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Friday, 08 April 2011 08:35

Wired in #7: The Ruby Kid

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It's hip hop, but there are no lyrics about "money and bitches".  Daniel Randall, the man behind The Ruby Kid, is a rapper from the UK. Politically driven and dedicated to 'making trouble in the name of international socialism' he writes intelligent, poetic lyrics. The Ruby Kid funds his music through working as a fencing coach and if you're thinking to yourself that rapping, political lyrics, and fencing seem like an odd combination, check out one of E&M's most interesting music interviews yet! 

E&M: When did you decide to start rapping?

RK: I've been interested in verse and rhyme for as long as I could read and write. The first time I wrote something that could meaningfully be described as a 'rap' I was probably fourteen or fifteen years old. I was just getting into hip hop in a serious way and rapping was a good way to combine my developing love for that form of music with the long-standing interest in poetry and verse as a form of expression.

E&M: You say you like making trouble in the name of international socialism. How'd you come around to those political beliefs, and what kind of things do you do to make trouble in their name?

RK: Becoming a socialist was a process for me rather than the result of some single epiphany. I've always been fairly independent-minded, critical and inquiring so when I became more aware of the world around me and what was going on I was already inclined to question the way things were organised. I'm sure that at first my interest in radical left-wing ideas was partially inspired by the kind of attention-seeking contrarianism that's typical in a lot of teenagers, but I stuck at it, did some serious reading and reached some proper conclusions.

 A lot of my ideas were formed “in struggle”, though, not by sitting around reading Marx and Trotsky. The big anti-war movement was just kicking off [against Iraq in 2003] and I was involved in other stuff like asylum seeker solidarity campaigns and building support for the 2002/2003 firefighters' strike. I joined a socialist group called Workers' Liberty of which I'm still a member today; I work part-time to help produce our paper, 'Solidarity' and my day-to-day activity as a socialist involves things like supporting picket lines whenever there’s a strike on, organising and supporting anti-capitalist direct actions, distributing literature and selling our newspaper, as well as helping with various organisational and administrative bits-and-pieces for Workers' Liberty. 

E&M: Is there a specific project or cause you find particularly worth fighting for today?  

RK: Fighting back against the economic and ideological assault the government is currently waging against the working-class is pretty much the main focus. While we'd all obviously prefer that the cuts weren't happening, those of us on the labour-movement, socialist left are hopeful that they might inspire a working-class fightback and a revival of trade-union organisation and working-class politics. Obviously demonstrations can only really send a message but I think the size of the demo on March 26th does give an indication of the depth of feeling around this issue and the potential to mobilise people on a more militant basis. 

E&M: Next to making music you have a job as a fencing coach, does that go well with a rapper's image?  

RK: It's a weird combination, for sure, but there's a tradition in hip hop of rappers having incongruous pastimes or even jobs that you might not expect. UK legend Jehst is a postman and the Wu-Tang Clan are noted chess enthusiasts, so fencing doesn't seem so outlandish. It's a sport I've been involved in for a long time and when I needed a part-time job with relatively flexible hours, it made sense to get a coaching qualification.

Fencing does have a certain stigma of being incredibly middle-class and very white, which unfortunately is not entirely undeserved, but there are actually a lot of school sports programmes that take the sport into state schools. A lot of the kids I work with then are working-class kids from all sorts of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It's having a positive effect in terms of making the sport more accessible and diverse and moving it away from that white, public-school image.

Best of all for me, it allows me to make enough money to get by and still have lots of time spare to dedicate to music and activism. I'm not too concerned about the impact it has on my "image"; people who are more concerned with "image" than how my actual music sounds and what I'm saying in my lyrics are unlikely to become fans of mine anyway...

'People who're on a one-rapper messiah mission to "save" hip hop are invariably tiresome and self-righteous individuals...'

E&M: You don't speak too highly of most mainstream rappers, what bothers you about them? 

