The Bristol rapper, who was a regular on Bristol’s live music scene in the 2000s, returns after retiring over 10 years ago.
When I call Catraz on a Tuesday morning, he’s just finished doing his early shift as a Sainsbury’s delivery driver. ‘Sorry if I seem a bit out of it – I woke up about 100 times last night thinking I was going to be late for work. I have to work all different shifts at the moment so it’s difficult to get used to certain sleep patterns.’
Catraz – real name Al – has been delivery driving for most of the last 12 years. He started doing his present job after he decided to give up recording and gigging in 2010.
Before he gave up music, he was one of Bristol’s most prolific live musicians, at one stage playing 2 gigs a week for over a year in the 2000s.
His quirky rapping style, music and lyrics, has brought praise from legends of the Bristol scene, Tricky and Massive Attack’s Daddy G, as well as DJs Steve Lamacq and Bobby Friction.
Now, after a 10 year absence, he’s making a return, releasing two new albums and an ep since the start of the year.
Now in his early 40s, he got into hip hop through his brother. ‘My brother leant me a tape by NWA and I became obsessed with Eazy-E and his rapping style. I then scribbled my first rhyme on my bedroom wall when I was 9 years old. Around about the same time my best friend’s sister was going out with Tricky. He would lend us the latest hip hop mix tapes and that’s how I got into it.’
Having been expelled from school at the age of 11 for ‘being cheeky’, the young Catraz spent a lot of time skating and playing football before he started writing hip hop properly when he was 15.
‘The first gig I did was at Ashton Court Festival back in 2000. I just got invited to do one track on the main stage. From then on I started contacting all the venues around Bristol and they managed to give me slots. Often I was supporting other hip hop acts coming across from the States.’
Since then he’s developed a style which combines old skool samples, fat beats, funky rhythms and a knack for rhymes and storytelling.
In the early 2000s Catraz was playing many of the major venues in Bristol including ‘Louisiana, Thekla, Blue Mountain, Fiddlers, The King’s Arms on Black Boy Hill, The Golden Lion and The Croft.’
‘I eventually got a bit disillusioned with it. It was a lot of effort rehearsing, preparing, getting backing singers and then doing a lot of gigs but not a lot of people showing up sometimes.’
‘I very nearly made a breakthrough. I was signed to a publishing company called Mustard and they took my work to the head guy at Ministry of Sound. They were keen to push it. The head of A & R there said ‘He’s really good – he’s like a cross between Professor Green and The Streets but he needs to get a following before we can sign him.’
‘I also had the same management company as Plan B in London. They signed me up but nothing ever came of that either.’
By 2010 the pressure was starting to show. ‘I had been working really hard to build a following: I did about 2 gigs a week that year mainly in Bristol but also in London but by the end of it I still didn’t have that many followers.’
‘In truth, I felt burnt out: I’d been gigging on and off for a decade and felt like I was swimming against the tide. By then I’d had my first daughter and the lack of sleep (and wanting to spend more time with my family) made my decision to throw in the towel. I became a delivery driver, had another kid and moved to Fishponds.’
Having done a handful of promotional events for local entrepreneurs in the last few years, it was when a local film director, Hank Rossi, asked Al to write a song for his latest film that Al felt it was time to give it another go.
‘The song I wrote was called ‘Zero Gravity’ which is on the new album ‘Once upon a time in Bristol’ and at the same time I heard about the idea of 1000 true fans.’ This is the idea originated by the writer Kevin Kelly that creative people can enjoy success by reaching out to ‘1000 true fans’ who will enjoy a direct relationship with the artist and in return will buy music, merchandise, etc.
‘You build a list of loyal followers and email them directly and through this you can make a living. It’s direct to fan marketing.’
‘I started trying to build my profile and fanbase again recently. I’m targeting people to sign up to my website and they then get freebies like singles and exclusive access to albums and updates to my blog and any updates or news about Catraz.’
You can hear ‘Once upon a time in Bristol’ and more of Catraz’s music by signing up to catrazmusic.com.