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Interview: Deadly Hunta

Interview: Deadly Hunta

Interview: Deadly Hunta

By on - Photos by Allan Carter, Basingstoke Live Photography Team - Comment

"You're never going to make it with longevity by copying someone else's style. When the originator dies down, your time's up as well"


Reading’s Trevor “Deadly Hunta” Samuels is one of the UK’s most respected mcs. After apprenticing on the African Roots and Sky Juice sound systems, an encounter with Bobby Digital on a trip to Jamaica encouraged the young Samuels to improve his craft, choosing the name Deadly Hunta in honour of his idol Bounty Killa. His ear-grabbing Bounty-inspired delivery has brought him hits in the hip hop, reggae, dancehall and jungle spheres over the last decade. Yet despite show after show across Europe and beyond, Deadly is only now ready to drop his debut album, 'Speak My Mind' produced by Reading’s own Catch 22 productions. Angus Taylor spent a sunny evening in Hunta’s back garden, talking about his music, his increasingly conscious direction with Reality Shock records and how his talents run in the family…

Deadly Hunta

Reggae is a big component of what you do. I presume you grew up with it in the house?

Yes, my dad is from Jamaica and grew up in Jones Town, which is connected to Trench Town where Bob Marley came from. He's about the same age as well so he tells me stories of the first sound systems, the first sound systems with microphones, about how the sound systems were listening to the American soul before the reggae came in. So I got a good history from my dad. Since being a child the rhythm of reggae music has always been going through me because he was always a man who was a record collector and had a good sound system. Many times late at night I'd be in my bed hearing the bass coming through the ceiling so I was brought up with reggae and it's in me naturally!

A lot of UK artists who grew up with reggae in the house talk about a period of rebellion against it. Was it like that for you?

I don't think it was a direct rebellion against it. It was just like you grew up with and that was mum and dad's kind of music! When I was about fifteen or sixteen it was about 1989 and the deejaying style was a new thing so we wanted to be into that side of it. We always respected Bob Marley and Burning Spear and all those guys our parents were playing but it wasn't the time for that then! When you're doing your own thing you kind of put your head into it and then, when you get a chance to take a breath and see what's going on, you start embracing that side again because the music you're listening to comes from that as well.

The funny thing is, of course, that people who grow up without reggae in the house, like a lot of fans in Europe, tend to go the other way. They start with Bob Marley and then gradually learn to appreciate that however far it may have travelled from that it's still part of the same thing.  

Very true. I find that myself when I go to the rest of Europe, the people I'm speaking to, these young guys in their early twenties - they should be talking to my dad with the history they know! (laughs) It's going over my head man!

When I go to Europe, these young guys in their early twenties - they should be talking to my dad with the history they know!

Who were the mcs you admired when growing up?

I was into the sounds systems like Coxsone and Saxon, Unity and Volcano. So for me Daddy Freddy was a very influential person, Tenor Fly was a very influential person at the time, Papa Levi, Tippa Irie. On a personal level from that era I liked Bubbler Ranx and Youthie General. Secretly I'd say they were the best for me of that era - I don't think they were respected as the best by the masses but what they were doing, in terms of the way they built their lyrics, and the melodies they used, could have been used years later and still appreciated. Melodically it was very advanced because they used songs that were already there like nursery rhymes in a way that - not through them - became a fashion for guys like Bounty Killa. But these guys were doing it from years ago in the same kind of way. The format of how the music was written was different in those days. You'd write a verse that would last all day and have a chorus that comes in very rarely whereas now it's strictly eight bars for the verse, eight bars for the chorus. But those were the influences I had in those days.

Your own trademark is taking bits of 80s and 90s pop songs.

Deadly HuntaYes! I targeted that. I look in depth into the music and during that era when Bounty Killa came out with the nursery rhymes and the Christmas carols I was trying to find the same kind of thing that everyone would know - but different. I thought, "I'm from England and 80s pop is such a respected music even in Jamaica". In Jamaica you'd have the big sound systems playing Madonna and Michael Jackson in the dancehall and the people respected that. I really targeted that and I knew there were a lot of pop songs around because I was brought up on them. My sisters were into Duran Duran and the Specials and we used to watch Top Of The Pops religiously every week so I knew all those songs from the 80s really well. I just dug for the ones that hadn't been used and used them for myself!

You started on sound systems didn't you? You were on African Roots then Sky Juice...

That's right. I started off with African Roots when a friend of mine called Rudie Rich started to spin the tunes for them and we used to chat lyrics together. I just got in there because of him - he was 16 and I was 15 at the time - and it was the typical sound boy experience of lifting boxes, being a general dogsbody, and getting the dregs of the mic! (laughs) I was listening to my sound-tapes and really wanting to get into it but in reality I wasn't ready at that stage. I mean, you're listening to all these cassettes with Daddy Freddy and Tenor Fly and you can hear the crowd in the background going "bo bo bo bo!" and you're expecting this yourself, but you go out there in those times chatting and it's not really the same reception! No one knows who you are and it's not your time yet. It just wasn't my time! (laughs) But I was really dying to get into that scene and then the drum'n'bass scene came in about '92 and a lot of the top ragga deejays started to move into it because there was money in it. And when they went over and the dubplate scene really came in heavy, the reggae artists that were left on the sound systems just weren't respected. So I think when the drum'n'bass came in was when the sound boy kind of died in England and it's taken the rest of Europe who love sound system business to bring it back and make England see that. They're looking at us thinking we're the greatest thing for sound systems and we don't even do it anymore! (laughs) We're just living off the name of what we used to do.

