UK Rapper Sonny Green – A Warrior of Words.Written by Matteo Sedazzari
© Words – Matteo Sedazzari
What he said must be spoken quickly, for most of them had no patience. What he said must be put strongly, more acted than spoken, for they had to be hooked to stand and hear.
The Warriors - Sol Yurick
When I first witnessed Sonny Green perform Spread It on YouTube, I was hooked by his strong words. Here, before my eyes, was a young sharply dressed kid punching out words with grit and passion, with Southend train station as the backdrop. This was not a rehearsed performance but a raw recital of one of his poems. A poem that is philosophical, political, acute and observant of modern life, covering every generation and with the message of love, unity and belief. Straight away I started thinking of the great Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, verses delivered with a reggae backbone, the punk poet John Cooper Clarke the Bard of Salford, with razor sharp words that can cut through you with his tongue. The soul and jazz poet Giles Scott Heron with his no nonsense poetry that often spoke of a big social change, The Last Poets, a collection of African American poets and musicians in the late sixties, who blended their poems with jazz, funk and soul music, with a strong political edge. In particular Black Nationalism, both are often cited as the pioneers of what we know today as Hip Hop.
It seems it has been a long time since the world, let alone the UK, has had a young working class voice that asks for change and peaceful protest presented in a unique way. Coupled with the mainstream media that is making us believe the only way to achieve success in the arts is to attend a televised audition and to be ridiculed by an overweight power crazed control freak or, that anyone under the age of 18 from a lower class, is a drug dealer, mugger, thief or all three, but basically an undesirable. However, anyone with any intelligence or street savvy will know this is not the case, and the UK Hip Hop scene (I am aware that this expands into more genres, but I will use the term loosely to cover all aspects) is in fact a highly successful DIY Culture, with young adults running their own TV and radio stations, record labels, websites, clothing, club nights and so on and so forth. A movement that certainly doesn’t need the investment or the blessing of a corporate tyrant, who actually favours saying “you’re fired” rather than “you’re hired”. It would be fair to say that the UK Hip Hop scene is the most appealing to the country’s younger generation, as was Black Soul music to the kids of the sixties. You only have to see the success of Dizzie Rascal, Ben Drew (Plan B) or Ashley Walters (former member of So Solid Crew) to see what talent the UK Hip Hop scene has produced, and it would be refreshing if the next stage was the message of love and respect, and from what I have seen and heard so far Sonny Green could be just the lad to do it.
Just eighteen years old born and bred in Southend, Sonny Green has been recording and performing within the UK Hip Hop scene while he was still at school, therefore is a seasoned performer with two albums underneath his belt. After doing more research on the internet on the young man, it became pretty clear to me that I too should join his growing fan base as Sonny, with his cheeky charm and fiery words, draws you in, which left me with no option but to interview the fella from Southend, as there was so much I needed to ask him. After the usual submitting of an interview request, I am waiting in a pub in Camden Town. I look out of the window and think of the capers Madness would have got up to in their youth in here (for those of you who don’t know, Madness come from Camden). Then I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder, I turn round and there standing before me is a smiling Sonny, who says “turn your recorder on, I want to perform a poem for you before we start the interview….”
This life can seem boring as fuck sometimes
So I jump on stage to excite my life
I can’t just let time fly by
So I chat to strangers, neighbours and passers-by
Who are all masterminds
Mark my rhymes
But to find a sparkling spirit is hard to find
It’s like most you lot have been drained by nine to five.
At every chance you shut your eyes
Or until a mate passes you a pint or racks up a line
Anything to get that buzz back out of life
That’s why some men cheat on their wives
Or gamble or spend thousands on clothes
Start pointless fights
Or meditate to try and open their third eye
So they can take themselves to other paradigms
And be different from all these other guys
Mark my rhymes
Now you could say I am just an eighteen year old kid
But to true say
I don’t give a fuck what you think
And to be real I never did
Of Course I won’t the world to live in happiness
And I will try my best for eternal bliss
But that adrenaline, that rush, that buzz, that switch
Makes most of mankind ticks
ZANI – Nice start to the interview.
