MC Iceski is one of the first generation of pioneering rappers from both Milton Keynes and the UK. MC Iceski founded the musical section of Hip Hop collective The Criminal Minds with DJ Halo and Spatts during the late 1980s and together released several critically acclaimed Hip Hop, Rave and Drum & Bass recordings. At the time this interview was conducted The Criminal Minds have recently returned to their Hip Hop roots with a brand new recording entitled “Regroup the loops” which contains contributions from all original members.
MC Iceski – Hamburg, Germany, 2010.
Greetings and thanks for sharing your story. For any readers that are maybe unaware, could you give us a breakdown of how The Criminal Minds formed?
Well, this is well documented, but the short version was that I met HALO at Bletchley college where SAFE-D was also studying. We hooked up, started writing together & TCM was born as a rap crew, previously being a Graffiti outfit in Buckingham. I used to hang with Spatts from the break-dancing days & we all got together. The rest is history. My brother Warren (Grafik) was always there & it was great to have him as part of the crew from the early days.
The Criminal Minds (DJ Halo, Spatts, Safe-D, MC Iceski, Grafik).
What inspired you to start rapping/writing lyrics and how old were you when you discovered Hip Hop?
I got into Hip hop in the mid 80’s, it started with break-dance’, and I remember the whole New York scene and culture at the time just blew me away. Graffiti, Break-dance’, Hip Hop music, the clothing, DJ’s scratching, Mc’s, man I was totally hooked. At first it was purely the dancing, breaking out the cardboard and forming crews to battle. As time progressed I got more and more into the music, listening to Mike Allen and taping everything I could to play on my stereo. Soon I started writing my own lyrics and producing beats from drum loops using my trusted tape recorder. We used to spend Sunday night recording live tracks over and over again, with me scratching’ on an old turntable I had with my good friend John Rouse. We used to call ourselves the “Supreme City Rockers”, ha ha, that gives you a flavour of the time…
MC Iceski (Middle) – 1980s.
Who were your early influences?
Listening to my style and the sound I project when I MC I was very influenced by the times. Public Enemy were a big influence, Eric B & Rakim, LL Cool J (early stuff only), Mantronix, KRS ONE, and the list goes on. I guess I always had that hard edge to my voice, nasal and high pitched as we always did tracks that were fast and firin’, like Hip Hop in it’s early days. Did I imitate an American voice? I used to think that maybe I did but now looking back I am not so sure, a sound of the time maybe?
To be honest many MC’s influence me, Safe D used to blow me away with the lyrics he would write and that would spurn me on to write better ones, with a harder flow, that was faster. Even now when I write I listen to lots of other MC’s as this inspires me to write that better line..
MC Iceski, Safe-D, DJ Halo, Spatts (Jumping).
As well as being a pioneering musical force, TCM were also a collective of Graffiti writers. During the late 1980s and early 1990s I remember seeing TCM tags and artwork by Chaos 2, Chase 1, Task 1, and Halo around my local area of Buckingham and also in Milton Keynes. Did you ever get involved in the writing side of the Hip Hop culture at all?
“TCM” by Chase One – Milton Keynes, 1990.
Yep – like us all I explored all elements of Hip Hop & was regularly doing pieces in MK, in the parks & underpasses. Chase was the master though, a real talent who designed a number of TCM covers.
TCM Record Covers by Chase One – 1990s.
During the early years of TCM activity DJ Halo recorded a cassette tape with MC Tres who was also part of the first generation of local Hip Hop participants. I believe the cassette was entitled “True Tres Trax” and was circulated locally around 1988/89. During the same period Spatts was also working with another Milton Keynes Hip Hop crew called British Dialect. Could you tell us any more info on these projects and if this was happening prior to TCM forming as a musical project?
Well MC Tres was a cool dude from Buckingham & had been working with Halo as you know. We did work together at one stage and we recorded one track in about 1989, me Tres & Halo. It was a wicked track, long lost now and used the hook from “Boogie Down Bronx” by Man Parrish.
TCM Posse – Milton Keynes, 1990.
As for British Dialect they were a crew Spatts was working with, there was a very talented MC with a very fast flow & firin’ lyrics. This was Spatts side project & they pulled together a number of strong tracks. We were planning to do a live show with them in the early 90’s but it never happened in the end…
Before the official release of “Guilty as Charged” there was a tape circulating Milton Keynes area that contained several of the tracks that would later make the final EP, Did TCM ever send any copies of the demo tape to record labels prior to the release of “Guilty as charged? Or was the aim to set up a record label independently from the start?
Well the tape was the forerunner for “Guilty As Charged”, me & HALO were getting serious with the music and wanted to take it a step further. Copies of the tape were very limited, with a cover by Chase 1, it was the first taste of TCM. A 4 track tape with “TCM The Name Of The Posse”, “Our Music Is a Mission”, “Ragga Style” and “Prepare For The Holocaust”. I don’t recall any demo’s being sent off but you never know it was a long time ago.
The Criminal Minds “Unreleased cassette playlist” – Demo recordings, Late 1980s.
The Debut EP Guilty as Charged was released in 1990 independently on TCM Records. Did you manage to get any wider distribution deals with the EP other than selling copies yourselves?
To be honest we did work with Assassin Records to distribute Guilty As Charged and in the end we managed to shift all the copies we had & made enough to fund the next release.
The Criminal Minds “Guilty as charged playlist” – TCM Records, 1990.
At the time “Guily As Charged” was released there was a bit of a backlash from the media and the music industry towards hip hop and how it wasn’t proper music. How did this effect getting gigs/Radio airplay?
We never got any airplay anyway so didn’t need to worry. TCM was never about acceptance or mainstream, just a small town crew doing their own thing & having fun with it. I do recall at the time there was a huge backlash on sampling with the media making a huge deal of it. Some top Hip Hop artists of the time were taken to court and there was a real focus on protection of rights, man we just went ahead & did our thing anyway.
Safe D and Grafik (then know as CMD) both made cameo appearances on the Guilty as charged EP but featured a lot more on the next release Tales from the wasteland. Was there a group decision made to incorporate more vocalists or did this just progress naturally?
It happened naturally. Both Grafik & SafeD has been involved in the early days of TCM & were always part of the crew. However, in TFTW we had the chance to showcase what they could do & the result was awesome. TFTW was a great fun to make, we were really rollin by then & Systems Overload just blew me away at the time.
The Criminal Minds “Tales from the wasteland playlist” – TCM Records, 1991.
Do you remember when and where your first live show was? And was this with TCM?
Hmmm to be honest I cannot remember our first gig, must have been mid 80’s. The gig we did at “May Daze” festival in 1991 stands out as one of my favourites from the early days. That was the first time we played at a big event & it was amazing, we got mad props & the live set was a killa!
“May Daze” event flyer – Campbell park, Milton Keynes, 1991.
UK Hip Hop pioneers the Sin-De-Cut recorded their first two 12” records in Bletchley with Evil Eddie Richards during 1987/88. Was there much of a local Hip Hop scene in Milton Keynes during those early years?
Well there was a good vibe going on in UK Hip Hop in those early days but the scene in MK has always been a struggle. There were a few outlets for music but most of what we did we had to put on ourselves. I guess that way we also had total control.
Do you remember hearing any other crews from the local scene /area?
We did hang out with a crew from Northampton for a while, Rhyme & Reason – two Mc’s who had a really unique sound. They ended up recording the lyrics on “Make It Mine” by The Shamen also involving Eddie Richards.
The Shamen “Make it mine” – One Little Indian, 1990.
In the mid to late 80s turntableism and scratching were both prominent features in hip hop records on both sides of the Atlantic. I felt that hip hop from the UK focused a lot more on turntable skills and the DJ was very much at the forefront with the MC of the overall product in the late 80s/Early 90s with the likes of Hijack, Hardnoise, Gunshot, Blade, MC Mello, Black Radical Mk2, Katch 22, Etc.
Why do you think scratching excelled in the Britcore/Hardcore UK Hip Hop scene as opposed to in the US/East coast scene?
The DJ’s were just as important as the MC’s. Scratchin’ was a key element of the sound and fused with the beats & lyrics. Halo was an awesome scratch DJ, I had huge respect for him & he was layering scratches long before anyone else, who else put out a track like “Section 12 Paragraph Zero”. Pure scratch indulgence & something we still love today.
The Criminal Minds “Section 12 paragraph zero” – TCM Records, 1990.
