British rappers Shay D and her partner Kingpin are both rappers with their own fan bases—and also a happy couple. At a time when the focus on Hip Hop culture couldn’t be bigger, with TV series, films, fashion, slanguage and more encompassing popular culture, we caught up with a couple who are solo identities, joined by the love of the culture that speaks for them.
Raised on a diet of Garage, Grime and Hip Hop, North London Hip Hop artist Shay D carries a fiery young woman’s persona. Influences of Persian poetry through to 90s rap can be heard in her content and delivery and she’s an authentically underground artist who tells it like it is. Her journey of gritty music and philanthropy can be heard in her music with social commentaries of growing up in the city and a passion for encouraging a positive mentality in her message to her listeners.
Shay D lives Hip Hop, basing its ethos in all her work from workshops for young people she mentors across the UK to co-running a successful Hip Hop and Poetry event Lyrically Challenged, promoting women In Hip Hop to the fullest. In 2012, Shay D won the people’s vote for Best Female Rapper at the UK Unsigned Hype Awards and was recently featured as Top 5 UK Female Rapper by certified blog, Hip Hop Connection. Shay D released her debut album A Figure Of Speech in March 2016 and is currently touring the album.
London born and raised Hip Hop artist Kingpin made his mark on the underground music scene with his thought provoking social content, explosive rhythmical delivery and high-energy stage presence. He was born in the inner city environment of London, among a backdrop of council estates, deprived communities, drug abuse and gang culture, an environment that has provided endless inspiration for his lyrical content. At a young age he discovered a passion for music and literature, which progressed into a talent for writing and performing.
Kingpin started his career performing on the London underground Hip Hop scene. He then founded a creative company through which he masterminded the independent releases of his own debut album The Initiative and an award winning collaborative project under the guise of Caxton Press, Shame the Devil. Both of the these projects were critically acclaimed following their publication, receiving praise from Hip Hop legends such as De La Soul and Chuck D (Public Enemy).
Kingpin has worked among Hip Hop’s elite which has presented him with the opportunity to perform in the USA and across numerous countries and cities in Europe where he has established a large and continually growing fan-base. Art of Survival is Kingpin’s latest album, loyal to the boom bap sound, catchy hooks, and immaculate lyrical finesse yet touching the ever-important mindfulness of social observations, which he cares so deeply about.
Did you meet each other through Hip Hop?
Yeah, as you would expect for any true Hip Hop couple, we met through Hip Hop. Before we were introduced we had a lot of mutual friends and we shared the same DJ (DJ Shorty) so it was inevitable that our paths would cross eventually. The moment that we actually linked up and were first introduced to each other was at Secret Garden Festival, where DJ Shorty who knew and worked with us both individually, seized the opportunity to get us in a photo together while we were chilling backstage, and then introduced us to each other.
We really began to form a relationship about a year later, on a summer’s afternoon, when we were coincidentally lounging in the same park. We were both checking each other out from a distance trying to establish where we recognised each other from and then soon realised that we knew each other through music. We reintroduced ourselves and then we discovered that we lived in the same area and after a bit of chit chat we arranged to link up to collaborate on a song. About a week later we linked up in the same park and we sat in the car listening to instrumental and talking about which beats we should collaborate on. This conversation lasted so long that we actually fully drained the battery out of the car and ended up waiting for breakdown service to come and get the car up and running. While waiting for breakdown service we decided to go somewhere to eat and ended up having quite a romantic dinner at a Greek restaurant.
How has being a couple in the Hip Hop scene had an effect on your music careers?
Initially we didn’t like the idea of being in a relationship with someone who is involved in the rap game as we were aware of the fact that it might be hard to escape the world of Hip Hop and we would always be in a working mindset. Relationships are a great way to escape the day to day grind and having a partner to share down time with is so important, but our fear was that if we were both involved in the same industry we wouldn’t be able to ‘switch off’ from the work we do and just relax.
However, the reality of being in a relationship with another artists is actually so much better than we anticipated. There’s a mutual understanding of both the highs and lows of having a career in music, we can motivate each other creatively. We give each other feedback on what we are doing and we enjoy networking and going to events, as it’s mutually beneficial. It could be difficult to be in a relationship where our partners might find it hard to understand why we dedicate so much time to Hip Hop, why we’re always out at events, why we’re always in the studio or writing bars, but we don’t have to explain ourselves to each other, we just understand and really put the wind in each others sails to help us along the journey. We encourage each other to work hard on our music because we understand the importance of nourishing our creative sides, and know how soul destroying it is to neglect our music careers.
It’s also really benefited us in a practical sense as we have merged our fan base and so our material is reaching further with more people are engaging with our work. A lot of our fans who knew our work as individuals have now discovered the work of our partner. We receive really positive messages from people who like how we operate in music as a couple and support each other and we definitely feel like it has made our network stronger. We have been able to join forces and put both of our releases out under our independent label, Underworld Konnect, and we have developed a street team that circulate our Hip Hop Promo Packs (a pack full of event flyers, postcards, stickers clothing brands and hip hop related literature) which we distribute all over London. We collaboratively organised both of our album launches as live events through the brand. It’s a real example of power in numbers and we both share the same goal, so merging our individual networks to work toward the same thing is key and has proved a successful strategy so far.
How do you separate your working life and your personal relationship?
