Gloucester-based MC Rider Shafique has been influencing the local music scene for over a decade, getting his first taste of the road with Sony Music-signed electronic act Pressure Drop, after being introduced to the group by his cousin – who also had ties with S’Express and Galliano – and another close friend from Gloucester, Martin Fishley AKA Mr Melody.
In 2009, Rider and Mr Melody went on to record an album together as Black Canvas, released by Skool of Thought and Tayo’s Cool and Deadly Imprint.
People like Benga and Chase & Status were around remixing stuff for us, and it all grew from there
‘I was still doing stuff locally’ Rider explains, ‘but my touring and road experience came with Pressure Drop. Slowly my networks got bigger and different people asked to work together. People like Benga and Chase & Status were around remixing stuff for us, and it all grew from there.’
He’s now one of the South West’s most prolific and versatile MCs, with countless features spanning dancehall, dubstep, reggae, hip hop, drum and bass and more. In 2017, he recorded the 8-track Champion EP with Sam Binga on Critical Sound, which received reload treatment in late 2018, getting re-released with instrumentals and new remixes from the likes of Enei and Alter Echo and E3.
He’s also part of Bristol’s Young Echo Collective and supplied the first release on the Kahn and Neek-run label Young Echo Sound, with his spoken word double single I-Dentity / Freedom Cry.
Across those releases, though immediately recognisable as Rider Shafique, his style can vary massively, whether it’s a spoken word passage laid over minimalist dubstep for Gantz, or a waist winding, repeating vocal over a dancehall track for O$VMV$M.
whether it’s a spoken word passage laid over minimalist dubstep for Gantz, or a waist winding, repeating vocal over a dancehall track for O$VMV$M
‘You have different moods at different times,’ he explains. ‘You’re not always serious, you’re not always sad, you’re not always happy, you’re not always hungry – at dinner time you want to eat, you don’t want candy and sweets and ice cream, it’s not good for you at that time. It’s about having a balance.
‘I’ve got lots of different aspects to my personality. I don’t just listen to reggae, I don’t just listen to dubstep. UK music borrows from lots of different elements, so as a vocalist there are lots of different elements that inspire me. It’s like a melting pot and that’s why my style is how it is, it’s a reflection of who I am.’
He continues, ‘What I want to do, I don’t think I’ve done. I’ve never done my own solo album, for example. I was more attracted to dancehall, hip hop and roots reggae, and I’ve touched on those things but I’ve also taken diversions. I don’t think I’ve ever been 100% happy with anything I’ve done. There’s always a compromise when you work with somebody else.’
I’ve got lots of different aspects to my personality. I don’t just listen to reggae, I don’t just listen to dubstep
Listening across Rider’s entire body of work, you can get a feel for who he is as an artist, but fans can look forward to hearing what happens when Rider has full control of the reigns, as a solo album is already in the works.
‘I’ve started lots of different bits and pieces, but it’s a lot to organise and curate. Like I said before, I’ve got lots of elements to me, so it’s difficult to do in a way that makes sense. For example, some of the tracks I did with Sam Binga wouldn’t fit with a spoken word thing I did with Kahn. So I’ve started a more percussive, stripped back, acoustic kind of feel with some tracks. I’ve started some tracks where I use a drummer and a singer from Senegal and another percussionist who’s based in the UK, but who was born in Jamaica. It takes a lot of work to get all these sounds levelled and organised, it takes time.
I never stop making music, I’m doing two or three tracks a week, most weeks
‘I never stop making music, I’m doing two or three tracks a week, most weeks. But none of these things would fit into a solo project. The Champion EP with Sam Binga, for example, that only took a few months. Working with him on eight tracks, that’s achievable. So before I do my solo project, I might do something like that with someone else.’
As well as putting in hours of studio time, Rider Shafique is a round the clock artist, creating visual and performance art to educate and inspire. His I-Dentity release on Young Echo Records, for example, began originally as a spoken word poem and grew into a 45-minute piece of theatre, which he toured across the South West before it was released as a piece of music. He added to the project further with a portrait series with Bristol photographer Khali Ackford, showcasing and celebrating the diversity of dreadlock culture.
‘I have a passion for cultural subjects and history,’ says Rider. ‘There’s so much that we don’t have as West Indian people in the UK, so I’m just trying to fill that void and create things that I see a need for.
I’m just trying to fill that void and create things that I see a need for
‘These are works that I do partly for my own personal knowledge of self, and being comfortable with who I am and understanding who I am. And I think young black and Asian youth have a need for that, to actually know who they are and why their grandparents came here, but also for the white youth to get rid of all the myths regarding immigration, so people can form their own opinions based on fact.’
I don’t think I have the choice not to be political
Rider Shafique doesn’t shy away from his reputation as a political MC; as he says, a meaningful message doesn’t feature in every track, but when it’s there it’s palpable and from the heart.
‘I don’t think I have the choice not to be political’ he says. ‘If you’re a certain way in this world, you’re very aware of it. Whether that’s regarding your ethnicity or your sexuailty or your gender. Throughout time, my inspirations in music have always been those that have a message or inspire me – that make me want to jump up and do the same sort of thing.
‘I can only relate or speak about how I see the world or how it affects me. I’m not a millionaire, I don’t drink Cristal or have diamonds in my teeth, so I can’t talk about that, because that’s not really me.
I want to bring things to light and showcase and educate
‘People might say that I’m political, but I’m trying to make the change I want to see happen instead of just talking about it. If there isn’t history about my people, I’ll create it. If there isn’t children’s books with people that look like my children, I’m going to create that.
‘Musically, I’m collaborating with people all over the world. I want to bring things to light and showcase and educate. The world has changed from when I was young. With social media and YouTube, you can have such a big reach just from your bedroom, so it’s about connecting all those dots and bringing everyone together and trying to do something – making it happen.’
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger