Something of a legend in the UK hip-hop scene, producer and MC, M.O.N.G.O. released his first single in a while this week. You’ll no doubt remember his rasping vocals on the anthemic, ‘Itchytown‘ by Mud Family all about Camden in the 90s. We thought we’d ask him about his music, his new CARDIO Sessions and the story behind Itchytown.

How’s it going M.O.N.G.O.? You’ve got some new music out I hear.
I’m doing good thanks. I recently featured on Melbourne-based producer Must Volkoff’s album with a solo song titled ‘Raining In The Hood’ (available on iTunes). It’s been getting a great response – it’s a good feeling, great album too. I also just released a single this week called ‘Too Good For Em’. You can download it for free on my Soundcloud. I’m currently in the studio recording for a couple projects, one of which is a M.O.N.G.O album. My first ever album… it will be something, believe me.

What are your CARDIO Sessions all about? 
CARDIO! Yeah that started with me just using the car as a studio because having young children at home and I couldn’t really shout down the house when I wanted to record vocals. The car became half car half studio so I started #CARDIOSESSHUNZ with live feeds making beats and recording vocals or recording guest rappers over my instrumentals. I go live and ask who’s about via posts on Facebook and a local MC sends a message with a postcode. I pick them up and we’ll drive around making tracks or freestyling (or as I call it going #OFFDAROOF) A CARDIO EP is going to happen.

What’s the state of UK hip-hop today?
Big question. My answer is music-wise it’s very same-ish, apart from a few select PROPPA heads, who I won’t mention instead I’ll make tracks with them and people can mention that. In respects of Graff it’s big. There’s a whole world I’m kinda rediscovering and seeing bods I knew since my youth who have grown in to dads and even granddads who are smacking it up out there. My kids love to go out and paint too (see #AGGYMERMAID especially and #KIDCAMDEN). As far as BBoy/girl style, the Breaking Convention and Park Jam is the place to be. I love how the event is growing.

Where are the best places to catch UK hip-hop in London?
I mainly see gigs listed online so the socials are a good place to start. The New Guardz are doing their thing with events, live music and nuff energy. Check Guardz House Higher Learning at the Bird’s Nest pub.

What do you think of the grime ascendancy?
It’s a great thing, some big names experimenting with it has been a good look too. It’s made it more accessible to people. Some people like the energy but the promoting and glamourising of FUKREE and self-perpetuating violence that the rappers persona’s can bring about, made me think, “grime, nah it’s all promoting badness”. But then I started seeing true invention in the craft and I started listening to certain MCs and appreciating their music. I like JME, Ghetts and Devilman, to name a few. To think that when we were younger we were seen as the odd ones out for using our own accents and not mimicking an American accent as was the trend at the time… now look at it. BIGUP grime heads and opening up doors… nah…kicking off doors.

Your song Itchytown is a 100% banger of a London anthem – what can you remember about the making of it?
I don’t really remember too much about those times… vague at best. I was told that we went to Ronin Records Studios in the frame factory opposite Holloway Women’s Prison and recorded The MUD FILES EP. (I was very liquidated in the early days to say the least – I frank like a dish).

People must always be wanting you to perform it right? Or at least shout the legendary lyrics “Shittingham and Twattenham” at you…
Ha! Yeah some older heads who remember it maybe or younger hip-hop lovers will know the words. But I haven’t been a face for a while and I haven’t had music out for a very long time. Now is a good time for me; you see I have a condition called Creativitus. I can’t stop making music and writing songs, which is why the laptop, mic and mini keyboard travels with me everywhere. It’s contagious too – Creativitus is the good germ.

Where did the name Itchytown come from?
Here we go …..
We were in Camden everyday, hustling and getting that tourist money – nothing sinister. I had done it since I was a kid with my brother Saj in the 80s. Many a tourist got fumigated on mixed cooking herbs from mum’s kitchen. That was before skunk was even born. Then in my teens we literally were Camden to the core. It was mad itchy back then – full of earners and scammers, tea leafs, dippers, robbers, addicts and fraudsters, who all congregated around the 24-hour street pharmacy in its many guises. Itchy is the feeling you get before something bad happens, like the spot gets rushed by a riot van. That itchy vibe is like a premonition. It’s a warning to move… or get nicked. “It’s gettin’ itchy round ‘ere.” Trust your instincts and step. There are itchy places all over the world and those that know can spot them wherever they go. The spoken language may be different but the signs are always the same. Camden is fluid, constantly moving but if you spend long enough there you will learn to read the streets and spot the signs. The body language, fashion, uniform all are a dialogue. That’s how Itchytown got its name… I named it Itchytown and it stuck. Well that, and the migrating addicts that stand around scratching all day… itchy as fuck 

What do you hope Itchytown/Camden will be like in 100 years time?
Me and my brother used to call it Barter Town like the place in the Mad Max film. I was eight or nine when I first discovered Camden. Camden must still give people that buzz, that excitement we once felt as kids in a non-stop hustle environment. Everyone is trying to make a pound note there. Some people come from all over the world to Camden and some don’t leave… ever. Many international hustlers have died here and there are some real sad stories, but there are also some extremely funny things that have happened here. Many come seeking something, some lose their way, some get what they want, some get more then they expected. I’ve seen them all here from rock stars to movie stars, the hangers on and the fame hungry, rich and poor alike. Camden is a people magnet. As long as the canal flows through it, so will the people. There will always be a new generation of hustler thinking he owns a part of Camden or they run the bridge or canal walkways or up by the station. But there is nothing new about it all. Since the times of BC (before cameras/cctv) there were traders here. Traders of all kinds. I hope it never ends. I’m going to leave you this quote from the MUD FILES and a track called Camden Wildlife. ‘Camden wildlife where they feel they’ve got to have it, where the pigs chase the cats cos the cats feed the rabbits / (their habits).’

Interview: Josh Jones
Photo: Tom Medwell