In the heart of Birmingham’s creative quarter, two young men stroll down into Digbeth’s outside the famed Custard Factory. A far cry from South Bronx, NY, these two Hip Hop heads – Chris “Synikall” Brown (rapper) and Nathaniel Thompson – are co-owners of the city’s newly formed Melée Recording Group (MRG.
They’re making music, recruiting talent and spreading a message that the stars of modern Hip Hop culture fail to radiate.
“My interest in music started back in school, when I just used to mess around, at about 14 years old. I loved listening to the more commercial records, like Eminem and Dr. Dre. It was exciting.”
“But for me, it was more underground. Jedi Mind Tricks, that sort of thing.” follows Synikall’s business partner and A&R of MRG, Nathaniel. “I remember at school, we used to try and rap, there was an old PC and microphone and a couple of keyboards we used. It was terrible really.”
Both laughing, their humbleness is evident; yet beyond that there’s an impressive hunger and determination to strive for improvement from both Synikall and Nat. It’s a positive vibe which they also want to utilise with the development of MRG, a digital recording label and management company with several talented artists to their name already.
Melée Recording Group
So how did the company start? “We all know there are handfuls of talent in Birmingham, but it needs more of a support network,” Synikall responds. “Everyone is on his or her own thing, focused on making music, and although that’s a positive thing to see, it’s not enough. They need a support network, and that’s where our vision for MRG was conceived.”
“There’s strength in numbers. With more people pushing it, it’s more likely to be successful. That’s one of the main reasons for starting Melée, not just to sign and develop acts, but to support them in every way possible. Talent is everywhere, but there’s nowhere central for them to come to.”
– Nathaniel Thompson
On a day-to-day basis, it’s very much the job of Nathaniel to scout new talent for the group, to approach and see what the company can offer an artist should they be interested. “From promotional activities, social media, gigs, and even to design work, we try to work together and make it right”, he stated.
The group helps promote some very strong talent, strong supporters of Lady Sanity, Franklin Armstrong and of course Synikall himself. Collaboration is one thing that the group and Synikall as an artist has thrived off of on the come up, and it’s most definitely something they’ll be capitalising on with future projects.
“It’s something we’ve built and we’re proud of, but there’s a lot to do. We’re hoping to continue scouting artists, developing them and pushing out music for them. We’ve made some strong connections in the radio world too, so that’s something we’re for sure utilising.”
On The Come Up
After graduation, Synikall took himself out to Ayia Napa, DJing at bars and clubs. Every now and then he’d find himself warming up the crowd on the microphone himself, reciting a few lines and loving the experience. Following that, he returned to the UK, and began his assault on the UK urban scene, with freestyles on JDZ Media, AKA and an appearance on mix tapes featuring the likes of Wiley and Dizzee Rascal.
Through that nightclub experience, Synikall saw how music could impact people, but does that translate over to his rap style?
“At the time yeah, 100%. Although now I’ve moved back towards a direction I want for myself, back then I incorporated that dance style music. I wanted to make stuff that people would want to hear, play to their preferences. I was branding myself as a rapper coming out of Birmingham, but sounding like dance music. It didn’t work.”
Fast forward to 2013 and you get to his first EP, “Shut Your Trap”. Despite the style of music being far from ideal for Synikall, the project was picked up by Dutch record label Black Hole Recordings, owned by Dutch DJ, Tiësto. “We were working with The Freestylers at the time, and they were affiliated with Black Hole” he recalls. “They introduced me to the A&R of Black Hole and he really felt the type of music we were doing, so we put together the EP and they distributed it.”
The Freestylers, who Synikall has recently collaborated with on the video “Who Got The Buzz”, have been long-time collaborators and a great help, Nathaniel explains: “They’ve supported us a lot, both artistically and from a business point of view. They’ve been in the game for so long that they can show us the gigging and things like that. They’d take us on stage with them, everything.”
“Who Got The Buzz” itself did relatively well, following the track being sent to BBC Introducing, with Synakill remembering the BBC DJ’s Tweet: “Just discovered Synakill, still picking my jaw up off the floor”.
“That was a massive ego boost for me, and I needed it. It cemented the avenue I have to go down where I’m going to get the success I’m after.”
The Lessons Learnt
Synikall soon reveals the goal for all this: “For me, the aim of this right now is to remind people what Hip Hop was and make it great again, this current trend of trap type music isn’t for me,”
“Or me,” Nathaniel adds, “It’s positive to see different sub-genres within Hip Hop, but for me, it’s about the lyricism and message.”
“We’ve done a lot of shows, from 5 people in the crowd to thousands at Beat-Herder festival. One of the main things I’ve learnt from that is the importance of set-list orders. What type of songs work and what type doesn’t. Also how much space is in the beat, making sure there’s enough for the people to clearly hear you. It’s all about how the crowd reacts.”
“Other than the shows”, Nathaniel continued, “I’m having a lot of fun and enjoyment from kicking back and scouting new talent in the city. Trying to help them get to their goal is always a positive thing to enjoy.”
Synikall adds his own take: “We’ve seen the best and the worst of the industry so far. I’ve learnt that focusing on yourself too much makes you forget those around you. Realising this, I’ve managed to broaden my horizons, open my ears and eyes.”
Recently, they collaborated on a song with another artist profiled by New Urban, Elle Chante. ‘Friends With Benefits’ is a social commentary on current and previous welfare happenings across the UK, with beautifully sung vocals featuring Elle.
“It addresses the hypocrisy of the experience of needing to get a job but being unable to do so conundrum” explained Synikall. “It’s easy to fall into a cycle of becoming a product of your own environment, a vicious cycle. So during the song, you hear me asking questions, giving an unbiased commentary on the track and the issues we’re surrounded by in society. The listener can come to their own conclusions about it all.”
Following that, Synikall is working on a trilogy of EPs, which contain and build off the singles “Friends With Benefits” ft Elle Chante and “Who Got The Buzz” ft The Freestylers.
Whatever this upcoming project brings to our ears, it’ll be sure to raise a few more eyebrows and be an integral part of both the career of Synakill as a rapper and the Melée Recording Group as a whole. Keep your eyes peeled, and give them a listen here.
Photography by Ismael Bashir.