Since recording his first free promo, 'And So It Begins' back in 2006, Sketchman has gone on to establish himself as one of the scene's most promising up and coming talents. With two further mix CDs under his belt, a move to Danny C's AIM Studios back in early 2009 prompted him to take a new musical direction, a move that saw Sketch combine his undoubted lyrical ability with a new-found industry level of professionalism. It was this combination that was ultimately responsible for the release of 'The Final Draft' in December 2009, a project that saw collaborations with the likes of P-Money, Killa P, Loudmouth, Dogzilla, Lee Brasco, Purple, Cotti and Z-Dot and one that finally left people with no excuse but to sit up and take note. With his latest project 'The Art of War' due for imminent release, I managed to catch up with him over a quarter pounder with cheese, on everything from playing the harmonica to getting featured in RWD magazine:
"I got a lot of love off the back of 'The Final Draft' and that really encouraged me to keep plugging away - I think the fact it was a free download surprised a few people to be honest! As soon as that was done, I went straight back in with 'The Art of War' and last year saw me start to get a few bookings so special mentions to 'Headbutt The Deck' and 'Oh My Days' who really got me out there - it's just been a case of building everything up really I guess. With 'The Art of War', I wanted to make a true, roots of Grime type album full of war riddims and hype, the type of stuff I used to listen to when I was younger you know? Having said that, I've been in the studio working on lots of different stuff during that time too - I'm always wanting to experiment and try new things. I've got a vocalist in the team, Beckie Sutton, who I've done quite a bit of work with and I've been fortunate enough to meet guys like Nee-Hi and Points - we've all been working on different bits together. Somewhere in amongst all that I managed to buy myself a proper camera aswell so I've been learning about the creative side to music - I've spent a lot of time making and editing my own videos and even got into renting out proper studio space to shoot things with proper lighting levels and whatever! I want to say a quick thanks to everyone who's helped me out over the last year or so too - lots of people have reached out and offered their support which I really appreciate."
As with most emcees and producers I've been fortunate enough to speak to, Sketch is quick to point out that it was pirate radio that first caught his attention with regards to making music:
"I've always been well into my music, even as a kid. I used to play a toy harmonica i had and neeky stuff like that (laughs) so I guess I was always going to do something music-related. I remember my brother used to take me along to radio with him which is probably my first memory of being around music on any sorta level - I got a feel for it back then and never really looked back. As I got older, I started to feel that I had a story to tell and it was that desire that got me into emceeing I think. Me and my mates were always up to no good at the time and I felt that what we were doing needed to be heard and appreciated - we all used to spray a bit but I realised that without any of your own music to back you up, spraying was kinda irrelevant. From there, I decided that I needed to start making my own tunes - I started back at school, my music teacher at the time used to let me stay late after school and use the facilities which helped me get a basic understanding of how to produce things. I looked up to older guys at school too - Swindle was a big influence back then in particular. Before long it was a yellow pages ting and I found a local studio that I could record at - I went along one day, met Ev James and I was there for almost 2 years. He taught me a lot about producing proper music and in turn, I taught him a lot about the Grime sound so it was a proper learning curve. People had started to take notice by that time so I had every reason to carry on and see where it would take me - I just thought, 'yeah, why not?' and here I am today. Natural progression saw me move to Danny C's which really brought everything together - working with him at AIM has been such an eye opener but at the same time, a necessary one in terms of what I want to achieve. It's kinda mad to think that what started as a little fad amongst me and my mates has led me to do this for almost five years!"
With the scene currently as healthy as it's been for a long time, Sketch feels that it's the production side that's really reinvigorated Grime over the last few years:
"I think the scene's in a really exciting place at the moment - everybody seems to be doing their own thing and nobody's really watching what anybody else is doing. The variation is there now too - people aren't scared to experiment like they used to be. I think Instrumental Grime has been a big factor too, it's really come back to the fore recently and pushed emcees to the side a little bit which has been healthy for the scene - it's given everybody something to sit up and think about. Respect where respect's due, there's also a lot of people helping out now who don't necessarily need to - the co-operation and positive energy in Grime at the moment is really good to see and it helps push things forward. Work rate's are through the roof too - there's no room for slack anymore because everybody is working so hard. Take Z-Dot for example - he always has a bag of releases ready and it's that sorta attitude that makes me wanna keep doing more and more."
