10th October 1990
Mancunian rapper MC Tunes has quickly established himself as a leading light in the UK dance scene in his collaborations with 808 State. "I am very aggressive. If I want something, I get it. If I don't like someone I say I don't fucking like you." A guy with a lot to say for himself, Claire Bishop met up with him and discovered the north at it's heights...
"I call shit shit and a diamond a diamond. There's no cosmetics about it, its like what you see is what you get. If you can't deal with that, then fuck off."
The world according to MC Tunes, or Nicky Locket to his mother, does not have a lot of time for middle-class manners or the Youth Training Scheme. 20 years ago he'd have been called an angry young man- these days just about everyone's angry and he's more likely to be classed as a mouthy git or a demi-god - depending on your age. But you certainly can't ignore him, he makes sure of that... for one thing, you can't really get a word in edgeways. If rap hadn't been invented, Tunes would have, could have claimed sole rights.
Not that he's your typical rapper... okay, he's got the obligatory purple tracksuit, the shaved head, the don't-mess-with-me stare but he's also white, Mancunian and looks like a dodgy bouncer... and he's got the sproutings of flower power still with him. His mother was an out and out hippy, dressed her five year old son in headbands and tassels- and instead of really messing him up, the only lasting effect it seems to have left him with is that he doesn't seem to care what people think of him.
"If people call me names, I don't give a sh**, it means nothing. Sticks and stones don't break my bones. If you knock me down, I'll get up again, they knock me down, I'll be up there smiling, with a grin this big and say go on dare- it means nothing. At one time, I was cynical, I used to get vexed up. You know, why the fuck have you got that and I haven't... I was a wide boy. I was wild, I was a kid. But then things happen in your life that make you grow up. You get older, you realise. By the time I was 17 I was finished with all that... I didn't want anymore of that in my life. It's like I am very aggressive, I go for what I know. If I want something, I get it. If I see something I want, I take it. If I don't like something I get rid of it and if I don't like someone I say I don't fucking like you. But you don't have to hurt people, you don't have to destroy their confidence to boost your own."
Brought up on the seamier side of Manchester, on the Moss Side has made him tough... if you met him in a dark alleyway you'd run the other way, but you'd be wrong. All he's after is peace, love and happiness... well, almost all.
"I'm into people getting it together, that's what I'm about. Black, white, pink, green- just getting together in a club, making them sweat, that's part of the unity, that's where unity comes from and if I can get a multi-kind of different people jammed in one room together, rocking to my records, that's good. People forget about all this- it's all 'I'm one thing, you're another'."
Young Nicky had a lucky escape. Most of his school graduated straight onto the streets. Fortunately, the MC discovered that he couldn't spell, he couldn't do maths- but he could rap. And in the spirit of all good conversions, it came to him in a blinding flash... or a rap attack.
"I first heard the Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight when I was about nine and it was like Wow, this is fucking great. Bollocks, Hendrix out the window, rapping's my game. If I didn't have music I would have gone mad years ago. All I know is me and my tune. When I'm feeling down, I put on a tune, when I want to get high, I put on a tune. When I want to speed myself up, I don't bung a gram of whiz up my nose, I just put on a fast tune."
He may well have discovered his own form of high but Tunes is an unlikely candidate to end up dealing on the street. He's seen what misusing drugs can lead to; he lost his uncle and his father that way and although he's now anti-drugs himself, he's philosophical about the kids on the streets.
"Drugs are there and they're killing people. But it isn't the heroin that's killing people, it's the Vim and shit they put in it. What saves lives is clean drugs and if the government wants to save lives it could do it tomorrow. Make it legal. It may sound cruel and callous but it will stop the rot. It will stop people having to mug other people because they can't get the money for drugs. It will stop a percentage of people thieving and a percentage of the dying- the 16 year olds lying in dirty alleys with brick dust injected into their arms. But then again, you've got the drug dealers- it ain't their fault. Some people have got nothing else, all they've got is on the streets and all there is on the streets is to make their own way 'cos nobody is helping nobody in this country- it's help yourself."
Nicky Locket helped himself. By the time he was 16 he'd been kicked out of school, had left home and he'd made his first record. A year later, the next one followed. He'd found his vocation.
His collaboration with 808 State is more long standing than it would first appear. Back To Attack was his debut single when he was 16 and part of the band The Hit Squad which featured a couple of the lads from 808 but it died a death. Then 808 pulled him in to do Dance Yourself To Death after (A Guy Called) Gerald Simpson upped and went off to do Voodoo Ray. But for the rest of the world his debut single has become The Only Rhyme That Bites made with the full compliment of 808. A frenetic dance track, featuring a fire-cracking rap and, somewhat bizarrely, the theme to Big Country, it not surprisingly sped up the charts. And although, Tunes passes this off as lightly as the weather, you can see he's proud- he's got the look of a Cheshire cal about him. Now with this album, The North At It's Heights, he's made an indelible mark on the music scene. His partnership with 808 which had surprised a lot of people is paying off.
"We're just really good friends. Nobody expected me to do it so that's why I did it. Everybody was saying you can't do that and I said fuck that, you just watch. They did the production and I did the lyrics. I worked as the fifth member. And if I didn't like something, because it was my deal, I had the final say. There's only one occasion and that was a remix and they came back and I said no, it's not what I want so we went back into the studio and it was fucking brilliant! I don't see what people get so hung up about... it's not hard work!"
The fruit of his labour is 'beefy' in the man's words- it's also uncompromising, it's positive and it's good. His personal politics come through stridently on tracks like Own Worst Enemy, which he's dedicated to his uncle, The Only Rhyme That Bites, The North At Its Heights sand Primary Rhyming- but he's not into preaching and he's always spot on so you can't begrudge him that. But for now, he's not letting up on the work. His partnership with 808 is going on hold for a while so Tunes can get his own band together for a tour. But Tunes can manage perfectly well on his own.
"I'm a hippy hooligan making money, that's all I am. I'm a roughneck city kid that came up the hard way but never lived in poverty. I'm no popstar, I'm just me, MC Tunes and Nicky Locket are the same thing, we both rap, we both dance. I don't put on an act to sell records. That's what people think, nothing I can do about it. I'm my own father, my own boss, I'm my own me, I am me."
Thinking of our meeting it seems to me that commercial success isn't that important to Tunes... whether he gets to number one, is feted by the record industry, has the world at his feet, is irrelevant- although it's highly likely he will. He doesn't have to please anyone other than himself... and he's doing fine.