An artist's ambition is a delicate, precarious thing. As thousands of would-be novelists or filmmakers will tell you, it's often preferable to flirt with projects – to primp and polish and plan and keep them all safely in the future – than risk them crash-and-burning in the here-and-now, in the full glare of a pitiless public.
Chuck enough weed to fell a rhino into that already pathological procrastination and you start to get a handle on the unusual path of Nottingham hip hop MC Scorzayzee, a man who, by 2002 and the release of his ode to trainers, "Crepps", was voted the world's seventh best rapper by illustrious American magazine Hip Hop Connection. That's above 2Pac, Xzibit, Talib Kweli – everyone except (in ascending order) Mos Def, Nas, Evidence, J-Zone, Ghostface Killah and Jay-Z.
The following year, his underground rep burgeoning, Scorzayzee had a tune played by Zane Lowe. Twice on the same show. "Great Britain" was a double-barrelled drive-by of perceived establishment crimes that tapped into seething anger at the cynicism of the Iraq invasion. Looking back today, Scorz reflects that he was "just an angry lad, stressed, broke", and the track's lyrics were filleted in an overblown Sunday Telegraph piece that accused the BBC of endorsing a rapper who claimed the Royal family had Lady Di murdered. It was even debated in Parliament. BBC refused to budge, but in the end Scorz's mentor pulled the track.
Not bad for "a chubby teenager who wasn't really cool but who wanted to be cool, and rapping was cool", and therefore perhaps all the more surprising that, 20 years after he first picked up the mic, now in his mid-thirties, Scorz has never released an album. Until now, with the release of the enigmatically titled Aeon: Peace to the Puzzle, a 28-track double CD that 1Xtra's MistaJam, a childhood friend from Nottingham, is calling "the definitive British hip hop album".
It's been quite a journey for Dean Palinczuk, who, bored at school and looking for something to do, dropped into the Community Recording Studio in St Ann's, one of Hoodtown's toughest hoods, where he kept out of mischief and learned to rhyme, battle and freestyle. Dean became Scorzayzee, one of the sharpest-tongued MCs in the competitively collaborative Out Da Ville crew, a sort of homespun Wu-Tang Clan nurtured under the watchful eye of Trevor Rose. "Big Trev" was a community worker "who helped kids learn and develop through music, giving us an opportunity to do it professionally. He didn't have to do it. He took us on these trips to London, to open mic nights, handing out tracks to famous DJs to get our stuff out there".
MTV Base described Out Da Ville's promo for "Blood, Sweat and Tears" as "the best UK video ever produced", yet the collective drifted apart and, without that direction, Scorz himself started to unravel, eventually being diagnosed with schizophrenia. As he explained with disarming candour in "S-word" – an interview with MistaJam that won an award from Mind, the mental health charity – the catalyst for his psychosis was weed. "At first, I smoked because my mates did it," he says. "There was nothing to do. I was just bored, so we blazed and wrote raps, then went freestyling in people's garages. Later, I smoked to forget daily life."
His imagination had been fired by Out Da Ville's success – "delusions" of grandeur without a road map – yet his daily reality comprised getting baked or going along to the dole office to sign on. Grand ambition, frustrated daily. "People like to live in a fantasy, the whole Del Boy thing: 'This time next year we'll be millionaires...' You get all these ideas of what you want to do, but you're so mashed you can't do anything. When you get up, you're hungover. It's a vicious cycle."
There was a slowly widening chasm between the public persona – the Scorz presented to the world, or the image that people saw – and the private self. "Out there you're Scorzayzee, getting props. But the reality is you're living at home with your mum, broke and angry."
Depression set in, compounded by poverty and contracting possibilities: "Going to the Job Centre, where nothing seems to go right for you, and the pressures and expectations of being a man, not fitting in or matching up – it can have an effect on your mental health. The way the system's built, it makes you feel like shit."
Scorzayzee's disillusionment and lack of direction fed into the undiluted rage of "Great Britain", after which, with the storm brewing, Scorzayzee withdrew from music amid rumours of retirement and a conversion to Islam (he follows the "universal spiritual message" and anti-jihadi teachings of Hamza Yusuf). Weed psychosis – paranoid delusions of aeroplanes monitoring his thoughts and tactile hallucinations – took hold until intervention and medication got him back on track.
The whole episode is laid bare in his comeback tune, "Luv Me", itself testament to the uncanny tenacity of his artistic dreams and ambitions. For all that Scorz used to like nothing better than wrecking the mic with Out Da Ville – for all that he can freestyle and rap-battle with the best of them – there is none of the overblown, posturing ego or depressingly reactionary consumerist fetishisation you get with a certain type of hip hop star, an attitude that comes through in "Crepps", or his piss-take of Wiley's Rolex fascination, "Casio Sweep". There's a vulnerability to him, a lack of bone-deep confidence that might have held back his musical output, a humility and lack of swagger – or a swagger overcompensated by his on-stage persona, where wings clipped by poverty and doubts injected by the hardships of life can be banished.
A caricature of this character was presented in Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee, Shane Meadows' improvised low-budget mockumentary following Paddy Considine's eponymous roadie as he tries to blag his flatmate a slot warming up in front of 50,000 fans at an Arctic Monkeys gig at Old Trafford. "I knew I was coming across as a chubby lad who looked a bit slow," Scorzayzee chuckles, but he was happy to play to type, as it "gave me a little push. It got my name into places, rap-wise, it wouldn't have done."
The film also helped to replenish Scorz' artistic confidence, yet by October last year there was still no sign of an album, still no sign of Scorzayzee's sporadic output being given form or impetus. At this point, record label owner, friend and promoter Ste Allan, along with mates Jack Curtis and Greg Lonsdale, launched a crowd-funding campaign, #KickStartScorz, setting the initial target at a modest £8,000, partly out of fear for the psychological blow that failure would have dealt Scorzayzee. They needn't have worried. With Shane Meadows as one of the main backers, buying Scorz' lyric book for £1,000, the target was hit inside three days, and more than doubled over the 30-day window as almost 500 pledged support.
Scorz got writing, and all bar two of the tracks on Aeon: Peace to the Puzzle are fresh material, blending his trademark humour, lyrical dexterity, politics and pathos. Meanwhile, Allan has gathered the master versions of Scorz' various classics, most of which were sent out as SendSpace links, and is planning a compilation. There are rumours, too, of an album of old rhymes spat over bootlegged beats circulating online: Decoy to the Puzzle: The Lost and Ancient Chronicles of Scorzilla the Gorilla.
Scorz describes himself as "an elusive snow leopard that only comes down from the mountain every few years. Sometimes he's seen, sometimes he's not seen. He has to deliver rhymes to a certain standard to be Scorz." With the love and help of friends and backers, the leopard has changed his spots and descended the mountain ready for his CD to drop. An ambition has been realised. "I'm just proud it's out there. A proper CD! No longer am I just an artist selling burnt CDs for £5 via DM on Twitter."
Given his Del Boy observation, it's little surprise he adds: "I sold a hundred, which I reckon's alright!" With this goal finally ticked off, with his mental health in check, with a wife and children of his own, with him having found peace to the puzzle of his inner self and outer world, this unlikely looking MC is more than thick-skinned enough to take any barbs that might come his way.
"There was a YouTube clip where I'd spat a 100-bar rap and this comment just said: 'You look like a fucking egg,'" he laughs. "I thought that was hilarious."
Aeon: Peace to the Puzzle is released on Monday the 20th of April on Gangsta Wraps
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