– You know the Predator? Like how you can see the outline of it but still see everything behind it? My style is like that. I want to only just be noticeable –
The spoken word has such a malleable allure. It can be pulled, pummelled, stretched and chopped. With a plethora of ways to perform, Rap has quickly become led by braggadocio characters only too eager to prove their skill. It was refreshing to talk with Jack Richardson, aka ManonMars, for whom the opposite is true. During our Skype conversation, he was more keen to show me his intricate paintings than pinpoint his approach to writing lyrics. In tune with the Young Echo ethos, the Bristol collective of which he is a part and with whom he just released his debut album, he wishes to remain faceless, away from the spotlight.
How was your album launch at the Cube?
The Cube Cinema, it was really cool, really interesting. It was definitely one of the best Young Echo nights that I’ve been to. I was talking to Amos about it and he was saying something similar.
Who else performed?
Honestly, it was such a multitude of artists. We had Rider Shafique who brought some of his friends. We had Robin Stewart and Harry from Giant Swan performing separately. Robin was performing with our friend Bridget. Honestly, I saw a whole bunch of shit that I’ve never even seen before. I was excited about just being there, it could’ve been about whatever album. It was always like, ‘Shit what’s happening next?!’ That’s what made it so important. That’s kind of what Amos and me were talking about and that’s I guess what we want it to always be. We don’t want it to become this fucking predictable thing. There’s always someone who hates an aspect of it and that’s fine, it probably should be that way.
That’s not what I was expecting to hear from your album launch. I thought it would’ve been all about you, but you’ve made it not all about you.
I feel like I had a pretty short set! I feel I could’ve done some more songs actually. When they said that it’s the last track I was like, ‘OK!’ But I like it that way man, it shouldn’t be about characters like that. I feel like you just want to get a reaction from people and it could be the dude that no one’s heard about who might change his name next month or who might delete his Twitter and not make another one for a while or something. People should take that into account, it’s easy to get wound up in the shit you get fed.
I think I first saw you at the Young Echo night with Drae da Skimask.
I think I actually touched mic really last minute. I don’t really know Drae like that but I had a bunch of guys elbowing me and telling me, ‘Yo grab the mic!’ so I kind of just jumped on the mic with [pauses] I think it was with Hi5ghost.
Oh really?! I didn’t notice it was you at the time because on the radio shows, [the Young Echo guys] had always spoken about you, but you were never there so I was starting to wonder whether you actually existed.[Laughs] I was at a couple of the radio shows but I definitely wasn’t at the majority of them.
What’s your background with Rap?
I always remember kids rapping in London when I was growing up. I was in North London until I was ten or eleven and I just remember certain kids in the playground being able to rap and thinking, ‘Shit I can’t do that, that’s kind of impressive.’ After that, I got moved away to the countryside which was eventually where I met Amos and how I made the link with Young Echo and all that. Initially, before any of that shit happened, I was out in the countryside surrounded by white people and old people. I didn’t even know what was happening until I was out there already. I was like, ‘OK, I’ve been given a second chance of having this growth in a place that I never foresaw myself to be in.’ But at the same time, there were so many aspects [missing] from what I was accustomed to in the multicultural society of North London so that kind of made my attention focus toward the music in a way that it never had.
So when you moved away is when you decided you wanted to do Rap.
I didn’t even want to do it like that. I just started listening to it because it started to make more sense I guess like, ‘Oh that’s that voice I remember! I know it is still there only out here I have to buy it or download it or search for it online and find the friends, find the people, the small bunch people who not only just listen to rap but who actually care about what type of shit they’re listening to.’ There’s a whole bunch of people who listen to 50 Cent or whatever, when 50 Cent just dropped the new single and it’s being fucking promoted, but when it came to like, ‘You know that track though? You know the intro track from Aquemini??’ That was important to me and that’s how I made a lot of my friendships. I think even when I saw that people appreciated it even if they didn’t know about it. I liked to show people that shit. I never wanted to rap like that. It was just a way of responding I guess.
What were some of the people you were listening to? Who would you say you’ve got your influences from?
