In The Middle with Charlie Sloth

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With one of the most recognisable voices and styles of any UK radio DJ, Charlie Sloth is undoubtedly a mainstay of the hip-hop scene. Following many years on BBC 1xtra and Radio 1, Charlie moved to Beats 1 at the beginning of this year, taking his legendary ‘Fire in the Booth’ platform with him. We caught up with him at the Student Union during his Fresher’s Week tour to ask about Fire in the Booth, the Mercury Awards, and his first experiences performing as a DJ.

To start with, can you tell me a bit about what’s going on here today?

We’re here with Backstage at Apple Music, to introduce Apple Music to the students, and just show them how exciting and accessible the brand is. Students can sign up and get 6 months free, and half price as well. We’re here just to spread the message.

How has that move been for you, going to Apple Music?

It’s been incredible, you know. For me, I’m always trying to challenge myself and grow as a person and as a talent, and I feel that working with Beats 1 and Apple Music is giving me an international platform. So, I go about my business and keep supporting the artists that I’m very passionate about and that I care about. For me, it’s always about the artist first – what I can do for the artist – and I’ve always been a conduit for artists. I think that now the platform that I’ve got to help celebrate the music and the artists that I care about is just a lot bigger, and it’s a lot more accessible for an international audience.

For any budding student radio DJs out there: do you remember your first radio appearances? Did they go smoothly, or was it a rocky start?

Of course. I started DJing when I was 13. By the time I was 14, I was on pirate radio and had a residency at Dingwalls in Camden. I remember my first live performance – it was a tragedy. I was playing on vinyl at the time, and one of the needles was broken, so for like 30 minutes of the set, I was playing with one deck. And in those days, you didn’t have Serato! But it’s those moments that shape who you are, as a DJ or as a talent. If you can get through those moments, then you know that the next time it happens, you’re ready.

Drake’s Fire in the Booth – how did it happen? 

We were in conversation for years. I was always like, “What we saying? Fire in the Booth?” It was pretty much like every six months I’d hit him up. Then, we were speaking on Facetime, and he said, “Yeah, let’s do it” – and then that was it. Literally 3 days later, we did it.

Which other artist do you feel have had notable Fire in the Booths?

There are so many that have really made full use of the platform. I feel like with Fire in the Booth, the thing that gives it credibility and makes it very official is the fact that if you can rap, if you can really rap, it’s a great platform to showcase your ability, and people really appreciate that. Having people come through Fire in the Booth, especially in an early stage in their career, it’s always nice to know you’re a part of that journey and a part of that story. We’ve done over 500 Fire in the Booths, and each of them are special for different reasons. There’re so many different sub-genres these days, and we’re not just drill or just grime or just hip-hop – if you can rap, then you can come in, and that’s it.

How is it playing student nights? Do you feel a different energy, especially during Freshers Week?

Do you know what, it’s probably one of my favourite times of the year. Everyone’s excited, it’s new to everybody, and you’re part of a memory that lives with someone forever. When I’m playing Freshers, I’m pretty much playing a different city every day until mid October. Still to this day, I’ll be playing somewhere and someone will come up to me and be like, “I remember you; you were at my Freshers, it was the sickest party…” – that for me is priceless. 

It was the Mercury Awards recently. What’s your reaction to Dave’s win and his rise to the top of the industry?

I think Dave is an incredible talent, and the beauty of Dave is that he’s so young and he really is just getting started. I feel like he’s going to go on to achieve some incredible things that people from this country couldn’t even imagine, even two years ago. The opportunities for that guy are endless, obviously with his music performance and being in Top Boy as well, and how he nailed that. 

I played Dave’s first ever record when he was 15, and watching the growth of Dave from then to now, and the person he’s become, the artist he’s become… He’s like our modern-day Tupac, that’s how I feel about Dave. All of his music has a message, he doesn’t make a record for the sake of making a record. It’s always so emotive and it’s challenging. And then we get to see the acting side of him. He is a modern-day artist, and he’s going to be an international superstar – I don’t doubt that.

Finally, there are so many great female rappers and MCs at the moment. Right now, who would you pick as your Charlie’s Angels?

I’d probably have Ms Banks, Megan Thee Stallion, and Stefflon Don.

Students can sign up for a 6 month free trial on Apple Music (T&Cs apply). Listen to the Charlie Sloth Rap Show on Apple Music’s Beats 1 every Saturday at 8pm and on-demand via apple.co/Charlie