Sonny Green - Wrote it a couple of nights ago, so it is still fresh.
ZANI – Powerful words and I understand you have just acted in your first film, how’s that going?
Sonny Green - The film is completed, it’s called Still, and I play a fifteen year old kid called Carl from North London who is related to a gang. Basically he goes on his mad journey with this gang, but he ends up getting blamed for a rape, chopping up a cat and putting it through a letter box. Then he gets kidnapped by this Irish geezer, played by Aidan Gillen from Queer as Folk and The Wire, which leads to a massive dramatic ending.
ZANI – Sounds a meaty part for your debut, and on the back of that I understand that Tamer Hassan, star of The Football Factory and The Business, is your agent?
Sonny Green - Well it’s Camille Storey who is my agent and Tamer Hassan who owns the company.
ZANI – I have met both of them, so you are in good hands. Was that something you always wanted to do, acting?
Sonny Green - Sort of did, back in the days when I was a younger, I wanted to be an actor more than anything else, although I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. When I was around eight to ten, my Nan got me into amateur dramatics at the community centre, and I loved performing in front of loads of people. Then I drifted off and I started doing sports more, such as boxing, and when I got into boxing I fucked off the drama.
ZANI – Because that would be a big no no with your boxing mates?
Sonny Green – Yea, so I stayed with the boxing for a couple years, then I started smoking weed and serving up, and doing what you do to earn a bit of money I guess. Then I started writing through that, and people began recognising and noticing me. One day I got contacted by a casting director, who loves my spoken word, and thought I would be perfect for the film, Still. Boom, here we are, done the film, looking to do the next one, got an acting agent, got a script sent through recently, got the audition, feel confident that I will get the part. So I want to act in more films, but not just act, I want to write films as well.
ZANI – So you want to do what Plan B has done with Ill Manors?
Sonny Green – Yea but better, Plan B didn’t really hit the nail on the head with Ill Manors.
ZANI – I enjoyed Ill Manors.
Sonny Green - No, it wasn’t realistic. It doesn’t really take you on a journey, it’s just dark, and there is no humour in there. It was trying too hard to be too dark and too real, but not cutting it.
ZANI – In February 2013 you played the first ever gig at the Houses of Commons with Fatboy Slim, which I think gave you a bit of press attention.
Sonny Green - I should have got more press attention because I didn’t go out on the press release, but I am the first rapper to perform at the House of Commons.
ZANI – That’s some achievement.
Sonny Green - And I am sure, as I get bigger, that is going to said more. But Fatboy Slim got the press attention because he is Fatboy Slim, he is coming to the end of his career, he has made it and smashed it.
ZANI – Shame it hasn’t really been documented that you were the first rapper to perform at the House of Commons.
Sonny Green - That was down to the charity and their press release, but that’s another story.
ZANI – And that sums up the mainstream media today, press releases, Wikipedia and Twitter feeds. We have briefly chatted about your early years, and what moment was it when you discovered you had this flair for the spoken word?
Sonny Green – When I first started doing it and you first record a tune, you jump in at the deep end. I was fourteen when I recorded my first song, which got round my school and Southend like wild fire. Since then I haven’t given up and I am not going to. The track took a while to smash, it took about a year. But when I was fifteen I was more egotistic and not so soulful. But as I’ve got older I’m more conscious of what is going on in the world and how to behave like a decent human being.
ZANI – Did you see yourself as a spoken word artist or a Rap artist in your early influences?
Sonny Green - Well Rap means Rhythm and Poetry, poetry with rhythm, William Blake was a rapper. Rap is poetry, but it has been hijacked and perverted by the Jay Z’s and Rockefeller’s of this world, just like everything has. My early influences, do you mean in music or life?
ZANI – And there was me criticising the mainstream media, back to your question, both.
Sonny Green - I guess the struggle; the tough times have been the inspiration. The hard times that inspired me to write, have my voice and say what I want, so people can shut up and listen for a few minutes rather than interrupt.
