A conversation with Hip-Hop Artist Ultra_Eko

Hip-Hop Artist Ultra_Eko
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Hip-Hop independent Artist, Self-Taught song writer, Ultra_Eko is a creative of many trades born and raised in South London. He has begun releasing music only since Summer 2019, but in that time has demonstrated a varied, eclectic and wholly unique voice within the genre. As he said himself, Ultra_Eko “has lived and worked his life amongst the people of whom he writes”. The colorful and dramatic life he has lived, market trader, pro gambler, bootlegger, amongst others, is his source of inspiration. I caught up with Ultra_Eko last month in the light of the release of his latest track, “Wild one”.

Ultra_Eko, welcome to CreativInn, please tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to music?

How I came to producing these tracks is a wholly recent event, and I did not post my first track on Soundcloud until July last year. It was only in May when I purchased a Korg mini-synth for my young son, to try and encourage him creatively. He did not take to it, and instead I began playing around on it, composed a song over which I rapped, and then sent it to friends. The positivism of their reactions really encouraged me, as I knew I could do much better. I started putting stuff together using construction kits, but I realised that the composition of the music would be a long process for me.

My passion, was and is, writing. I had always hoped to become a writer, and I see hip hop as a medium, much like a novel, or a stage play, through which to express my writing. Once I discovered that I could buy beats and their stems, which could be altered and adjusted to my liking, this made the musical side much easier, and meant I could focus mostly on the writing, and the creation of the songs as a whole. I have a fantastic sound engineer, Adam Lewis, who does all the mixing and mastering, and he seems to have an intuitive understanding of what I am aiming for. He really helps with creating a professional sounding production. I never imagined at the start of 2019 that by the end of the year I would have posted over twenty tracks on Soundcloud. Everything really did come about by accident. But having given up on the writing of prose several years before when my son was born, I think I immediately saw an opportunity to get back into writing and a creative pursuit, and I jumped at the chance.

Writing prose was an extremely time consuming task, and in the modern world it is difficult to find people willing to sit down and read through a piece that you might have spent months and months working on. The beauty of writing and producing hip hop tracks, is that it is relatively easy to find an audience willing to listen to and enjoy a piece that you have created. Getting that positive feedback is hugely encouraging and a great motivational tool. I think all creators feed off of that positive feedback, because it means that they have been able to reach out and connect with someone through their work. It is very humbling to have someone listen and respond to you after hearing your work, and I appreciate every single person who does so.  

Hip-Hop Artist Ultra_Eko

What genre of music do you consider your work to be? Who are your major influences?

The genre would be hip hop, though there really is not one influence I could cite as having a major influence on my work. I believe what I do is quite original, and it is difficult for people to find a likeness to me with whom to compare. I enjoy hip hop, yet also love indie music, and the classic rock and pop groups. Within the hip-hop field, I have been influenced by Tupac, Biggie, Lyrics Born and the Solesides crew, Eminem, as well as new UK artists such as Dave, whom I greatly admire, Stormzy, Jam Baxter. In terms of indie I am currently listening to Arcade Fire, Elbow, Radiohead, Blur. I love Pink Floyd, the Beatles. There is so much music I have listened to and which has influenced me. Yet I might also cite writers as having a big influence on my writing and sensibilities; Kurt Vonnegut was a literary hero of mine, and I feel he greatly influences my work. Kafka, Milan Kundera, Woody Allen.

How do you define Hip-Hop and Rap music? How do you use them to inspire your fans?

Hip hop and rap to me is a sort of poetry set to a beat. I often think of the beat writers of the fifties, Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, who would read poetry to the sound of jazz music, as an early pre-cursor to hip hop. It has always been the sound of disruption, of revolution, the sound of the street, giving a voice to the often most voiceless. It is a medium through which even the poorest, most desolate, are able to find a form of expression in.

It is a medium without barriers to entry; the most illiterate can rap to a beat. It also carries the torch of the oral storytelling tradition, which is something ingrained in us as a species. It is a sound born on the streets, at ground level, and which tells the stories of those down there on the streets; the ordinary people trying to make it through every day.

Hip hop is a medium through which words are set to a beat, and in doing so, that beat increases the resonance of those words, it makes them more powerful, more deeply felt. Hip hop is a medium which frame the beauty of language, holds it up to the light, it makes that language dynamic and filled with an energy transmitted to the listener. Using language within hip hop allows me to reach out and move people, to transmit emotion and experience, to hopefully inspire them in some way, to make them feel the power of this beat and these words.

Tell us about your artistic process and the way you brainstorm ideas? What do you usually start with when composing?

 I will often begin with such a single image. This single image is the seed, the root, from which the story I am going to tell will grow. The track ‘Broken Glass’ for example is a darkly humorous rap about a couple who spend all their time fighting, but whom refuse to leave each other, instead conducting a relationship through conflict. The idea for this came about from an image from an old Michael Douglas film, ‘The war of the roses’, about a married couple who fight each other to the death. I remember a scene where one of them was swinging from a chandelier.

I do not know why this image came to me, perhaps I had been arguing with my partner, and I remember nothing of the film. Yet this single image had within it a power that resonated within him, and I knew it was the beginnings of a song. I then set to looking for a beat to reflect the mood of the piece. Once I have found that I set to writing it. I will always write to the music. Often the music itself will brings lines of prose, or images to mind. The sound will inspire the story. Often it might not even be an image that sets a lyrical piece in motion; it might be a strong feeling, a powerfully felt emotion. Perhaps I am feeling sad and melancholy. I will find a musical piece to match that feeling, often involving a piano! And the words will write themselves.

