Feelin’ the Beat: A Mixtape by Patrick Neate

Patrick Neate is a British novelist, journalist and poet. He has just published his fifth novel, Jerusalem. His other books include the award-winning Where You’re At: Notes From the Frontline of a Hip Hop Planet.

He recently shared with us the story of how he came to fall in love with hip hop and named five pieces of music that have been influential in shaping his artistic sensibility.

“I started listening to hip hop in my early teens. The seminal record was probably ‘Streetsounds: Electro Vol 9’. I don’t know quite what it was that captured my imagination, but I’d never heard anything like it. It sounds daft now, but at the time ‘The Fat Boys are back/ And they won’t never be wack’ sounded like the height of wit. But it was when Public Enemy emerged in the mid to late 80s that I really got hooked. It may seem obvious or ridiculous, but as a white teenager growing up in London, I had no sense of racial politics, let alone the civil rights movement. I wouldn’t say that Public Enemy educated me exactly. But they sparked my interest and led me to investigate a whole realm of subject matter that has been profoundly influential on the way I think and, consequently, my work.

“It’s funny – I’m often now asked what hip hop’s appeal is to teenage boys. It strikes me as remarkably obvious and the trite answer is that it’s testosterone-fuelled and often features videos of semi-naked women – if you’re a 15 year-old boy, what’s not to like? But another way of looking at it is this – if most western pop music is about love and sex, hip hop tends to be about sex and everything else … and it was the ‘everything else’ that caught my imagination. From Public Enemy and Nas to Biggie, Jay-Z, Common and Eminem – the stuff that’s not about sex is about politics, struggle, friendship, deprivation, hope and all sorts else besides. No other genre of Western pop music could make such a claim.”

His Top Five…

1. ‘Bring the noise’ – Public Enemy

I saw Public Enemy at Brixton Academy in the late 80s and I was energised and terrified in equal measure. Art indistinguishable from politics, I’d never seen/ heard anything like it.

2. ‘Spirit’ – Lewis Taylor

Lewis Taylor is the great undiscovered genius of British music. His album ‘Lewis Taylor’, the one I always fall back upon. I wrote a novel called Twelve Bar Blues, which is all about New Orleans jazz and I was repeatedly asked what music I was listening to when writing it. It is true that I listened to a whole lot of jazz, but it was Lewis I  turned to in order to capture the emotional substance of what I wanted to write. And ‘Spirit’ always makes me cry …

3.‘Optimistic’ – Sounds of Blackness.

OK, I know it’s a really cheesy record, but I heard it at a particular age when I needed to know that creativity could be simple and joyful. I kept my love for this tune under wraps for years, but I recently read an interview with Norman Jay where he name-checked it as one of his favourite records of all time. So at least I’m cheesy in good company.

4. ‘Mississippi Goddam’ – Nina Simone.

Creativity is about talent and craft, of course; but, above all, it’s about integrity of intention. Nina Simone had a funny voice and was, by all accounts, a bit of a nutcase, but when she wrote and sang, there was no doubting that she meant it.  And it is that meaning that gives her music such unquestionable beauty.

5. ‘Halftime’ – Nas

I could have chosen almost any tune off ‘Illmatic’ – I just love that record. A key aspect of art is the way it stands the test of time and, frankly, most hip hop doesn’t. But this does. I would maintain that this is still the closest hip hop has ever come to poetry.

(Photo: Patrick Neate performing at the Book Salaam! event during the ‘Sauti za Busara’ music festival in Zanzibar earlier this year.)


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