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'When I Died' - an interview with Motley

24 Feb 2017 spotlight words by Terence Ill
'When I Died' - an interview with Motley

On March 1, Motley will release his new body of work titled When I Died, the result of a near-death experience that provided the UK-born rapper with a new outlook and an equally captivating and inspiring story to tell.

You see, Motley has this gift, this ability to suck you into his world and spit you out a few minutes later, leaving you with the realisation that you won't be able to put into words what you just experienced.

I encourage you to watch The Trilogy, a series of three video clips from the new EP that will ease you into what you're about to read. Enjoy!

Before we talk music, let's talk about your work with The Rhyme Theory. What is The Rhyme Theory?

Motley: The Rhyme Theory... it's basically what I've been doing since 2004, in Manchester. I had just been signed and moved to London, so I was away from home. Things weren't going so well in London. It wasn't what I'd imagined it was gonna be.

After a year I decided to come back to Manchester. I had just gotten back and I was asked by one of the local community centres if I would go and teach the kids how to deejay. I said, "I can come and show the kids how to make beats, or how to write rhymes... I haven't deejayed in a while." And they were like, "We don't really know what you're doing, just come in and kick it with the kids." I was pretty nervous, actually. I thought, who am I to teach these people? I'm still trying myself. So I went in and I just showed them how I construct my bars. I basically showed them my process. Then I said, "Come on, let's do a song together."

From there, it turned into a weekly program for the kids. After a couple of months, the youth centre had entered them into this competition and sent them one of the raps that I recorded with them. The kids won first prize in this competition. They all got to go to London, they got to meet the mayor of London, they got free iPods... That was a really big outcome for these kids. They didn't ever get anything. In Manchester - well, in the part that I grew up in - there was not a lot of money, there was not a lot of stuff going on. Before I knew it I was working at two or three places, and generating an income teaching kids how to rap.

So, when I came to Australia in 2008 it was a natural thing for me to just call the community centres and said, "This is what I did in England", and I could show them newspapers and prizes we won and things that we achieved together... and they said, "You know what, let's do it."

I believe you did some work in prison as well. Is that the same thing or different?

Motley: I was qualified as a teacher as well, because I could feel myself going in that education direction. I did a couple of 'taster' jobs in schools, but it was very rigid, and every time I got in there I felt uncomfortable. So I had to go back to doing my regular sessions with the kids. And that's what happened with the prison.

I'd been going in there doing one-off session with them. Then they asked me to go full-time. They wanted me to be a teacher in there. And they were paying me good money as well - three days a week, school holidays - I was like, "I could have a taste of that." Remember that town that I told you about? We didn't have nothing bro, so this was a big thing for me. I felt quite blessed and quite lucky. I worked in the Juvy for six months straight, whilst doing sessions on the outside at the same time. I couldn't say no to them, they were all in the middle of projects and I couldn't crush them like that. One or two of them I eventually pulled out of, because I was doing too much work. I was working with too many kids and I was feeling compassion for them all... [pause - struggling to maintain composure]

I've seen some of them in there and the way that they are treated, and they're not looked after. They're not being heard. No one is listening... [pause] So I was taking it all on, I was taking it over. [pause] I said, "Come on, we'll write this down, man." The kids were getting therapy out of it, you know what I mean? To me and the boys, this was everything.

But I couldn't manage it all by myself. So, after six months I had to come out of the Juvy, and that was sad as well. The boys, I could feel it, they were like, "Oh, you gotta do what you gotta do..." You know, it was a sad departure.

Anyway, I was talking to the principal there and I was telling them, "I can do more for these boys. I think you might need to train me with some psych stuff because I don't know if I'm coping too well..."

I was coming up with ideas and they just said, "You're not that guy, you're that guy! So, get back in your place," you know what I mean? I said, "I think you're making mistakes, but I can't work here while you're doing it. I can't sit here watching it and not change it." So I pulled out.

