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Meet the MC: Murkz

After first breaking through over a decade ago with bassline hit ‘Manny Man’, Manchester MC Murkz has returned revitalised with a new sound. Ahead of a project with collaborator TRC, he tells DJ Mag how spitting over different styles of music keeps him lyrically inspired

Although Manchester has a long, proud history in music, growing up in the North West as an aspiring MC is not without its barriers. The Manchester accent is more accepted in rap these days, but according to multi-genre sheller Murkz, it hasn’t always been that way. “I’m a Manc, I’m not going to be shy about it,” he tells DJ Mag. “When I started doing music, it seemed to be that, for anybody outside of London, it was a struggle. Whereas now, it seems like the door has opened.”

As a youngster, rap was the motive for Murkz. He loved US heroes like Biggie, Nas, Tupac and Ludacris, but it was UK talent that made him pick up the mic. “The So Solid, Pay As U Go and Heartless era: they made you feel like this is something I could do.” His dad was a vinyl record digger with a sprawling collection that a young Murkz would marvel at; in his teens, Murkz and a childhood friend would listen through the walls to the latter’s old brother MCing with his grime collective, Nightrider Crew. “When I used to go round to David’s house, you’d hear the tapes and you’d hear him on radio, hear him spitting. And I thought, ‘Yo, I could do this’. I started writing in my bedroom and spitting.”

His own bedroom setup soon followed, and his parents were surprisingly supportive, even with 10 or more friends traipsing up and down the stairs, looking to record their radio sets onto CD and MiniDisc. Murkz’s mum even bought him his first set of decks, and a keyboard. “She bought me a big, thick ‘Unsigned’ book and said, ‘If you're going to do this, do it properly. Get a demo, and send it to everyone in this book’.” Armed with Fruity Loops, he began recording his own mixtapes.

As a teenager, it was all about rap and grime. “I’d be spitting on Missy Elliott, Timbaland, all of that.” Then, while in college, he heard his friends tell stories about making trips across the Pennines to Sheffield, to go raving at the original Niche parties. They’d hungrily snap up tapes and CDs of new bassline music, bringing back those high-octane 4x4 stompers to Manchester for them and Murkz to hear. Although he was barely old enough to get into clubs, Murkz had to see and hear this for himself.

On his first night at Niche, he fell in love with the wall-shaking, bouncing tunes, and found a welcoming network of ravers, DJs and MCs from across the country, who all descended on the Steel City’s iconic club every week. “There’d be a large group of us in Niche every week. You’d have your Manchester lot, your Sheffield lot, Leeds and Huddersfield. It was a respectful collective. There was never any beef. Everyone just loved the music.”

Just as T2 was dominating the charts with his massive breakthrough track ‘Heartbroken’, and bringing the sound known either as bassline, 4x4 or Niche to the masses, Murkz was preparing an underground hit of his own. In 2009, Murkz found an early taste of success with ‘Manny Man’, a local anthem that gave Manchester a rare foothold in a bassline scene governed by Yorkshire and the Midlands. “Even though we had a lot of big producers from Manchester, the actual nights were few and far between, because of the police and whatever else,” Murkz explains. “From a club perspective, the bassline sound wasn’t that big in Manchester, but literally everybody in my age group loved it; every rave, they were all there.” Ministry Of Sound quickly snapped ‘Manny Man’ up and released it through Jamie Duggan and H ‘Two’ O’s ‘The Sound Of Bassline 2’ compilation that same year.

But, as is so often the case, life took a different turn for Murkz. Though the scene has bubbled away for devotees since, bassline’s brief time in the ’00s pop culture sun came to an end, and Murkz hit pause on music to devote himself to fatherhood. Eventually, as his son and daughter grew older, he found himself drawn back into music, making his grand return a full decade after his first, signature hit. 

Murkz’s brand-new ultra bouncy, sugar rush bassline/4x4 stomper, ‘Dutty’, featuring Freddo, and a wild performance at Sidewinder Festival, reclaimed his place in the bassline scene alongside Trilla, DJ Q, Jamie Duggan and his old friend TRC. A flurry of grime drops quickly followed. First, his contribution to the ‘One Take Freestyles’, joining everyone from Stormzy to Ghetts, then, ‘To This Day’, a dramatic chugger that opens with a defiant quote from Deontay Wilder and packs in solid gold one-liners: “Man wanna try but I don’t like rugby, Manchester ledge, Sir Matt Busby, trust me.” 

Bassline will always be the love of his life — “Don’t be surprised if you see me pick up the mic in a bassline rave, I can’t help myself!” — but until he sat down to write on rap and grime beats, Murkz felt like the songwriting world was shut off to him. “I’ve always been a spitter, and the bassline sound kind of limits you,” he explains. “You only say certain things, and you only say so much. With bassline, you’re literally making a track for a rave to go off, whereas when I write [to other sounds], I can go to different places. That’s why I started making proper songs in different genres again.”

Since then, we’ve had grime, drill, dancehall, rap and even R&Drill from Murkz, but his refusal to stick to a genre hasn’t always been warmly received. “I sometimes feel that the industry wants you to have one particular sound; that seems to be the model for a lot of the labels and artists. And you hear it. I spoke to A&Rs and they kept saying, ‘Find your sound, find your sound’, And my angle is, ‘Why can’t I be the sound?’” 

He may not be sticking to one genre, but there is a through-line in his music. Maybe it’s that natural Mancunian charm. Lately, he’s been working more with his old friend and fellow bassline veteran, TRC. They’ve been honing a sound that, although still resistant to genre boundaries, is becoming more his own. “We’ve been working on a sound, which I won’t say too much about yet,” he teases, “but you’re going to hear a consistent sound start to come through. We feel like we’ve landed on something, though.”

Beyond that, he’s working on more substantial projects, which could shape up to be an EP, but in this ever-shifting musical landscape, he warns, that could easily change. It’s all about timing. A simple misstep could kneecap even the most perfectly-executed collection of tracks. 

“I’m very conscious of the way music is digested at the minute,” he explains. “You could drop a seven or eight-track EP — which is a lot of work — and it could literally be forgotten about a week later. I think it always depends on where you are as an artist and what you’re trying to do. That’s the part that I’m still trying to work out.”

James Keith is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @JamesMBKeith

Want more? Check out our recent Meet the MC features with Glasgow's Nova and Leeds-based rapper, ATO