Braintax: Panoramic view

A certified legend on the underground UK hip hop scene, Braintax (aka Joeseph Christie) is known the world over as the head honcho of seminal label Low Life Records. With well formed political views, Braintax’s brutally honest rhymes have earned him the respect of his peers, and he recently returned from a 5 year hiatus with his brand new album, ‘Panorama’. ITM caught up for a chat.

Congratulations on the great success you’ve had over the past years. You’ve played a significant role in the UK hip hop scene; do you see yourself keeping up a similar workload for the next few years?

Well it’s been a slog for the last 14 years, and it’s got to the point where I’m looking for some new shit to get my head into. The label’s ticking along nicely with the catalogue we have, we’ll no doubt keep hitting heads with the quality, but personally I’m looking for some new challenges.

What were your first impressions of Australian hip-hop? Do you have any Aussie artists on heavy rotation back in the UK?

My favourite Aussie rapper is probably Urthboy, but having said that I know there’s lots of stuff out there I just don’t know about. My impression of Australian hip hop was that it’s an exciting thing to be involved in these days, I can see a lot of energy and optimism there, similar to the way the UK scene was a few years ago, and again there’s a big similarity there between the UK and Oz.

Being the owner of Low Life Records, do you have your eye on any up n’ comers in the UK? If so, what do you look for in an artist to sign them to your label?

We don’t really do the traditional ‘signing’ of artists, it’s more a case of find some shit we like and do a one off deal, that’s worked against us in some ways but I think the artist’s appreciate us cos we work like that and don’t try and tie them down. The big new thing in the office in our office right now is Dubbledge, he came to my attention through Micall Parknsun and Orifice of Foreign Beggars who both do a lot of stuff with him. He’s a fucking incredible MC and he’s gonna be coming out on Low Life in 2007. Seriously this guy is different, charismatic, creative, the first new artist I’ve been excited about in years.

There is a certain chemistry between your beats and raps; do you prefer writing tracks for yourself or other artists?

Pretty much I prefer doing my own stuff cos I get to fully control the end result. Working with other MCs is cool cos I really enjoy making beats and recording, but sometimes they’ll be asking you to do stuff to the beat and you’re thinking ‘aw shit, seriously?!’

It’s great to hear some new material from yourself, I have to say that the overall sound of your productions have come along in leaps and bounds since ‘Birofunk’. The beats on ‘Panorama’ are crisp, thick and most important of all, memorable. Have you committed more of your time to beat making these days rather than the rapping?

Yeah, in the last few years I’ve written about 20 songs, and 12 of them are on ‘Panorama’, so yeah I’ve been spending more time doing beats than rapping. I only did about half of the beats on ‘Panorama’ though, the rest are just stuff I happened to hear from other people, I didn’t really shop around for beats.

In your track ‘Free the Walls’ you say “judge me by the records I make”. How do you think you’ll be judged on your new album ‘Panorama’?

Fuck knows! Hopefully people will say what they’ve always said about me, which is that I’m real, I do my own thing, and I give you something fresh. Everything I say I can back up and you’ll never find me just saying some shit cos it sounds good. Seriously, what you hear on record is me, 100%.

Yourself and Mystro recently hooked up with the Hilltop Hoods for the song ‘Obese Low Life’. As the Low Life head honcho, can you tell us if you have any more collaborations planned with any other members of the Obese Family, or any other Aussie artists for that matter?

Nothing really planned but I checked out this guy Tongue and I’m gonna try and link him and give him some beats. DJ Debris is a good dude so I’ll definitely be round his place again, and I got a lot of respect for the Elefant Tracks crew so next time I’m in Sydney we’ll hook up hopefully. I need to get out there again and make some links still.

Speaking of collaborations, I have seen the Low Life logo appearing on a ‘Gorillaz’ video clip, is there any chance of Braintax appearance on the next ‘Gorillaz’ track?

Yeah I heard about that. I know a good friend of Damon Albarn, plus he drinks at my local pub, so there’s definitely possibilities there, but I’m more accessible than they are so it’s not gonna be easy trying to hook something up from my side. Those guys are very aware musically and politically, so I’m hoping something could work, but I daresay I don’t have the money to make it happen. I’m not very good at the music industry ‘networking’ shit either!

Down here in Australia we tend to be somewhat isolated from the happenings in the UK hip hop scene, the details of the formation of ‘Braintax’ appear blurry to some. Can you fill us in?

Well firstly it’s an odd name for a solo artist and that’s cos Braintax used to be me and DJ Test, we formed in about 1987 and put our first record out, the ‘Fat Head EP’ [the second Low Life release] in 1992. On that, and the next record (‘Future Years EP’) we both rapped. Some people think it’s all just me. Then in about 1997 he got married and we drifted apart, so I carried on doing my own thing and kept the name. The other thing to point out is that I’m not from London, I’m from Leeds (in the North of England), so that’s another reason why I don’t sound like a lot of UK MCs. I kinda play on it to set myself apart.

On ‘Birofunk’ we saw a more personal side of you, with a number tracks being based around your personal experiences. Do you find writing raps to be a therapy?

Yeah totally, even the political tracks I do are therapy cos I get all the shit I’m thinking on that day out of my head. All my lyrics are personal and they’re all straight out of my head on the day they’re written. I don’t really plan or think about the rhymes too much.

Are there any plans for a world wide tour with the release of your new album ‘Panorama’?

I wish, that takes a lot of energy and dough, and with all the shit I’ve got going on it’s gonna be real hard to organise. I do wanna come back to Oz though, any offers?!

‘Panorama’ is out now through Low Life/Shogun.