There’s a long list, but it’s hard for me to choose because early on I was on some regional shit. I was trying to do my research and all that so I was into the West Coast. I was listening to Eazy E and Ice Cube and all them. Studying NWA and trying to buy all their discography. Studying all their beef and how they fell apart and what music came about from that. Then I guess I came round because I knew it came from New York. I felt like everybody was always talking about Jay-Z and Big. People always talk about where it’s from, but I was more into seeing where it went. But after that, obviously I had to come back around. I remember I bought the Jeru The Damaja – The Sun Rises In The East CD. I bought that from Amazon and I gave that shit to Amos so he could rip it or whatever. I used to spend a lot of my money ordering Hip Hop. I listen to a lot of Big L, I gotta throw that in there! [Laughs]
Have you made your own music to rap to?
I can’t make beats for shit. I’ve never learned any instrument, I never took any class.
Have you mostly just worked with Amos then?
I’ve worked with a couple of other people, but Amos is the one dude who from the jump introduced me to recording my raps. Before I was chilling with him, I was just writing raps so that if somebody started rapping and was trying to cipher I could join in. I think it was a while before we made some shit that I was really into. It definitely wasn’t some shit that we’re still playing now. That’s the thing, even though this is the first release, there are still bodies of work that could have come out that just didn’t for one reason or another. It’s probably for the best really! [Laughs]
Where did the idea come from to work with Sam and Amos?
They sent me the beat for ‘Doll’. I had already started writing something and it clicked with that so well that I just told them, ‘Yo, send me more of this shit! You guys keep sending more of the stuff you are working on together!’ That’s practically what it was man, simple as that.
So did you tend to write the lyrics first and then choose the right song for them?
It was a mix and match. I think the majority of them I wrote to other music. I have a habit of finding some really terrible recording of like a freestyle that someone does on a radio show or something, and I just really like the beat in this one part so I’ll just rewind that. I just want to keep on dragging the little thing back and listening to it. I know a lot of people say it man, but it really is all about vibes. I can get it from a track that I wouldn’t even rap to for example, or from an intro track, [which then] gives me the inspiration to start writing some bars that then find a home on some other shit that touches the same note. I might not find that final beat for a matter of weeks or months or something you know. I might not even finish that verse for a while. I might think, ‘Nah that’s not the one,’ [and] start something else and finish that newer one. I’m not the type of guy that has to start and finish it like that. I paint pictures I’ve got like fifty pictures that I’ve started and they’re not finished. [Laughs]
Nice! What sort of paintings do you do?
Errm I guess you’d call it geometric work, it’s mostly symmetrical. I could try show you, I don’t know if you’ll get a good view…
…Those are some cool colours! It’s almost quite Aztec-y.
Actually you’re not the first person who’s said that about that one, that’s crazy.
Is that paint or is that printed?
That’s hand painted man.
That is intricate stuff!
Oh wait, hold up. I’ve got a skateboard too, you wanna see my skateboard? There you go…
Did you design that?!
Yeah man I painted that, it’s hand painted.
Really?! That’s sick.[Laughs]
Does it have a finish on it yet?
That one isn’t finished yet so I didn’t apply the finish, but I have got the yacht varnish, the waterproof yacht varnish to make them rideable on the final stage.
How are you at skating?
Bruh, I’m trash. I don’t even pretend that I can skate. That’s the funny thing, it’s like everywhere I’ve gone in my life I just always end up chilling with skaters. That’s why I ended up painting the skateboards because when I left London I just hung out with skaters. They seem like the most relaxed, accepting group of people and that seems to apply wherever you go really.
You just rock up and hangout with people at a skatepark and make friends there and then?
I used to. Now I don’t really have time to. I’m normally at work or painting or occasionally doing music shit.
That’s very bold and open of you. I’d never go wading my way into a group of people I didn’t know. Do you get the time for your interests now?
Those are the two things that keep me going man. Those and the people that help me support those things. That’s all I need.
And your work at the cafe too?
Nah man, allow that. We don’t need that. Although that’s the part of the ManonMars thing as well though, I’m not trying to rep myself to the point that you forget yourself. I like the concept of relating to people who just want to escape because that’s essentially what you’re doing when you listen to music, you’re under a spell. If the music is doing what it should be doing, you’re under a spell for as long as that shit is playing. Whatever else people wanna say about it, people wanna say about it, but that’s how actually it really is.