RK: I don't have anything "against them", per se, I just don't like the music they make. I actually find myself increasingly less worked up about the artistic bankruptcy of most mainstream hip hop; there's so much incredible stuff being done by indie and underground hip hop artists that I prefer to just focus on that rather than getting agitated about how bad the latest Souljah Boy record is.

People who're on a one-rapper messiah mission to "save" hip hop are invariably tiresome and self-righteous individuals who could do with broadening their artistic horizons a bit, as their idea of what "good hip-hop" is tends to be dogmatic and narrow-minded. I should've taken on board the message of Aesop Rock's track 'Save Yourself' a long time ago. Having said all that, I'm still proud of 'Art Versus Industry' (my principle "anti-mainstream" song) as an artefact which documents how I felt at the time and I still enjoy playing it at shows. Even there, though, I say "plenty of commercial rap's alright, and I've got love", so even then I was trying to avoid coming across as an indie-rap snob or an underground elitist. 

E&M: Do you think good lyrics are necessarily political?  

RK: No, absolutely not, and nor do I think political lyrics are necessarily good. It's not really possible to pin down what constitutes "good lyrics" for me – it could be something that's particularly evocative of a particular emotion or place, something that's very creative with language or something that expresses an idea in an original way. Inspectah Deck's verse at the beginning of 'Triumph' by Wu-Tang Clan are some of the best lyrics ever recorded in my view but they're certainly not "political" and in terms of the content they aren't really saying very much at all, but he's used language and rhyme in an extraordinarily intricate and creative way. A song like "Solidarity Forever" or "Which Side Are You On?" will always have a certain emotional appeal for people with my politics but it'd be Stalinist-type artistic dogmatism of the worst kind for me to say that a song has to have lyrics along those lines for it to be considered worthwhile. 

E&M: Do you sometimes play with other musicians when you record or during your shows? 

RK: When I lived in Sheffield I recorded with a band called Black Jacobins. They’re a great bunch of musicians and vocalists who brought something very special to my music and particularly live performances. I've also done stuff with other musicians on a more ad hoc basis. Nowadays I perform with a DJ – Dan Angell. He produces a lot of my beats and DJs for me at live shows, although I'm also doing a lot of a cappella and spoken-word stuff too.

'European unity has been appropriated by... mainstream, pro-business establishment politics... and I think the working-class left need to wrest back control of it.'

E&M: You've lived in different cities in the UK. Could you ever see yourself moving to a different part of Europe?  

RK: Potentially, although I have a lot of commitments in the UK and it's difficult to imagine just upping and leaving. I do love a lot of other European cities though – Paris is fantastic, Barcelona is amazing and I liked Berlin a lot too so I'd certainly like to spend more time in those places, if not live there. If I was ever to leave the UK though it's more likely to be for America and specifically New York; I have dual-nationality (British and American) and my mom's family is from there. I've always felt a real affinity with New York as it's really the seedbed for a lot of the diverse elements that make up my identity. 

E&M: And finally, what does Europe mean to you?  

RK: I'm an internationalist; I'm in favour of the greatest possible unity between national groups and ultimately I'm against the existence of nations and borders at all. Any platform that can be used to erode national boundaries is positive in my view, so because of that I'm naturally predisposed towards the idea of European unity.

But, I do have a lot of problems with the way the European Union is currently constituted and the way it's used as a tool to proliferate neo-liberal economic policies across the continent, but it's certainly better than having competing "national" capitalisms. The idea of European unity has been appropriated by a section of mainstream, pro-business establishment politics in Europe and I think the working-class left needs to wrest back control of it. The idea of a "Workers' United States of Europe" was raised by Leon Trotsky in 1923 and I think it's one that needs reviving!

E&M: Thanks for a great interview, some interesting thoughts there.

For more on The Ruby Kid check out http://therubykid.com/!

Last modified on Sunday, 01 May 2011 18:52

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