“It’s not a question of how many words you can use, it’s about how you choose to say it,” JAMIE BROAD tells me. The Scouse rapper is sat on my couch in his signature look (hooded jacket, T-shirt and jeans), while I’m stood in my kitchen/living room attempting to make a brew for the artist who created the strictest rhyming rulebook about how to make A Nice Cup Of Tea.
Over the past decade, this master’s degree-level student has become one of the biggest names on the Scouse rap scene, with his first EP The Caped Crusader followed by albums A Nice Cup Of Tea, the 40 Project (Vol 1 and 2) and Swear Words. More recently, he released a collaborative album Rivers: Mersey And Seine with French producer Slim Guesh in July of this year. “Me and Slim have known each other for years, and it was an opportunity for me to have an album produced completely by one producer, so he sent me a batch of beats and I started writing,” Broad tells me, speaking with conviction.
“With him being in Paris, we’d obviously be discussing topics like Brexit, and we kind of realised that even though were placed on either side of a divide, we have still got unity. We believe that you can be proud of what defines you, whether it be Mersey pride or French pride, but let’s not jump to criticise each other’s differences. Because when you think about the oceans and the water cycle, although we are in two different places, these two rivers all flow from the same sources. In that sense, there’s more that connects us than divides us.”
The Rivers album can be described as politicised, old school hip hop. At the time of making it, Broad was “feeling very politically minded” and “had a lot of anger”. This is evident in how each track explores its own dark and thoughtful themes; Hand On My Heart expresses mistrust in the government and the monarchy. The message that sticks goes “I won’t sing your national anthem, hand on my heart”. Broad describes it as “sticking my flag in the ground, and saying this is how I feel right now”. However, despite poignant and critical messages, he says: “You should always be open to change and new evidence. For me, there are no absolutes and I hate people being put into boxes.”
Despite not shying away from hard-hitting themes, Broad maintains the reputation of Liverpool’s nicest rapper. Tracks such as I Like You feel emotional, relatable and down-to-earth, perhaps taking influence from his favourite artists Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. Broad displays an archive of tracks on his YouTube page, and quite a few gems feature on the popular channel Lab TV. Knock A Door Dash received great attention from Scouse rap fans far and wide. With its energising instrumental taken straight from Naughty By Nature’s banger Feel Me Flow, it appeals to the reminiscence of old school days gone by. Broad has coined nostalgia as part of his style; when reflecting on this he recalls, “When I made Knock A Door Dash, people started saying I was comedy rapper. The rest of the album wasn’t like that. I was conscious that everything after had to be more conscious hip hop.”
Broad’s most recent project, Agent Alias, is a different strand of conscious hip hop; self-conscious hip hop. Only five months ago, out of nowhere, the Scouse rap scene received a shock to the system. It came in the form of a three-video project on Lab TV, kicking off mercilessly with the debut track and video Jamie Broad Diss by an (at the time unknown) unusual character in a Rorschach mask, named Agent Alias. Shortly after came the release of Agent Alias’ Face Off. The use of a lyric video helped draw attention to the always smooth and entertaining wordplay – “At my desk sitting writing rhymes when the rest didn’t/Now I got some live wires like electricians/My lyrics are so sick that they’re bedridden”.
The final video presented on Lab TV was Fall Back. This time, Alias was in a chrome, candy-orange-coloured Anonymous mask. He stands in multiple locations, including next to one of Liverpool’s signature modern towers on Princes Dock. The track uses funky vocal samples to complement its punchy beat, while his lyrical flow contains a few punches of their own: “I’ve got what rappers call swagger/I just call it confidence/Saying something nonchalant, like I’m bored of your compliments/Fact is I don’t need them/I’m sure of my competence even if I don’t reach to all your accomplishments/Raw with the consonants and vowels/I’m deeper with spittin’/Leave a rapper crying, lying in the foetal position.”
Broad has been known to write songs from other people’s point of view, for example the track One Night Stand from the new album. “It’s meant to be light-hearted with a twist at the end and I wanted to play around with the concept of having a hook that stayed the same all the way through,” Broad describes. “As the character in the story’s situation changes, the hook remains relevant.” Now, through Agent Alias, Broad has ventured into new territory and when I ask him ‘why?’ he describes feeling “ready to give up on the scene.” Feeling out of the game, Broad had asked himself “why fight to be relevant?” and saw the idea of sending up himself, essentially destroying his own identity. “Every artist struggles to rip themselves.”
With the alias, he “tried to be introspective and honest”, and by killing Jamie Broad off as a character he’s created someone new, or as he describes it “another part of me”. “There is a dissonance between the two Alias and Rivers albums because it feels like I’ve written for two different audiences.” In the case of songs from Rivers that are politically minded, he’s aware that “there are some people who don’t want to hear that”, but adds that, “it’s always about expanding and getting new listeners. Even if no one was listening I’d still be making it – but I’m happy people are listening, I wanted that too. I have a fanbase to a degree, there are people who get excited when I put something out.”
Broad fears that the consequence of people not supporting their local rappers will result in a decline in urban music, and ultimately the representation of our cultural heritage. He tells me how, in a city that maintains a love of indie rock bands, it “feels like hip hop and grime have no platform”. Artists like himself have had to build their own music industry. Despite this, he feels “proud of the few channels we have” and shouts out to historical faces in the scene such as Tony Lawson, Mac of Trades, Nikki Blaze and First In Command. Earlier this year he dropped a track and lyric video by @rapstatsmedia, dedicated to DJ 2Kind’s L100, a radio show on 99.8FM KCC Live that deals exclusively in Merseyside urban music. The track mentions as many Liverpool rappers as he can cram in, celebrating those who have graced this small scene in his time. The video is a highly informative lyrical journey through Liverpool and Merseyside’s hip hop history, as seen from Jamie Broad’s eyes. This well-crafted story accounts for his rise within the music industry, starting from the very moment he first heard a local artist.
Despite having been married to the Scouse rap game for over a decade, rap is still Jamie’s unveiled bride. Always more doors to be opened, more avenues to explore and more bars to be spat. Support your local rappers today!
Rivers: Mersey And Seine and Agent Alias are both out now.
Jamie Broad performs at the Bido Lito! Social on 29th November at Brick Street. Tickets here.