Charles Edison is a sharp-tongued rapper-producer and beat-maker hailing from South London with a ferocity similar to that of a College Dropout-era Kanye West and a healthy vernacular comparable to either The Streets (Mike Skinner) or Dizzee Rascal. Edison has been actively producing and making beats since about 2013 or before and one of his earliest note-worthy productions was "Messiah Complex" for Delusionists—a self-proclaimed "Hip-Hop group who probably won't shoot you"—as well as his accompanying "Poison" Remix on the B-side. Charles Edison has released and self-produced two EP's, an instrumental beat album, and a handful of singles since 2014. He's currently gearing up to release his latest EP, Reception, this upcoming November 3rd, which features Delusionists' Ben Black on EP single "GALLERY." I first heard about Charles Edison when fellow Londoner and writer Hairy Fraud (@GingerSlim) premiered "GALLERY" on his site, I soon reached out to @Charles_Edison on Twitter, and here we are now; I'm proud to present to you a no-holds-barred, introspective interview with Edison himself candidly discussing everything from his substance abuse, rehab stint, and recovery to his upcoming Reception EP, which "coincidentally," is now available for pre-order ahead of its 03/11/17 release. Then, if you dig what you hear and read, feel free to pick up one of 50 limited edition Reception EP cassettes, while they last!
Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
Bringing You The Platters That Matter
I. Where does the title for your latest EP, Reception, stem from and what does this collection of songs personally mean to you?
The title actually comes from another release I’ve got planned for the near future. I only moved to London last year to a flat in a really interesting 1920's building with this great Art-Deco design everywhere and a really intriguing history. That’s the building that’s on the EP artwork, actually and it’s a listed [historic] building, so it’s pretty much as it was when it was built. When I moved in, my dad said it felt like a conduit for something really creative and that’s exactly how I feel about it. I’m up on the 7th floor, so I had this idea to put an instrumental album out and call it Beats from The 7th Floor. As I was putting beats aside for that, I found I was getting more ideas for fully-formed tracks and my last EP, Waking Up, was such a deep, heavy, and dark project that I just felt like making sh*t I wanted to listen to and that’s what formed the basic tone of Reception. The name was purely as a kind of precursor to Beats from The 7th Floor, but there’s also a double-meaning in there because there was a conscious decision to not be too concerned with what kind of "reception" it would get. I feel like coming back to making music again—even after only five or so years of being inactive—so much has changed with how to promote yourself and the "who's-who" of the scene is completely different now, so I feel like I'm kind of coming back in from the ground floor. Personally, it feels very much like a fresh start for me in a lot of ways, after airing everything out and putting a lot of things to rest with Waking Up EP, it was really liberating to just make beats, pick the ones I loved, and write whatever I felt like writing. That being said, it-s less concept-heavy than the stuff I usually make, so it was also a welcome challenge.
II. What might you readily site as a few of your greatest sources of inspiration and influence while recording your upcoming Reception EP?
As predictable and cliché as it might be... DJ Premier was an influence for this one. On at least two tracks for sure, anyway. Premo beats always have that perfect bounce and pocket combo to really just let the rapper plot their way through the track and the way he chops samples, can be genius. There’s one track, in particular, "BFT7F" that he was definitely in my mind for, when I made the beat. I didn’t even time stretch the samples, I just cut them and played the chops. Possibly my favourite "album of this year" was Kanye’s The Life of Pablo (TLOP.) I know it came out last year, but I’m saying "this year" because that’s when I finally got around to listening to it and I don’t think I listened to anything else for at least six weeks. I feel like it’s the perfect culmination of all his albums and that kind of ties in with what I was saying about combining samples and synths and making it all gel. I’ve also become a lot more open-minded with regards to where I get my samples from and there’s samples from all over the place on TLOP. There’s a track on Reception called "Good As It Gets," where I sampled from a track that was on a compilation of daytime TV library music that I stumbled across on Apple Music. I sampled it straight from my phone out of the headphone jack into the line-in on my laptop. So, just that "if it sounds good, do it" mentality that I think is inherent on The Life of Pablo.
III. What can you potentially tell me about "GALLERY"-featured Ben Black and his London-based band, Delusionists? What's your working relationship like with them?
