Threads are proud to present this exclusive interview with the South London/Bristol-based mixed heritage MC and DIY mastermind, Rumble MC. She and Alex Honey chatted about her philosophy of music, experiences growing up in Brixton, the frustrations of being class-baited, and her ever-expanding collaborative creative practice.
Hi Ruby, how are you doing? Thanks for agreeing to this interview.
My pleasure Alex, safe for the shout out.
How would you describe your music? Your debut EP, The Leap (2019), and your creative output has been consistently collaborative and DIY. What was it like working with producer ItsUrBoyReg?
Well, I would have to come through with two answers for that question.
I will start by chatting about collaboration. I had to learn how to do that—it can be hard to work with other people, especially if you have a strong vision. ‘Create, collaborate, co-operate’ was my motto for 2018, and I draw my philosophy from that, still. Working with ItsUrBoyReg was a great experience and I think it really pushed the both of us. We are bois from the skate park and he was one of the first people to believe in me enough to send me original beats. Receiving a beat package is better than Christmas, man—it’s like Inspo Christmas! Anyways, we stayed in contact while I formulated the lyrics (we met in Bristol and I had moved back to London at this point), and then I came up to Bristol and we recorded the whole EP in Reg’s bedroom studio: no shoes, three day bangout. Layers, ad libs and ere’thang. Intensive studio sessions at least six hours a day. Shout out to his girl, she’s a top babe and she was so calm about it. After recording everything, I left it in Reg’s capable hands and he mixed and mastered the whole thing himself, major props. We did have a few disagreements about autotune, he is a massive fan, Quasimoto Gang from day but I wasn’t really into using autotune on my own vocals at the time. We had one really tough phone call where I had to put my foot down and be like ‘this ain’t good enough’—and respect to Reg, he thought about it for a bit, did some research and came back stronger. In the end we kinda compromised where I let him go as ham and experimental as he wanted with the vocals on two of the tracks, and I selected two that are less autotune. I have nothing but respect for the guy, he is a decent skater as well. It was a great project: stimulating, challenging in the best ways, but also a really comfortable recording sesh. There are things that he said to me then that I still draw from today and I love the way he works: very get-it-done, my kinda flow.
DIY is in my blood. I believe in building what you want out of what’s actually around you. As an artist I have a need to create, and you can’t always be waiting on other creatives, we can be long. I love working with other people, but it is nice to have full creative control when creating art sometimes. I know what I like and it’s fun to explore and express my own style. DIY gives me that freedom, though of course there are also challenges. In lockdown, I ended up with just an old iPhone and an out-of-tune guitar with a string missing. I was recording tracks on my phone, recording video with the webcam on my laptop and then processing all of it in Premiere Pro. EQing vocals in Premiere is no joke, especially when you can’t always record them separately from the track. So the lofi vibes, I love them, but I didn’t exactly have a choice. It’s quite amusing when I see people put loads of effort and money into trying to create that sound. Real 1s know. Truly, if a track bangs and you can feel it, people won’t be put off by a low quality recording or the vocals mixed super low in the mix. PJ Harvey’s ‘Man Size’ is a prime example of this. So I guess whilst I am waiting for other projects to come through, I just do my own thing, buss out some art, and edit a little visual to go with it. I can’t wait to get more creative control to be honest since I know what I like. Finances can have an effect. Honestly money is only one form of wealth and when you lack in that area you find other ways to create, especially if you have a determined attitude, which I do, and are willing to follow your passion, which I am. I really celebrate the DIY music scene, I love outsider art and punks and geeky producers and all the other people who buss out the DIY end. It is a lot of freedom and some of the results are delicious, so much heart goes in. My studio set-up has upgraded recently, I am now recording with a USB mic on a shoebox in a wardrobe and it is exciting times for my signal chain. Just been working it out as I go. I think it’s good practice to release stuff even if you don’t think it’s Christmas number one material. Perfection exists in the imperfection, innit.
Can you tell us a little bit about the path you took into MCing? When did you start going to raves? My understanding is that you’ve been somewhere between South London and Bristol.
