(Photography by Shomokeh Gould)
For as long as I can remember I’ve been hanging around in studios. Ever since I became a failed rapper (there’s a lot of us) I have carried on hanging around in studios knowing that this music thing was the life I was going to lead professionally. Rap and hip-hip culture has been a massive part of my life ever since childhood so I always knew that I would one day be earning my crust within the industry (but I’m not one of those industry dons). It so happens that I have a good ear for the genre (all those studios sessions I’ve gate crashed probably) and used to devour rap magazines, so it made sense one day to become a journalist as I felt there wasn’t enough of them from the ends who knew our culture fluently.
One day back in 2009 (possibly 2008) when I was a part of one of the pioneering forces behind the new emerging UK rap scene, Hoods Hottest UK (big up my bro Dice) I happened to be at the HH studio for one of many late night studio sessions. This was at a time where the website you’re reading this very article on didn’t exist and I was still shotting CD’s (yes, them times) for various UK rappers, so for me, being in the studio was essential to build rapports and cultivate links to have merchandise to sell. This particular studio session was smokier than usual and had a different atmosphere to it. The studio back then was the other way around from how it’s set up today and had the little built in bench at the back (mad uncomfortable when the herbs started hitting you) and on that evening a rapper by the name of Youngs Teflon was sitting on that bench writing and reciting bars in his own quiet corner. A few other people were scattered around the studio doing their thing, one of them happened to be a talented young producer who was going by the name of Carns Hill. Back then he was producing for quite a few different artists such as Youngs Teflon, Blade and SDG to name a few but what struck me in particular was that even though these artists are household names now, back then it was a much more local scene and instead of going for glory and trying to send beats to maybe more established artists at the time, Carns seemed to already have that vision of keeping it in the family first, but it was a natural thing, nothing was forced, he just seemed to be happy to let his people do their thing and even happier that people (even as local as it was back then) were listening to it.
“When I honestly started, it was really just for the love init, I never really had a structure I was just happy that people were listening to my music and liking it. Obviously as you go on you just kinda build and you have to adjust to whatever comes your way so I wouldn’t say I work on a long time plan just take each day as it comes.”
Taking each day as it comes has been a good mantra for Carns as he upholds himself as ever as one of the most consistent producers in the UK and his longevity in the game at the highest level is one he can be very proud of. His distinctive intro’s will let you know straight away that it’s a Carns Hill production but even if you take those intro’s away his style is so distinctive, that you would still know it was one of his beats. Being able to put his unique stamp on any instrumental he creates whilst still portraying different sounding beats is something he has mastered over the years and in an era where the genre “UK Drill” has been popping up all over the place in recent times would it be plausible to say that Carns invented Drill music before it was even called that?
“I can see where that’s come from but even though I’ve been making that style of beats I wouldn’t say that, because Drill is also their style of spitting cos’ where I’ll give my beats to anyone it would be classified however you’ve jumped on it, like the way they spit it’s like a Garage kinda flow at 140 and cos’ of the way they attack the beat it’s giving its own element whereas I can still give the same kinda beat to Blade and it would just be called Trap so the whole genre thing I just kinda leave that and make good music.”
Good music comes naturally to the producing virtuoso and it’s safe to say that throughout the years his sound lends well to whoever jumps on it. From the recent meteoric rise of 67 and their heavily drenched UK Drill sound (fuck labelling but just to situate you init), to the super lyrical abilities of Youngs Teflon and the way he can take you on a journey in his tunes like you were there, to a Blade Brown Trap record that just oozes bossiness, Carns works hand in hand with every artist and you can always tell that the artistic relationship between both parties is never forced. Even though we know him for his extensive catalogue of Rap beats, you can’t say for certain what he might be cooking next in the lab.
