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Duke01: "You don’t bite somebody else’s lyrics."

13 January 20 words: Zach Harrison

Having been involved in rap for over thirty years, Nottingham artist  Dean Tate – aka Duke01 – knows his way around a microphone. Ahead of the Afterall This Time Reunion Party that we’re throwing for Overall magazine later this month, we spoke to him about how he got into rap, the importance of identity and the current state of the UK…

photo: Fabrice Gagos

From opening for the legendary Wu-Tang Clan member GZA in Birmingham, to performing with ‘rap fronted metal’ group Def Goldblum in front of a packed-out tent at Bloodstock Festival, being unique has always been important to Duke01 and his music. In March last year, he released Chekhov’s Gun as one half of the duo Last Sons, with turntablist and DJ Furious P. His partner’s moniker aptly suits the tone of the album – furious bars and lyrics, furious scratching and furious production. It has an anarchic, frenetic vibe with intricate yet chaotic beats, with Dean’s vocals matching their intensity.

Thirty years is a long time to be doing anything, let alone making music. So, how’s he made it this far? As he strolls into the LeftLion office, Duke has an air of calm. His beverage of choice? Hot water. Good for the skin as he puts it, with a wide smile across his face. We sit and begin.

Growing up in Nottingham in the eighties, Dean wasn’t exposed to much hip-hop, until his brother started bringing records home. “I would listen to my mum and dad’s music – country and western, reggae, Motown, ska – but then my brother got into hip-hop and I fed off that,” he says. “He started branching out into soul, but I really loved the aggressive sound of hip-hop – it was kind of the punk of its time.” However, it was the discovery of Public Enemy that sparked Dean’s real passion for hip-hop. “Public Enemy just changed everything I thought.”

This influence is clear when you listen to Dean’s music, with the clear, brash Chuck D-esque way he phrases things. “I’m a student of Public Enemy and that era. They have always been what I call the template of dope.” This phrase pops up multiple times over the course of the conversation  – the idea of having a great sound and an important subject matter. But of course, Public Enemy aren’t his only major influence. Artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Eric B and Rakim and Stetsasonic to name a few also get a mention – but it wasn’t all hip-hop.

“A lot of other artists you probably wouldn’t expect have influenced me. Jim Reeves, Michael Jackson, James Brown, Bob Marley,” Dean says. There’s one golden rule in rap, however: no matter your influences, you don’t steal them. “Biting is an old term in rapping – you don’t bite somebody else’s style and you don’t bite somebody else’s lyrics. I’ve never been a biter, but you could say I’m the Quentin Tarantino of rap – I wear my influences on my sleeve.”

However, despite all these influences, Dean still manages to maintain a unique voice. “That comes from doing it for many years. When I first started rapping, I had that template of dope, and then through emulating your heroes and doing it yourself, it developed.” He continues: “You’re taking influences from other places and experimenting with your own voice. I don’t know why other artists would say that they’re in this business, but I think down at its core, it’s to really challenge yourself.”

Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and challenging himself is how Dean keeps music fresh. On that note, he reckons there’s great music coming out of Notts at the moment. “You Want Fox, The Barnum Meserve, Punch Drunk and Juggernaut are all great. Growing up in Nottingham and doing hip hop when I was, I had to learn to appreciate a lot of other forms of music.”

Keeping it Notts-centric, we move onto Overall. Having been on the scene for as long as he has, Dean was making music for Overall’s entire duration. On Saturday 18 January, he will be performing at the reunion party in honour of the magazine. “I am excited and honoured, because way back in the day when there weren’t mobile phones and the internet, there was one music magazine: Overall There is a Smell of Fried Onions,” he says. “As an aspiring musician, it was a dream to get a live review or a cassette review. I got in about two or three times, so out of all the massive range of music in Nottingham, to be selected to appear at this event means a lot to me as a lifetime Nottingham resident.”

Dean’s music contains a lot of political content, and our interview managed to fall on the day following the general election. “I’m massively disappointed, but I fully expected the result. I was speaking to my mum and we were saying the same thing: we expected the result, but just not the magnitude of it.” 

He continues: “It’s quite shocking how the British public have let themselves be lied to over and over again. But it’s super important that we realise that the left wing and the right wing are both keeping the same bird aloft.” As the perennial Public Enemy fan Dean is, he finishes off on a high note. “We’ll still get some good protest music! Where’s the next Fight The Power?” 

Duke 01 is playing at Afterall This Time: The Overall Reunion Party on Saturday 18 January.

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