As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Suede, PUMA have been taking a dive into the lineage of hip-hop on both sides of the Atlantic. New York hip-hop and sneaker culture legend DJ Bobbito Garcia (who designed two custom shoes) travelled over from New York to speak to legends like Rodney P and Shortee Blitz, but also to meet members of the new school like Loyle Carner. The South London rapper dropped his debut album, Yesterday’s Gone, last year to massive critical acclaim. Praised for his progressive style that still acknowledges the history, Carner was an obvious choice for an historian like Garcia to speak to.
We caught up with Carner after a day filming with Garcia and UK hip-hop gatekeeper Snips for an upcoming film about the PUMA Suede’s relationship with hip-hop and how their histories have intertwined. As he explains, the shoe was ideal for breakdancers. From the late 1970s onwards PUMA Suedes found a new audience among kids pushing forward the brand new Bronx-born sound. Throughout the 80s and 90s, as b-boy culture exploded, the PUMA Suede became a highly sought-after shoe for breakdancers. While b-boy culture and breakdancing is primarily associated with those decades gone by, as Loyle Carner explains, there’s still a large appetite out there for a shoe that will perform well for breakers.
Complex: Obviously last year was a massive one for you; Yesterday’s Gone came out to an incredible reception. What’s 2018 been like so far? Has it calmed down at all?
Loyle Carner: Yeah, a bit more relaxed to tell you the truth. I’ve still been busy working on touring at the start of the year, but now it’s quietened down a bit. I’ve been able to get my head down and work on some new tunes. I get to enjoy the fruits of my labour.
There’s always that period after someone drops an album, especially a debut, where people start to ask when the next one’s coming. How soon did that happen after the album dropped?
Yeah, completely, but I had to block it out and ducked out of social media for a while. I’m still not really there and it’s nice. I’m not getting hit with the “Yo, give it to me, give it to me.” I think it’s important, it’s a good sign. If you’re dropping stuff and people want to hear more then it’s not the worst thing in the world. I think I’ve rinsed this album for everything that it’s worth so it’s probably about time to start putting some new stuff out.
Is the stuff you’ve been working on in a similar vein to Yesterday’s Gone?
It’s the same conversation, just probably a little later in the evening. I’ve grown up a bit since the last one, obviously. The only thing that’s changed is the stuff I’m dealing with. It’s still winding me up but I’m a step further. Before it was rent, now it’s a mortgage.
So you stay away from social media?
Yeah, pretty much. I’m on it, but you know. People say some nice things, they say some not so nice things. A lot of people just talk about themselves and I just don’t care, so why would I go there?
I’m so envious of people who can just not use social media.
I’m on it in terms of just sharing new tunes and stuff, but I couldn’t tell you what anyone else has posted. In the last year and a half I don’t know what’s been going on on social media. And I love it.
The first album was quite personal in the stories you told and themes you explored. Was it cathartic getting all that out?
Yeah, absolutely. But, then again, it’s all time dependent. Time moves on and new things come in and then those are the new things that need to be written about. When I get done with them on a record or I get done with writing about them on tunes, it feels like it comes in waves. Loads of stuff will happen and I’ll be like “Right, I’ve got to write about all this.” So I write it all down and then I just chill. Then I don’t make any tunes because I’ve got nothing to talk about. Then a month later or six months later some more stuff will happen and I’ll get chance to write it down again. So yeah, I think it was cathartic but that’s just what music is to me. It’s why I make music. Quite selfish, I guess.
So what was it that first got you expressing yourself through music? Was there an older sibling or cousin showing you different music?
Yeah, just seeing it around. My cousin was a rapper. When I was at school everyone was listening to rap. It was something I was really interested in and wanted to be part of. I’d struggled to find my voice in anything else because everything else seemed to be dominated by people on TV who didn’t look like me or didn’t come from the place that I come from. Rap was one of the first things where I was like “Actually, these guys look like me and they’re telling my story. These guys grew up without a dad like me. They’re black, they’re mixed race or they’re white but they don’t have any cash.” So I found my voice through rap and it made me feel better so I kept doing it.