I had to go and see a therapist and stuff, 'cause I was pretty anxious for the boys - I was worried about them. And then they would get out and find me on Facebook, and that's not allowed. They're not allowed to communicate with me. But... I don't give a fuck about that shit. I put some of them up as my support act, just to give them that bit more confidence, you know what I mean? When they know they can achieve one thing, they change. They've been in a cycle for a long time and then it kind of snaps 'em out a bit.

Does working with teenagers remind you of yourself at that age? Can you still relate to the moods and mindsets that they might be in, from your own personal experiences at that age?

Motley: Definitely some of it, not all of it. When I say that I mean, we had almost identical situations in some of it. But in some of it, it's way, way worse than anything I've ever even been close to. I know what I went through and I think, "I only went through this, and it was bad enough. It still left an imprint on my personality and changed the way I developed. But, fuck... you brave little soldiers, man."


The first song I found of yours was Stick em Up. At one of the gigs you played, I mentioned to Empress - your then girlfriend, now wife - that I liked the clip and she said something like, "Oh, yeah, that was when Rydah and Motley were doing the Gravediggaz kinda thing." Do you find that, at different times throughout your musical career, you have a certain vibe that you are going for? Where you go, "That's the kind of music I want to make," then you get over it and find something new to pursue?

Motley: [laughs] I think so. I think I've been learning, you know? When I look back, each album, each project is like a tutorial. How to make beats, that was my first album. I was just learning how to make beats. My flow was all American and I wasn't really saying shit. And then the next one, I might have focused more on flows than on content. I wanted to do a double-time song. You know? I was thinking like that, I wanted to just see if I could do it, test myself. And then occasionally something from the heart would just come out, and those ones would give me goosebumps. It was like I didn't think about it too much, it just streamed out. I did a song about my mum in the very early days, and all three verses just flew out. I always knew those were the special songs. I could always go back and not be embarrassed about them.

I've been leaning more and more towards what's been going on inside me. And I guess I've just been shy as a person. Like, "Here's a little bit... but HEEYY, we're having a party over here!" Now I'm ready. This is the message now.


Then I came across this song of yours called The Dope Squad Part 1, which features Remi, Briggs, 1/6, Hau, N'fa Jones, Diafrix, Sky High. What the fuck? Were you trying to use up all possible feature options in Australia in one song? How did that all come together?

Motley: [laughs] You know, the industry is tiny, when you're inside. You meet a couple of MC's, you're doing a gig together. "Oh yeah, you're Briggs? Cool man, I finally get to meet you…" It's a small circle. I see 1/6 every now and again, I go around to N'fa's cafe and we also have mutual friends. Not everybody is like that. Sky High and Hau, we don't kick it, they're in Sydney. But we've caught up a couple of times. So I already had a relationship with most of them, on one level or another. Diafrix I see so often, because they do a bit of youth work in Footscray and the Inner West.

But actually, the song was supposed to be even bigger than that. I reached out, bro, I was having a conversation with a few other artists as well. And… I'm not… [laughs] I'm just pointing something out here, but it was the artists of colour that turned up on the day. I don't know why that is, it's weird that it just happened like that. So these were the superheroes. That's why I said let's do a fancy dress for the clip. Let's show 'em where the heroes are here, you know?

When I Died is the name of the project you are about to release. What is it going to be - an EP? An album?

Motley: It's somewhere inbetween, I think. [pause] I've been working on this big project for a couple of years, and every now and then I have to take a breather from it and just make a "normal" song. And then I get back into the big project again. So I had these six or seven songs sitting there. Four of them had a really strong connection, they were all very honest, open-hearted songs. The other two were still open, but still trying to be a sick cunt… [laughs] I looked at it and they're all just messages that have been coming through. So that's what it became. It's a side project.

What's the actual project?

Motley: It's like, I wanna tell you about it, but it's such a big project and I don't want to build the hype up too early. [laughs]

Just tease, then. Don't give it all away, just a little bit.

Motley: Alright, so the little bit is, it's a linear story. Each track is a linear story and it's a 'Choose your own adventure'. It's like a cartoon but in Hip Hop vision and sound. The project is called Qualia. When you listen to it, you're in it, you know what I mean? You follow the story and you get to choose the way the story goes. I was writing it for the boys in Juvy, like a gift back. But it's turned into something much bigger than that.

Are you planning to play more gigs again in the coming months?

Motley: To be honest, bro, what's happened is, my outlook has completely changed. I had a near death experience in 2012. I'm a different person now. I feel like I've just woken up from a daydream and...

[Interrupting Motley's answer] Do you want to explain what the near death experience was?

Motley: It was a overdose of heroin - by accident. I'm not a heroin user, never seen it before in my life. I was given it on my 33rd birthday.

"What is it, bro?"

"Don't worry man, it's some fresh shit from Africa. Come on, it's your birthday..." [gestures sniffing powder off a table]

Do you want me to tell you the full story?

If you would like to tell it...

Motley: So, I had this line, and I started feeling a little bit dizzy. I was trying to keep my balance and trying to fight it off and resist it. I thought I'll just shake it off, but it just kept getting more and more intense. It was consuming me. I couldn't see. I had to get my friends to take me for a piss, bro, I couldn't go to the bathroom - I was that much out of it. Took a piss and the I said, "I need to lie down."

It was a house party. I had just come off tour and I was given all these riders, like a bottle of gin, or a bottle of vodka. I was collecting them, 'cause I don't really drink. I was like, "I'll take it, fuck it. I'm from the hood. Yeah. Shit." [laughs] We had the liquor, we had weed brownies, we had fried chicken. So, yeah, all my friends were there and I was in the bedroom. It was still early. It had only been going for an hour.

Another hour after that a friend came into the room and she was saying I was breathing funny, that I was making this gasping sound. Then my stomach shut down and I started foaming at the mouth. All I remember of this now is people in the other room going, "Motley, come on, we're going to the club." My friend Candice was panicking and called an ambulance. They were giving her instructions over the phone and told her to do mouth-to-mouth and do CPR and get me to breathe. The fire brigade actually got here first, because they were in the area. When they arrived they tried to resuscitate me and they couldn't get me to breathe. My pulse wasn't there. Then the ambulance turned up and they did a final check and they were like, "No. Gone. That's it." Then they had to give me a shot of Narcan, which is what they use for heroin abuses. And apparently I just took this massive long breath, all the air getting back into my lungs. My whole body was shaking and I was freezing. The paramedics were like, "Do you want to come to hospital?" I think they have to ask your consent, because it cost me a grand. I didn't realise at the time. I went to hospital for one night for observation.

After that, I was in a daze. Am I actually alive or am I dead? Then I was like, if I was really dead and just a ghost, I wouldn't be here washing dishes. I'd be like, "FUCK IT! I'm out." [laughs]

Two months after the incident I had these flashbacks, these memories of where I'd been. I feel like I'm one of the lucky few who get to come out and see what it is and then get to come back.

I'm an atheist. I don't really believe in gods or anything. I went to Catholic school and always questioned everything. "Not all things are to be taken literally, Joseph" [laughs] But now I'm a very spiritual person. Not religious, but I know that there is another realm. It brings a lot of peace to my heart and also drops a lot of fear, you know? That's kind of my main message now, to not fear and live life and to experience. And I'm trying to put that into my music.

And you feel you can't do that at gigs? Just going back to the original question... [laughing]

Motley: [laughs] I... I've had time off, because this incident really changed my mindset. It put me on a different path a little bit. I feel like I'm ready to come back on the stage, but I've never been the one to call venues and stuff. Back then, things were just happening. But now I'm a bit lost with that, because I'm not the business man, I'm the artist. My brother Rydah has been talking about a tour and Empress wants to do something, so we might be doing something together. But it's just an idea, we haven't sat down and nutted it out yet.

Maybe someone reading this will have just the event for you - if you're open for it.

Motley: Yeah man, give me a shout. I'm definitely keen to do shows.

Motley will be playing live at the Ding Dong Lounge in Melbourne tomorrow night, 24th February, alongside The Stranger Suite. There will also be an official launch event for When I Died, with details to be released shortly.

You can pre-order the EP here:

Google Play