IN CONVERSATION: ALCATRZ

Italian rapper Alcatrz stands out a mile in today’s musical landscape.  His music brims with unique personality; his debut single ‘Sexy’ is a swaggering, synth-pop / Hip Hop crossover released via his own independent label Digital Pop Records.  Province writer Catarina Ramalho sat down with the man himself to find out what makes him tick.

When did you decide to make music?
I played the drums at a church in Sardinia, but I wasn’t really making music back then. I moved to London for college, and I’ve discovered a lot of new genres that I didn’t even know existed. I started to really dedicate myself to music when I was at University. Funny thing is, up until this day the only instrument that I play is drums. For some reason, I’m able to program pianos and stuff like that, but I’m not ready to play a song from the beginning to end. I’m from the new generation, the computer generation. Most of the time it’s done straight to my laptop. I usually start with a bassline and try to decide where to take it.

What kind of things were you listening during your formative years?
I grew up listening to a lot of stuff. Everybody says that the 90s were the golden era of Hip Hop because you had like Biggie and 2pac, but to be honest with you, this new era started to listen to Hip Hop when Kanye West came about, Missy Elliot, Lill Kim. I didn’t really listen to Hip Hop up until I was 18/19. There’s no Hip Hop in Italy.
It was mainly House, Electronic, or Rock. I went to a school in Rome, and that was the first time that I was introduced to Grime. A lot of the British kids studied there, and I still remember the first track they ever played me. It was Dizzee Rascal, I was like: ‘what the hell is this?’ I hated it. It wasn’t up until I moved out here, and I listened to Grime with “grown ears” that I was like: ‘this shit is pretty sick’.

Your sonic fingerprint is very rhythmic, especially your previous release ‘F your Feelings’.  Tell us about how it’s been developing… 
That was three years ago. It came out more or less at the same time as Azealia Banks ‘212’ came out.  As much as I don’t like her character, that record to me at the time, that was the sickest thing I have ever heard.  ‘F your feelings’ had so much buzz around it, and it got the attention of a record label, but I declined the deal.  I was studying Biomedical Science, and that was very demanding on its own.  On my last year of Uni, I ended up getting a distribution deal with Sony, which was perfect.  I always wanted to establish my own label, release my own music and in the future sign other artists as well.

Would you like to explain what you do in your label/creative collective at the moment?
Right now, I do everything at the label. I direct, I produce, I write. The whole point is to build something where we can connect with others. With the label, I still want to be involved in the creative and branding aspect of it, but at the same time, I’ll need someone to take over so I can concentrate only on the music.  We live in such a visual age that there is no point in doing things without any proper creative direction. I’m a very visual person, and the mere reason I’ve started to direct my own videos is that I paid someone else to do it and they completely missed out on my brief for the treatment. That cost me my student loan. So, I ended up meeting this Russian visual artist, and in the process of getting to know each other and bounce off ideas one another we came up with the idea for ‘F your Feelings’. She was the one that came up with the plans for the dildos in the video. I learnt a lot from her, and after that I was like, you know what? I can take it from here.

Do you want to explore the concept for the visuals with us?
Well, I always knew that I wanted to use a 35mm camera to shoot.  I’ve always liked the texture and the graininess of analogue cameras.  The aim was to give the visual a sort of nostalgic backdrop.  I planned to build a set in a studio, but I simply couldn’t afford that.  When I saw that house  I just knew it was the perfect location.  Everything about it oozed sexiness.  We convinced the landlord to let us shot in it and bam.

What’s next?
Sexy is the first single off the EP.  It’s the introduction.  I have another single release in the works. It’s called ‘Taking U back’, and the other artist Nin-ja the first artist that I have signed to my label, and that is an introduction to her too, as I’m working on her solo project as well.  The video for it is shot already, coming out really soon.

Words: Catarinha Ramalho

Photography: Daniela Monteiro

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