Combining social consciousness with creative wordplay, Birmingham resident Juice Aleem is perhaps one of the most culturally relevant emcees in the UK today. Having acquired a cult following through his work with New Flesh, Coldcut and Hexstatic, Aleem finally released his debut solo album Jerusalaam Come in late 2009. The album was highly lauded by several prolific publications and music websites, including The BBC, Okayplayer, The Guardian, The Independent and NME, with the latter two awarding it four stars out of five.
Jerusalaam Come spawned the magnificent ‘Rock My Hologram’ and its accompanying video, a five minute long science fiction epic.
What’s your earliest hip hop related memory?
Some of my earliest memories are of getting hold of tapes of NY radio shows from family who lived there and really listening to these things and noting how similar it was to old reggae stuff my parents played. In fact I didn’t even know the phrase 'Hip Hop' till much later.
Can you recall when you wrote your first rhyme?
I don’t know exactly but my first rhyme would have been in the back of a school book somewhere. probably something about how great Hip Hop is and how bad things like smoking are, this is before I heard NWA or 2Live Crew.
Who or what are your biggest inspirations?
Ha, biggest inspirations are things like family, older friends who helped guide me through cultural understandings and brought to clubs and blues parties at a young age. Rap, Reggae, Rock, God, science, comics, relationships and life in general are great inspirations. In particular Public Enemy, Bad Brains, Stan Lee, Bob Marley, Lee Perry, Ultramagnetic, Hijack, Demon Boyz, Silver Bullet and people such as this.
What would you say has been the defining moment of your career so far?
I don’t feel I’ve had a defining moment as of yet. I’ve had many great moments yet they are so far apart and different not one of them stands out above another. Met an amazing amount of interesting people, made some good music, traveled a bunch and made a little name for myself, yet I always feel there’s more to come.
‘Jerusalaam Come’ was met with huge critical acclaim. Did the overall response surprise you in any way?
The response was great though it was also strange as there’s less press around and even less people concerned with what’s been written unless it’s being co-signed by some giant personality. I’ve been spoiled by critical acclaim and abused by low sales, I need them to tally up at some point.
What’s your opinion of grime’s domination of the UK commercial hip hop scene? Do you find people expect you to conform to a certain sound/style because you’re a Brit?
I’m glad of Grime’s success and just wish that people realise its a part of something and not the whole. I dont like all of it but there are some amazing artists who should be pushed but not at the expense of artists who sound different. the problem is there is an agenda with some to create Black pop-puppets who sing and jump for anything while pushing this exaggerated street clown image. There's too many poppets about and yet it'd be great to see more collabs between someone like Kano with artists such as Moorish Delta. We need more than the 'one at a time' syndrome that permeates music and art right now.
On a related note, the track KunteKinte TarDiss, as well as being a clever play on words is a critique of the contemporary rap scene and so called ‘urban’ culture. The media certainly has a way of glamorising negative stereotypes. As an emcee, do you feel a responsibility to change general attitudes towards hip hop culture? & if so, then what do you think the hip hop community should do as a whole to help combat this issue?
It’s funny how that track is to date my most controversial and yet has the most amount of praise heaped on it for saying what not many others have the time or inclination for. I don’t feel its necessarily the cultures responsibility but I do feel somewhat responsible myself as a longtime musician, a father, a so-called minority and as someone who works in various communities and sees the fall out from the stagnant ‘playerpimphustler’ image. To work with youth who cant go to certain areas of their own cities because they would be killed is very chilling and the realisation that most of these artists will not be there to defend them even more so.
What was the concept behind the “Rock my Hologram” video?
Rock my Hologram is about many things including how the Universe is formed and works down to how we have put on certain masks in order to function in life. We want the guy working behind the counter to say 'have a nice day' when we know damn well he couldn’t give a fuck about us. The video plays on that but we took it back through certain themes that are running on the album with that 'mothership' vibe and presented a little question within an answer scenario. Am I going back or forward in time? What exactly is it I see out there in space? Did it turn me crazy or save me? These are some of the questions we ask the viewer. All the time we run the Afronaught image and the idea we go so far out only to see ourselves - the most real hologram you will ever know.
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline? What’s the next step for you?
Next up I have a bunch of collaborations to finish and am currently on the road with Mike Ladd and the Infesticons. There will also be some Shadowless material arriving soon, maybe as a mixtape, featuring artists such as Tomo, Justice Hotep and Elai Immortal. Also Im working on the next solo and there's talk of some old friends getting back together. I just ask people to keep an ear and an eye out for it all.