‘Who is Sh?m?’ asks the bubbling grime producer’s own webpage and social media handles. It’s a question people are asking more and more when they hear his disgustingly hard grime and trap instrumentals on the radio and out in clubs. His new track, “Mob Boss”, is another weighty weapon added to his impressive arsenal, again prompting shouts of “who’s that?” when Stormzy, Lady Leshurr, D Double E and others spat over it on this SBTV cypher last year. With an EP of the same name dropping on Apr. 22 (via Kapsize), we tracked Sh?m down to talk everything from PS2s to Flying Lotus and landed the full track premiere for you to stream below.
Firstly, what’s the meaning behind your name and the question mark in it?
I get asked this so much and I’ve had a slightly different answer every time. When I first started out, I replaced the “e” in Shem, which is my real name, with a question mark because I thought it looked a bit weird. It doesn’t change the way you pronounce my name. Instead, I think the symbol is more of a representation of my music and the fact that every tune I make is different in its own right and challenges that which already exists in music. I feel like over the years, the question mark has been more of a bold statement for my artistry, allowing myself to create freely, experiment more and really push the boundaries with it.
Who influenced your sound, and who inspired you to become a producer?
I’m a huge music lover. Growing up, I used to listen to a lot of dub reggae and dancehall and then I went on to discover grime, dubstep, garage and D&B, even jazz and neo-soul. The more I think about it, I realise that a lot of artists before my time have heavily influenced my sound. People like Jah Shaka, King Tubby, Culture but also artists like Hindzy D, J Sweet, Alias. And we could even go deeper in and talk about people like the Bill Evans Trio and Austin Peralta or people like Flying Lotus, Samiyam and Flako. But then we’d have to bring it back and talk about Joker, Digital Mystikz, Skream and Benga. The list can go on forever. I’ve always been fascinated with production, and from an early age too. My uncle, who’s the keyboardist in a reggae band called Misty In Roots, he used to show me how to make my own little loops on a Korg Triton and MPC and from there the interest in production quickly turned into a passion. I studied music all the way from secondary school through sixth form and college, and went on to study sound art at uni; that’s where I learnt more about manipulating sound through the different kinds of synthesis, as well as audio manipulation. But even before all of that, I sort of knew it was something I wanted to go all out with.
Who would you most like to hear spit on your beats? It must have been amazing to have Stormzy, Lady Leshurr and others take on “Mob Boss”.
You know what? Giggs has to be the guy. Or Wiley! But there’s so many sick MCs out right now. Obviously with the likes of AJ Tracey, Big Zuu and MTP, Novelist, YGG, Rocks, Capo Lee, Kwam, Nico Lindsay. It’s mad right now. The cypher was sick. I want to do more tunes like that. One day I’ll put together a little mixtape with nothing but the rawest instrumentals and the sickest MCs, both old and new gen, can go in bar for bar on every track. I’ll make it happen one day.
Your tune’s called “Mob Boss”. Is that a gaming reference? Are you a big gamer?
When I made that riddim, all I could think about is the final mission in Mafia 2 [laughs]. I even had some music software for my PS2 back in the day! I’m trying to get back into collecting games and consoles, but I’m in music mode right now so I’ll have to put it off for a bit.
What’s the vibe for the rest of the year?
This year, I’m all about big soundsystem tunes but keeping it intelligent and forward thinking. I’ve tapped into a number of vibes that I’m feeling a lot too; weird concepts and other experiments that have turned out very intricate and unique. In all, 2016 is already turning out to be sick for music and I’m excited to unleash some of these new ones.