Boys from the Hood
Meet Philip ‘Negy’ Petroff and Nikolay Neshev – the masterminds behind the Mladost-born hip-hop duo FARS. And then prepare yourself for an encounter with two guys best defined as part fascinating, part weird–though in a good way, of course.
Having had some mind-boggling, head-on clashes with their mercurial tendencies in the past, I knew that they would be setting the tone of this interview, binning the usual Q&A format. What I didn’t realise was that we would be sitting on a wooden bench, underneath a street lamp next to a school yard chewing on some important stuff in between large gulps of cold beer.
We’re in Little Suburbia – the hood they grew up in. It made them what they are today, and it has to be said, they’re pretty cool.
Negy and Neshev are the unusual suspects: restless, witty (Neshev has a thing about one-liners and Negy is more of a talker) and ridiculously talented. These two have been rapping since teenagers. They had one dream, and one dream alone – to become damn good rappers. To have their own hip-hop label. To be part of a meaningful rap culture –one that does not put beat before lyrics.
And their dream came true. FARS have shared the stage with worldwide hip-hop celebs such as Tribe Called Quest, Das EFX, Onyx, House of Pain, Cypress Hill. They’re old-school but with a unique post-90s vibe. And they’ve been around for a while – 10 years on stage, hip-hopping the underground scene with beats and rhymes that stick.
On April 26 FARS hit the stage once again for their bombastic eight-hour concert celebrating their milestone.
Here’s what the duo had to say about being underground, gigging in God-forsaken places, travelling the country by trains that run five hours late and enjoying every bit of it…
You two know each other through and through. You grew up together.
Neshev: Yeah, in the work camps.
When did you two start rapping together?
Neshev: The truth is we started out with pop folk. Our first song was called “Yes, yes, Mercedes – buy it for me today.”
Negy: And we were inspired solely by the Bulgar spirit.
Neshev: After that, the transition to hip-hop was an easy and a natural one. What’s your next question?
Negy: Actually we were the children of change. As early as the ‘90s, when I met Netsata (Neshev) in the headquarters of the Union of the Democratic Forces, we both knew that something big was about to happen. We both listened to rap music. Neshev had 100 tapes, I had 20 – which made me think this ‘dude must be the real thing.’
Neshev: Damn right.
Negy:In ’95 we started rapping. We would gather at Neshev’s place and rap lyrics that we’d written at the age of 14 or 15. ‘Meters above the ground’ was our first official piece. One summer, I met Sistah rap artist from the 187 band and he told me that I had a great flow, good lyrics, I told him about Neshev. When I came back to Sofia I said to Netsata: “Dude, let’s get down to business.”And that’s when we got serious.
You’re no enemy of free download – in fact all of your albums (official and unofficial) can be downloaded for free at Illmate.com. I came across a quote today…
Neshev: Was this quote written by someone sensible – or a dumbass?
I don’t remember – it was by some guy who surfs the net.
Neshev: He was mediocre then…
Thanks for the clarification. Anyway, the quote read that if we ever get arrested because we download music from the net, they’d better put us in different cells depending on our music preferences. Who wouldn’t you want to share a cell with?
Negy: We have nothing against the early chalga music up until ‘95. But we can’t stand gaba and breakcore – they will lead humanity to destruction.
Neshev: I have nothing to add.
Your duo did something good for humanity this Friday – you celebrated 10 years on stage with a live concert. Do you feel like hip-hop veterans?
Neshev: No. Ten years of live performances is not such a long time for an artist – there are lots of Bulgarian hip-hop bands that have been around for much longer than us and are much cooler. We just wanted to mark the occasion by throwing one big party for our friends.
Indeed on April 26, at the Mixtape club in Sofia, during your anniversary, you were on stage with a host of your hip-hop friends – Nokaut, 187, Logo5, DJ Stancho, Sensei, Slim, Overdoze, Stick Insect, X-Team, Fruit Sessions, So Called Crew. Weren’t you afraid that someone might steal the show?
Neshev: What kind of a question is that? Cut the tabloid crap…[Grins] No, there is no rivalry among Bulgarian hip-hoppers – we’re too cool for that and we are against any strife in the hip-hop scene.
Negy: We are the hidden smile of the BG hip-hop.
Neshev: Please note that I’ve just shed a tear.
An eight-hour live concert – isn’t that a bit long? Were you trying to set a record?
Negy: No. We had a line-up of 12 pivotal hip-hop bands and artists and it was okay for the concert to last that long. In fact eight hours were not enough. We also screened unseen footage from our live gigs. We’ll sang songs that we’d never performed.
Neshev: And that had never been heard.
Negy: The sole product of our imaginations.
Neshev: I can’t imagine that.
How come you travelled from the suburbia of Sofia’s Mladost-3 district, to the Cultural Centre of the city of Pleven for your first live gig?