When drum'n'bass came in the sound boy died in England and it's taken the rest of Europe to bring it back

How important was going to Jamaica for you?

It was a big stepping stone for me. It was kind of fate because I didn't really mean to go there the first time. In 1993 I was twenty years old and got in trouble with the police in England so the real plan was to go to Jamaica and not come back! I was in Kingston for six months and my uncle was a lawyer for Bobby Digital and well in with the industry there. I wasn’t even half ready but I had lyrics and stuff. It was some old Cobra style I had with bare swearing and badman lyrics! One day my uncle took me into his studio on a social visit and Tanya Stephens was in the studio same day. She just looked like a real ghetto girl and he was saying she was going to be the next big thing. So I saw it manifest in front of my eyes and it was a great thing for me. I got to go in the studio and sing some lyrics and he said, "Bwoy, there's way too much swearing and you need to get your voice stronger" but he gave me couple of rhythm tracks and every day for six months I was in a room at my uncle's practising and writing lyrics. Those 6 months were another spark for the love for the music I already had inside me. It was fuel on the fire that meant it was impossible to turn back. I changed my name at that stage from Junior Sam to Deadly Hunta. In '93 Bounty Killa had just come out. I witnessed his coming to the limelight from Jamaica and that was a big influence on me. He's the biggest influence on my music and people can often hear it in my style without me having to tell them.

So how did you go from that to where it started really happening for you?

Working with Catch 22 has been a very good experience. They're very professional in what they do and we were trying to head for a more commercial market. I was working with a guy called DJ Skitz and I had a song that came out on his album Homegrown 2 in 2006. I started to do a lot of performances on the tour for that around England and started to build up a more hip hop kind of fanbase because his stuff is kind of British hip hop influenced by a bit of ragga. He calls himself the Sticksman and he's got a real reggae influence on his stuff so I kind of fitted there nicely. Then from that I started getting a lot of shows and Myspace and those kind of websites had started to pick up as well. I was also working in Reading with a group called Reality Shock who I'd been working with for years but things suddenly started going well for them.

Tell me how you met Kris Kemist at Reality Shock.

He had just rediscovered Mikey Murka who was seeing a girl in Reading but hadn't been doing any music and didn't realize there was demand for his music anywhere. So Kris started putting him on the internet and getting him booked for shows. Mikey was coming to me saying "This guy Kris really wants to meet you and he's doing reggae" but I really wanted to do this more commercial kind of stuff. The reggae was kind of boring for me at the time but after about six to eight months I managed to make it round his house and we got on really well so we just started working there. There wasn't really an aim to what we were doing at the time - we just came together to do some work - but at the same time he started promoting me on the internet and managed to get me a couple of shows.

Your shows are very popular in Europe. Tell me about that.

I did a show with Mikey Murka in December 2007 in Denmark where I met this guy called Selecta Cab from France who was djing for General Levy at the time. When I got back to England he got in touch and said, "I really like your show, I'd like to invite you to France". About three months later I got a call from him on a Tuesday saying Warrior Queen was meant to come and do a show but there was something wrong with her VISA and would I be able to come and do the show on the Friday? So I went down there and did the show and it went really well - really killed it down there! And from that moment, every month for about 18 months I'd be in France, sometimes twice a month doing two shows on a Friday and a Saturday in different areas. So this Selecta Cab was a really good link for me because he's well known in France, especially on the reggae scene, and he managed to get me out though France with a lot of video footage going up on the internet so people were able to see my shows. I think that's what generated the interest for me and how my thing's got big. I had the video out for Talk Out Loud as well on MTV Base. I had a drum'n'bass track that came out with Aphrodite in 2003 and didn't know how big that was in Europe! Everywhere I go in Europe they always request that song, and I've only had the rhythm track to actually do it since last Christmas but it always kills it at the shows. But that's how I've got to this point here.

People fight down grime music but it's not really the music they're fighting down, it's the message

You've also been involved in the UK Asian music scene as well...

Yes. The guy from Catch 22 Prashant [Mistry] is an Asian guy. He's very well connected in the Asian scene - he knows Bobby Friction and Nihal. They just come to Reading and visit him on a personal basis with no business attached so it was quite easy to get our stuff in those channels and I've done a few shows for the BBC Asian Network. So after working with them I did three other combinations with Asian guys who've come to me saying they've heard my stuff through the Asian Network and stuff, because Bobby Friction and Nihal had been playing my song for about five or six weeks in a row on their stations as well as different tracks I had. Me and Prash would do these single mixes where we put the Bhangra inside one of my dancehall tracks and give it to them as an exclusive and they'd play it. That's how I got into the Asian side of things.

It doesn't sound like you limit yourself when it comes to the rhythms you ride.

No I don't. Growing up in my area, most of my friends were into hip hop. When the drum'n'bass came in I wasn't into it but all my friends were so I was always surrounded by different types of music. You just find yourself spitting on anything - especially as a youngster! Drum'n'bass is just an offshoot of reggae and they love people chatting so you go chat on it and become familiar with these different steps in the music. You don't really notice yourself doing it but through your enthusiasm and willingness to jump on the music, I think that's what's made me who I am. An amalgamation of all these different genres and different influences. Half of my music, you hear other people in there but I still think I've got a side of me which is unique. As an artist it's about recognising that uniqueness in yourself and giving that to the people. Deadly HuntaWhen you come to that understanding that's when you're going to make the most progress. You're never going to make it with longevity by copying someone else's style. It's only going to last as long as that person - when the originator dies down, your time's up as well.

Do you think it's a waste of time putting music in categories in the 21st century?

(thinks) I don't think the mass of the people have got a wide enough spectrum to appreciate all music. They'll usually have one kind of music they'll steer towards. But I think there can still be a message that gets through. For me, that's what it's about more - I can jump on different music but the message I like to portray is - not preaching - but a positive message for children. I believe you can steer through all types of music but the message is important as well. People fight down grime music but it's not really the music they're fighting down, it's the message. If it were to have a positive message it would be more respected.

People can be quite dogmatic about "slackness" and "consciousness" in lyrics. These days you talk about a lot of spiritual things but in the days of say, Talk Out Loud, you had more worldly topics. Is there anything you draw the line at?

I do now that I have my daughters. Back in the day we'd write certain slackness lyrics but as you get older you realize it's not right anyway, half of the things we'd say. I can still have lyrics speaking about women but now it's speaking about the positive side rather than anything negative - this is where I'm taking my music. Music that is uplifting and has a positive message will always live and people will always be drawn to it because in the society we live in people will always need upliftment in their lives. You can be in your darkest state and put on a Bob Marley album and it will give you a vibe of upliftment because of how he' saying it to the people. You can say a message in different ways: you can highlight the negative side of it, highlight the positive side of it, or just be a bystander explaining it without judging it. As a writer it's very important to understand how your music is doing it. In dancehall they call it "six weeks music" because it's just a repetitive chorus and after six weeks it gets boring but while positive music can be repetitive too, you don't get bored because it uplifts you and gives you a vibe no matter how many years down the line.

Music that is uplifting will always live because people will always need upliftment in their lives

It sounds like you put a lot of stress on your voice. How do you keep it in condition?

A lot of sit ups. A lot of running. A lot of exercising. I used to find I couldn't do back to back shows because my voice would get hoarse quickly but the more regularly I've been doing shows the more I've set a standard for my voice. I've got to be running two or three times a week at least and doing my sit ups all the time. If I slack off I'll see it in how my voice will hold out at a show. I use a lot of ranges as well. For some songs I'm using the high part of my voice and others the low part. I've got to have monitors. If I can't hear every note I'm doing on stage I can over-compensate and that's when you're pushing your voice.

Your style also suggests you have a good singing voice. Have you ever done any singing?

I've got a couple of songs that I've done over the last few weeks that are the first where I've sung over the whole track. I've got a good few tracks that are like sing-jay kind of standard. It's something that I've developed with Catch 22 who've given me the confidence that I have a singing voice if I nurture and work with it. I practise a lot with songs where I know I can't reach that standard. Something totally out of my range like a Whitney Houston, sounding totally pathetic within myself but knowing that every time I do that I'm stretching my vocals that bit more. I'm not really looking to sing like they sing but when I bring it down to the sort of song that's my level within the reggae it gets closer and closer every time. I've been doing that for a couple of years and only now have I got the confidence to sing a full song. But I have that belief that you can teach yourself and develop yourself into anything you want to be. When I went to Jamaica for those first six months I left with a squeaky mouse voice and came back like "RRRRRRRRRRRRR!" (laughs) I just trained it. Every day I was on it and I did a lot of sit ups. If you want to become a successful artist fitness has to be a part of the regime. Your fitness has to be as important as writing your lyrics.

If you want to become a successful artist fitness has to be a part of the regime

You've toured and shared rhythms with some big artists. Who would you like to work with in the future?

Bounty Killa would be a great one for me. I don't think he's the man of the moment any more but it would be a longstanding ambition. He's someone I've idolised so a track with him would be great.

(Deadly's daughter shouts "Chipmunk or Justin Beiber!")

(laughs) Alright, maybe Chipmunk!

Are your children musical?

My daughter here, Rene, is very musical. She's ten years old and we've just completed a track called Superstar. I've just finished getting it mixed and we're going to get a video done as well. My other daughter's got talent and she's got a guitar but this one's a bit crazy about it. If she wanted to she could get a good career in music. I've never pressured them but I’ve always coached them from young to see the natural talent they've got for creating melodies over music in time and in key - I'm secretly testing them! I'd put on a rhythm that requires a low or high key and get them to spit anything!

Photos copyright Allan Carter from Basingstoke Live Photography Team, 2010
Reproduction without permission of United Reggae and Allan Carter is prohibited.

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