“I love the intimacy of gigging” – Franz Von on Sheffield's hip hop scene, Afrobeat and lacking representation
“I first started recording with Northern Alliance in 2008, and the first gig I performed at Tramlines was just before J. Kas with Northern Alliance. I performed every year… But, I’ve not done it for the last three years”… pause, a nervous laughter ensues it’s not the first time I’ve heard such a comment…
“There’s a massive, and I don’t even like to call it urban but there’s a massive urban scene in Sheffield and it’s not represented… at least I don’t think it is.” It’s not being disingenuous nor derisory… it’s just a lamentation that in Sheffield hip-hop, rap, grime, it does not get the spotlight that it deserves. Bassline one of the city’s most popular musical exports of recent years is not as celebrated across the board as it could be… it’s almost like we’re collectively missing a trick here.
Franz Von originally hails from May Pen in Middlesex County, Jamaica. Yet for the better part of his life he has lived in, developed, grown as a man and cultivated his craft in Sheffield, his home since his teens. His deep timbre and verbal cadence is undeniably rounded off by a looming Yorkshire accent with undeniably broad Jamaican inflections rounding out his vocal range.
I must admit, my time away from the city has seen me miss quite a bit of music, and as I listened to the rather eclectic mixture of music Franz Von has produced or featured on I wasn’t quite sure where to place him. I asked how many different types of songs he’s worked on and he begins to reel off such a broad list of musical genres that it would have been easier to ask what he hasn’t done. If you were to break it down however, he’s undeniably a hip hop and afrofusion artist, yet completely unperturbed about dipping his toe into an extensibly dizzying array of music styles… which subsequently not only enriches the listening experience but merely exemplifies his willingness to blend his lyrical talents with projects that many wouldn’t consider.
Last year, he released a video filmed during pre-lockdown times (remember those?) at Yellow Arch Studios with a live band, Conversing with Her, a profound song about restoring our universal connections. Listening to both Franz’ delivery in conjunction with the live band, I couldn’t help but feel a similarity to Things Fall Apart by The Roots… or even those NPR Tiny Desk concerts. It was a vibe and I genuinely miss hearing live music in such a fashion.
Intrigued, I asked if he felt a similarity to The Roots here, he nodded. He just loves performing live, “It’s all about the interactive side for me, I like the jam-element. And, just being able to break out and almost freestyle in the set.”
We discuss his musical influences, “Nas, definately Nas, Jay-Z, KRS One, Biggie, Wu-Tang, Black Thought, he’s always one of the ones who’s always rapped with a live band and he doesn’t get the same respect” or even reverence you could argue “as others because he doesn’t have the decks or the turntables.” But it’s not just American artists, Franz Von speaks with a deep respect of Sheffield artists, “I know you’ve met him already, J. Kas. He was in a group called No Xcuse and I loved how they just did their thing. Before them it was Hoodz Underground, they did a lot for the scene and not just up north.”
Franz is certainly cognisant of other artists around the city, doing their thing and it’s not hard to detect an air of pride in his fellow citizens and a love for their ethic. “Matic Mouth, I was in Northern Alliance with him. He’d always offer advice and tips, it always seemed to help.” Another artist he mentioned, almost lamentably was a Sheffield rapper called Critic. A well-regarded and undeniably talented MC, “he was like our own version of Jay-Z, he was sick”, and he’s right on that front.
But back to Franz, when can we hear from you next? “I’m just at the whim of Covid really, I tend to focus mostly on gigging but we haven’t been able to do that for a while”. Does this mean he’s on a pause? “No, I’ve got an EP coming in September or October, PEOPLE DI POWA. It focuses on concepts of power and its impact on people's lives. It’s a fusion of tribal hip hop with elements of jazz, dub and afrobeat,” set alongside overt social commentary that touches on recent events, systemic oppression with an uplifting message driving it.
“I’m also hoping to record another live album with a band. I’m just sorting out the logistics really.”
We spoke about where he’d most love to perform in Sheffield, “it would have to be the amphitheatre behind the train station”, “so why don’t you then?” I ask… he laughs. That’s a maybe then.
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