I’ve been brucking to Jungle music since I was 6 years old, and from the age of 13 I would stay up all night dancing to the music channel in my pants. I believe this is why I dance like no one is watching to this day. Moving my body to music is literally one of my favourite things in the world. That’s the first conversation you have with music and I loved her so much that I wanted to chat to her more, and more deeply, so that’s when I started MCing when I was 17. One of my friends had a free yard for time over summer, so we were just chilling, blazing and listening to her dad’s vinyls, just living you know. Shout out Jim for the excellent vinyl selection! I wrote some bars and my friends thought they were jokes. They were really supportive and a passion was realised. I started out as a jungle MC. In fact, my name is Rumble as it has most of the letters of my gov name and rhymes with jungle. Classic MC, I would spit to anyone who would listen. It was just something that I never realised I could take seriously as a profession. There are some stigmas and weird ish around being an MC, and being taken seriously for your art regardless of whether you’re male or female. I guess not everyone understands. Variety is the spice of life but it is a very serious discipline and I do wish MCing and MCs would get the recognition and respect we deserve.
I started going to raves as soon as I could. I remember going to an underage UK funky rave when I was 16 to dance to bangers and grind with boys… heehee! Man, UK funky bangs! I still have UK funky showers sometimes, such a vibe. The first legal rave I went to was an Outlook festival launch party at Cable club (R.I.P.). It was magic. There is no other way to describe it. My Gs and I used to hit a lot of dubstep nights and we were all pretty geeky about it, so we would proper watch the DJs mixing and vibing the MCs so hard and just brucking out. These guys were my heroes. A lot of them still are. You can really lose yourself and find yourself in the rave. Gonna be raving ’til I die.
So I didn’t really live with my parents from the age of 16. My dad is from Bristol and has some family there. I used to watch dudes from the estate filming grime videos on crappy old phones out my window when I was 15. Banging out Giggs back in the day. Never thought it was gunna survive as a genre so I gotta say that I am proud of grime. My boyfriend at the time was in Bristol for uni and I basically moved in with him and his boys, they used to put on this grime night and let me jump on the stage, very thrilling. There is so much creative talent and banging nightlife in Bristol is a bit ridiculous. It really gave me the space to call myself an artist, which I was too shy to do before living there. I jammed and worked with some really talented creatives in that city for sure. Big up Chalky, amongst so many others. Very inspiring place. It is nice to be back in London as I grew up here, I love my city, we jam hardcore. I still have great links with Bristol and before lockdown I would go up as much as possible. I am awful at messaging so I don’t even know if my Bristol peeps always know how much I love and appreciate them. Met some proper real Gs and beautiful souls during my time there. Can’t wait to go back and say Hi 2bh, that city is one of my spiritual homes. That SW London to SW England vibe, ayyyyyyy.
Ironically, I first saw the video for “Ya Feeling Me” featured on the meme page @btecgrime and thought it was a vibe, although it seemed like you were getting a lot of heat in the comments. To what extent do you think the backlash has to do with the fact that you don’t match the stereotypical image of an MC? Without wanting to state the obvious: the UK, and hip-hop in general, does not get to see many female rappers. I can’t help but feel that misogyny played some part.
Honestly I thought that whole thing was hilarious. The tune and the video are BTEC grime 2bh, we rustled it all up in the backyard. That video isn’t my usual style but you have to role with the program and I happened to unexpectedly be at my boyfriend at the time’s house the morning of the shoot. Literally grabbed 2 outfits for £8 en route to the shoot. Did the whole thing with no make up and filmed everything on my friends phone. If that ain’t BTEC grime I don’t know what is. I guess I found the heat I got from that unexpected and I had some friends who didn’t know whether or not to support as it is a piss-take page. Some of my Gs even tried to back me which I fully appreciated. I’m pretty sure the @btecgrime guy was just trying to include more females or something and I’m sure @btecgrime is also aware of the power of exposure they have. I know who I am, I can handle some bants. I just feel like a lot of people in the comment section are projecting their own experience, and that isn’t my experience so I don’t feel the need to feel any kind of way about it really. I just feel like if people are trying to get at you they will find any way they can you know, personally I just judge people on what they are saying in front of me on the day. I have never ever ever had time to fit into boxes, I aim to invest in following my passions rather limiting myself and my beliefs for the convention of ‘normality’. I’m not hurting anyone, I’m good.
Of course there is a lot of misogyny in rap. I love saying bitch as much as the next rapper, I think you have to know what you mean when you lay the word, and, as Jeru the Damaja said, ‘I’m not talking about the queens, but the bitches,’ you gotta know the difference. I see myself as a rapper who is female rather than a female rapper. I am lucky enough to have jammed with a lot of dudes who just gave me the space to be myself. Unfortunately I do think that people find it easier to project negative emotions and narratives onto females. All I can really do is make sure I’m not doing more of the same and live my life as if that isn’t true, because I don’t want to be the person responsible for letting that hold me back. When people say that there aren’t a lot of female rappers atm I just think you’re not looking hard enough. It is a thriving scene and more and more girls have been doing it for long enough that we are starting to reach big boi levels. Exposure is defs a different thing, as a rapper who is female I always check for other chick MCs, gotta support the scene you know, and I love to be inspired. I just think it creates more perspectives and narratives in music and it just pushes music and lyricism to new levels. Personally I love chicks who spit hard, and who spit hard bars. There’s something about it that gets me gassed. I guess thats what I wanna bring. I am looking forward to having more creative control in the future for sure. The most frustrating thing about being a girl rapper is the lack of trust. I have been doing this for long enough and watching all the Gs about me do it, and walk down the road spitting my bars from location to location, and sometimes people take one look at me and assume I don’t know what I’m doing. That is the thing that frustrates me. I have grafted for this.