Whilst focusing a lot of his energy on Grime, Sketch also acknowledges the influence Dubstep has had on him as an artist and the contribution it's made to helping Grime establish itself on the underground circuit:
"I linked up with Cotti quite a while back now and back in 2005, early 2006 I spent a lot of time mixing with people in record shops. Dubstep was just taking off then so I was surrounded by the buzz it was getting and as I started to take my own music more seriously, I started to take note of how it was doing. Grime emcees can and have used Dubstep as a platform to get themselves heard, me included, but you do need to adapt your sound in order to do it justice - you've got to respect it as a genre and I think that's something a lot of people have started to clock. You've gotta remember grime emcees have sat back and watched Dubstep takeover the underground music scene like it's nothing so regardless of people's feelings towards it, it's an avenue people have got to look at if they want to get recognition. I love Dubstep in all its forms but I favour the more original sound - I love listening to Kromestar, Cotti and some of the early Skream bits."
Whilst 'The Final Draft' showcased Sketchman's versatility as an artist, 'The Art Of War' demonstrates he's equally adept at dealing with Grime's darker side:
"It's the essentially buy for any Grime guy (cringeworthy smile and trademark glisten*) - nah seriously, it's just an album full of bangers really. There's a few story-telling tracks and a couple that are more of an insight into how I see Grime but there's nothing watered down or anything like that - it's all fully Grime. More than anything, it's just me being myself and feeling comfortable so I'm quite proud of it in that sense. I really want people to hear it and digest everything I've got to say because I went about it properly and invested a lot of time and effort in it - I guess it's a total reflection of me as an artist."
As an emcee, Sketch finds it quite difficult to describe his sound, although is quite clear in what he aims to do:
"I try and flow over a beat in a way that does it the proper justice if you get me? I can be quite particular in terms of syllables and things, I like my voice to cut through the mix and I can be quite skippy sometimes so I guess I'm quite versatile! My main aim is to maintain a decent level of lyricism without losing any energy though and I hope that comes across in my music."
Equally adept as a producer, Sketch sees producing his own instrumentals as key to putting across exactly what he wants in a track:
"You won't see a lot of my productions elsewhere to be honest - they're not always everybody's cup of tea but I'll make tunes that I know I can vocal to the best of my ability or build a track that fits a certain emotion or vibe I want to express. If I want to tell a certain story in a track then I'll build an instrumental that'll fit that perfectly. I tend to favour using a cut-up sample with a lead synth and a bassline but I don't mind fucking about and experimenting - working with different people always encourages me to try new things. The production side of things all came about through messing about making loops on Fruity back in the day. Natural progression saw me get onto Cubase because I liked being able to see the arrangement of waves and since working with Ev and more recently Danny, I've learnt a lot just watching my tracks get mixed down. I've just started up using Logic too so hopefully I'll have that mastered before long. I've never watched anyone else though in terms of production - I'm happy to take constructive criticism but I'll always 'do me' - I'm not one to change just to get on in music or in life! I'm a bit stubborn really."
Mastering your craft in the studio is all well and good but Sketch feels that it's out in the clubs that emcees can really learn what it takes:
"Anywhere you can get seen by a lot of people and you really own that moment then you know people are gonna go home talking about you. Having said that, it's difficult though because bluntly speaking, raves are full of drinkers and getting them onside and on your wavelength can be a real challenge. I tend to look at bookings as practice hours though - it's definitely brought me on as an emcee and it's opened my eyes as to what's required. You can't flop either so it serves as a wake up call in that respect. Venue's have a big say in that matter too but generally speaking, people seem to have grown up and now see Grime for what it is - it's not all about violence and aggression and there are a lot of positives to it. To say it's still misunderstood as a genre is a bit of a cliche but it's got a way to before it gets the recognition it deserves."
With a steely determination, a quiet self-confidence and everything in place to keep producing good quality Grime, it can't be long before Sketchman earns the recognition he is deservedly due:
"The Art Of War is obviously imminent but this year I really want to build the fan base. There's a loyal following already there but getting my music heard by more and more people is really important if I want to be as successful as I can. More radio play and general exposure is gonna be key I guess - I always want to be bigger and better than I was yesterday too and that's the kind of attitude I want to keep with me. Press coverage can't be underestimated either - blogs have always had my back and getting featured in RWD was a huge deal for me. I used to read RWD back at Uptown Records when I was coming up so to see myself in there was pretty humbling. As for the rest of the year, I've got a plan in place to keep everything moving in one, constant direction - more collaborations, more co-operation and more releases. I want to leave people with no excuse but to go and listen to my music!"
'Final Draft' free download: http://www.sendspace.com/file/7062rw
Remember to keep your eyes peeled for the imminent release of 'The Art of War' on Uncle Albert Records!