"GALLERY" is the first track I wrote for the EP, when I was putting those initial beats aside. I had no idea what I was going to say on it, at first, but I loved how the beat turned out and just really wanted to record on it. Originally, when I first heard the sample that comes in right at the start, that rising vocal, it was going to be a laid-back Dilla-esque thing until I threw those distorted 808’s on and it took a completely different turn. I was toying with a few ideas for what I might say on it and one night, I was watching a David Bowie interview on YouTube, when I caught that soundbite that’s on the intro, where he says "never play for the gallery. Never work for other people at what you do" and that just encapsulated the exact mind frame I want to try to maintain. I think a lot of artists work so hard to try to guess the next trend or they spend their whole career chasing whatever the current trend is that they forget why they started making music, in the first place and it’s got to be because you love it or what’s the point? I never want to be in that position, so I have to really focus on not getting side-tracked by whatever is getting attention because it’s all to easy to be tempted to do that. As far as how Ben got involved... how much time have you got? Because I’d wanted to do a track with Ben for a long while... about eight years ago, I used to run a blog called Strictly Independent and I got sent a link to an album called The Prolusion by a group called Delusionists and I loved it. They were a group of three guys: two emcees, Ben and DBF and Slim Pickens, who shared beat-making duties with Ben.
It was exactly the kind of music I wanted to make because it had this really Earthy and organic feel to it that I love so much about artists like MF DOOM, Common, Dilla, and [A Tribe Called Quest] and it sounded complete. A lot of the stuff I got sent during the time of doing that blog was either really lifeless or didn’t fit the sort of stuff I reviewed and was clearly sent to me as part of some blanket spam email, so this was really refreshing. Also, the line-up and who in the group did what wasn’t expressly explained, it was something you kind of worked out as you listened to them and I loved that because once you had, it felt like you were "in" on something. I think people try to emulate that organic sound sometimes, but it just seems obvious and cobbled together and ironically, it comes out sounding the complete opposite of organic, but this was fully realised and done really well. It was something I wanted to be a part of in some way, so I sent Ben [Black] some beats. One of them was this Disney sample I had chopped up in an MPC-500 I was using, at the time; I think the drum break was even from the Mickey Mouse song, so shout out to Walt [Disney] for that one! Anyway, Ben really liked it and ended up using it for a track called "Messiah Complex" that wound up being a really popular track of theirs and was played on BBC Radio 1 by a DJ called Rob Da Bank. Shortly afterwards, Ben asked if I’d be interested in putting a beat tape out on their label [Beats Laying About] and that was my first release, called Lightbulbs. It was around this time that a few problems in my personal life led me to put music on the back-burner. Similarly, DBF had moved abroad and Ben’s output had slowed to a stop. Meanwhile, my problems got worse, until I was in a cycle of substance abuse, which led very quickly to full-scale active addiction and as it progressed, my interest in music and subsequent output gradually became non-existent.
Eventually, things got to a point where I woke up in hospital having to be resuscitated, following a seizure and I made the decision to spend 12 weeks in residential rehab. When I left, I’d basically assessed my life, addressed, and dealt with everything I’d been holding on to and had this new surge of creative energy. So, I started making beats again and put together a kind of biographical concept EP that became Waking Up, which charted everything from the catalyst that started my downward spiral to what led to my overdose and my eventual decision to get clean. I reconnected with Ben and he was happy to put it out on the label and I went back to sending him beats for a potential new project of his and some snippets here and there of what became Reception. I could just hear him on "GALLERY," as soon as I made it and he loved the beat, too, so, he was happy to jump on it with me. Eventually, we had plans to do a full project together with the beats I’d been sending him and when the discussion of what name we would put it out under came up ("Ben Black Ft. Charles Edison?" "Delusionists Ft. Charles Edison?") Ben asked if I’d like to fill the empty space left by DBF and be part of Delusionists permanently with him and Slim and I was all too happy to oblige. Our working relationship is great to be honest, we’re all really easy to bounce ideas off and have different strengths that seem to compliment each other perfectly. We’re on the same page quite often, which makes things 10 times easier. On the odd occasion that we’re not, we’re all open to trying new things to get tracks to where they need to be and it’s worked out pretty well, so far.