“To be honest you could expect anything from me cos I’m the type of person who will just make good music. It doesn’t matter what style of music it is. More times the genre of music I make is cos I’ve made more of a connection with the artists I’ve worked with so I’ll work on that style more but if I was working with a great singer I’d be making more R&B for example. I’m not really genre based I just work on the type of good music we build or whatever were vibing on or what comes out in the session.”
Everything tends to be built in a natural way with Carns, nothing is forced or over planned, but what is certain is that it always feels right. Making executive decisions in the music business is an essential part of taking care of things but creatively it may hinder what is actually important and what people came for in the first place, the music! Most collective albums with various artists on them will be made as a popularity contest of who’s who to gain as much monumental traction to climb the charts, others will be made purely in an artistic minded goal to bring to the people what they want, good music! Some may feel his latest project “Family First” may have slightly gone under the radar for those very reasons but what is important here is that he cooked it just the way he wanted it, (you wouldn’t tell Gordon Ramsey how to cook a steak would you?) and that is vital in an industry where more and more artists are upholding their vision and being successful with it.
“That’s more a fault of my own cos of the relation I have with the people on the line up. This wasn’t a project where I went out looking for big names or I went to find this person and that person. This is like people I’ve worked with my entire career, that have been around me for my whole career. If you watch my old videos you’ll see everyone from people that are popping now to people that were popping then, you’ll see a mixture and blend but it’s one big family so I don’t really see it as ‘ah you got this person or that person, all these people on one CD’, I Just see it as a normal thing, we’re all around each other all the time, this is not like ‘ah I got this person to do a track with that person’ when actually like I said we’re around each other all the time, there’s probably a track that we’ve made together that you might have overheard in the past not even knowing but you’re acknowledging it now cos’ I’ve made more of an impact in the game.”
An Impact that has a larger reach than he would probably admit, but producers like Carns who have been in the game for a minute have influenced a whole generation which is needed and primordial in the passing of the baton, and in forever developing and moving the culture forward for years to come. These mentors may not get the larger accolade deemed honourable by the socialist elites in their shiny “think tank” government offices but to our communities and especially the younger people on the come up, these role models have a hugely positive impact in inspiring whole age groups into becoming successful from a culture that tends to be demonised by the mainstream media.
“I’m the type of person who is down to help, if I can help you and I feel what you’re doing then I’ll help you without asking for anything in return init it is what it is, and yeah man the scene’s growing, there’s more money to be made, there’s more money to be pushed in. I’m just here to make good music and help out if I can init, I’ve experienced a good run in this so I’d want people to also get the best out of it.”
Cutting a humble figure as always, Carns has definitely had a great journey so far in the music game and what is even more evident is the people he came through with and has helped break through. Like I mentioned before everything seems so natural and meant to be in these partnerships that you could never guess where the next breakthrough could come from, and that in itself is the beauty of it.
“What I’ve come to learn in this whole rap game yeah, is that it could be anyone, the whole fame thing is just random, so random. I couldn’t ever predict it. When it’s your turn you just have to go and work hard with it, cos’ it could just shine on someone random and be like ‘this is the new popping guy now, he’s got the new song that’s in, this is what we like’ so really and truly you just have to work hard and when that light shines on you, you just have to grind and do everything you possibly can.”
The grind has been a beautiful journey so far for the south Londoner with countless projects, timeless produced songs and bodies of work that are a part of the rap hall of fame in the U.K, yet the quiet person that he is stays humble and hard working and in the studio every hour that God sends to produce yet more moments of brilliance and memories for fans like us. The importance of a producer who can stand the test of time and bring his sound in to every new generation is also pivotal in the survival of the culture, we need people who have been there and done that in every era to move forward in the best possible way, we need people like this who have the clean heartedness the best interests at heart for the rap scene on our shores. With people like Carns we have all of that and more, we also have humility and respect and just good fucking music. We ought to celebrate the people on our doorstep more, they have been patiently grinding for years successfully and now that the spotlight is firmly on the U.K more than it’s ever been, it’s about time we started putting family first.
Listen to Family First Here