don’t matter where your from really.

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Let’s go back to when you first started spitting, how did you get into it and how long did it take you to really get a talent for it?

Like when I first, first started I just started listening to radio. I used to flick through the little manual radio that I had and as soon as I hear any form of Garage or Grime, I’d just leave it on there and see how long that would be playing for. It just started from listening to beats, listening to other and MC’s and hearing what they were working with. Just getting like a picture of it. Then I started writing my own stuff and obviously at first, as you would expect, it were a bit pants but I always knew what I wanted to. Before I knew it I was at a good standard from early, people always said ‘you can do it man, keep at it’ and I always was a hopeful. I guess the rest of it, it just kicked in to gear. As you go along you see more things in life and you just become ready to do it really.

So was that how you first got your breakthrough then, through spitting on radio?

Yeah and doing radio myself as well. Cos I done a lot of radio, I made a lot of free downloads, like free promos. Just going in to the studio, just banging out music and just putting it out there. On that one where I’m saying ‘fuck the thought process’, I’m just putting out what I have made. It weren’t really a quality control thing, it was just like testing the water. Seeing what people like, seeing what they like and then just building up really and more people got aware, more people got interested and then just doing stuff off the back of that really.

The album is a quality control thing now then, as in you know what you’re on and where your at?

Its a quality control thing but then like at the same time it doesn’t need to be, because it’s consistent at the moment. I wouldn’t even spit on a track or try something that I know wouldn’t work. I can hear it in my head and I know what works with me. So I know where to take it…

What advice would you give to young MC’s trying to start out nowadays then?

Just to perfect your craft in between your close circle of people. Don’t let no one tell you what’s right and wrong if you think something sounds good obviously, but a friends opinion, a good genuine friend’s opinion, always helps. I guess just build up your craft to a point where you’re happy and move forward with it. Promote yourself in the right way and go to the right places and that’s all you can do.

Is that what you’ve got Family Tree for as well, do you guys keep each other check?

You know it doesn’t even get that far with us. ‘Cos we know that like what someone’s spitting its what their saying innit? So it could never get to that point where I would think that their bar is swag. It’s just one of them ones where we’re just there for each other, we’re family as well a lot of us, so we’re always just going to be there.

Actual family?

Yeah not all of us, but we’re related still.

I’ve seen some mad footage from SB.TV’s boat party out in Outlook. How was playing the boat and the whole festival vibe in general? Did it feel weird spraying bars surrounded by sunshine and a blue ocean?

Nah it was sick. Obviously it was mad, I’m not gonna lie I was on the ropes ( laughs ), it was mad though I enjoyed it. It was one of those experiences that I’m not gonna forget. It’s something I wanna do again, so big up the Outlook Festival crew and SB.TV for making it happen. I was on the Rinse boat party, that was mad, the roof got broken, everything, it was sick out there. It was loads of memories and good times, nothing but smiles and laughs still and it’s good to be able to do that.

Was that the first European festival that you’ve done or have their been others?

3 years ago I was at Hip Hop Kemp ( in the Czech Republic ) for their 10 year anniversary. I’ve performed in other places in Europe, such as Paris. I’ve been Czech Republic many times for Hip Hop kemp as well as just doing shows. I’ve been Norway, Finland. I’m getting about. I like the Europe vibe as well. It’s like they appreciate the music more than people at home. Obviously not at first, but they got a proper loving for just the music. They don’t care about the demographics or war, they just appreciate it for what it is and I like that out there. Everyones just so friendly and they just wanna do favours for you and offer you stuff out there, which is good man. It’s good to see love like that.

What do you think is the main thing that translates when you go out there? I guess some of the lyrics and stuff they’re not going to get all of it. I was listening to the LP and some of the slang is very South London specific, do you think its the energy that they’re getting from it?

Yeah I think that’s what it is, I think it is the energy. The beats as well. You can hear a flow when a flow sounds tight, whether you can understand what they’re saying or not. I’ve worked with a couple Polish artists and though I cant understand what they’re saying, I can see what they’re saying. I can see what’s going on, you’re not a mess, you’ve got a flow, you can’t not catch the beat. I think that’s just what it is, it’s just about catching the vibe and the picture of the track really.

That’s cool I didn’t know about Polish Grime.

Yeah big up Popek and all that and Wagwan, cos they’re two people that I’m working with at the moment. ‘Play Your Position’ is basically gonna be released in Poland with a Polish edition and remixes with Polish artists on it. There’s a big field in Poland. Those lot they go gold and platinum in their countries, so that’s a gold plaque right there.

So you’re going to be going back there to promote that album then?

Yeah definitely man. I’m trying to sort out some shows there and wherever and whatnot and just trying to build up the fanbases out there and different countries. Cos its much more deeper than England y’know what I mean you’ve gotta spread your wings.

‘Play Your Position’ is out now on No Hats No Hoods 

Words: Christian Murphy
Photography: Jordan Troy