ZANI – Nice. In the terms of music am I right in thinking that Jazzmatazz Volume 2 – New Reality had a huge influence on you?
Sonny Green - I only found that album a year ago, but it is one of my favourite albums because it is the closest thing to what I would want to do, it’s on my vibe. Been listening a lot to The Streets first album Original Pirate Material, which is on the same sort as level as me. It’s banging. Other musical influences are all sorts, my mum used to play a lot of the reggae artist Al Campbell, then obvious ones like Bob Marley and dub reggae. But I have never had a musical influence that has influenced me to make the music I am making. It is more the life that I have had that influences the things I say and the music I do.
ZANI – So I take it that Southend has had its influences on you, and I understand you “could write a book about your family,” those are your words I saw on an email interview you sent to your management company.
Sonny Green – They certainly could, it would be a good book. But it will be more positive once I have made it, and then it will have a good spin on it. Once I have made it proper and everyone is sorted out, but at the moment (laughs) I want the ending to be a little bit more inspirational.
ZANI – What are your feelings towards Southend?
Sonny Green - I love Southend, but it can be depressing it is like a ghost town. I have a lot of people there that love me and I love them. Southend is real, but people don’t really know about it because it is a forgotten place like Margate. It is beautiful but in a weird way.
ZANI – My uncle used in live in Rayleigh, which is near Southend.
Sonny Green - Rayleigh is the posh section of Southend, but there is a small section of council houses there. I have a mate there called Daniel O’Reilly, but the surrounding areas have people commuting to the banks in the City of London. I used to hang around places like The Kursaal Estate in Southend. I spent most of my time there, a working class world, well not working class just people hanging around. It is very drugs orientated, everyone is on drugs, whether it be Charlie, weed, speed, smack or crack, it is because they are so bored. Remember a documentary called Tower Block dreams?
ZANI – Yea, I do, Leo Gregory did the narration for it
Sonny Green - That sums up Southend
ZANI – Was the Hip Hop scene in Southend where you started your career?
Sonny Green - No, that didn’t happen until I moved to London. I moved to London when I was sixteen. Southend was a depressing place, but via Southend, the internet and a few of my older relatives I learnt about the world, what was going on with society, the banking system, the elite and how they put everyone in this fucking dark oppressive situation. The TV is dumbing everyone down, and if they are not watching TV, they are wasting their time, and through that I wrote and recorded my first album Occupy in Southend. When it was finished I moved into a squat in Hackney, a beautiful squat with the internet, the works.
Then I was on the positive trip, as I was away from all the drugs and my old mates from school, even though I smoke the odd bit of weed. But I was a road runner, dealing and making money off people in the streets. Then I used those efforts to make money from my first CD. I would flyer the estates and I sold 10,000 CD’s in the one year. I would perform to people, ask for a donation get a donation and bang, put a CD in their hands. That’s how I promoted myself, and that is how I am here. That’s how I first got heard, and then got my first manager who saw Spread It on YouTube which everyone saw, which ended up with me getting an even better manager.
ZANI – How did you get Andy Boyd (Pete Docherty’s manager) as your manager?
Sonny Green - Pete Docherty heard my music first, and the whole crew such as Robbie their driver, who drives them all about and recites poems. Robbie put it to Andy and it worked like that, he’s my manager now and we are at the final stages now, got to put the hard work in and grind out the results. Next year, is the year, I will sell 100,000 records.
ZANI – I think you will, your words are gritty, yet optimistic, but don’t you think peace and love is a bygone hippy philosophy?
Sonny Green - I think if more peace was promoted and it was a bit more cool to be a bit loving and a bit more easy go lucky, then the world would be a better place rather than everywhere you look, seeing a bus advertising a new film with a gun. But I will probably be in a poster for a film with a gun, being parodied around London. But that is how Britain makes most of its money; we are the biggest arms dealers in the world, we make guns and weapons no one wants to talk about it.
