Gies a Rap: Discovering my Voice as a Scottish Hip Hop Artist

Dave Hook from hip hop band Stanley Odd will be appearing in our Authors Live: Unheard Voices event for secondary schools on Thursday 25 January 2018. It's free and easy to sign up to watch! To help you and your pupils engage with the event, we asked Dave to tell us about his journey as a hip hop artist and how he harnessed his everyday experiences to create authentic art.

‘Here mate. Are you a rapper aye? Gies a rap. Whit dae yi rap aboot? Mad gangsters an’ that? Guns and bitches? Is that whit yi dae? Gies a rap mate.

Gies a rap.’

This is often the response you get when you tell people you’re a rapper.

Dave Hook with secondary school pupils during a workshop
I’m Dave Hook. I’m a rapper. I play in a live hip-hop band called Stanley Odd. I’ve been called a poet. I’ve been called much worse. Hip-hop isn’t the first music that people think of when they think of Scottish people. Scotland isn’t the first place that people think of when they think of hip-hop. I’ve been rapping since I was in my teens but at that point I never thought it would be something I could actually do as a job. It wasn’t ever discussed as an option with a careers advisor.

When I started rapping I thought that I was just about the only person rapping in Scotland. I didn’t have access to the internet to see that people had been making hip-hop in Scotland since the 1980s. I didn’t look like people think a rapper is supposed to look (although I kind of do now, so have I conformed to what people think I should look like?). I had long hair and played acoustic guitar and sang Nirvana songs. But I also rapped. I just did that with my pals down the park rather than on a stage. We made up daft rhymes about each other and the things around us. We also rapped Snoop Dogg and Cypress Hill songs. With American accents. When that’s all you’ve seen, then that’s who you emulate when you start trying to do it yourself.

Since its inception, hip-hop has been about providing a voice for the voiceless and telling untold stories

One day, I realised I was writing raps about where I grew up – Airdrie, a satellite town east of Glasgow – and telling stories about the people and the places I knew but that I was telling this story in a fake American accent, ‘cause that was what I thought rap should sound like. Suddenly, I could only hear how wrong that sounded. How false that sounded. How I could never tell a true story in a false voice. Lightbulb moment. It’s more complicated than simply deciding to speak in your own voice. It’s about having the confidence to be yourself. It’s about having the confidence to tell stories that you haven’t heard other people tell before. Telling stories that you don’t know if anyone else will be interested in hearing. It’s about people the world over being told certain people can do certain things and certain people can’t, based on where you’re from, what you look like, how you behave, who you know and all the other ways that society divides us into categories of cans and can’ts. My advice? Be a 'can'. The whole world wanted to hear Snoop describe rolling down Crenshaw Boulevard, Los Angeles in an open-top modified convertible with hydraulic suspension sipping on gin and juice. Who in the world would want to hear about us running about Airdrie with a bottle of cider against a post-industrial backdrop of boarded up shop fronts, potholes and grey rough cast? But that was the thing. It’s hard to write about things you don’t know and have never seen. It doesn’t ring true and there are always people that have actually experienced it that can do it better. Writing about your own experiences though? No one can tell that story better. And it turns out people do want to hear it. It also turns out the people around you want to hear their story told.

For me this is where hip-hop transcends geography. This is why hip-hop can be found taking root from Palestine to Mogadishu, from Aboriginal Australia to… Airdrie. It is a global culture that only works in a local voice. It is about expressing who you are and representing where you are from. Since its inception in the South Bronx, New York, in the 1970s, hip-hop has been about providing a voice for the voiceless, telling untold stories and making the invisible not only visible but heroic and centre-stage. Almost all hip-hop artists create an alternative name for themselves. I call myself Solareye. This is more than just a stage name. It becomes about redefinition and reinvention: choosing how you are seen and perceived as opposed to accepting the place you have been given. This is where hip-hop comes from and this is why hip-hop can come from anywhere.

Dave Hook with secondary school pupils
These days Scotland is awash with amazing rap writers from Loki, who has just released a bestselling book  about poverty and his upbringing in Glasgow, to Kid Robotik, who won the Scottish Alternative Music Awards Best Hip-Hop award in November, to a younger generation of writers that cross the hip-hop/ grime boundary like Shogun, whose net video Vulcan was a worldwide viral phenomenon with over three million views. What’s most exciting about this for me is the variety and individuality with which each artist approaches their writing. There’s no one formula for how hip-hop in Scotland sounds. Each artist sounds like themselves and tells their own story.

Anyone can rap and everyone can write rhymes. Your voice and your accent and the words you use when you’re talking to your pals are the best tools for telling your story.

Gies a rap.

Dave Hook will be appearing in our Authors Live: Unheard Voices event for secondary schools on Thursday 25 January 2018. To whet your appetite, why not check out some previous events in our Watch on Demand library? You can also read this blog post from panelist Ayisha Malik about the way forward for BAME writers in the UK.

Teaching points from Dave's blog post for schools and libraries

  • What do your pupils think Dave means when he says that hip hop 'provides a voice for the voiceless?'
  • Do your pupils agree that hip hop 'only works in a local voice'? Do they think that this principle applies to other forms of writing too?
  • What books, movies and pieces of music do your pupils feel represents their experiences, if any? To help them discover more interesting writers and artists, check out our resource inspired by Stanley Odd.

Dave Hook

Dave Hook is the frontman for Scottish hip hop band Stanley Odd. The band won the Scottish Music Awards Big Apple Award in 2013 and their second album, Reject, was shortlisted for Scottish Album of the Year. Dave also lectures in a range of subjects at Edinburgh Napier University, including Recording Studio Theory and Practice, Music Technology, Mastering Techniques, Music Production, and Pro Tools.