So after Tales from the wasteland came “Dance of the parasites” which started a natural progression towards the emerging rave scene which TCM also played a big part in. Due to the nature of dance music the MC’s and vocalists are not naturally at the forefront like they are in Hip Hop music. What Role did you and the other rappers play in the rave scene if any?
Well it was a time of real change for us. We had written some strong TCM tracks, “Shades Of My Ruffness” being one but we got hooked into the Jungle scene pretty quickly. Before long the whole dynamic of the group had changed & this did cause us some problems at the time. The DJ’s became the prominent force with the MC’s being primarily used for the live sets. That said it was an amazing time, it was a shame we stopped recording the Hip Hop tunes then as we were peaking, but hey we have no regrets.
The Criminal Minds “Dance of the parasites” – World Beats, 1992.
During the mid 1990’s I remember yourself and DJ Halo recording several tracks together one of which was Widow maker. This became the title track for a project that involved DJs, Rappers and producers from the Buckingham and MK area and released on a cassette. I also remember an early version of “Diary of a madman” that was tagged on to another one of DJ Halos projects entitled Nil by mouth a few years later. Are there any other hidden gems from those days that people are yet to hear?
Well there was yes but the bad news is they never got recorded. I produced some of the best lyrics I have ever written during that time. One song in particular really stood out lyrically but then disaster struck. After a session at Halo’s I left a batch of hand written lyrics round his house & by accident he threw then away. We spent ages looking for them but they never reappeared!
“Widow maker” cassette compilation – Redshaw, 1995.
In 2001 the TCM rappers regrouped with DJ Halo to make the “Widow Maker” full length LP shortly followed by the “Break Shit Up” EP. This lead to further popularity in Europe, and live shows in Germany and Sweden. How was the experience of performing in Europe for you and the group?
The experience was crazy. We played Zug, Switzerland in 2001 & it was off the hook, completely crazy, a full club with maybe 300 people, signing records, pictures, we were treated like royalty. It took us by surprise as the scene was so alive out there. We met some real cool dudes called “The Positive Pressure Crew” who are still around today putting on Hip hop gigs & keeping the scene going. We also got booked to play Hamburg & it was another amazing gig, cool club, wicked people & the crazy weekend. The gig blew up big time & it was amazing, another rocking night. Met some fantastic German’s who knew everything was to know about the UK scene & were serious collectors. We are still good friends & have collaborated on the “Mo Witch Project” as 12”, I visit Hamburg regularly now.
Mo Witch Projekt “Weapon of choice” – White label, 2008.
Moving to more recent events 2011 saw the release of almost the entire back catalogue on a double CD with the added bonus of the systems overload demo version. This has been great for people that did not get a chance to obtain a copy of the previous work and a good opportunity for younger fans to experience TCM’s music.
Yeah – it was something we thought would never happen. We were frequently asked if we would repress “Guilty As Charged” and “Systems Overload”. Halo was working on material as he always was & was chatting with Hip Hop heads across the country & stumbled across Grant from Rephlex Records who was a fan back in the day & wanted to release the back catalogue. We didn’t make it easy for him, the deal took over 12 months to pull together & finally in early 2011 the back catalogue was released. It has got some great feedback & you know what, I am sure we have picked up some new TCM fans along the way.
The Criminal Minds “TCM” – Rephlex, 2011.
Finally moving on to the latest release Regroup the Loops. 2011 has seen the TCM crew reunite to record and release a brand new 6 track EP currently available on Vinyl but due for digital release next month.
The Criminal Minds “Regroup the loops” Fat hop, 2011.
The release sees the reunification of yourself, Safe D, Grafik, with producer DJ Spatts. DJ Halo also makes an appearance on the turntables and to top it off a video of the title track On the run part 2. Could you give us an incite in to any future plans for TCM?
“Regroup The Loops” was released in October 2011 & is the latest instalment from TCM. It features all the MC’s with tight hard production from my main man Spatts. I really feel this EP is a return to form, capturing the rawness of the early sound with hard new edge. The EP has gotten rave reviews from the serious Hip Hop heads & I hope will become another sought after TCM release. We have more plans, more releases proving there is life in these old dogs yet.
Break to the beat would like to thank MC Iceski & The Criminal Minds for their contributions to both the local and national Hip Hop scene.
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