ShaoDow is one of the most striking rappers you’ll come across.
His name sparks curiosity about where he may be from but the South London native has skilfully infused Chinese culture into his unique music style. Having taken the ultimate plunge into the unknown by travelling alone to China for the first time at the tender age of 18 to learn the ancient art of Shaolin Kung Fu, ShaoDow admits this experience shaped him. ShaoDow’s work rate inside and outside the studio is unmatched. Nominated by AIM as one of the hardest working independent rappers, ShaoDow has supported underground legend Tech 9nine who he cites as his hero in London and has opened for the likes of Akala and Stormzy. Affirming that he wouldn’t explore any of the avenues he has taken if he didn’t truly love them, the rapper has made a successful living out of all of his passions and has sold over 20,000 albums independently.
An avid traveller and a lover of culture, he speaks 3 languages and is on his way to his fourth. He has travelled the world performing, relishing his next adventure to Brazil this month. Known as a true hustler in the industry, his flair and business acumen has led him to a successful career as both a businessman and artist. His recent 'Fire In The Booth' freestyle including a verse delivered flawlessly in Japanese really made the Hip Hop world pay attention. He took some time to have a chat with us before he headed off on tour to Brazil.
ShaoDow, thanks for joining us. So I thought we could start off with your musical influences. Could you tell us which artists you were listening to growing up around the house?
Thank you. Oh, around the house! We’re talking Michael Jackson, Toni Braxton. I was listening to whatever my parents put on. To be honest, I was never really into music that deeply as a kid. I think when it really hit me was when I was in my teenage years. I remember the first album that really caught me was Ludacris ‘Word Of Mouth.’ For me that completely changed the game – I rinsed that album. It was in my first car, I had installed house speakers in my car and I was just riding around bumping it. It played a really big part in shaping my style in terms of really intricate, fast, high speed rap. Aside from that it’s not just Hip Hop I listen to, I listen to Rock, Metal, Jazz, Classical. I’m an artist, not just someone who makes one type of music, I make what I like and what I like is wide and varied so I try and represent that in my music.
You talk a lot about lyricism. During your ‘Fire In The Booth’ freestyle you stated that there are four weapons to the Art of Rap. Number one is lyricism, what do you think about rappers who don’t write their own lyrics?
Well, I’ll put it across to you straight, I don’t care if it’s controversial or not – you’re not a rapper if you do not write your own lyrics. You’re a rap performance artist. Let’s look at it quite simply. If you’re a singer, you have to be able to sing, it helps if you can write songs then you are a singer/songwriter but singing in itself is difficult to do. As a rapper, you just have to read words and make it sound cool, that’s not a lot to do so if you’re not even writing the lyrics you’re basically not doing much. Half of the work is writing the lyrics.
Fair enough. Now back to your life and your experiences. I understand that at the age of 18 you travelled alone to China to learn Shaolin Kung Fu. Could you tell us more about that experience?
I know I wouldn’t be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for China. It taught me a lot not only about myself but what you can achieve if you are willing to put the work in. We were waking up at 5am, running down the mountain and running back up, training all day then bed at 9pm, 5 days a week. Discipline, repetition, hard work, determination, mastering your craft – all of that is applicable to anything you want to do in life. If you have something you want to do which is out of the box, you have to apply all those principles to your craft or you will only be mediocre. Kung Fu has always been a big part of my life, it’s important to train not only body but mind and spirit as well. Going to China was like a pilgrimage for me, it was something I had to do.
I saw your tweet about the new DragonBall opening. I’m also a massive fan of the show. Could you tell us more about your love for anime and about the Manga Collection you’ve released?
DragonBall was the reason I got into Kung Fu. I was obsessed with trying to do a Kamekameha. It was also my gateway to anime and manga in general. I’m also into Naruto and I’ve got a track on the new album with Dot Rotten called ‘Sharingan’ which pays homage to Naruto. In terms of my manga collection ‘The Way Of Shao’, it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. I just wrote a story, the collection is about my life but in a more exaggerated way. It’s about a man’s journey trying to achieve something which is seemingly impossible and I want people to understand the amount of work and effort that goes into running a full time music career but also for an aspiring musician to read it and pick up hints and tips and stuff that they can do with their own career. It’s an educational story which isn’t so in your face, you see the main character, going through life, learning and can apply it to your own life. I released the first book today which is a collectors’ edition, 200 copies of those sold out and I will be releasing volume one which will be about 100 pages later this year.
You seem to have an amazing business sense, you’ve got your D.I.Y. Gang website, your manga collection, you sell headphone merchandise and even comments under your ‘Fire In The Booth’ video are from people saying they remember you selling them CDs in the street, so what do you think is the value of hustling and why do you think rappers should sharpen up their business game?
It’s invaluable. We’re in a time now when record labels are becoming less relevant to your success. You can become a global hit without ever signing a record deal through Youtube, Spotify etc. In that regard, you need to know not only how to make the music but how to make the music get out there so that you don’t have other people taking advantage of what you do. There are so many people who want to put their hand in your pocket and take without giving and unless you know what they’re doing and what they’re supposed to be doing, that’s going to happen to you. So knowing the business is integral, hustling is also integral because if you’re not willing to put the work in then you don’t deserve the success. The way I look at it, an overnight success can be taken overnight. If you’ve worked at it and you’ve built something with strong foundations regardless of what happens, nobody can take that away from you and because you know the value of what you’ve built, you’re not going to squander it.
Really important stuff there. Now, let’s talk about the UK rap scene. Is there anyone out there who’s inspiring you and what do you think about the mainstream acceptance of Grime?
It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been making Grime music since 2008, I make Grime music not because it’s popular but because it was something I wanted to do. I think Grime will be a mainstay and it won’t be just a fad - it’s past that stage. I think Stormzy is really carrying it, I think Skepta is doing fantastically well too. There definitely needs to be some more shine on other artists. Wiley has been doing well, Ghetts is finally getting his shine, which he deserves, but there is more room for some other artists to come through. The heartening thing is that Grime is making its way around the world. Can you believe that there are Grime artists from Australia? I’ve got a track on my album called ‘Vibe Up’ which features grime artists from Japan, Poland, Czech Republic and France – it’s a Grime track with guys spitting Grime in different languages. I think it’s really cool how the genre has moved out of this country and started to permeate to other countries.
Another thing which makes you unique as a rapper is your respect for education. You’re a rapper with a law degree, tell us about the importance of education for you despite being in a creative field and whether there was any conflict in your life between education and artistry?
Knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have, the more opportunities you can create for yourself. Formal education I have a bit of a problem with because it’s a bit of a one size fits all thing where if you don’t learn in the same ways as everyone else you’re considered a problem child. Regardless of whether you’re going to school or you’re educating yourself, education is vital, I took it up to university and did my law degree and I thought it wasn’t going to be applicable to what I wanted to do but it really is because I write my own contracts, I know how to run my own business and it’s taught me to think in a different way. It puts you in a place where you have to think your way out of problems. You may not need to know Pythagoras’ Theorem if you want to be a rapper but perhaps that way of thinking helps you find solutions, plan how much you’re going to spend on your marketing etc. I took law up to degree level and was accepted into the Oxford Institute of law but decided it wasn’t for me. A law degree gives me options but going to that specific school would have meant I’d be a lawyer and I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
You recently tweeted that music is taking you all around the world. Tell us about some of those experiences travelling.
It’s just beautiful to be able to see different places. I’ve been to almost 30 different countries, not all music related but I’ve performed in a good amount of places: Czech Republic which was one of my favourite places to perform, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Hungary and France.