Hi Mr. Phil, it’s a pleasure to be able to ask you some questions! Today, you are fully considered a veteran of the Italian Hip-Hop scene. In fact, we still remember when your first album with Amir, “Naturale”, was released. It was the early 2000s, a period that is still considered a “dark” period, commercially speaking, of Italian Rap… Actually, many who have emerged like you in that period are still active. Some have blown out in the mainstream through years later, others have continued to work in the underground, but they are still here … pushing their stuff!
What do you remember about the Italian scene of that period and of your first official album (which also contained a feat. With Afu-Ra)? In fact, in Rome, at that time, realities such as GDB and Cor Veleno, with which you collaborated often, were formed not to mention your collaborations with Danno and Colle der Fomento… How would you describe the Roman scene of the time?
MR.PHIL: Clearly, when one thinks of the past tends to be trapped in the golden age syndrome in which only the beautiful things are remembered tending to forget the bad ones. Having said that, I can confirm that these were years of evolution. I was 20 y.o. so I wanted to take over everything and Rome seemed to me a land of conquest. The pioneer generation of rap was ending and, as you remember, in those years yes there was an air of the end of the era. It went from the years of the Hiphop Village and the huge jams in northern Italy to a time when Italian rap wasn’t it garnered almost no interest from the mainstream.
In 2001 I had just returned to Rome after a couple of years in the ranks next to Fritz da Cat in Milan and immediately I put my head down, closed in the studio in to produce.
It was a strange period: on one side many ‘big names’ in the scene were retiring, but on the other side there were those of my generation who wanted to take the game in their hands and blown out. It was the period of the first wave of Vibrarecords artists, who at that time were one of the few independent record companies that wanted to invest in Italian rap.
Rome has always been an island apart as a rap scene. You want for the geographical position, you want for the size of the city, but the underground scene was very alive in those years. There was an underground rap scene very varied with different realities and each one had its own following that over the years have consolidated into real groups of national importance.
Obviously, the whole Colle / Rome Zoo school was there first, then there were Cor Veleno after Squarta started collaborating with them, the whole Truceklan, Gente De Borgata that was born with elements of the Rome Zoo circle, the Circolo Vizioso that later became Broken Speakers too.
Rome had a distinct, recognizable sound, but also very varied within its own scene and in my opinion this was the true strength of the Roman scene which after Primo’s death was somewhat lost.
But before moving to Rome, you were born and raised in London! What brought you and your family to Italy and where did your passion for Hip-Hop come from? What were your first steps in the scene?
MR.PHIL: “I was adopted in London by Italian parents. At about 11 they are divorced and my mother chose to return to live in Italy in 1993. My first steps in the Roman hip hop scene were through the world of djing. At the age of 15/16 I started playing and doing my apprenticeship in the night clubbing hip hop in Rome. Those evenings and afternoons were frequented by the Flaminio crew which contained the historic group Flaminio Maphia. With them I had my first contact with Italian rap – Roman rap scene and from there I started hanging out in the underground jams and those of the Rome Zoo. The rest is history.
2006’s “Guerra Fra Poveri” is perhaps still your most iconic album thanks to bangers like “Piombo e Fango” with Danno and Lord Bean. What are your best memories about that album? And what are your other albums that you consider most important or to which you are most attached?
MR.PHIL: That album was born with the ‘discarded’ beats of the productions I had done for Anima & Ghiaccio dei Colle der Fomento. The album was produced for the label with which I collaborated (Vibrarecords) and the production of that album formed me especially at a 360 ° producer level. Up until that time I had already produced Kill Phil 1 and the album with Amir as well as having collaborated on produce several productions for other artists, but GFP was the first project which made me realize that doing the producer is different than doing the beatmaker. They are two very different things.
Returning to the present, after a twenty-year career behind you and despite the Italian underground having been ignored for years, today you are perhaps even more prolific than before! In fact, for a couple of years you have been producing several projects together with some rappers from the underground scene such as Montenero, Poppa Gee, and the Tuscan Creep Giuliano.
