Mind Of His Own

1 August 2012 | 9:44 am | Aleksia Barron

The guy went straight to the dancefloor, danced his arse off, had the time of his life, and no-one cared.” This attitude – a willingness to embrace and allow public displays of joy – amazed Mead. “In a lot of other places in the world, they’d say, ‘Get the hell out of here, you bum.’ But they just let him have the time of his life, and then off he went on his way.”

In the Australian hip hop landscape, Sydney MC Skryptcha is something of a cipher. In most ways, he keeps himself fairly guarded – he doesn't overshare on Twitter or post incessantly on Facebook, and he stands outside the gossip and whispering that seemingly comes with any tight-knit community. To get an idea of what he's thinking, the best place to turn is to his lyrics.

Skryptcha, known to his bank as Angus Mead, first made waves in 2009 with his breakout EP Left To Write. The single Food For Thought introduced him to a nationwide audience when it was played on triple j. He released his debut LP NUMB3RS in 2010, cementing his 'rising star' status, and continued to cut his teeth on the live circuit. Now, he's releasing his sophomore album Mindful, a clear statement of his aspirations to be the thinking person's MC.

“I came into hip hop really young and I was sort of thrown in the deep end from the beginning,” explains Mead, on the phone from Sydney. “I was just sort of plucked out of my bedroom and thrust into the Obese deep end, taken on tour and everything.” It was an invaluable experience, as it would be for any young artist, but looking back, Mead is acutely aware of his naivety. “I was just a wide-eyed young kid, and it's taken such a long time to really get comfortable.”

One gets the sense that Mead isn't the type to go rushing after things without thinking them through. He has a degree in journalism and a professional day job, and in the two-year gap between releases, he's travelled, worked and thought seriously about the direction he wanted his musical career to take.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Rather than pushing out a second LP at all costs, he set his heart on writing a hip hop/jazz album, and eventually found his way overseas in order to make it happen. He was sitting down with artist bookers The Harbour Agency when the need to travel was made clear to him. “I told them about my vision – that I wanted to make a really soul-heavy hip hop album,” says Mead. “They looked straight at me and said, 'You've gotta go to New Orleans. You've gotta go to Memphis.' So, off I went. I booked a trip shortly after that and went straight over.”

Mead touched down in the middle of the New Orleans Jazz Festival, which was an experience unlike any other. “Four straight days of constant music, stages and street performers everywhere. It was an incredible vibe,” he explains. His first single Dance was written alone in a New Orleans hotel room, inspired by the celebrations in the streets below. He then went on to Memphis, where he visited Graceland and saw first-hand the effects of the American recession – and the surprising positivity shown by so many people in the face of it.

“I was in Memphis, and I was having dinner in BB King's [Restaurant & Blues Club], and this guy – he was a completely harmless dude, I don't know what he was doing... [the staff] just let him walk through the doors,” recalls Mead. “The guy went straight to the dancefloor, danced his arse off, had the time of his life, and no-one cared.” This attitude – a willingness to embrace and allow public displays of joy – amazed Mead. “In a lot of other places in the world, they'd say, 'Get the hell out of here, you bum.' But they just let him have the time of his life, and then off he went on his way.”

Mead had a similar experience at an NBA game where, despite the competition on the court, the audience made sure to enjoy themselves. “No matter what was happening in the game, people would be up and dancing with the biggest smile on their face,” says Mead. “Everyone would get into it. If you tried to do that in some sporting venues in Sydney, you'd have a beer thrown at you and get told to sit the eff down, you know?”

The American journey had an additional benefit for Mead: the chance to sit down with his album's producer in person – none other than the illustrious Illmind, one of the USA's most in-demand beatsmiths, with a discography boasting the likes of KRS-One, Skyzoo, Emilio Rojas and 50 Cent. Mead first connected with Illmind online, having decided to throw caution to the wind and see if he'd be interested in them working together. “I've been a big fan of [Illmind] for years, and I was looking on this website where all these producers put up their beats, and I thought, 'Oh, what the heck, I'll just hit him up and see if he's keen to link up.'” He was – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Emails between the two had been flying back and forth for months, but Mead knew not to underestimate the value of a face-to-face meeting, so he took some time while in the USA to visit Illmind. “I wanted to go and meet him and sort of build up our relationship,” he explains. “So I went and spent some time in New York, and spent a day with him in his studio in Brooklyn. I think that really gave us that human connection that you can't really get over the internet – it gave us that strong partnership.”

Mead has a steely determination about him, and a hint of it shows in his frustration about making an album with a producer living in a different country. “If [Illmind] sent me a mix on a certain day and I wasn't happy about it... and I emailed him, he wouldn't get it for a couple of days. If he'd just been in Sydney, I could just go around to his house and say, 'Do it right now', you know?” laughs Mead.

He's a bit less comfortable with questions about his partner, the clear inspiration behind Crash Course and 50 Ways, two of the album's most personal tracks. He concedes that sharing one's personal life in their lyrics has become the norm now, even if he's still adjusting to it. “I think that's what people want nowadays, and it's what you have to offer them,” says Mead. “If you're not sharing your stories, it's pretty hard for people to connect, so I wanted to put everything out there – let everyone see what I am and what I've been through.”

And how does he feel about the result? Mead seems genuinely proud of his new album: “I think it's streets ahead of anything I've done in the past. I think it's a whole new standard for myself.” Indeed, he finally sees himself as someone other than the new kid. “Those past years that I've done in hip hop, the first few years, were really just education for me,” he says. “I feel like I've finally graduated, like I've finally arrived.”