When you sit down to write and you’ve got that blank piece of paper in front of you, that whole writer’s block problem, where do you pull your ideas from to get out of it, how do you start?
I would say that more and more increasingly I just try and ignore it. In those moments where I’m not being productive musically, when I’m not writing or I’m not catching the vibe off a beat or whatever I’m like, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna do something else.’ I’ll watch a movie or go try and earn some money or paint a picture or something. I’ve just kind of learned I guess that that sort of shit is integral to my process. For me, when I try to “lock in and do this shit” that some people talk about like, ‘Yo, I’m staying in the studio,’ that doesn’t make sense to me. I have to just be at the crib. I have to have my own time frame where I have to not record shit for a while, where I have to not even think about music every now and then so I know that when I do it’s pure, it’s not forced.
Are you aware of having a style?
I would say that my style is like [pauses] you know the Predator? Like how you can see the outline of it but still see everything behind it? It’s like that. I want to only just be noticeable. I don’t want it to be about like, ‘Look what I can do with the bars and shit!’ That’s played out for me man. I like showing people what you can do with words, but it’s more important to make some good music really. If it’s a cipher, I might say some shit that I’m not gonna put down on a beat when I’m recording or whatever, but that’s the fun in it for me. That’s why people shouldn’t be criticising these people who make this strip club music or whatever because that’s how they’re getting their money from the career. That’s that lane of Hip Hop or Rap or whatever you want to call it, and you should just leave it at that. It doesn’t matter how much you agree or disagree with it. My lane of that shit is kind of [pauses] I guess I don’t wanna put it in a box, but my style is maybe like nonconformist to an extent. I’ll put that word next to it. It’s nonconformist to an extent because it’s not there to defy everything, but it’s there to remind people that it’s the words that already rhyme init.
That must be quite hard then when you’re trying to make it relative to you but you don’t want the focus to be overtly about you.
Yeah that’s a good point actually. I’d say that that’s part of really just being a fan of the art and you know Rap. I’ve listened to enough shit and I listen to enough shit to know what I do and do not want to convey. Sometimes I’ll be nodding my head, saying some shit with my pencil in my hand, thinking of what to write. I’ll say some shit that rhymes and is on time and I’ll be like, ‘Naah! Naah!’ I don’t even wanna try and question how my brain thought of making that next link. Try and forget that, you know what I mean? Again, that’s part of the fun. Some people just talk. You go on Youtube and they’re like, ‘Yeah bro, I’m locked into the studio and I’m gonna make five songs,’ or whatever, and it’s all good if you can do that, well done, but what’s the diversity between those five songs? If you could’ve done what you did with those five songs in three songs or two songs or maybe one song then why not do it like that?
So you described the process of your album as Amos and Sam sending you tracks and you piecing your lyrics together with those beats. How do these songs work as an album then?
I think that cohesively they’re all different elements of a picture that to an extent is abstract. [It] doesn’t at any point to me reach a point of climax where the album makes a statement and I guess that’s my style, and that’s the style I feel is always developing. I don’t want to just rap to people when I hear them rapping or when I’m at a party or in the street when I know I can take that same energy and sit behind a microphone, even if it is in someone’s bedroom. That album was all made in Amos’ house there was no recording studio or nothing.
I like that as a narrative. How, where and when it was made. What’s next for your music then?
I mean we’ve already kept it moving, it wasn’t ever a case of, ‘Oh we’ve done it, let’s kick back.’ We’ve got a few [songs] all ready so whatever may come. I just like to experiment, just like how a large part of that album was made.
So you’re going to carry on down that path of experimenting?
Yeah like it’s good to plan ahead and all that, but I personally found that the way that the music came about for me was entirely spontaneous. From meeting Amos and Alex [Bogues] at school through to [them] introducing me to Young Echo. I have to kind of see it as what it was – I was to an extent uncomfortable with where I was, where I was positioned and it was like, ‘OK let’s see where this is heading.’ To me it never switched up from that. It doesn’t matter how many shows we’re getting or how much music I have to record or how productive I feel this week.
