Late in August this year, MC Quakez and MC Shakez were given the opportunity to pass through Charlie Sloth’s BBC 1Xtra show to promote their single ‘Balance’ via Sloth’s legendary ‘Fire In The Booth’ segment. Unfortunately, Quakez wasn’t able to deliver on his freestyle, struggling to catch the beat and unable to get his bars off without error. Charlie was forced to cut the session short, sending Quakez and Shakez out to recollect and come back for a second take, unwittingly making an opening for a future star by the name of Big Shaq to step in.
Shaq was hanging out by the studio because threatening to send for triple-threat Roll Safe, who’d allegedly stolen his leather jacket. When he was given the opportunity of entering the booth however, he denied the rumours, instead channeling his aggression through an electric freestyle over sinister drill production. In his second verse, Shaq would attack the mic with an arsenal of gunfire sounds, which ended up becoming the hottest meme of the next few weeks: “The ting goes skrrahh, pap pap, ka-ka-ka...”
Michael Dapaah, the South London comedian behind Quakez and Shaq, wasn’t prepared for just how successful the sketch would be. The freestyle would later be released by Island Records under the name ‘Man’s Not Hot’ and has attracted attention from both sides of the pond. In the months that followed, everyone from Jeremy Corbyn and Liam Gallagher to US hip-hop heavyweights like Drake and DJ Khaled would make reference to the track.
It would achieve chart success, peaking at number 11 on the UK charts and even infiltrating the US Billboard Hot 100 at 64, and even caught the attention of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal who enlisted Toronto rapper ShaqIsDope to respond with a bizarre diss track. It’s safe to say that the past few months have been a whirlwind for Dapaah. When we meet him, he’s backstage at Manchester’s M.E.N Arena where he’s preparing to make a surprise appearance for BBC 1Xtra Live, which is celebrating the station’s 15th anniversary this year. The performance will be broadcast live to tens of thousands around the country, not to mention the 13,400 people currently packing out the venue. Dapaah doesn’t seem phased, as he laughs and jokes with his team. He might not have been used to performing in front of audiences like this a few months ago, but he’s been forced to learn quickly.
Just before his transformation into Big Shaq, we caught five minutes with Michael Dapaah to discuss his mindset entering the booth, adjusting to the success that’s followed and his love for rap culture…
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What are you most proud of about your success this year?
The journey. It’s been a hard one, but it’s nice to see your following and everything build up. So that’s what I’m most proud of, and what I’m most grateful for as well.
What was your mindset when you were going into that ‘Fire In The Booth’?
It was mad because it was something that was on my vision board to do. So when we were going in there, it’s surreal bro. When things start to happen you just think ‘Yo, this is mad!’ I think because this was on my vision board to do and it actually happened, I was just like, ‘Do you know what, I just have to go and give this thing my best shot.’ Because you only get one shot!
I didn’t even know that you get to do takes in their. But we didn't get to, because I went in there as a performer, just one whole take. Some people go in there and do four or five takes just to get it right. But I wanted it to be like a sketch almost, where you get to see both of the characters. So I went in there with just one shot and gave it everything.
You’ve mentioned your vision board a couple of times now. Could you tell us about that?
You are what you think, and you become what you see as well. So my vision board is a thing of faith. Because I’m a man of faith. You’ve always got to have a vision for what you want to do in your life or for whatever you’re trying to achieve. So I got these pictures of the things that I wanted to do and I stuck them all over the board, and literally said my prayers over it and then just started doing my work over it. Then boom, one thing after another and then we’re here today and I’m sitting with you!
What did you expect that ‘Fire In The Booth’ to achieve for you?
Definitely UK success and acclaim. And initially I wanted the other character, MC Quakez, he’s got a song called ‘Balance’, and we went on there more or less, to use that as a promotional tool for ‘Balance’ and ‘Man’s Not Hot’ ended up being the track that everyone liked. The people decide, they decided to make it this big, you don’t decide that. So it going global and stuff, I’m just grateful, because that’s all you can be.
When you were doing those gun sounds, did you ever imagine that fans would learn them and recite them at shows? Because every club or live show the crowds all sing along…
It’s mad, nah! I didn’t even know that myself. When I’m doing my characters, I’m so knee deep in them. You see Shaq at that time, he was so pissed off at Charlie, that Charlie didn’t give him the opportunity to come in the booth. Literally he was spilling his emotions bro, and that’s what came out: “The ting goes skrrrahh!!!” He was just in his zone, in his moment, and that’s what came out.
How have you kept up with the rapid success?
It’s something that we’ve been preparing for, for a while. But obviously you don’t force it coming in the way that it comes. It’s like climate change, bruv! You’ve got to adjust. What else can you do? When the rain comes you’ve got to put on your rain coat bro. When the sun is out, take it off!
How do you ensure that Michael Dapaah doesn’t get lost in the Big Shaq character?
I still do a lot of stuff as myself, like this interview. I think I’ve got a very good team around me. My managers are very good because they understand the bigger vision and the bigger picture of everything. They might phone me and say, ‘Bro you need to do this, just to balance things out.’ So that’s what we make sure we do. A good team is very important.
Plenty of comedians have tried to create rap characters before, but do you think it requires a general love and appreciation for the culture to go this far with it?
One thousand percent. I’m actually a fan of music and was always creating banter music. I enjoy what I do, and I think that’s the foundations of it. There’s no point in doing it because you’re looking at the money or trying to pop for no reason. There’s always a bigger vision and I like what I do, and I understand the culture. It’s a combination of things.
Lastly, what does success look like to you?
Happiness, joy, great influence. That’s it.
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Words: Grant Brydon
Photography: Ashley Verse
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