IV. How did you generally go about hand-crafting, fine-tuning, producing, and ultimately, recording the beats/songs contained within Reception EP? From what I can tell, your beats always sound very intricate and multi-layered!
I use a lot of EQ these days. I feel like if you break beats down to the most basic level—it’s signals and waveforms, so if you can learn how to manipulate on that level, it opens up a lot more options for flexibility with where you want to take the sound and I’ve definitely used this kind of approach, when it comes to combining elements. I always envied producers who could do that seamlessly, to a point where you can’t tell what’s sampled and what’s played. Where even when you know it’s something artificial, it’s still got that grit and warmth to it. I always wanted to be able to do that well and EQ is how you achieve it. So, on "GALLERY," for instance, there’s this harpsichord on the choruses that is from a VST [plug-in] in FruityLoops called Sakura, but it’s got enough warmth and distortion on it that it sounds sampled. I was writing to the beats, as I was making them, which I think is why they came out sounding so layered because I could kind of build my own pockets and fine-tune, as I went. It’s the same way I like to work with other artists: I’ll send a beat, they’ll record and send back, and I’ll build the beat up around them, so it just made sense to do the same approach with myself.
V. How have your struggles with addiction and substance abuse positively affected your musical career and continued output? Congrats on being clean and sober 378 days and counting, Charles! I've never struggled with such matters myself, but I could imagine how difficult it must be and that's really something to be proud of, my friend!
"Massively" is the easy answer! Rehab isn’t a holiday [vacation], as some people think; you literally have nothing for three months. There’s no contact with anyone outside, except for a limited number of phone calls per week and a few hours visiting on Sundays, no mobile phones or Internet, and no TV. All you’re left with is yourself and the actions that led you there and if you don’t grasp the opportunity to better yourself, there’s a good chance you’re not ready. In which case, you won’t realise it, until you’re either back in rehab or it’s too late. This gives you perspective, which is something I lacked for a long while. I couldn’t see far enough past my own problems to realise that they were problems I’d created! In short, everything I learned in rehab has extended to how I live my life every day. I’m an honest person now and I respect myself a lot more, which feeds right into how I approach what I make because I’m a lot more thorough and critical. I used to rush to put stuff out, when deep down, I knew it wasn’t ready or good enough, but I was too lazy or impatient to really challenge myself and put the work in, which I’d end up regretting later. Using drugs dulled and eventually, killed every creative impulse I [had] and then, the longer I stayed clean, the more concentrated those impulses became again, until I’ve just been having the most creative period of my life that started with Waking Up EP and hasn’t stopped yet. It comes a lot more naturally now, which has been a huge boost to my confidence and allowed me to give myself the credit I never could. Ultimately, it’s led me to working with a group I watched from the outside, as a fan and can now say I’m part of, which would’ve been completely inconceivable to me a year ago.
VI. What else do you currently have planned to tentatively be released later this year or early next year? Anything else planned for your Reception EP roll-out?
At the moment, we’re working on a Delusionists project that will, hopefully, be ready for early next year. I don’t want to say too much about it, but we’re very happy with where it’s going and I’m really excited to put some new stuff out as a group. I’m also, back to putting beats aside for Beats from The 7th Floor, as it’s still something I’d like to put out, but I don’t have a date in mind. As for Reception, it’s the first release I’ve gone to the trouble of getting physical copies made for and I decided to get 50 cassette tapes pressed (is "pressed" the right term for tapes? "Wound?") Anyway, I’ve got 50 individually-numbered tapes ready to go and I’m interested to see what happens there. I mean, either people will buy them or they won’t, but I’m always interested to see how people are consuming music and how it changes and I think with vinyl's resurgence, there’s certainly an argument for a cassette comeback, too, which I think we’re beginning to see with JAY-Z's 4:44 getting a cassette release. Digital is great, but I think people are gradually reverting to the desire to "have" something, you know? Something physical you can hold in your hands and keep. That’s how I feel about physical releases, anyway and since my whole approach was to make stuff I wanted to hear, it made sense to carry on with that mentality for the roll-out.