Where are your tastes at right now in the hip-hop world?
Obviously, I’m not online checking for it so I don’t know when stuff comes out. I keep my ears to the street. My missus is one of my ears to the street. Her, my little brother and my mum. Those three, my manager and my best friend Rebel Kleff as well. Those lot are listening to hip-hop and new stuff because they’re bang on to what’s new. If they hear something they like they’ll play it to me. I like to discover music like that, I don’t like to discover it by going online because I don’t feel like I’m getting what like-minded individuals are listening to. So I like to surround myself with people whose tastes I like the sound of. That’s what I like. I do listen to new stuff, though.
To go against that, the one new thing I heard as soon as it came out was the new J. Cole album. I liked it, I thought it was lyrically dense, complex and intelligent. And original.
He really gets a hard time, though.
Yeah, 100%. The thing is, he appeals to a younger generation, which is very important. That’s why he’s clever with this last album. It’s not aimed at young adults or adults. It’s aimed at kids because it’s about kids taking too many drugs when they’re young. So it’s not for me because I’m past that. That’s thing I think some people don’t realise. This album is not for us, it’s for my younger brother’s generation. It matches up with what they’re seeing and hearing, but it’s telling you something different.
Did you ever have that local record shop where you could get recommendations and that whole thing?
Nah, not really. It was mostly my friend and DJ, Rebel Kleff. He was who I went to when I started listening to hip-hop. He was the one to expose me to stuff deeper than what my own homework had done. But at first it was just me doing my homework. At first, I couldn’t afford a record player and I didn’t need a record player because I had Limewire. It was only when I went back when Rebel Kleff started DJing that I fell in love with record collecting. Now I go digging everywhere because I’m on tour a lot. But I was always into records because of my mum and dad.
What kind of music were they playing in the house?
They were playing funk, soul, jazz; a lot of folk music, Bob Dylan; some genreless music like David Bowie… just brilliant music.
And outside of music, what do you do to escape that?
I cook. A lot. I’m big into cooking, I love it. I’ve got a cookery school for kids with ADHD that I run in summer. So I do that. It’s called Chilli Con Carner. We’re actually looking for a fresh batch of pupils right now, so application’s are available online at chilliconcarner.com. I’ve cooked my whole life, though. It’s something I love to do. I’ve got ADHD myself and it’s the one thing that really calms me down. It’s something I’ve been heavily into since before I was rapping.
So how did you get involved with the PUMA Suede 50 project?
Snips got in touch with me saying they were looking for someone who fitted the description of someone who’s a new, young UK artist who’s open about growing up on the lineage of UK hip-hop and hip-hop in general. He mentioned that Bobbito would be there and I was like “I’m there. Right now.” I’m a big fan of Bobbito’s and I wanted to say thank you to him face to face. So that was why I came down, to say thanks for everything.
What are your memories and experiences of the PUMA Suede?
Well, I used to breakdance. I haven’t bought trainers for a long time because I get them for free now! [laughs] But when I was really, really young I remember having a pair of PUMA Suedes and they were my headspin shoes. Whenever I used to go to breakdance class with a rapper called Benny Mails we used to wear our PUMA Suedes and get busy. He was always a lot better than me, though, but this was a long time ago.
So were you into the whole spectrum of the elements of hip-hop? Were you writing, DJing and so on?
Yeah, I was into everything, but only things that were positive and stuff where I felt there was a good atmosphere around it. I still follow it all. I follow breakdancing a lot just because it’s something I wish I was better at. I wish I was flexible enough. And of course, I’ve always been heavily into graffiti and rap and beatboxing. These are all things that all fall under the hip-hop banner.
Is breakdancing something that still pops off today?