Well I’m excited to see where it goes because I really enjoyed the album.
You really enjoyed the album? What was your favourite track?
Well we chose ‘Billin’ for our preview stream but others would be ‘Never’, ‘Jessica’, ‘Luv’ and ‘Vacate’. I like the way your flow treacles along, but in ‘Billin’ I liked that you picked it up a bit, almost to prove you could go fast but you choose more often to go slower. I prefer the slower pace. Another person I like who has that similar pace is Earl Sweatshirt. He goes a bit slower and the clarity in the words is there.
Have you listened to Lucki?
No, I haven’t heard of Lucki.
He used to be Lucki Eck$. Check his shit out coz in ‘Billin’ I say, ‘I just rolled two snake eyes/ I’m still feeling lucky/ turning up that X tape…’ that’s because Lucki just put out a mixtape called ‘X’ and me and Amos were always playing that around the same time we was cookin up some of our [songs]. He’s from Chicago, he’s a sick rapper. He’s doing all kinds of mixtape shit for a minute now and I like it.
What does he sound like?
I think he might be cool with Earl Sweatshirt. I don’t know any of those guys personally, but I like their music. Yeah sonically it embraces that thing of just knowing when you can let go. You can afford to let go in places. People are saying all this shit about Mumble Rap for example, but there are certain bars you can only put together if you mumble a word you know? People should think about it like that. I’m not trying to say that I’m a mumble rapper or whatever…
…I haven’t heard of Mumble Rap.
It’s a new ting init. They’re calling all the new Pop Rap this Mumble Rap.
Is it mumble because it goes fast or because it’s quiet?
They’re calling it Mumble Rap because they’re trying to say that rappers aren’t saying shit anymore. They hop on and just mumble shit and put it on autotune or whatever. I like how rappers nowadays have put together the understanding that just because words rhyme doesn’t mean that you should rhyme them. I don’t want to contradict myself about what I was saying earlier, but what if what you’re saying, when it’s said lazily, conveys more of a truth. You know?
Yeah I got bored of the anger rapping.
I’d say that the clarity of the words is something that came through for me on your album. I find it far easier to pick out each individual word rather than perhaps with someone who’s not being as clear for whatever reason, whether they’re going fast or whatever. The whole not rhyming thing I agree with as well because that’s why I’ve really enjoyed things by people like chester giles and Rider Shafique and Noname…
Noname, this girl from Chicago. She doesn’t try to end every line on a punchline so the lines run over a lot more. It almost has its own rhythm above the beat that it’s given which I really enjoy.
That’s it man there’s just so many things that can be done that it’s as much about going back to what rappers do with the entendres and the punches and all that type of stuff as it is about I don’t know [pauses] what you saw coming out of the coffee store or looking out the bus window. Just grabbing something from reality and slapping that on it and seeing what can come back in terms of a rhyme or maybe not even a rhyme because then if you just try and explain what you saw, it could be another word entirely.
That’s why I think it must be so hard which is why I asked the question about how do you start. It’s really hard now to make something different.
It’s fun to me! [Laughs]
Oh yeah, I’ve got to say before I go, I really enjoyed ‘Red Dot Green Light’ from the Young Echo album, that was top, and ‘Sedated’, that whole album actually.
I like that album a lot you know. I like to play that album from start to finish.
And Jasmine as well. I’d like to hear more from her, that ‘Kidney Punch’ song is really good.
At the Cube Jasmine was incredible.
Yeah I bet, I want to hear more stuff with her voice in.
I want to work with her!
Oh also, are you gonna release that one with Bogues and Ishan, that skinhead one…?[Laughs] Tampa Bay hand grenade? The skinhead chick from Tampa Bay? We actually recorded that song in Wales. We were in Wales when we recorded that. We weren’t in Tampa Bay…
I didn’t expect you to be in Tampa Bay! But that song should definitely come out!
You know there’s a part two!
No, I didn’t know there was a part two![Laughs] You’d like it man!
I’ll look it up! Cheers man, take care!
Manonmars’ debut album is out October 26 on Young Echo Records. Buy it here.
Words: Joseph Francis
Featured Images: Paulina Korobkiewicz