Sometimes we find it really difficult to have a boundary between normality and working as independent artists. I think a lot of fellow musicians will know that being an artist doesn’t stop, the self-promotion, looking after your own bookings, managing your diary, answering emails, making sales as well as creating the music and producing music videos. It’s all very time consuming and can take over your entire life! KRS did say ‘Hip Hop is something you live’ and it really is, but when it becomes your sole method of making a living, it is hard. Sometimes we find all our discussions throughout the day have been about music, how we can progress or new business ideas and it gets too much so we have to remind each other to take a chill out moment and spend some quality time together.
How has being raised in London influenced your music?
We have our own relationship with the city and so it has influenced us in different ways.
Kingpin: I’m a Londoner, my Dad traveled here from Gambia, West Africa as an illegal immigrant in the late 70s and my mum was born and raised in London. They both separated early into my childhood and so my single mother raised me in a council estate. My music is always a reflection of my experiences and my environment so I think London lifestyle has an integral influence on the music I make. I discuss a lot of Socioeconomic issues in my songs, and this is all based on my experiences as a Londoner. One song that typifies how London influences my music is called “Capital Punishment” and its about the pitfalls involved with living in England’s capital, London, hence the title which is a play on the word. I have always lived in London and so this reflects in my cultural practices, Its in the slang and language I use and its in my physical demeanor. Also, London is such a multicultural environment and so we are exposed to so many different influences, which manifest themselves in ways that it’s hard to quantify or explain.
Shay D: I was born and raised in London with fully Iranian parents. My dad left when I was six years old so my grandparents and single mum raised me. I am very close to my Persian roots. I identify with my mother’s culture, speak the language, eat the food, and brought up on a diet of Rumi and Hafiz so poetry has always had a heavy influence in my life. Being an only child to my mother I was alone a lot to keep myself busy and really identified with Hip Hop and its dialogue. Growing up, I had to defend my mother in a country where racism is passively quite rife and English was her second language, and seeing the struggle of poorer families in communities really pushed my passion for justice and I hated seeing people suffer. My mother and I were victims of gentrification, being evicted from our property that led us going through the homelessness system (covered in my song “Not The Chicken Shop Man”). Gentrification is at a peak right now in the capital and causing a lot of communities coming together to fight the system. I developed a very opinionated view of social flaws as well as a love of the multi-cultural aspect of the capital, which embraces races and religions highly compared to the rural regions of the UK. I do love London and its art scene, the city doesn’t sleep and is constantly reinventing itself, which I appreciate. This contrast is clear through my music where I highlight my environment from youth violence, poverty, class issues but also a love of where we are from and how it has shaped us to who we are today. I also have uplifting angles on personal stories and tackle things on single parents, misogyny and female empowerment through my music.
What’s the key to being a successful Hip Hop artist in the UK?
We feel like there’s more to being a successful artist then putting out music. People want to know more about the personality of artist and social networks have offered an opportunity for artists to share more of their personality, whether its through video blogs on YouTube, or sharing moments via Snapchat, and twitter is a great tool to engage with fans and other artist as well as promoting videos and releases, and both of us frequently use Facebook as a way of engaging with fans as well as sharing our opinions on the industry, and we often get booking requests and messages of support through these mediums.
Also with streaming music now becoming so common among fans, it’s hard to rely entirely on sales so you have to be ingenious about how you generate income. Getting bookings is a great way of making extra dough, but we both do a lot of rap workshops with young people in schools and have found hip hop as a powerful tool to engage and educate young people and we have made money through and gained a lot of new fans through workshops. Both of us have put on Hip Hop events where we give artists a platform to perform and audiences an opportunity to come and party and discover music they have never heard before. Throughout experience as promoters we also developed a business where we have a street team that promote events so if promoters need support in getting the word on the street about their concert or party, we have the people in place to make it happen.
Also, music videos have been a great way of promoting our music to an international audience and we generate so many sales and new fans though the music videos that we upload to YouTube. Audiences seem to find visuals more engaging than just audio files so we put a lot of emphasis into getting as many videos from our albums as possible.
The imbalance of content on mainstream channels is vast, with gatekeepers constantly pushing drugs, alcoholism, sex, misogyny and violence on our screens and radios even during the school run time! Our aim is to bring the balance back, bring some mindfulness and chant some real talk into the ether to remind people to strive to be successful and become change makers and not victims of capitalism. It’s all about balance.
What is your future looking like?
We both have more work in the pipeline and are always thinking about the next creative project. Our latest projects have barely been out for a year so we haven’t neglected our fan base for too long, and over the forthcoming months we will be releasing more music videos from those projects. We have been fortunate enough to travel around Europe performing shows together and will no doubt be doing more of this in the future. At the time of writing this we are about to travel to perform some shows in Norway and we are also looking into promoting and staging our own events in London through our brand Underworld Konnect. Shay D and DJ Shorty have their weekly underground Hip Hop radio show on ITCH.FM which continues to grow, gaining new audiences week by week. We are producing more Hip Hop Ed projects for young people, through workshops and mentoring. Everything we do is Hip Hop!
Shay D released her figure of speech album in 2016 and headlined the Southbank Festival featured in BBC3 Fresh and a Channel 4 documentary on the event she co runs all within a year. The recognition for her work with words landed her a BBC 1xtra Radio Live Lounge this year with Hip Hop blogs naming her one to watch.
Shay D released her album Figure Of Speech in 2016 – Album
Kingpin released his Art Of Survival album last year.
Shay – Who What Why
Kingpin – Practice What I Preach