Interview: Jister & The Lion Ranger | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s been over two years in the making, but it’s finally here. One of the most anticipated releases in north-east hip-hop will be unleashed on the world on Friday 5th May, and although it’s taken a while, the wait has definitely been worth it. Having been a fixture in the scene for over eight years, Jister has supported the likes of Wiley and Dan Le Sac & Scroobius Pip and performed at festivals and shows both close to home and around the country.

It’s a mark of Jister’s confidence in his work that he’s been in no rush to get the eponymously titled JTLR out until he was completely happy with it: “Part of my learning curve was the mistake of releasing what I now consider below average music and I would put out a hundred songs a year. I used to be sort of lazy in what I’d do and just put shit out. I wouldn’t really think about what I was doing and just write random bars. Now I’ve got someone to kind of reign me in a bit!”

That steadying influence is Leeds producer and long-time collaborator The Lion Ranger. Introduced to each other by a mutual friend, it’s clear that they’ve now got the kind of relationship that has become almost symbiotic. Says TLR, “Yeah, definitely. Earlier on he was like, ‘Let’s get it out! Let’s get it out!’ and I was more, ‘Let’s make sure it’s definitely ready!’ I’m a bit of a perfectionist with my music. I don’t want to listen back in a year’s time and hear something that I’m not completely happy with.”

This attention to detail and the desire to put out the very best album possible is distinctly at odds with how many underground rappers seem to work. There seems to be a rush to get a new track released before the last has even managed to make a dent in the listener’s consciousness. While this creativity is to be applauded, I wondered if Jister and TLR felt that this in some ways made the music almost feel disposable?

“It’s about picking your battles really. Making sure it’s the right time and not overdoing it,” says TLR.

Jister continues: “I’ve got a load of rappers on social media and they’re putting out a tune a month and it’s so regular it doesn’t really work. I used to do that but I don’t consider anything I’ve done before the Absurdism EP to be good.”

The solid partnership they’ve developed is partially at odds with a lot of other local MCs who seem to work with a variety of different producers, whereas Jister’s relationship with TLR is a lot more entrenched.

“You can find a billion backing tracks on the internet and you could put out a billion songs if you want. I think it’s always better to work with someone who’s as bothered about the songs as you are. It’s like gold dust having a good producer and I think it’s a good idea to stick with someone who knows the sound so well.”

I don’t want to listen to you saying what every other rapper has already said. Haway, man, I’ve heard it all before.

One of the stand out tracks on the album is Vicarious Life. A tune that features a tooth-rattling bass groove and lyrically juxtaposes pop culture references with the protagonist’s more mundane existence. Jister expands: “When I listen to a rapper’s album, I like to get into their head. When people listen to this I want them to hear what’s going on in my head. When he was good, Eminem used to be a king at that. It was mental but it was his own brand of mental. I don’t want to listen to you saying what every other rapper has already said. Haway, man, I’ve heard it all before.”

The grime scene has truly broken through in the UK and is probably a permanent fixture moving forward, but it’s always been London-centric. Jister’s answer to whether he thought there was potential for more regional hip-hop voices to break through is somewhat surprising considering his place in the scene: “The answer to that question is no, but I think that works in our favour. I think our stuff stands alone. I don’t like to see us as part of any sort of genre because if I was introducing my album to someone, I wouldn’t even say it’s UK hip-hop from Middlesbrough. I’d just say, ‘Listen to this. See if you like it.’”

TLR continues, “Yeah, if I was going to play someone some UK hip-hop, I’d play them some Jeh5t. I wouldn’t play them our sort of stuff. I don’t want to fit in. I don’t see music being regional or even national. Using the term UK hip-hop is limiting. I’m into all sorts of music and there are no boundaries anymore because of the internet. People are always keen to label a scene as if it’s going to blow up but I’m just a music geek.”

With the release of the album, a prominent slot at Evolution Emerging this year at The Tanners is the perfect showcase for the record but Jister retains an endearing enthusiasm for any show that comes his way: “To be honest, I haven’t got high expectations. A lot of people have a weird sense of entitlement when they make music but for me, anything that happens is a bonus. I just like getting my head down and making sounds and if one person listens to it, I’m really pleased. I’ve been really lucky in the past when I’ve done something, I’ve been offered a show off the back of it. I’ve got a busy life so if I get to do Evo and an in-store at Sound it Out records; those are things that for me are just amazing. Things I’ve always wanted to do are happening so how are you not going to be happy with that?”

Jister & The Lion Ranger’s JTLR is released on Friday 5th May.

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