INTERVIEW: Dylan Cartlidge | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Many readers will no doubt be familiar with Dylan Cartlidge’s smooth and confident take on the alt. rap sound; having been compared to such luminaries of the scene as Outkast, he valiantly strives to reconcile the twin kingdoms of funk and soul. Others may remember his front of house role in The Mighty Redcar TV documentary series in 2018, and see his major label publishing deal and American press soirées as, at least a version of, a rags to riches story. A romantic notion which is not necessarily how Dylan sees it, as we will hear.

Having spent most of lockdown shielding in the less salubrious and sunshiny surrounds of Middlesbrough, Dylan is keen to kick on with the release of his debut album. “Since I was a kid I’ve had chronic asthma, so the first seven months of lockdown I didn’t even leave the house.” Dylan holed up with his partner in Linthorpe Village where he converted a spare room into a home studio of sorts to help satisfy his creative energies. “I took all my gadgets and put them in the man cave! Usually I would be in a studio with Wurlitzers and synths and all sorts of toys and I would be jumping on them and grooving but this record, that I’ve primarily written over the course of lockdown, has focused a lot more on musicality.”

Dylan worked with Brother Beyond’s Eg White on the record and it’s clear there was a mutual respect between the pair. “He’d play stuff and then I’d play stuff, which is something that I wasn’t used to. I used to religiously play everything myself but I realised I was being over-prescriptive and that you can collaborate in a way that doesn’t compromise on creative freedom. So, I don’t have to be so granular about every nook and cranny on the record. It also gave me time to do a lot more production which I haven’t really done before. We realised the music we were making together was a halfway house between my roots and hip-hop sound and his old-school Sly and the Family Stone freshness.”

But, it’s still a hip-hop album as Dylan explained: “I’m a rapper first and foremost but I have to accept things have changed and grown since then. When I work with different people it brings out different influences because I’m a massive fan of all different types of music. Gospel and soul, but very much still underpinned by bass and beats.”

This record is my life’s work, it’s very much a personal tale of redemption

The album, Hope Above Adversity, is released in July and Dylan confessed he is looking forward to the release after the success of recent single Anything Could Happen, which made the top 40 Alternative Airplay Chart in America in April. “I’m with an American label [Dylan is signed to Glassnote Records in America, former home to Childish Gambino], so there’s been lots of American promo, especially with the song getting in to the Billboard Charts. The plan is to get the live show ship-shape for the end of the year and promote the album, hopefully in America as well as things open up. I’m looking to get some keys and organ going on and some backing singers. Nothing too crazy but hopefully to incorporate that 70s musicality a bit more.” There’s that rootsy, retro stance again and pushed on his more contemporary influences Dylan would only rattle off: “Stromae, Kanye West production-wise, Kid Cudi is a massive influence of mine. Black Keys, I’m a big Jack White fan…”, managing to nail his whole musical vibe in one sentence.

This record is my life’s work, it’s very much a personal tale of redemption. My music has always been about authenticity and showing that regardless of your circumstances – I’m a young black dude raised in social care who has past trauma – you can achieve what you want to achieve with a little bit of luck and elbow grease.”

Dylan’s difficult childhood was well documented in The Mighty Redcar, though nowadays his positivity is infectious. However, it is these early life lessons that still resonate with the rapper. “For a long time I didn’t talk about, or even know, I’d experienced trauma and I didn’t have therapy until I was 22 and started to realise that the things I thought as a child were normal, dreadful, dreadful things that had become normal in my life weren’t… Who I am at my core as a person, the whole nature/nurture thing, is what everybody knows about me. My outlook for years was a far cry from how I was feeling on the inside and the turbulence and struggle I was having because I needed to stay strong for other people.”

One of the album’s standout tracks, Family, is a soul masterclass about such struggles. “I had my family until my family broke down” is perhaps the prescriptive lyrical interface Dylan touched on earlier, but ultimately the redemptive message triumphs. “My positive stuff is obviously just that, but too much optimism is bad and too much pessimism is bad. There is a lot of toxic positivity online whereby not acknowledging your shortcomings and darker moments can be really repressive and damaging, and these songs are about how I got from point A to point B. Not to say I’m on cloud nine in a limousine having a great time, but more so that the songs are the blueprints of how I got to point B.”

Dylan Cartlidge releases Hope Above Adversity via Glassnote Records on 9th July. An album listening party will take place at Play Brew Co, Middlesbrough on Thursday 8th July. He plays The Georgian Theatre, Stockton on Wednesday 27th October


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