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Charlie Sloth at Newcastle Uni: discussing the past, present and future of UK rap

Written by Music

Bugzy Malone. Drake. Stormzy. Just a few of the names that Charlie Sloth has worked with over the years. I was able to sit down with the veteran DJ before his set on campus, and ask him a few of my burning questions. 

So you left Radio 1 and the BBC after a successful career, and you’ve said that you moved to Apple music because “UK music is desired in a way it has never been”.
If you had to introduce someone to the UK music scene, what acts would you pick and why?

So, the first artist I would pick would have to be Giggs. Just because of the ‘legacy’ that’s involved with him. How hard he’s worked, the music that he’s dropped. And I think that he has a great journey/story, to get to where he is today. So I’d pick Giggs as the ‘legacy artist’. And then someone who I’d suggest people check out who really excites me at the moment is Jay1. I love Jay1. I love the fact he’s not from London, he’s from Coventry. He really represents his city well. His music has a positive tone to it. It doesn’t glamorise things. It’s very comfortable being itself. And all of his records have a real party feel to it. So those are the two artists that I’d suggest people check out.

And Giggs played at your Fire in the Park event last weekend.
Yeah, he headlined.

And what was that like? I was going to ask you later on but I may as well ask you now: How does it stand in your career? I imagine It’s a massive turning point.
Oh It’s huge. It’s huge! I said years ago that I wanted to do my own festival. I felt there were no festivals in the UK that really showcase the amount of talent that we have over here. I feel like in all the festivals we have over here, we’re always trumped by american artists.

Yeah, you have people like Post Malone, Travis Scott…

Yeah, and it feels like we don’t really celebrate our artists in the same capacity. So to be able to truly celebrate our artists is something I was very passionate about. And to be able to finally execute it and see it happen was an emotional moment for me, and I’m still taking it in. We sold it out. Good vibes. Good energy. All the artists brought their ‘A’ game. They really stepped it up because everyone was there. It was incredible.

So we could expect another one next year?
Oh yeah, without a doubt! We’ve already started planning.

Oh wow, sounds good. And another question I wanted to ask you linking in to the first one would be: If you had to pick out some of the young UK talent who would it be. For me, Aitch comes out straight away

Oh Aitch, incredible. What an incredible year. Not only is he an incredible artist, he’s also an incredible person. He’s very grounded, he’s a nice guy. The music he makes really resonates and connects with the younger generation. The opportunities are endless for that kid. And OFB are two artists, well you know, there’s more to it than just Double Lz and Bando Kay. They’re really genuine kids who really care about the music and are passionate about the music. And It’s the small things with me. I mean, I get to work with artists every single day, but it’s the small things that really makes the difference with me. Like time keeping. When an artists turns up on time, especially when they’re young, it shows you so much. And in everything I’ve done with those guys they’re very polite, also asking the right questions, music-strong, ‘please’ and ‘thank yous’. So I really think that the next year will be huge for them.

And how would you describe meeting some of the massive UK talents like Stormzy and Bugzy Malone? Because you’ve kind of developed with them as well, as you’ve been on the scene for years now.

You know, the thing is with Stormzy and Bugzy, you know, all of the artists. All of the artists. I’ve had relationships with them before they go to that level of national fame. So, I don’t really think. “Oh wow, I met so-and-so”, because they’re my friends. So watching them grow as artists is really amazing as well. It’s like “Oh, I remember when you were here and now you’re there”.

And of course you’ve met global talents as well, such as Drake. Is that on the same kind of level?
Well yeah, I mean I spoke to Drake for years. And so when we done the ‘Fire in the Booth’ it was something we’d discussed for years. And he’s probably one of the busiest men on the planet. So trying to get that done was always going to be a chore. But again he’s just a normal, grounded, humble guy. Sometimes it’s easy for us to look back and put people on a pedestal because of what they’ve achieved. But really and truly, they’re just normal people like us.

