Sydney’s battle MC extraordinaire, The Tongue, is back with album number three that will (hopefully) not be his last. After opening for the likes of Public Enemy and Dizzee Rascal, releasing three mixtapes, two albums and one EP as well as being a crucial member of the ever-expanding and fiercely loyal Elefant Tracks family, it has been a while since The Tongue did a tour of his own.
He’s finalising support acts for his latest tour while dealing with the great enemy of all artists – the budget – when we begin chatting about the Elefant Tracks ethos. “They’re an independent label so there are not huge budgets but we’re as effected as anyone by the lack of album sales,” he says. “We’re in a strange position because the acts are getting more popular but record sales are going down. When one of my albums sells 5,000 copies it’s strange because you know five years ago it would’ve sold 20,000 copies. Urthboy has never explained to me exactly how he does it but somehow he keeps that ship rolling along.”
It’s been a few years since The Tongue released Alternative Energy and he’s brutally honest about his songwriting approach. “Big ups to all the rappers who write rhymes in their spare time but that’s never been me,” he says. “I only write when I’m writing a song and putting out music. I read articles where people are like, ‘I recorded 40 songs for this album and cut it down’; I’ve never been that guy either. Basically when it’s album time I switch into that mode and I get tunnel vision and I’m totally focused on seeing it through. It’s a real challenge but it’s so satisfying when you get the end product with a CD in your hand and the artwork’s just right, it feels so good for it to go from thoughts in your head to someone writing to you saying ‘I’m loving track three’.
“When I started out I was determined to do three albums, I was gonna keep pushing until I got to three and I’m a stubborn kinda person.”
Queensland producer Cam Bluff proved to be the catalyst The Tongue needed to get rolling on Surrender To Victory and once they started creating together things quickly picked up pace.
“It all took about three months which is fast for me,” he says. “The biggest difference was there’s one producer on this album and in the past, shit, I think on one album there was five or six. Basically the guy who produced it, Cam Bluff, had done one beat for me on my last record but when he sent me his new stuff I was just like, ‘Wow this guy has improved to a seriously high level’. He is really impressive and he sent me a batch of beats and they were good enough that I wanted him to do the whole record. Basically what I’m saying is that if it wasn’t for him, the album maybe wouldn’t have happened. His input and his energy made the whole process,” he says pausing for a moment before continuing. “I can’t make music without a producer, I’m just rapping, so in that respect I’m always reliant on a producer and I’ve finally found a guy where I know he has enough width of sound and different styles that he can pretty much do anything. I knew that if he kept sending me beats I could stay on the creative roll.”
His forthcoming live show is as stripped back as his candid conversation, bringing hip hop back to its roots. “Look it’s not that fancy, it’s me and DJ Skoob who I’ve been touring around with since 2007 and I’m completely unapologetic about our DJ/MC approach,” he says. “I saw Kendrick Lamar when he came out here recently and he blew me away and it was him and a DJ. I think it’s been really overplayed, the whole rapper with a band thing, and I don’t get it. Why do some rappers work with a producer to get a beat from someone like Timbaland and then get a band to replay it? It makes no sense to me. In that respect it’s just hip hop, that’s how it started, that’s it in the purist form so that’s how I’m gonna rep it … I’m not saying no one should experiment or no one should do hip hop with a band, of course they should or we wouldn’t have The Roots, but I guess what I’m saying is that the DJ/MC set up isn’t lacking. There was nothing lacking from the Kendrick Lamar show.
“If you have good songs that people are into then that will translate. Lamar was so inspirational for me because his music is just him. He’s amazing at turning his life into songs and when you get up there with a persona and you’re putting on an act with dancers it’s…I dunno, when it’s an act and not genuine it’s hard to convince people you’re real.”
If his plan was to do three albums, and this is the third, will Surrender To Victory mark the end of The Tongue? “If I was gonna do another album it would be with Cam, for sure,” he says. “Basically I’m gonna see how this tour goes, it’s been a while since I went on tour, and if I get to the end of this tour and feel like there are enough people out there that get what I’m doing, then I’ll get straight into doing the next album.”
BY KRISSI WEISS
The Tongue’s Surrender To Victory Tour will stop into The Espy on Saturday June 8. Surrender To Victory is out now through Elefant Tracks.