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Getting To Know: Yussuf Maleem

From the pulsating streets of Manchester, Yussuf Maleem has emerged as a visionary artist, whose musical odyssey has redefined the soundscape of the city. Spanning over 15 dynamic years, Yussuf’s journey from a grime MC with "2 High Clan" to a multifaceted maestro of rap, production, and poetry has etched his name into the fabric of Manchester’s vibrant music scene. Under the tutelage of the legendary Manc MC, Hypes, Yussuf’s artistic evolution has been nothing short of spectacular.

A critical turn in his career came with "Ape Cult," where alongside Black Josh, Truthos, and DJ Metrodome, Yussuf took the UK by storm, sharing the stage with icons like Pharoahe Monch and Ocean Wisdom. Yet, it’s not just rap that Yussuf has mastered; his co-founding of the Young Identity Poetry Collective spotlighted his profound poetic talent, aligning him with the likes of Kae Tempest and Saul Williams on both local and international stages.

Yussuf’s artistry extends beyond the microphone to the mixing desk, where his production skills shine. His work with the experimental "Project Apex" and on tracks for artists like Blind Mic and Murkage Dave showcases a distinctive sound that marries soulful textures with UK club beats, reflecting influences from Gnawa to Grime. This unique sound is Yussuf’s signature, a testament to his role as a pioneer in blending diverse musical and cultural landscapes.

As a producer, poet, and sound artist, Yussuf Maleem doesn’t just make music; he crafts experiences. His productions, whether for the stage, poetry albums, or radio, embody the essence of wanderlust and the complexity of identity. With his latest releases, including work with Prido and the "Foreign EP" with HMD, Yussuf continues to push boundaries, inviting listeners into a world where music transcends genres and cultures collide. We spoke to him about his journey so far, enjoy!

1. Your musical journey spans various genres and artistic endeavors, from grime MCing to poetry and production. How has this diverse background shaped your approach to music-making, and which aspects of your journey do you find most influential in your current work? 

coming at  music from so many angles has given me unique perspective on what my music can be. I think coming from a multi-disciplinary background has allowed me to look at my music not just as songs but as a creative works that can span beyond, and become a statement in themselves and a bridge between art-forms and worlds. My music is all about brining worlds together I guess.  Even though I'd say I do music production primarily now, I would not be the producer I am had I not been a writer and vocalist 1st. Also approaching music production from the standpoint of a rapper has meant that my beats lend themselves to what a vocalists, having started making beats purely to facilitate my own vocals.

2. As a member of Ape Cult and Project Apex, you've collaborated with renowned artists and shared stages with notable figures. How have these collective experiences influenced your creative process and musical direction?

I've feel like I’ve learned from the some best and been lucky to have spent so much time in the room with masters of their craft, sometimes as an observer, sometimes a collaborator, but either way, always a student. Them times where the formative years where I learned where I wanted to go with music and where I could stand out and be different. 

3. Your production style seamlessly blends soulful textures with elements familiar to UK club-goers. Can you share more about your influences and how you incorporate them into your sound, particularly drawing from genres like Gnawa and Grime?

As I was saying, any artist knows their job is to be a sponge, to be absorbent and soak up what you can. Being raised by Moroccan dad and British mum and living in one of Manchesters most diverse areas, I've been lucky to have been exposed to so many different cultures and styles. I pride myself on my thirst for discovery and my eclectic tastes in art, So in the sense of "you are what you eat" the influences I’ve consumed over the years, as broad as they are, have resulted what I make now. Wether it be Gnawa music and African drumming from my Dad, Ska and Soul from my Mum, Garage from Pirate radio when I was a kid, or Grime from the estate I was soaking it all up from young. And I feel it’s got me to a point where regardless of the genre I am making, my vast collection of influences and unique approach make sure it’s going to be instantly recognisable as a Yussuf Maleem production.

4. Beyond music production, you've also ventured into theatre sound design and gallery installations. How does your work in these realms inform your approach to creating sonic experiences, and what unique challenges or opportunities do they present compared to traditional music production? 

I don't think I approach these kinds of projects any differently. Regardless of if its sound design for theatre or a beats for a song, my job is to paint a world with sounds for the vocals or text to live in. I approach it kinda with a list of questions I ask myself; what is the purpose of it? what is the mood? What do I want the listener to feel? Obviously there are differences in format and structure between a song and a soundscape but the bones of it are the same, and my role is the same. The biggest difference really, is length. Songs seems to be getting shorter, so as much as its a new challenge to make a sound scape or sound design a theatre piece it does offer me a chance to explore ideas further, be more conceptual, and really have the space to experiment.

5. Your latest releases, including collaborations with artists like Prido and HMD, have received acclaim for their impactful production. Can you walk us through your creative process when working with other artists, and how do you ensure that your production complements their artistic vision while maintaining your signature style?

Sometimes an artist will pick some kind of loop i'd previously made and I will work it around them building a song from it that suits them, sometimes i work from scratch with the artist. Either way I put the artist first and just try to make them shine, sometimes challenge them to try things differently or get on beats that are foreign to them, but all in purpose of serving the song and their style. When it comes to how I come across in the final song, I think my influence and signature on the beat will always shine through, thats the DNA of it, thats in every creative choice I make, thats my handwriting. No matter what I write it will still be my handwriting there is no escaping that. I think that is in part because I tend not to work from samples and find most of my enjoyment in from composing and playing. I’m not a trained musician but I play any instrument I can get my hands on, particularly percussion and Bass Guitar and Keys. Honestly my process is about fun, experimentation and most of all, groove. I think my latest release, a collection of bootleg remixes of RnB songs reimagined as funky house tracks composed on Cajon and Electric Piano is a great example of that.


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