As a stable member of one of grime's most impressive collectives in 'Family Tree', Ego is an emcee with a desire to thoroughly establish himself as one of the genre's most capable artists. After releasing his first solo EP last year in the form of 'Actually Active' to widespread approval, he is hoping a combination of visuals and live performances, alongside the release of 'Actually Active Vol 2' in the spring, will ensure that 2012 is his most successful year to date. I managed to catch up with him on everything from emceeing at school to the continued significance of pirate radio:
"I'm Ego and I'm a member of the Family Tree collective. This time last year, the video for 'Spartan Remix' had just dropped and that got me some attention alongside Kozzie, Merky and Rival. I dropped an EP not too long afterwards called 'Actually Active' and I also featured on Merky Ace's 'Blue Battlefield' CD and Rival's 'Lock Off The Rave' remix single. I did a lot of work with Family Tree and also Kozzie and also appeared on Logan Sama's show frequently, including a few 'After Hours' slots. The one thing I didn't do last year was sort out a video for any of the tracks from 'Actually Active' and that was a big regret - I'm hoping to put that right this year."
Despite initially failing to take his music seriously, it was at school where Ego first tested himself on the mic, where, as he points out, 'everyone thought they could emcee':
"When i was at school, everyone used to think they were an emcee, it was everyone's thing. I weaved myself in on that front too but never took myself seriously. I'd spit on radio occasionally but I never got as far as putting out a track. After I left, I used to make beats first off with a mate who could emcee but he didn't take it too seriously either and I couldn't get myself heard so I thought I'd try spitting again. I literally just jumped back on it and thought, 'Rah, I'm alright at this' and its snowballed since. I've actually only been properly spitting for more or less 4 years."
Whilst some opt to put pen to pad before receiving music to work with, Ego insists that it is an instrumental that will dictate his content:
"Before, I used to think I could write the nangest bars and duppy a track easily but now I feed entirely off the instrumental - if it's a good beat, I'll use that and take that as inspiration. It all depends on the tune I'm given - I can do party tunes too but I never really have a set plan. I never really have a direction without an instrumental."
As an integral part of 'Family Tree' alongside fellow emcees Merky Ace, Shifman, TKO and MIK and producers Faze Miyake and Splurt Diablo, Ego has seen his stock rise considerably over the last 18 months. As well as a shared work ethic, Ego cites their friendship outside of music as key to their recent success:
"Me, TK and Shifman are all related - I met MIK through Shifman because they were mates before and I actually met Merky through him too. I knew of Merky before meeitng him though because I'd heard about him and knew he was gonna be a sick emcee. I thought I'd try and chat to him and it turned out he rated what I was doing so it was a kinda of mutual thing. From there, we all started going to radio together - it wasn't really a crew thing, it'd be a few of us at a time but we eventually clocked that we should all work together. We were all local and it made sense - appearances on 1Xtra, Kiss and Rinse soon followed.
It was similar with Faze aswell - we realised he was sick after he first got in touch with Merky about beats. The chemistry was there, it was just a straight back and forth thing - we got so much done in such a short space of time and it was all really good quality. The main thing with all of us though is our friendship - we all know each other on a level outside of music and that makes us stronger as a crew. It sets us apart."
With this in mind, Ego acknowledges his first solo release, 'Actually Active', a 7-track EP released in the summer of 2011, as a team effort:
"With 'Actually Active', it got to a point where I'd just done the Spartan Remix and I thought I really needed to put out a good, proper EP. I had beats from Faze, Splurt and Spooky and ultimately it wasn't too hard to get it put together. I'd get phone calls from Merky just like, 'Yo I'm jumping on that too' and that's how a lot of it all came together - it worked out nicely in the end. I had a promo EP out before but it wasn't a true reflection of me really so I'm proud of 'Actually Active'. I can listen to it straight through even now and I don't have a favourite track either. It's just a good, solid EP."
With grime currently enjoying something of a renaissance within the wider music world, Ego attributes a changing audience for some of the genre's recent success but bemoans the loss of grime's more old-school 'radio' mentality:
"Whenever I'm out performing, I can see that people are a lot more accepting of grime now than say 18 months ago, maybe even further back than that. The crowd's changed but its a good change - people will go out and buy your music now too which has helped. I still feel radio is missing a bit though and even though we've got 'Deja' back, there aren't as many opportunities for emcees as there used to be.
Pirate stations play a proper important role. We've done it all - the internet stations in tiny studios, all the smaller urban radio stations across London. As a crew, we've been there, walking to studios at midnight in the freezing cold - it was just what we did because we all knew how important radio was. I honestly think its a real asset to an emcee and I really used to feed off the energy; it gives you a space to practice and learn your trade and it's totally different to spitting in a studio. We can all take that radio element with us wherever we go now but it seems a shame that it isn't really like that anymore."
Looking forward, Ego is hoping to release the hotly anticipated follow up to 'Actually Active' towards the end of spring, as well as shooting videos for a number of forthcoming singles. Bookings are also on the agenda too:
"Visuals, visuals, visuals! I can't stress that enough - I think Merky did 2 or 3 videos last year and I could see the importance of them. I've got a single due out soon too, I'm just waiting on some bits from Splurt and Faze before that gets released and I've got a single called 'Nuttin Like Back Then' ready as well. I'm also working on 'Actually Active Vol 2' although there is still work to do on that - I'm hoping to get it done and released towards the end of spring. Bookings too, that's another thing - I'd really like to get myself out there in the crowds; nothing beats the live element."
Family Tree: http://familytreeofficial.blogspot.com/
Preview & buy 'Actually Active' via ITunes: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/actually-active/id445695194