ZANI – Do you think that there may be a revolution, not a call for arms, but the way people change their thinking?
Sonny Green - Hopefully, where people find better ways to excite themselves, rather than through violence and harming people, they find other ways. It’s easy for me to say, because I can jump on stage and I can get that buzz. But some people get it through fighting, and they are all chasing that excitement at the end to get that rush of adrenalin. Forget things and to live in that ecstasy, that is why people take ecstasy to live in that consciousness. But there are other ways to get that, like meditation, exercise like playing football, running. Creativity, that is the best way, creating stuff, expressing yourself whether it be art, graffiti, music, whatever it be. Meeting new people, that is a buzz, talking to strangers on the bus or the tube, when people get confident in that rather than confidence in ‘let’s go outside and have a fight’. Then the world will be a better place, people just have to start thinking that way.
ZANI – That is a good way of thinking, which I totally agree with. I have seen some of your live collaborations like Joe Lodge at Steinway and Sons and Pete Docherty. I believe Joey Bada$$ is top of your list for collaborations, I understand he is based in New York. Any plans to go to the Big Apple?
Sonny Green - I think I am going to go there this Christmas. I will keep you posted, but I haven’t tried to contact Joey Bada$$ yet, the vibe isn’t there. When the next album is finished then I will reach out to him.
ZANI – Do you think you will crack America?
Sonny Green - Of course I will.
ZANI - Do you think they will take to your message of peace and love?
Sonny Green – Hopefully. If they don’t take to my message of peace and love, then they will take to my blues. Obviously America is a consuming and raw scene.
ZANI – Do you think the current American Hip Hop and Rap scene, is blimp and gangsta rap culture?
Sonny Green - Not if you listen to Joey Bada$$ stuff.
ZANI – Any other country you want to go to?
Sonny Green - I want to go to every country in world and I will do that. Whether it will be with my music or I have to go and rob a jewellery shop, I will do it. (Laughs)
ZANI – I don’t think you will have to rob a jewellers. I love the track you did with N’Goni and the parka you wear in the video is cool, are you into clothes?
Sonny Green - Thanks. I go with the flow, I like clothes that make a statement, but I don’t wear any brands like Ralph Lauren. I like clothes that my friends make, (points to his unique Great Britain jumper he is wearing), and underneath this, got my Bob Marley tee-shirt on, but I will wear branded trainers.
ZANI – I do like a pair of Adidas. I know you are at the start of your career, but do you have plans to help other artists?
Sonny Green - I want to start a label, once I get the money I will change the world, but I want to keep that low key. I want to set up an academy or a school, for people to write, perform and communicate, where people can express themselves.
ZANI – I can see you doing that. Do you have your words in your head or do you carry a book to note down your ideas and words?
Sonny Green - I have a journal (at which he produces an amazing leather bound book and throws it on the pub table).
ZANI - Final question, what do you want to be your finest hour?
Sonny Green - Whatever it is, it has yet to come.
I am sure it will, and I hope I am there to see it. Sonny Green is a bundle of energy, who is witty, polite, smart and charming. There is an element of naive charm with Sonny. However the fact that he turned his back on spending his youth all day doing nothing with all day to do in it, and moved to London to pursue a career in music and other media has paid off. Shows how tough this kid is, and believe me, he is a tough cookie with a big heart.
Two days after his interview Sonny performed at ‘ZANI does Diogenes Club’ at the Spice of Life in a roomful of eighty people, with only a few of them knowing who he was. He took the stage, politely asked for quiet (and there were some loveable rogues in attendance, who have certainly joined in a few football terrace chants over the years), they obliged and Sonny had everyone (including myself) listening to every word. When he finished, he had won over eighty new fans. That is how his world is at the moment, a right to passage, a journey winning many admirers, with his verse and music as his sword, as he is a warrior of words.
©Photo 1 Courtesy of Scott Miler
Used by Kind Permission
©Photos 2 and 3 Courtesy of Chris Gravett
Used by Kind Permission
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