In this epoch of unlimited reachable artistic content, it’s increasingly difficult to sieve through the tepid and uninspiring dross, and find the music that surprises, seeks, stimulates, and, ultimately, leaves you begging for more. We drown in consumerism, struggling for air only to be pulled back beneath by some new trend snapping at our feet. Hope is far from lost though; the new album from rapper Sonnyjim and producer The Purist is a sharp intake of breath, a beacon of creativity, and a reminder of music’s magical immersion and its ability to compel and thrill.
Both are veterans in the scene and champions of their respective craft; decorated, inevitable talents, the pair are both more than decade deep in the very depths of UK hip-hop, essential clogs in the bountiful and continuous evolution of the underground. Birmingham rapper Sonnyjim is a pedagogue of poetry, a fiercely unique and absurdist writer whose discography is dense, daring and dexterous. The enigmatic Purist has worked with some of the most renowned rappers on both sides of the Atlantic, building a sample library that most producers can barely dream of.
Their debut joint project, hilariously named ‘White Girl Wasted’, is a swashbuckling and seminal body of work. Druggy and dazed, bustling with quadruple entendres and rip-roaring imagery, the album is a testament to Sonny and Purist’s unflinching desire to make the highest quality art possible, and have a damn good time doing so. 75 plus tracks were written and whittled down to seven standouts, with a pithy runtime amounting barely 20 minutes. There is no debris here, no room for filler sonics or throwaway bars; each sound, word and idea is chiselled and refined, an encapsulation of craft and a demonstration of graft.
The featured artists and producers on the LP play out like a hall of fame of hip-hop; the inspired involvement of influential duo Lee Scott and Milkaveli highlights their UK connections, whilst beats from legends DJ Premier and Madlib add variety and depth to the production. The most noteworthy and revered inclusion, however, is undoubtedly the appearance of the late great MF Doom. Heard alongside fellow US rap maestro Jay Electronica on ‘Barz Simpson’, which has just become accompanied by a preposterously funny visual, it is perhaps Doom’s strongest post-death feature to date, with Sonny and Purist more than holding their own amongst the presence of such greats.
Clash caught up with the duo to talk about their groundbreaking album.
How did you first get introduced?
Sonny: Through a mutual friend back in like 2006. We knew of each other, we were getting booked for the same sort of shows, it was inevitable that this would happen.
Purist: It was an irresistible force meets an immovable object. But which is which?
Where did the idea of collaborating on an LP stem from?
Sonny: We never sat down to make an album. We were just making songs, exploring ideas. Purist got involved with ‘Mud In My Malbec’ and helped me put that one out and that led into making this project. Essentially, we were just making a bunch of songs and seeing where it went.
From having an array of songs, where did the concept of making the album come from?
Purist: (laughs) I can’t remember.
Sonny: It came from having a lot of fun, and this was the result. There was a lot of music to pick from when we ended up whittling it down for the album.
Purist: I think the sessions started going really well and we were making songs of a really high standard and just thought let’s make an album out of this, we could see the chemistry there.
It’s such a brief and condensed project, why is it so short?
Purist: We wanted to make something undeniable. We probably made about 75 tracks and trimmed it down to seven with a similar sound, similar themes, similar instrumentation, same sort of vibe. It’s easy to make something that’s 20 tracks long that is bloated and boring, but this leaves the listener wanting more.
Sonny: We didn’t want any fat on the album, there is no need for filler. It’s easy to get lost in an album.
What are the main influences behind the album?
Purist: Magnetism, peer pressure, pimping. We are both quite original minds, so I don’t think there was much that influenced it directly, bar the records that we sampled. Also what the samples are saying.
Sonny: Every song is different, but for me it’s often the feeling of the music that we work around. We wanted to never pursue the same idea twice though, so every track is different.
What was the overarching creative process?
Sonny: There were so many different processes. We made 95% of it together in the studio. Sometimes I’d get to the sessions and he’d say show me some bars that I’ve been working on, or I might show him some stuff that I’d written for other songs and we’d take bits and pieces. Alternatively, he might pull up some beats that I’ve been working on and I might rhyme on top of them and see if anything fits.
Purist: Sometimes people write best when they are alone writing on top of a beat, or another time if you are with them in the studio directing them, they’ll produce their best work. With this project, we did a bit of both. A lot of these lyrics are layered into entendres. Some people won’t even understand.
Sonny: Some of the songs on the joint we must have rewritten about 10 times. We’d leave a session and think we had it down, then come back to it two weeks later and feel like we could improve on that. It’s all been an amalgamation of different ideas. It adds to the longevity of the music.
Are you both ‘perfectionists’ as solo artists or was it the way that you were working together?
Purist: For me, I just want to do the best version of a song that I can do. Perfection is beyond my reach. That’s all you can do, if you’ve got a DJ Premier beat, that’s your chance, don’t write it in 10 minutes and fuck off, you sit there and write it again and again, so when you hear it on the radio you know you couldn’t have done any better.
