Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out
30th June 1990
Born in a rough area of Manchester, MC Tunes had to be tough to survive. He always knew he was going to be a star. Now with 808 State he's muscling in on the charts with 'The Only Rhyme That Bites', a track that snaps at your ankles. Feature: Nick Duerden Pictures: Phil Ward
"I grew up with the smell of dead cats and piss stinking all around me. With an upbringing like that, you can either get tough or get better - I got both."
The Hilton International Hotel in London has no dead cats and its odour is distinctly pleasant. A far cry from home then, as Tunes relaxes back on his chair and ponders his past.
If the press are to be believed, white Mancunian rapper MC Tunes is the epitome of that well known and oft-used cliché - mad, bad and dangerous to know.
His rugged face sports two rather large scars, he has a mean stare, and the size of his fists suggest that should he find himself down some piss-stinking alley late one night, he would be well equipped if anything untoward were to happen.
Born and bred in the notorious Moss Side area of Manchester 20 years ago, his bleak childhood has shaped his dogged character.
"I was born a roughneck," he says. "And that's what I'll always be." But despite that, his outlook on life is distinctly positive and he exudes a healthy optimism. He may well be street tough and loud, but he is also articulate, headstrong and knows exactly what he wants and how to get it.
'The Only Rhyme That Bites', his debut with long-time friends 808 State, is, as the title suggests, a ferocious dance track, with Tunes providing the speeding rap attack. Its pulsating and relentless beat is one you couldn't fail to notice, even if you tried. Its rapid ascent of the charts has surprised many, but Tunes? He takes it all in his stride.
"No, I'm not really surprised," he informs coolly. "Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm as chuffed as fuck but not surprised. Y'see, it was always on the cards. That's how secure I am, know what I mean.
"I've had the help of 808 behind me all along. They knew how good I was and saw my potential. They always said I'd be on 'Top Of The Pops' one day. Well, here I am."
This calculated young Mancunian is cool and calm. He peppers his speech with "know what I means", a stream of expletives and a sometimes alarming honesty and directness.
And his stardom? Well, that was preordained.
"When I was about five years old," he says, "I sent me mam a birthday card with a little rap in it, and signed it 'from your son, the pop star'. See, I've always had this passion for music, and from about 14, rapping just seemed to make me click."
A life-long music freak, 'The Only Rhyme That Bites' is not MC Tunes' first single release. "No, me first record came out when I was 16. Me and some of the lads from 808 got together and called ourselves The Hit Squad. We put out this EP, 'Back To Attack', on a Manchester indie label. It didn't get anywhere like, but you know, we was young, full of semen, and just went for it."
Fired by "the best influences anyone could have", including the likes of George Clinton, Prince, and fellow rappers Big Daddy Kane and Ice T, Tunes insists that while he may admire the latter, he does not emulate their lyrics, often known for their overtly sexist messages.
"God no, I'd never refer to women as bitches. I wouldn't dare!" he exclaims. "See me dad left when I was seven, so I was brought up by women - me mam, her sister and me gran. If I tried to be even the slightest bit sexist, I'd have me knees broken.
"I like to write about dance music," he Continues. "About the music I'm rapping to." And then, slipping into his finest Bobby Ball impersonation, he concludes "You know, get funky, get sweaty and rock your body."
"I think that there's too many songs about politics," he says. "Me, I'm more into peace, love and dance. And I think it's refreshing to get away from the heavy subjects for a while."
Although the majority of tracks on his forthcoming album deal principally with getting sweaty, he does tackle one or two more sensitive topics as well.
"I've written this one song called 'My Own Worst Enemy' and it's about smack," he says. "Y'see, me uncle died of heroin addiction when he was only 26. It really affected me, and it cut me up the way people treated the news, calling him a dirty bastard.
"People must be fucking mad to take it, but it's a disease and you can't just disregard them for doing it. I had to do something, so I wrote this song. I talked to some addicts up in Manchester and I wrote it from their perspective. It's direct, callous, and to the point. It'll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up."
The album, produced by 808 State, who are ever at his side, is something Tunes is only too happy to talk about. At its mere mention he smiles widely, and his coarse accent trembles as the words stumble out.
"I tell you, in my humble opinion, I've made the perfect fucking album," he says. "I'm 110 per cent happy with it. A lot of heart and thought has gone into it."
ZTT's Trevor Horn, who produced 'My Own Worst Enemy', is also over the moon about it. "We was at 'Top Of The Pops'," says Tunes, "When Trevor came up to me - 'cause, like, we're good friends, me and him - and said that it's the best British rap album he's ever heard."
MC Tunes does not mince words. He says exactly what he wants with conviction. But this straight forwardness has prompted some people to label him arrogant.
"Ah well, that don't bother me," he says defiantly. "It all depends on different people's opinions. I'm not arrogant, I'm just very self-confident, and there ain't nothing wrong with that. I know who I am and where I'm coming from."
Being from that city at a time when any artist from Manchester is eagerly snapped up by hungry A&R people, is it a case of bandwagon jumping perhaps?
He leans back, lights up his carefully prepared roll-up and says: "Look, I've been making music for years now, and I ain't part of no scene. For a start, my music is totally different from what's happening there at the moment, I don't wear fucking flares - I hate 'em! We was a hippy family years back, so me parents wore them and dressed me in the things, but never again. But if people want to wear. them and be part of a scene, then that's fine by me."
The album, he says, is crammed full of hits, so can we expect MC Tunes to become a very familiar name? "Yeah," he says without batting an eyelid. "It's what I've been working for and it's what I want."
With his impoverished past now behind him, Tunes is looking to the future with much anticipation.
"Basically, I'm in this business to make people happy," he confesses. "I want to help give kids the chances I never had to break into music at a really young age. And me - I'll probably be the next Quincy Jones."
You can be sure he means it.