Semtex: Oceans Apart

If you look up the word Semtex in the English dictionary, you would find the definition: A general-purpose plastic explosive. But ask anyone from the UK to define Semtex and you would get: Hip Hop Radio/ Tour DJ, Def Jam UK Head A&R/ Marketing Honcho and UK Music Ambassador. With an insight in both the […]

If you look up the word Semtex in the English dictionary, you would find the definition: A general-purpose plastic explosive.

But ask anyone from the UK to define Semtex and you would get: Hip Hop Radio/ Tour DJ, Def Jam UK Head A&R/ Marketing Honcho and UK Music Ambassador.

With an insight in both the street marketing and promotional aspects of the music industry, Semtex has been representing the UK for years. Starting off as a street entrepreneur, Semtex is now working as the head A&R and Marketing consultant for the legendary Def Jam label’s UK branch. He breaks down his local music scene, and why the US and UK are oceans apart. So what’s going on currently? Are you about to sign anyone or just signed anyone to Def Jam?

Semtex: Ah, you know I can’t say if I’m about to sign anyone, but I have just recently signed an act called Mr. Hudson, and he’s very different. He’s not a Hip-Hop act per say, and he’s not an R&B artist. I really don’t think you can categorize the kind of music he does. He has Hip-Hop influences and he sings like a cross between David Bowie and Sting and the band are phenomenal. It’s really some next level type of music, it’s going to blow. It’s really going to be all about Mr. Hudson and the band in 2007. Being predominately a Hip-Hop lover/ DJ, do you find it hard to A&R acts from different genres?

Semtex: The whole thing of me looking at different types of artists and genres of music was that I wanted to challenge myself. I work with Hip-Hop artists everyday, I got into A&R because I wanted to sign Dizzee Rascal but that didn’t work out. I hadn’t seen anyone that moved me the way Dizzee did before in the UK. When I saw Dizzee perform the first time, I saw five albums straight.

When I picked up this artist Mr. Hudson, I just felt it in my heart. You know I was an avid fan of Duran-Duran growing up and I could hear those elements in the music but I could also hear Hip-Hop elements as well. I just wanted to be involved in this project. Your new mixtape is called Grime Wave. With the UK music industry saying, “Grime is dead, Nas saying, “Hip-Hop is dead,” and others saying, “Crunk is dead,” Why is the music industry doing so badly at the moment?

Semtex: [Laughing] Everything’s dead. The world is over. [Pauses] Nah, okay: I think what we’re basically saying over here with the Grime scene and for Hip-Hop and Crunk in the US, is that we need something new. We need some more stimulation, we need to shock ourselves and I don’t think that’s happening at the moment. I think we need some new artists to come out with some new ideas. We need some new producers to break the rules. So do you agree with the statements?

Semtex: I don’t think anything is dead, I think we’ve got people with nothing new to write about. Also if you think about online, you have x amount of websites, you have Myspace and you have Youtube. We’re consuming so much so fast that I don’t think the artists can keep up the quality with the demand being so high.

We’re constantly hungry for more and more hit albums. I think with the way the technology is changing, the demand is getting higher and the turnover getting quicker, I think the artists just can’t keep up, so the quality has started to lack. It’s basically greed, as the buying public want more hits faster and the artist want more money so they keep putting out albums just for the sake of it. What DJs do you respect in the United States?

Semtex: Besides Cipha [Sounds], I also respect Clinton Sparks and Green Lantern. I think DJ Drama is the future – what he’s doing, his mentality and also the team behind him is unbelievable. He’s going to go far. And all these guys are repping UK music and showing UK artists love. Every UK artist wants to break the US market. Do you think people in the US will accept Grime/ UK music?

Semtex: Everything goes full circle, West Coast had its turn, South had its turn, Midwest, East Coast and sooner or later the UK will have its turn. The US needs a new sound/new artists and I think if they start to look for the next big thing from outside the US then it will be coming from the UK.

For example, I had begged Kevin Liles to sign Dizzee to the label but at the time, he just didn’t get it. I saw him again at the Power Summit a couple of years later and he came up to me and said, “You were right. I get it now.” So it’s only a matter of time before more people start to get the music. What’s your role in Dizzee’s Future? Are you still going to be his tour DJ?

Semtex: Dizzee is a friend and I’m a fan of Dizzee’s as an artist. I’ll always help him out behind the scenes and that. I just want to see him and artists like Sway succeed, and it’s important that we all support artists over here in the UK and help them get to the next level. Dizzee and Sway have both been doing collaborations with US artists; do you think that will help them break in the US?

Semtex: Dizzee Rascal is on the UGK album; shout out to Bun B for putting him on that. You know Bun B and Pimp C are legends in the South, legends in the US and UGK are going to have a number one album, so I think it’s great for Dizzee to be involved in the project. You also had a lot to do with the Sway and Lupe Fiasco’s collaboration right?

Semtex: Yeah, I hooked them up. I just wish that Lupe had put that track they did on the album. That would have been a very good look for the UK but also good for Lupe as Sway has a huge fan base and it would have helped Lupe sell more albums here in the UK. But it’s good Lupe reached out and brought Sway on stage when he was here in the UK, it’s good for both of them.

There’s also a Chamillionaire and Sway collaboration. The joint is f**kin’ sick. You couldn’t write down on paper the result of the track. That was a perfect collaboration. I think this will be the track that will help Sway break into the US market.

I honestly think 2007 is going to be an exciting year for the UK, I think someone like Dizzee or Sway is going to finally crack the US. Do you think the UK media are not supporting UK talent enough?

Semtex: I don’t think they do as much as they should. I think mainstream press are too quick to link violence and Hip-Hop music. Did you think the meeting of David Cameron and Ryhmfest has helped or was a good idea?

Semtex: You’ve got one of the main members of government, possible a future prime minister of the UK, meeting someone from the US to talk about what’s going on in our streets. It doesn’t make sense.

I think David Cameron missed an opportunity to work with a UK artist who’s in touch with the UK streets and try and find out what the problem is. Do you think it was a publicity stunt?

Semtex: Yeah. You basically have a politician who missed the boat to speak to the people and find out what’s going on over here and an artist who is trying to use the situation for publicity to try and sell a couple more albums.

So it’s sad more than anything else, in the end it didn’t actually help anyone. The real issue is getting the guns off the street and that’s what they should be focusing on. You get a lot of love and respect from US artists. Kanye thanked you when he won a Brit Award here in the UK and countless other artists like Lupe and Jay have sang your praises, how does that feel?

Semtex: Bwoy. What can I say? Kanye didn’t have to do that. He’s such a huge artist. It just shows that they appreciate what we’re doing out here and remembers the work we’ve put in.

You know, It’s still weird sitting in a marketing meeting with Jay-Z. One minute you’re sitting there being an executive and saying something like, “Actually Jay, I think we should market it like that,” and then the next you’re thinking, “S**t, I’m in a meeting with Jay-Z, imagine if the boys could see me now.”

But what I’m trying to say is that I’m a fan of the music first and foremost and I always wanted to be a core part of the music industry and help market great albums and break new talented artists. It’s great to get appreciation from important people in the industry and to be told your doing a good job. What’s to come from you in the future?

I just want to do what no other DJ has done before and get to the highest levels. I want to be involved with breaking artists and making history with UK music.

The music industry is very unpredictable, very critical and sometimes there’s absolutely no logic to it whatsoever. So you learn something different every other day, the market changes every month and ultimately I want to keep staying relevant and to be that number one UK DJ that no one can follow.

Check out Semtex live on air on 1XTRA Every Friday and

Saturday 7pm to 10pm On DAB Digital radio or online: