Reluctant superheroes take flight in new album artwork
Artist JAKe Detonator's collaboration with Chali 2na and Krafty Kuts for their new album has brought forth a superhero for a new musical age. Tim Cummins listens in as JAKe explains the concept and how a misheard lyric kicked it all off.
Holy Freudian analysis, Batman – we have a superhero problem. No, not that they’ve forgotten their secret identities, or failed to tidy up after the mayhem they’ve caused defeating evil, or that the supervillain somehow got away again.
No, it’s that in the vinyl universe of Chali 2na & Krafty Kuts’ Adventures of a Reluctant Superhero album, featuring the comic artwork of JAKe Detonator and a superhero named The Purple Assassin, our caped crusader is in dire need of a therapist – as a result of there being just too many superheroes.
Chali and Krafty are The Purple Assassin and Scratchman respectively, teaming up to defend the citadel of hip-hop from the mumbly, erratic flow of a new generation of rapper supervillains.
The brainchild of Steel, who in his non-superheroic life runs a design studio from east London, producing illustration work for Lucas Film and Star Wars, Doctor Who and Assassin’s Creed, it stars former Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli rapper Charles Stewart [AKA Chali 2na] and British turntable wizard Martin Reeves [AKA Krafty Kuts], plus a raft of talent that encompasses Omar, Blackalicious’ Gift Of Gab, Skye from Morcheeba, former Roni Size collaborator Dynamite MC and Harry Shotta, who swept into the Guinness Book of Records in 2016 for most words in a track, beating Eminen’s 1,560 with a cool 1,771 across six minutes [not far off five words a second].
Above: Krafty Kuts and Chali 2na, and their illustrated alter-egos.
On the record and in the eight-page comic insert that comes with the vinyl release, Chali and Krafty are The Purple Assassin and Scratchman respectively, teaming up to defend the citadel of hip-hop from the mumbly, erratic flow of a new generation of rapper supervillains.
The origin story unfolds of how mild-mannered prof, Charles Stewart, turned into a purple-clad dude with uncanny vocal abilities.
But first there’s a therapy session at Superheroes Anonymous before the origin story unfolds of how mild-mannered prof, Charles Stewart, turned into a purple-clad dude with uncanny vocal abilities, while young Mr Reeves became a lightning-fast turntable roboid; bionic in all the right places, arms extending all over the decks. And then they’re off on a mission to save one of their own from a mumblecore wannabe.
JAKe Detonator – no, not a bad superhero nom de plume – features in the storyboards himself as the therapist. He’s here to talk me through the album just minutes before the dynamic duo of Chali and Krafty, with JAKe’s help, unleashes its sounds upon arm-raised hoards filling the vinyl aisles of Rough Trade East on a spectacularly rain-lashed mid-August evening.
Above: The cover to Adventures of a Reluctant Superhero
And it all began with a basic error.
“I was a big fan of Jurassic 5,” explains JAKe, “and the management rang me and said, would you like to do Chali 2na’s record sleeve? He was working with this British DJ called Krafty Kuts, who was more from the breaks scene. But it wasn’t Jurassic 5 and it wasn’t Krafty’s normal thing. It was a brand new thing with a new identity.”
He listened to Chali’s lyrics. “They went something like ‘when I go Jurassic you know I’m classic, when I go solo I’m the Purple Assassin’.
So JAKe wrote the following on his ideas pad: ‘Superheroes, cave men, robots’. Good start. Then he listened to Chali’s lyrics. “They went something like ‘when I go Jurassic you know I’m classic, when I go solo I’m the Purple Assassin’.”
And so a new superhero, and the name of the character of the album, was borne. JAKe, Chali and Krafty worked up a single release, “with a cut-out mask on the back like they used to have in Weetabix packets,” explains JAKe, “and copy that read: ‘when you use scissors use adult supervision because cuts and scratches are for Deejays’.”
There was only one problem.
Chali: “Hey JAKe, how did you come up with that crazy Purple Assassin’ shit?”
JAKe: “I heard it on the record.”
Chali: [Cue rapper’s withering look] “That was VERBAL Assassin!”
Above: Panels from JAKe Detonator's comic book which accompanies the album.
A legend is born
And so a new legend was born, a second single released, and a whole concept album laid out, waiting for its time to fill the racks, hit the decks and rid the ears of evil sounds.
“It’s super flattering,” admits JAKe of the album’s creation. “It’s not the first time I’ve done this, but it’s really cool, like I’d inspired the whole concept, and doing it, going back and forth, has been amazing.”
It’s gone back and forth between the three of us and it’s been a nice creative chemistry. Watching them work together in the studio, improvising, laying down a beat and Chali getting on it, that was great to watch.
It was Chali who came up with the therapy angle, and his passion for the sound of an English accent meant the Hull-born JAKe was down to voice the therapist, wrapping his own lines around the cuts that came in from Chali’s LA studio.
“It’s gone back and forth between the three of us and it’s been a nice creative chemistry. Watching them work together in the studio, improvising, laying down a beat and Chali getting on it, that was great to watch.
Above: Artist JAKe Detonator and some more of his work.
As for the guest list of musical superheroes stepping over the velvet rope on behalf of the Reluctant Superhero himself, JAKe reverts to fanboy type. “I grew up with Omar,” he exclaims. “MC Dynamite was Roni Size’s MC back in the jungle days – in his verses, he’s talking about this whole thing of hero to zero, ‘first we were venerated, then they were scared of us and what, now I’m in therapy?’ It’s a real grab-bag of legends. Blackalicious’s Gift Of Gab does a track called Guard the Fort, as if they were warriors guarding the fort of hip hop.”
I wanted it to be like visual hip-hop. It’s the same process – it’s like William Burroughs – he was hip-hop. He was doing cut and paste – it’s the same method. Fling all this stuff together and it reassembles into something else.
With the artwork for the hip-hop superheroes fixed early on, JAKe turned his attention to the backgrounds, filling them with comic-culture cut-ups from his own collection. “I wanted it to be like visual hip-hop,” he says. “It’s the same process – it’s like William Burroughs – he was hip-hop. He was doing cut and paste – it’s the same method. Fling all this stuff together and it reassembles into something else.”
As for the villain, that’s based on Tekashi 69, a young US rapper with a looming prison sentence for heinous crimes, though not, as here, crimes against hip-hop. “He’s got cartoon hair, different coloured teeth, 69 tattoos all over his face, I’m fascinated by him. I’m taking the piss, but I’m doing it with a wink.”
A superhero sequel?
As for a follow-up album, the superheroes are on board, along with a new supervillain, a character called Black Vapour, with a swampy, g-funk, paranoid vibe to him, smoke pouring from his ears like a bomb just went off in there, intent on rhyming himself out of his bars and escaping the infinite loop that’s trapped him in his crib.
All it needs to make it happen is for the audience to be its bad-ass, superhero self and fly that 12 inches of purple vinyl off the shelves so that JAKe, Chali and Krafty can invest in the Reluctant Superheroes’ next adventure.
Listeners, you know what you have to do.