First came the Stone Roses and the Manchester scene. Then there was Lush and the London "shoegazers." Now there's Tricky, heralded as the leader of Bristol, England's "trip-hop" scene--a movement of bands, most prominently Portishead, that fuse trippy ambient music with hip-hop.
But hang on a second.
"There ain't no Bristol sound and trip-hop is bull----," says Tricky, debunking the hype. "People are afraid to put out music and have it judged for what it is, so instead they use a trendy name to give it an identity. It's not Bristol or trip-hop, it's that they don't know who they are."
On first impression, the bristly persona of the 27-year-old producer and rapper seems totally incongruous with the sublime sound of his highly acclaimed solo debut, "Maxinquaye." He converses in impatient bursts, mixing metaphors and scrambling sentences in a scrappy, tough British accent.
But on closer listen to the album, Tricky and his music are of a piece. He can make an angry, pumped-up Public Enemy song sound like an experimental Sade number, and he places his own confrontational lyrics so deep in the ambient grooves that they sound like lullabies.
"Sometimes my music don't work on the first listen," says the edgy insomniac, who stays up most nights writing songs. "You could listen to it and think, 'Hmm, what's this all about?' You have to take time and be gentle with it. It don't hit you straightaway."
Tricky combines everything from hip-hop to ambient techno to dub to rock to jazz with female, R&B-style vocals (provided by Martina Toppley-Bird) and his own raps. It's a hybrid he feels is more reality-based than the music he made when he was with the legendary dance outfit Massive Attack.
"Massive Attack songs were all kind of make-believe and didn't really represent my life," explains Tricky, who also produced two songs on Bjork's new album. "Now, it's more concrete and realistic, like a documentary. I'm not perfect, I'm kind of evil, kind of nervous, etc. It's probably easier to relate to that 'cause people have a lot of psychosis in them from the way we live. It represents a mutual age of confusion."
Tricky (real name: Adrian Thaws) grew up on the outskirts of Bristol listening to the reggae that his Jamaican father created on his sound system. His mother, for whom his album is named, died when he was 4. In his teens, he listened to the Specials, Prince and Rakim before falling in with the Wild Bunch, a group of Bristol's underground deejays and rap emcees. The group mutated into the dance band Massive Attack, which has released two albums. Tricky left the group in 1993.
He feels his solo work is a collection of all his experience, but he has a hard time describing it.
"It's not rap, it's not poetry," says the musician, who opened for PJ Harvey on her recent U.S. tour. "I don't know what it is, it's more like talking, communicating. The words aren't so basic, but my style really is. I always use the first stuff I put down in the studio and leave in all the mistakes."
Tricky's career philosophy is as free-form as his music, but just as stubborn as his personality.
"I just make things up as I go along. I have a band at the moment called Starving Sauce. I made up another name for the new stuff I've done. It's called Nearly God. I like a bit of self-irony there. I just keep myself happy, and if everybody around me does what I say, it's cool."