Rapper from wrong side of tracks cuts deal
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Courier columnist Dan Mackay catches up with Wick’s resident rapper Ebo the Vandal whose new album has been getting rave reviews.
THE record company blurb kinda says it all.
"The Vandal" is a one man show that SPITS his life, his feelings, his fears and his heart out in his songs".
But don’t take their word for it. You can check out his new album, Pyro, just released by Mosa Records on iTunes. His new single "Monsters," has already reached No. 4 in the Scottish New Music Charts.
"An honest rapper with nothing to lose and everything to gain," we are told, "he’s only in it for the music, and is long way away from fast cars and money."
I can vouch for the latter. I met The Vandal, or Ebo as his friends call him, in his Crazy Cottage Studio the other day. He lives in Wick — a far cry from the Bronx and the gangsta rap sub-culture associated with hip hop.
("Hip hop music, also called hip-hop or rap music," according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, "is a music genre consisting of a stylised rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted.")
When I say "studio", I really mean den at the bottom of his garden. But it’s cool. And his music clearly represents his life and passion. It’s been in this den, these last few years, that Ebo has poured his heart out over his mixing desk and created a compelling body of work.
Ebo, aka Alexander McDowall, is a complicated — yet fascinating — character. You get the impression he’s been to hell and back again. He’s the first to tell you life hasn’t always been easy. He’s not had his troubles to seek.
But he’s been fighting his demons; not least alcoholism. He tells me he doesn’t drink any more and that it doesn’t fuel his lyrics. And his music is all the better for it.
"You need to let go" he says. "The world doesn’t owe you anything". One senses a coming back to reality and a leaving behind of the "darkness" since he stopped drinking three years ago. Since then he says his "music has gone through the roof."
And not least the record deal he’s just signed with Mosa Records. It seems The Vandal is on the verge of big times. We can only hope so.
So who is Ebo? I ask how old he is but he just says: "it gets less every year." Previous jobs? "I’ve had a million" he tells me.
In every other respect, he is brutally honest. "I won’t curb my tongue for anyone. I will either make it this way — or I won’t." You can only respect his directness.
FOR all the "problems" he has with authority, one senses a growing maturity.
Yes, he can be brazen at times. "I am the founder member of rap in Caithness" he boldly asserts. One minute he’s the "angry rapper" and "the North of Scotland’s best storyteller"; the next he realises his responsibility to his audience — especially the younger folk.
He admits his lyrics previously gave out all the "wrong messages" – the "kill your enemy" stuff. Now he’s trying to be much more positive. It seems he’s been drawing from a deep well.
A victim of the system, as he tells it, he’s had his run-ins with authority: the police, the church, the care system. All of which he believes are corrupt. It’s made him into a conspiracy theorist. You can hear it in his lyrics. "Sometimes I feel like the whole world’s against me".
But you and I didn’t walk his walk. "I only write facts and don’t f..k with fables" he insists.
So where does he draw his influence from? He doesn’t hesitate and tells me about New York rapper DMX. Seems they’ve both been through the system . . .
"He’s walked the same road" Ebo reveals. "He’s an outcast — as I am in Wick. You don’t get forgiven your mistakes".
Yet for all their explicit hard-core lyrics, there’s some surprising vulnerability. "Lord Give Me a Sign," pleads DMX. "I’m coming home," cries The Vandal.
They may share suspicions about secret societies like the Illuminati. A strong thread of anti-establishment runs through much of Ebo’s thinking. He’ll ‘spit’ about embracing the chaos. This is my war, he vents.
The album’s been well received. "One of the best, if not THE best album I’ve purchased of late. A must-buy from this new artist," raves one online reviewer. "A fantastic album. I’ve never bought a UK rap record as they’re all pop rap but not this boy — he’s kicking from the hood. Roll on the next one," another applauds.
"I’m just a small fish in a big pond" Ebo reflects. "I’d love to blow up".
You can tell he’s been changing his game. A very definite maturing. He speaks adoringly of his family. Wife Suzanne is his "whole world". And it is clear from the pride with which he describes them that daughter Kelsey, 22, and son Luke, 12 mean everything to him.
"I want to pay my family for all the nonsense I put them through," he honestly admits.
It seems no man is a prophet in his own land. Ebo the Vandal is an unlikely folk hero.
He may feel he’s comes from the wrong side of the tracks. And maybe there were times in his life when he went off the rails... But now is his moment. And with a record deal all signed up and the launch of Pyro, well...it’s just the ticket he needs.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not a runaway train.
‘Ebo the Vandal’ will be playing at Wick’s Bfest on August 16.