I don’t know. I just watch old videos. I know there’s guys still doing it, but it’s part of it and I love to see people dancing to the music I love.
So, besides today, how else have you been involved with the project?
It’s just the film today. Hopefully Bobbito will fly me out to New York to make an album with Mos Def and Talib Kweli and we’ll go from there.
That’s never going to happen, but sometimes you don’t want to meet your heroes. He’s one of the first heroes of mine that I’ve met. I never thought I’d get to meet him and he turned out to be a really cool guy.
Have you met any heroes and it hasn’t gone so well?
I’ve met some heroes before. Some have been nice, some have been superstars and divas, acting like I didn’t exist. That’s what it’s like sometimes, though.
That first one is a heartbreaker, though.
Always a heartbreaker. “Oh my god, you’re so-and-so.” and they’re like “Yeah, and you’re nobody.” But it was refreshing to meet someone who’s still so inspired and so excited by the stuff and so open to hear my stuff.
He mentioned he’s not even listening to that much hip-hop at the moment.
It’s probably because of the state of hip-hop right now. It’s just not very good at the moment. In the US in particular it’s all about a completely different thing. It’s been taken to a point where it’s all about cash. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some brilliant things coming out like the Childish Gambino “This Is America” video. I’m not living under a rock, I do see some things. And that was insane.
That reached to some really surprising places, far beyond just the hip-hop world.
That’s what good hip-hop does. People complain about hip-hop crossing over and stuff, but when I drop my stuff I get a lot of people saying “I don’t like hip-hop but you say some things that I agree with”. That’s what hip-hop is. It’s about reaching people who are on the outside of the hip-hop world looking in and making it understandable. I thought that was wicked. There’s a Joyner Lucas one called “I’m Not Racist”. That’s better, I think. I’m a bit late to the party, but it’s insane. There’s good hip-hop out there, it’s just the stuff that is given to us as the commercial music. There’s underground stuff like Oddisee who I’m fortunate enough to have seen live. I’m a big fan of his. Kev Brown, Kenn Starr. These guys are doing wicked stuff but it’s not given a platform. It’s underground so maybe it never will.
For me, what a lot of people call ‘mumble rap’ is just club music. And that’s cool, it has a place.
Yeah, that’s fine if you see it like that. I get that. Everyone can express themselves however they like, but what gets me down is if you put a bracket round all of it and call it hip-hop that means I could be playing a festival alongside the latest Lil’ Whatever like there’s no difference. But there’s a big difference. That’s club music. You couldn’t play my album in a club, but you can play that, so see it for what it is.
That’s the thing. Hip-hop’s strength and the key to its longevity is that there are always a few strands running at the same time. So when one dips in popularity, there’s always another. But in some cases, what pops up isn’t that great.
Completely. They’ve just taken something that years ago would’ve been coherent and they’ve just taken it far left. But whatever. There are people making good money off it who wouldn’t have made money otherwise. There’s positives.
So what have you got planned for the rest of the year?
I’ve got couple of festivals planned, but mostly I’m just recording new music. I’m excited to finally put some new stuff down. It’s still early stages because I only really just got back from touring. But it’s nice to be back in the creative process. What else am I doing? Enjoying life, enjoying the sun, going for picnics.
Is it definitely going to be an album or are you just seeing where the recording process takes you?
Who knows? There’ll definitely be some tunes from me before I die. If I do die someone else will drop them. My missus knows which tunes to drop in which order if I ever was to pass away, so don’t worry. We’re covered.
Anything you want to add or shout out?
There’s lots of UK hip-hop out there that people aren’t talking about. There’s myself, Loyle Carner, but there’s also Benny Mails, Manik MC, Kofi Stone, Rebel Kleff, Natty Wylah. There’s rappers, man.
The PUMA Suede 50 x Bobbito is now available at END Clothing and Footpatrol. Share your Suedes with the hashtag #ForAllTime.