You have a very mixed heritage. Your mother’s family is Palestinian and your father is a mix of French, English and Yakutian. What was it like growing up in Stockwell and Brixton, and since then facing people’s assumptions that you are white and middle class?
Being a minority anywhere sucks man. Growing up as a minority in a country where you look like the majority?—very confusing. I had to deal with a lot of negative projections from both sides. In terms of empathy though, it has given me a much more compassionate viewpoint that allows me to relate to many people in the world, and that is a beautiful thing. My mother’s family are war refugees and so when they came to this country they tried to assimilate. My mum was born here and as she is a lot younger than her siblings, I was quite cut off from my culture for a lot of my life. I just don’t think there were alot of Middle Eastern people in Brixton in the early noughties. When we lived in Stockwell, me, my mum, dad and brother all lived in a 1 bedroom flat, there was definitely always an emphasis on trying to look like we weren’t poor, especially as my parents are artistically inclined and my mum refused to buy me trackies. I lived off hand-me-downs for most of my life, but I feel this has just given me the power to find my own style in anything. I just remember loads of Portugese guys blaring garage out their cars and dancing to RnB in the youth club on the estate. I have definitely been exposed to a lot, for better and worse, and I am thankful. I feel enriched today, though I do miss the Rastas who always used to live and hang out in Bricky. They would always drop some knowledge or insight, or at the very least bust jokes, and that was a really incredible thing to grow up around. Growing up around the strong spiritual and protest culture of the Caribbean peoples sat well with the outspoken Palestian girl in me, and I am very grateful for that to be a part of my personal cultural history. Dealing with people’s assumptions that I was middle class meant that a lot of people have taken and expected from me when I have had little to give. Where I come from people look after each other and there is community, so I have defs had to learn boundaries as that seems to be different from most of what I have experienced in British culture.
Being of mixed heritage and growing up where I grew up, I relate more to my non-European roots. Personally, I believe that being white-passing has caused me more problems than it has solutions. I stopped looking for my own face in the crowd a while ago now and that gave me so much peace. I was born on this planet like everyone else and I am a world child! I do connect to all my heritage though and obviously I have grown up in this country, I just find the British history that they teach us bait and boring. If I’m connecting with my English heritage I wanna be thinking about King Arthur and the native ecological people of this land such as the Picts and the Scots and Gaelic etc. European colonialism is still a big problem today, as you can see if you look at my country, or Pakistan, or many, many places in Africa, you can see where Western-imposed borders are messing with the way people live their lives. The borders are causing wars and tensions and allowing the West to have a lot of control in places that have nothing to do with them, where they do not know the ways. I believe we all have a lot to teach each other and we need to be communicating and teaching rather than inflicting and controlling. There is no one path to the truth and variety is the spice of life, baby.
Any people, music or labels you’d like to shout out?
This is always a tricky one coz we live in a very inspiring world. Big up to everyone who lives from their heart. That is so important, spesh in these days. Big up Srgt Pokes, Mala and Deep Medi. Yes yes Split prophets, killing it. Eric the red. Manz like El-B, gyal like Cooly G. Shout out the bad B Rhianna.Tommy Wright III, Salute. LORD NARF you’re dope. Jojo Abot you’re 2 cool! Cruel Santino, Central Cee, murking the game. Backroad Gee, ur lit. Pa salieu, jhhhzzzz. PJ Harvey forever. Big up Bikini Kill. Gorillaz frm day. Peaky Beats got some bangers. Missy Elliot, do I even need to say anything. Lil ugly mane 4evr. Aaliyah, always shining, never forgotten. We moving, watch this space x
Thanks so much for your time, Ruby.
Alex Honey is a writer and content producer based in Woolwich Arsenal, London. He is the host of Consciousness Raising on Threads and has DJed under various aliases. Her undergraduate dissertation focused on the emergence of early electronic music in postwar Japan, Europe, and the United States.