Sonny: I like writing stuff quickly sometimes. But what I’ve found with this project, especially with the feedback that we’ve received, is I’m glad that we spent so much time on it. Usually for me, I don’t like doing it because it starts to feel like homework, but because we had such a good vibe in the studio it never felt like that.
In terms of the aesthetic, it’s striking shall we say. The album name, the song titles, the artwork. What were the ideas there?
Purist: A big part with the artwork is we wanted it to look like it could be anything, not necessarily a rap album. We were brave in doing that, in the past I’ve never been that risky with my solo work. We took a big punt in doing this, it’s going to be loved or hated.
Sonny: When I’ve seen feedback about the cover, I’ve seen people absolutely love it, and others absolutely slate it. We knew what we’re doing, it wasn’t an erratic move. The cover draws you in whether you like it or not.
What’s the meaning behind the Simpsons?
Purist: Our original idea for the artwork was going to be a famous porn star holding a balloon and a gas canister. We couldn’t make it happen, so Homer Simpson blackout drunk was the next logical step.
What are the main themes you touch on throughout the album?
Purist: Debauchery, outlandishness. There’s a lot of complex wordplay with simple themes behind it.
Sonny: It’s back to the different layers of the music. At a surface level it sounds good, but there’s always a further depth.
Sonny, you are renowned in your writing for irrelevance, borderline absurdity. What made you first start writing so outrageously and why do you continue to do it?
Sonny: It was never the plan, it just morphed into what it is now. There was no thought behind it, I just did it. When the response was good, I just kept going with it. I wrote and wrote and this is what it became. It’s also what I like to listen to personally, so the way I write reflects that.
Beat wise, how did you construct this sonic universe?
Purist: It’s just years and years of digging. You end up with all these records. You end up with all these records that just sit there. Then throughout this process, I found stuff from years back that just fitted now. Also, style has changed, so I can include things that I couldn’t have before. There’s so many good tracks that we made, but we didn’t include them because they didn’t fit with the rest of the album.
I can’t not ask about the features! Firstly, how did the 616 (Lee Scott and Milkaveli) guys get involved?
Sonny: We’ve both been involved with them for a long time. I’ve actually just finished up an album with Lee Scott with him on the beats and me on the rhymes. We’ve been working on and off with those guys for 10 years, so if we were going to give a feature to a British counterpart, it felt natural for it to be them.
Purist: The only other person who we considered getting on there UK-wise was CASISDEAD.
DJ Premier and Madlib brought their respective signature styles to the album. What do you think they add to the record?
Sonny: Purist was saying that we needed a banger for the tape, so we went to Primo for that one. With Madlib, that was the last song we did. He sent us a link with over a 1000 beats in the folder.
Purist: I don’t think people understand how long it takes to go through a 1000 beats. When it’s Madlib, you can’t just play 30 seconds and skip it, you have to listen to every second.
Sonny: His folders aren’t exactly organised either, they are a bit all over the place. Shout out to Madlib but he needs to do some housekeeping! It took us like four days to go through it. It was always going to be really difficult to choose one Madlib beat out of 1000. We opened up a folder for Freddie Gibbs, a folder for Black Thought, we were like damn.
Obviously very special to have Jay Electronica and specifically MF Doom on the project. How does it feel to be able to deliver his fans fresh Doom music?
Sonny: What makes it even more special is the fact that the beat that Doom rapped on sounds like a beat that he picks and would make for himself. There’s Doom’s joints that have come out since his death that aren’t necessarily what fans may want to hear. When we gave him the song, he wanted to use it for himself and asked to take it off us, but we knew that we wanted it for the album.
Purist: It’s something that he loved and wanted to use – for us that’s a great feeling.
Right now, the musical landscape and the way that music is consumed is changing a lot. As names that are experienced in the industry, what do you think of the direction it’s heading?
Purist: We live in a climate now where if you aren’t savvy on social media and always active, you struggle to have a career.
Sonny: I think we are all quite guilty of the way we consume music. I hate the thought that some people might listen to my album once, pick three or four songs that they like and put them in their own playlist and never go back to the others. But the thing is, I’m fully guilty of doing the same thing!
Purist: That’s another reason why we made it so short. It allows listeners to focus more and hear it as one piece like we want it to be.
Do you think you’ve had to adapt with the times with the way you’ve marketed this album?
Purist: I think we have. The cover artwork is definitely a sign of that.
Sonny: Yeah, we wanted it in some ways to be clickbait, so we definitely did succumb to that. Another thing we did was to make the songs quite short because people don’t want to listen to five minute songs anymore. I think that music should be as you want it to be, but then who am I to go against any trend that shows different.
Purist: It’s quite rare for someone to say a song is too short, but often for them to say that it’s too long.
Lastly, what’s to come from you both?
Sonny: We’ve got a bunch more music that we’ve worked on together. As a solo, I have the Lee Scott project coming early next year. I also have an album that I’ve done with Jehst.
Purist: My solo album is almost done, then I’m working on a few different albums. Lots of bits.
‘White Girl Wasted’ is out now.
Words: Ben Tibbets