Yeah, like right now I’m talking to you and you’re an extremely humble, normal guy.
I’m just a normal guy, you know!

Exactly, and I wanted to ask you, because I saw you do the YouTube show ‘Hot Ones’, I don’t know how you did it, but you mentioned that you wear a jacket because once you didn’t wear it, and you had a bad show. I was just wondering if you have any other pre show rituals and routines that you do before a show.
Erm, I’ve tried to, throughout the years, leave them behind. I’ve always been quite superstitious. And the jacket thing came about because, once, I used to always wear a jacket. And on one occasion I didn’t wear a jacket. And it was terrible. It was one of the worst shows I’ve done. And I was like, “Why was that so bad?”. I slept, I’d eaten. I was on form. The show was just bad. So I was like, “Its cos I didn’t have a jacket on”. I’m like that, well I was like that, with so many different things. Like, when I DJ, I used to have to have the USBs in certain hands.

Really?
[Chuckles] Yeah, otherwise I knew it wouldn’t be a good show. So nowadays I’m trying to step away from all my superstitions. I was like it just in life. I think it was a bit of OCD as well. And rather than letting those small things dictate my life and control my performance, I needed to step back and really understand why I’m doing these small things. I think it was more me putting pressure on myself to be the best, you know, and doing these small things without me knowing about it. But not any more, I don’t really have anything that I have to do before a show.

You just go straight into it?
I just go straight into it.

Like, for later today, how are you feeling about your performance? You must be pretty positive?
Oh yeah yeah, because, you know –

– it must be second nature by now…
…I do this everyday! You know! I DJ every day. So for me I’m way past my 10,000 hours. I’ve been doing this for so long now it’s like second nature to me. And I don’t take it for granted. I’m always sharp and prepared. I go into it thinking, well everything I do, I go into it thinking “This could be the last time I do it”. “This is gonna be my last show”. “It needs to be the best set I do”.

So how would you describe your Beats 1 show? Because a lot of people are familiar with the work you did with the BBC and the ‘Fire in the booth’ stuff. How does your work with Apple differ from that?
Life on Apple Music and Beats 1 enables me to reach a bigger audience. And the way that you can reach the audience, and they can consume it, is different. For example, the playlist, you can go to Apple Music, you can listen to a ‘Charlie Sloth Rap Show’ playlist or a ‘Fire in the Booth’ playlist, and you can take them in whenever you want. Download them to your library. Listen to them while you’re travelling, or whatever. They’re there to be consumed. And as for the ‘Fire in the Booth’ itself, it’s opened it up to an international market. Because it lives on Apple Music, and it’s great that I have that support because you can watch them whenever you want. For example, this week I had Big Tobz on ‘Fire in the Booth’. Everyone was watching it. It was trending. People from all over the world were enjoying it. It’s the way the content exists. And I’m the same. I ain’t changed! It’s the audience that I’m reaching which is bigger. That’s what’s exciting. That I get to champion UK artists to the world.

And if you had to pick your dream line up for the show who would it be?
Oh Jay-z. WIthout a doubt. One of my favorite all time artists. Or Eminem. It would have to be one of them two.

How did you first get into broadcasting? Any advice for students?
My journey started at pirate radio…

RAW FM wasn’t it?
That’s it, RAW FM was the first station I did a show on and by the time I was 15/16, I had 7 different shows on 7 different pirate radio stations. At that time, I had to pay to be on the radio, so I was doing these live shows to fund my radio shows. From there I left a bit and started to get into the production aspect of music. I wanted to write music, make music, I just loved music. I wanted to be involved with music in any way I could. I’d always wanted to get into broadcasting though, because broadcasting was my passion. So it all came ‘360’ when the BBC contacted me about doing a show, and from that day I haven’t looked back. Getting the opportunity at the BBC to do a show at 1-4AM on a Friday night, which was the graveyard shift, I made a huge success with that.
In terms of advice for people who want to get into the industry. The industry is so big. You don’t always have to be a presenter. There’s so many great producers, assistant producers, there’s so many different jobs in the industry, that you might initially want to be a broadcaster/presenter/DJ, but you might find out that it isn’t your natural calling. I mean, if it is then in terms of being a broadcaster, the best advice is to be yourself. Don’t try and be like anyone else. There’s only one of you. If you are comfortable with being yourself and at home with who you are, and what you’re passionate about, that will resonate with people.
If you want to be involved in the industry, it has never been as healthy as it is at the moment, in terms of new media and content creation. It’s a great time to be in the industry.