MR.PHIL: Yes, it’s true. The truth is that after all these years I have the same desire, if not even more desire to produce than before. What changed is that I was tired of the whole part that stays behind artists, managers, labels, lawyers and all that string of ‘Middlemen’ who take away the will to live. Do you want to work with me? Yup? Well let’s work. Don’t you want to work with me? No problem ahead on next one. Unfortunately, however, it is almost never that simple.
I’m interested in working with good MCs and people I fuck with. The rest is secondary. Of course I would be a hypocrite to say that I would not like to have any more following or be more “sought”, but from the first beat I made in 97 up to my last beat that I made yesterday, I always ALWAYS wanted to produce what I like, without thinking at all about what is trending or not.
What keeps your inspiration and desire to get involved in the game? Why did you choose to collaborate with these underground MC’s and how did your latest projects come about?
MR.PHIL: I have been through some very difficult years in my private life in the last decade, I have had problems that make you reflect on your own life, make you distinguish well between what you do, why you do it and what REALLY makes you happy. I realized that making music and playing as a DJ are things that makes me happy and that I’m not willing to give up for nothing in the world.
I could send beats to artists who don’t give a damn, I could move to a city where it’s easier to get into certain circles, I could lick ass, I could I could I could … but after 20+ years in the scene, after getting a lot of satisfaction and after creating something important I am happy to do what I do for MYSELF. There are 50 people who are listening to me? Cool. There are 1 million, it’s the same.
In the underground scene, for those who know how to listen, there are always talents to be found.I am a producer and finding new voices is one of the coolest things to do do according to me. Is there very little money? Zero budget? No promo? No promo agency or tour? No problem. For me the important thing is to make music.
How has your way of producing changed today, compared to a decade ago, also in terms of equipment and software, but above all in the approach to beatmaking?
MR.PHIL: As concerns for instrumentation, frankly, not that much. Yes, of course, today it takes less to produce the way I produce than yesterday. This is a good thing. As a producer it is clear that there are 20 years of evolution, of artistic maturity, of mastery over art. I always and only sample from original records, I always use a sampler (yesterday the akai s950, today an mpc), I always look for drum samples & breaks in record stores, but having 20 years of experience I have a more “expert” ear.
What do you think of the underground scene today? Which Italian or foreign rappers would you like to work with soon or, maybe, are you already planning to collaborate?
MR.PHIL : The ‘classic’ rap scene, the ‘boombap’ has almost disappeared, I would say. The mainstream proposes a different world than it used to be so it is a natural consequence that anyone who approaches rap today is clearly based on different sounds than the ones I love. This doesn’t mean being stuck in the past eh .. it means simply that what I like today has become a niche. Also for this reason there are several MCs and realities also in Italy that love more those raw sonorities that could be called the evolution or the rebirth of classic hardcore rap.
Griselda is the most obvious example that comes to mind, but also other several more popular artists and producers, who have remained faithful to a sound but also have the skill of being able to evolve that sound, that classic taste in a modern way.
In Italy this is MUCH rarer, if not almost absent in mainstream. Personally I have several collaborations on which I am already working with others Italian underground MCs but also some Americans. If you follow me you will hear about it in the coming weeks.
Who are your artistic reference points today regarding production? And who are your 3 favorite emerging producers, Italian and not? And your top 5 favorite ever, both Italian and non-Italian?
MR.PHIL: Alchemist was and still is the most important point of reference for me. I adore other producers too, but Alc and its evolution as a producer is so consistent that every time one of his projects comes out, I put my headphones on to hear it to elaborate his productions and understand what he did.
As for Italians, I would say that Dj Sine is one of my favorite producers because I consider him a complete producer who has an ear, taste and total vision of the projects he produces. I would also mention Gio Lama from Pescara who makes crazy productions and Blo /B of Milan that besides being a skilled MC is also a great beatmaker
And your top 5 favorite ever, both Italian and non-Italian?
MR.PHIL: Americans I would obviously say Marley Marl, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Havoc & Alc. Italian I would say Caesar but for my tastes and for his DJ discography Shocca aka Roc B. Shoutout to Matteo is the number one without equal.
Can you tell us something about your next works?
MR.PHIL: Soon I’ll release several other EPs in collaboration with very strong MCs such as Effe Kappa, Dono, Spike il Rettigliano, and Dome Flame. I’m also working on a new album/compilation and several singles with American MCs. I keep myself busy.