It seems to me that often my best pieces of writing are the easiest to write; much like an easy childbirth. The lines just seem to pop into my head; often whole paragraphs at a time, which can feel somewhat uncanny. It certainly seems as though the lyrics have already been written, outside of my conscious mind, just waiting for me to receive them. As the rapper Lyrics Born once said something along the lines of: “I didn’t write these lyrics, I just let the pen write itself.”

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?

 When I used to read these ‘How to be a novelist’ type books as a youngster, they always seemed to share the opinion that you should write as soon as you wake. I have certainly found since writing these lyrics and composing these tracks, that writing soon after waking is often a very fruitful time, especially if it is still dark, if everyone else is asleep. I find that I am still very connected to that subconscious dream state, and often images and ideas come forth that I would never have thought of when completely away and cogent. I will often write a whole piece and then completely forget about it until I later stumble across it, which illustrates just how much of an altered state of mind you are still in just after waking. I go into very deep sleeps, and more often than not I will not feature in my dreams, they are as if a movie I am watching. So if I am woken from them it takes a while for me to come back to myself, it is as if a portal is still open back to that subconscious world which speaks in a language of loaded images. This is perhaps one of those times where you can just leave the pen to write itself.

            What is also important about this state, is having a state of solitude. I must feel alone and cut off from the outside world to write my best material. I do a lot of driving, and often I will stop in a car park and write. Being in the cocoon of my van I feel safely cut off from the rest of the world, and it makes a good setting to start writing. Solitude is important, because I think that creative state, certainly for writing, relies on you feeling yourself, being in touch with that inner voice. It is that inner voice who writes the lyrics and gives you ideas, and you need that quiet and stillness to be able to connect with it and hear it.

The relationship between music and other forms of art – such as painting, video art, and cinema – has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself?

I think that music can be used to enhance most experiences, it is a language onto itself, and speaks in a direct and immediate way to something very deep within us. Combined with visual sensory images then it is a perfect complement, since one is visual and one auditory. Music is able to stir emotion in a very personal way, perhaps in a way that visual images cannot, and so it is vital in conveying an emotion wanted to be expressed and illustrated through the visual imagery. I came across an Israeli video artist, LevMusic, who has produced seven music videos to tracks of mine, all of which can be seen on Youtube. He works only with stock footage, and I have nothing but praise and admiration for this man, and what he is able to create for me. I am often blown away by his work, and believe he is a genius of sorts. The pieces that he creates for me are works of art in their own right, and he really is able to capture and reflect the essence of the sound, mood and emotions I am trying to express. He shows incredible attention to detail, every shot being carefully chosen to reflect that particular moment in the song. To be able to create such impressive work using only stock footage demonstrates his real talent, I believe, and I hope to build a whole library of videos made by him for my tracks. I would urge everyone to watch his work on my YouTube channel if you get a chance. 

What do you think the most appealing aspect of your new single “Wild one”?

The track ‘Wild One’ was inspired by a Ojibwe proverb, ‘All the while I go around in pity for myself, when all the time I am carried by a great wind’. This proverb was famously seen in a final season Sopranos episode. I really like the meaning behind this, because we often think of ourselves as agents of our choices, that we are directing our destinies. But so much of our thinking and decision making takes place outside of conscious awareness, and I imagine most of our decisions are made before they even reach our conscious awareness. And who knows who are what makes those decisions for us. The idea of the track is that its narrator is apologizing for the pain and hurt he has caused his partner, by pulling her along in his manic episodes of inspiration and creative pursuits. And yet, he does not feel that he has had much control over this behavior, rather he has always been carried by ‘a great wind’. He feels that his destiny lay outside of his own hands, and that perhaps he is part of something much bigger. So much of what happens to us is outside of our control, whether it is determined by outside forces, or unconscious forces outside of our awareness, we are each often swept along by events with little say, and so we should perhaps not always blame ourselves if things have not worked out as we wanted, because there is often little we were able to influence.

What are currently your main compositional challenges?

 I am currently working on a 8-10 track piece which revolves around a central character and idea, with a narrative arc running throughout the story. This is quite and complex and demanding task as it is akin to writing a novel, trying to keep all the different parts together and consistent and trying to maintain this central vision which runs through the whole story. It is also tricky because you are limited by what you can tell by the few minutes within the track; and at the same time you want the listener to find it enjoyable and interesting. I am thinking of having a prose piece to accompany the music, as well as perhaps some illustrations which could be done in a comic book fashion. It will be quite a conceptual piece.

You have published around 23 tracks. Is there a story line which links them together? Do you plan to select some and make an album?

 I wouldn’t say that there is a storyline, but certainly there are themes which reoccur throughout the library. There is definitely an anti-materialist stance that runs throughout a lot of what I do; the quest for identity. Questions about who we are, the masks we wear to make our way through the world. The material is often dark, and the protagonists often disconnected and disenfranchised; they feel cut off from the world, existing on its outskirts. These are characters who feel there is no place for them in mainstream society, they are pushed its fringes. As such, I will be collecting several of these first tracks, as well as a few new ones, into an album which I will release at the end of feb/early March. The album will be titled, ‘Outsider Artist’, and hopefully will serve as a good introduction to the style and music of Ultra_eko.

Thanks again for the opportunity to interview you for Creativinn! Are there any final thoughts or words of advice you have for our readers, in particular for the ones who would like to follow your way?

I don’t feel particularly qualified to offer advice to people, but if I were to say anything, it would be that you should aim to find your own unique voice. An audience has an instinctive feel for what is authentic or not, and if you are trying to imitate someone else then they will sense the falseness. Creative writing courses always preach, ‘write about what you know’. As such, be true to yourself, and find the voice that makes you the person you are, that which makes you unique and gives you your own brand of originality. This is the voice you should seek to write in, because it will be wholly yours, and it will be something no one else can imitate in quite the same way, as much as they might try.

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