Neshev: It was an epic journey that marked all our journeys afterwards. The train we had to catch was delayed by five hours, there had been some landslides or something so we had to switch to a bus then back to a train again, then get on the narrow-gauge line. There was this elderly woman on the bus, between 60 or 70 years old or something, who turned out to be an MC –that really made the journey.
Negy: She rapped with us.
Neshev: We were quite some group on that bus.
Negy: And of course during our first concert…
Neshev: The electricity was cut off.
Negy: No, the electricity was not cut off, our beats were cut out.
Neshev: And then the electricity was cut off.
You’ve had many such gaffes during your live gig. Which technical fail do you think you’ll be most remembered for?
Negy: They are so many…
Neshev: We’ve fallen off the stage; other time our instrumentals wouldn’t kick in... We were the warm-up band for Jedi Mind Tricks and it turned out there were no players for our instrumentals, so we had to use some from other artists. It was awful – people thought we had stolen instrumentals such as Down with the King andWho’s the Man.
Negy: No, maybe one person thought that. The remaining thousands of people thought that FARS had demonstrated the utmost professionalism.
So mishaps always work to your advantage?
Nshev: Sure they do. After all the name of our band has a farcical sound…
I define you as оld school…
Neshev: You’re wrong. We are a cool new school hip-hop band.
Negy: Perhaps our style is old school – the hip-hop of the ‘90s, this is our music.
Neshev: The truth is that we were beached by the second hip-hop wave.
Negy: The times of Sniper and RNB Records.
Neshev: Otherwise, we’re highly influenced by the music of our friends – DRS, Nokaut, 187.
These are all Bulgarian hip-hop bands…
Negy: Naturally we’ve had foreign influences too. The bands that we listen to and learn from are many – Tribe Called Quest, Das EFX, Wu-Tang, Onyx, House of Pain, Cypress Hill. This is the really good hip-hop of the 90s – it’s meaningful, there’s really something you can take from it.
You’ve been the support act for many world celebs such as Method Man & Red Man, Delinquent Habits, Jeru the Damaja, Lords of the Underground.
Neshev: Yeah, that has been one of the biggest buzzes in all this.
Negy: The feeling cannot be described.
Neshev:I had a hell of a good time during the Psycho Realm concert.
Negy: It was great to be the warm-up for Method Man & Red Man, though it was a bit weird that we never had a drink together. Anyway, it’s impossible to say what it feels like to be with these people. It happens to you and only afterwards do you realize what you’ve lived through. I remember how I just bought a round of beers for the guys from Das EFX because I simply didn’t know what to do – I felt like a child.
Neshev: Bro, it’s a good thing you’re not a woman. [Laughter]
Negy: Yeah, you’re right. Lords of the Underground came to greet us personally while we were doing our mic checks and after the concert we did some freestyles with Lord Jazz and DoltAll. Such things you can never forget.
Who would you like to be the warm-up for?
Negy: Wu-Tang! May be then things will really start happening for us.
Aren’t you pleased with what has happened to you so far?
Neshev: I didn’t expect such heartbreaking questions, I should have prepared some answers.
Negy: On the contrary. We’re thrilled to the bones. I’ve never imagined that FARS will be the warm of bands of such magnitude.
Neshev: It has never been my dream, by the way.
Negy: No, we only dreamt we could make good, worthwhile hip-hop.
Neshev: Reality surpassed our expectations. We’ve achieved what seemed impossible for an underground band. We have only one official video clip for 10 years, yet we’ve been the warm up band for the best hip-hoppers that have ever visited the country.
Negy: it would be cool to have some video clips, yet we’ve never been influenced by the passing music fads. We do our own thing. And it’s probably worth it because people still pay attention to us.
You have your own label – Illmate that unites FARS with other hip-hop artists such as Wosh MC, Logo5, DJ Darkstep, STARTERAs. How are things going for the label?
Negy:We have our ups and downs but we keep on working. We’re having a hard time at the moment as we don’t have a recording studio, but each of the artists is doing their own thing and we’ve proved that we can collaborate. Besides, the fans love to see us together.
Have you thought of leaving Bulgaria for good?
Neshev: I’d like to travel around for a bit. I can’t say if I want to live abroad because I’ve never lived abroad.
Negy: I have lived abroad. It was ok but I fell into a depression for the first time in my life.
Neshev:He would call me in the middle of the night and cry on the phone. I’m not kidding.
Negy:I missed my friends. Otherwise, Netsata and I will continue making music – even if in 10 years’ time I play on the rebeck and he pounds the tambour. True, you can’t earn a living with hip-hop music in Bulgaria – it’s not the place for that. In Germany, for example, there are professionally equipped recording studios that could be used for free by everyone. Here in Bulgaria, we had to work real hard to set up our own recording studio. It's tough, but has been worth it.
Neshev: Ok. That’s a wrap.
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