“It’s the most straight-up, traditional hip-hop I’ve ever made” – Kid Acne on latest album ‘Null And Void’
Sheffield’s adopted son and artist, illustrator and hip-hop emcee Kid Acne is back to the chew the phat beats on his latest album, Null And Void.
Joined by an extended family of UK-based rap talent, backed by Illinois’ finest Spectacular Diagnostics on production and with lyrical content tackling everything from the Kardashians to subterranean bronze age megastructures, we caught up with the Yorkshire-based boom-bap purveyor on release day to explore the second in a trilogy of albums following 2019’s Have A Word.
So, album number five – Null And Void. How are you feeling?
Yeah, that difficult fifth album. I’m really happy with it and glad it’s out. Obviously, the latter stages of it were not easy to make during lockdown. That said, it also meant we had a bit more time on it, which I said to Dean [Honer, producer] was probably a good thing.
A bit more time to think things through?
Just a bit more time to make better choices about what songs made the album, what the order would be, etc. A couple of guest tracks made themselves evident a bit later on, so it was quite good to have more of an evaluation period, coming back to it later and switching a few things around.
You’ve linked up again with Spectacular Diagnostics on production and Sheffield’s Dean Honer, but this time you’ve also gone with a new label in Lewis Recordings?
Yeah, it’s been fantastic working with Rob [Spectacular Diagnostics] again. Then Dean provides additional production, mixing and mastering. The three of us together work well, I think, and it’s very much become a collaborative ‘thing’. Mike Lewis, who runs Lewis Recordings, is an old colleague of mine. We used to work at Hip-Hop Connection together, the UK’s first hip-hop magazine, where I was doing illustrations and he was one of the writers. Mike also does promotion and has helped with my last few projects, so working together more officially felt like the right thing to do.
There are some recognisable voices on Null And Void from former Kid Acne albums with the likes of Cappo returning. But there’s new talent too, like Taja, who smashes it on the second track ‘Flame Wars’.
Yeah, she’s amazing. I met Taja at Juga-Naut’s album launch at Rough Trade in Nottingham. Vandal Savage, who’s also on the album, is in Juga-Naut’s crew VVV with him and Cappo. So it’s like this extended family of East and West Midlands artists. Jaz Kahina, too, she’s friends with that lot. I’ve known Jehst since we were teenagers and we’ve been talking about collaborating for a long time, so we’ve finally got around to that. It’s the same thing for Junior Disprol, who’s from Cardiff. It’s about picking the right guests to help make the right balance, I suppose.
What’s the balance that you are looking for?
Two things really. First of all, they help me not to outstay my welcome on the record, because it’s quite lyrically dense so I want to keep the listener engaged. I also want to get that diversity of regional accents in there, so I try to pick guests who don’t sound like me. I want them to help break away from that, so the role of the other lyricists is to carry things forward and keep it moving.
Talk to us a bit about the concept with this record. There’s a lot of recurring themes in the lyrics re: internet dominance and the proliferation of social media culture.
The loose concept, which we played into on the album intro, is that the world gets destroyed by the invention of the worldwide web during the golden era of boom bap hip-hop. Then the rest of the album is on this kind of dystopian future/alternate timeline strand. There’s exploring connections with other networks too, like our default mode network and nature’s internet, mycelium networks and how we communicate with one another. A lot of it is me having a word with myself about my own online usage, getting that balance right in my life, because it’s easy to fall into bad habits.
I feel like that’s summed up nicely in the opening line to ‘Lo and Behold’: “Fuck the Kardashians, we’re chilling with Sumerians”.
That’s a reference to Action Bronson [rapper], who did a show on Viceworld with his mates watching the Ancient Aliens documentaries. So the next line is “… And watch Bam Bam and friends watch Ancient Aliens”. It links back into the pre-history stuff that I’m interested in, such as the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis explored by Graham Hancock in his book Magicians of the Gods, and other themes which we set up on the last album and will be explored further on the next album.
I’m not sure if it’s elements of the production or the lyrical content, possibly a bit of both, but it feels like one of the most unsettling records you’ve done. Not that there aren’t still the usual flashes of humour to weigh it out.
It wasn’t a conscious thing, but maybe as I get older, I’ve realised I was hiding behind the humour a bit too much. It can be a useful defence mechanism, can’t it? Even on my older albums there’s a lot of serious, real-life stuff in there, but maybe I was camouflaging it too much. Again, it’s about balance, and while I don’t ever think there’ll ever not be some humour in what I do, I don’t want it to be so silly that it falls in the camp of novelty hip-hop.
On a similar note, a Stewart Lee clip from his Content Provider show makes an appearance on ‘Unsubscribe’, where he bemoans the ‘reflecting hall of digital mirrors’ we live in.
Yeah, unofficial collab that one, but he’s just good at summing things up in intelligent soundbites. It was important the album didn’t get too preachy, as that can get irritating. But I suppose the final two tracks reflect the overall yin and yang of the album. ‘Unsubscribe’ is quite self-explanatory in terms of its angle, but then you’ve got a more positive side with ‘Innovate’, which is all about finding your own style and voice in three steps: imitate, emulate and innovate.
Who were you originally imitating as an artist?
I suppose the Beastie Boys mainly, and The Goats were another one for that initial stage. Then in terms of emulating it’d be British artists like New Fresh amongst many others. Eventually, bit by bit, you become more comfortable with your own style and that’s what you bring to the table. It’s the same sort of process with the artwork.
What came first for you – the music or the art?
They were both not far off each other really. It was probably art first but only by a year or so. I was in bands as a teenager, trying to do a Beastie Boys hip-hop style thing. We’re talking ’94 around the same era as ‘Loser’ [Beck], Rage Against The Machine, Nirvana – all that stuff. I had friends into the guitar stuff and friends into straight hip-hop, so there’d be times where we’d meet in the middle with a kind of rap/rock crossover. That was the starting point. I think the first record we ever made was my mate playing drums in his shed, sampling it on a Dictaphone and playing some synth over the top which we’d found at a car boot fair. Then there was a project called Toah Dynamic which wasn’t genre-specific, just 6/7 of us experimenting and collaborating on music together, and from that, the idea was to be like Wu Tang and splinter off into our own solo projects. That’s where my own music started becoming more fully formed as hip-hop. What I’m making today is the most straight-up, traditional hip-hop I’ve ever made, I think, which I’m really enjoying; but the more futuristic themes we’re exploring on this record can also help drag me out of the 90s and into the current millennium.
Where does this one leave you with regards to the next album? How do you intend to pick it up?
More of the same really, taking on similar themes with an extended family of guests. The idea was that they’d be a trilogy and work in their own right, but also as a broader playlist. We might try to get that out next year, but it’s still a way off yet and we’re just focusing on getting this one out there now.
NULL AND VOID is out now on Lewis Recordings. Available on limited edition vinyl, complete with customised sleeves, individually hand-printed, signed and numbered by the artist. kidacne.bandcamp.com