And it’s really accessible too, like this right here [holds up phone]
Yeah, it’s that!

When someone sees you on the street, what is the catchphrase they use the most? ‘Perfect’? ‘Let’s get ready to rumble?’ ‘You win?’. For me personally, the “Roll Safe Fire in the Booth”, is a masterpiece. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen.
I mean, it’s so varied, you know? I might be walking down the street and someone will open their window and shout “Perfect!”, you know? Or ‘Hadouken!’, or ‘You win!’ In terms of reference points, it’s really interesting to see so many different people from different walks of life referencing different moments. Because ‘Fire in the Booth’ is over 10 years old, you have people who say to you, “I’ve grown up listening to you”. When people say that, it makes me feel old! And of course, speaking to someone, like you as a reference point, your favourite moment was Roll Safe. People a bit younger than you might say ‘Big Shaq’, or ‘Bugzy Malone’. So it’s always interesting when people engage you and ask you what your favourite moments are. Everyone is very different and that’s what is interesting.

‘Fire in the booth’ is a staple of UK grime/rap, and an amazing way for you to show off small and big acts to the UK. What one act would you say was a turning point in your radio career?
K Koke’s ‘Fire in the Booth’. For me, that was a real moment. At the time, when I joined the BBC, I sat down with the boss. And he said “What are your aspirations”. I said “I was going to release a freestyle video with over 1,000,000 views, and I’m going to replace Westwood. And they laughed at me. They laughed at me. So within the first month, I released a freestyle with over 1,000,000 views, and, as everyone knows, I went on to replace Westwood. So, that ‘Fire in the Booth’ was a huge moment in my career which solidified ‘Fire in the Booth’ as a brand. And it happened so quickly, off the back of that video. K Koke got signed by Jay-z and went on to do some interesting stuff. That for me was the turning point in my career.

How do you champion new music? What do you look for in an act which makes them different to others?
Authenticity. For me, if I’m listening to a piece of music which feels like it’s coming from a  real place with passion. You can always tell. If it sounds like they’re trying to do something which isn’t real, it doesn’t sound genuine. I want something both real and authentic. That’s why when you have these special artists who look like they’re winning, it’s because they have both these special ingredients in abundance.

You’ve had a successful career making music yourself and have worked with big-names such as Bugzy Malone. But you started of small, playing hip-hop on the radio station Raw FM. If you could’ve given yourself any advice before, what advice would that be?
[Chuckles] That’s a good question. I’d probably say keep believing in yourself and don’t give up. There were times where I was thinking “Is this going to work?”. I mean, there were times when I looked in the mirror and thought “You can do this”, but then there are times when I felt like just conceding. So, I’d go back and, because there were times when I was younger where I took my foot off the pedal a bit, I’d tell myself to speed up the process. But, yeah, I’d say “Believe in yourself and don’t give up”.

Students can currently sign up for a 6 month free trial on Apple Music (T&Cs apply). Listen to the Charlie Sloth Rap Show on Apple Music’s Beats 1 every Saturday at 8pm and on-demand. A link to the Student offer is available here:

https://www.myunidays.com/GB/en-GB/partners/applemusic/view/online

Once again, a massive thank you to Charlie Sloth for allowing us to sit down and chat with him today. You can check out his Beats 1 show every Saturday night in the UK, or his extremely popular YouTube channel. I’ll link his most recent ‘Fire in the Booth’ below.

Last modified: 11th October 2019

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