Hanging around with Foreign Beggars, one quickly learns that the center of their universe is a strange kind of “madness.” The group came together in the late ‘90s as a hip-hop focused machine, but its real identity is an endlessly evolving amalgamation of sounds, feelings and influences tied together with a string of boundless energy and attitude.
Each member hails from some different part of the world, from Ghana to India and England, where they headquarter now. Each of them pulls from a different well of musical appreciation, and that leads to the group’s wild mix of rave and bass, metal and grime, “boom-baps” and weird trap. Hell, they’ll play country in the studio if you let them.
Dance fans recognize the Londoners’ collaborations with Noisia, Skrillex and Snails, among other bass behemoths, not to mention the group’s own LP The Uprising, released on mau5trap in 2012. The five years since have been a bit of a whirlwind with tours, collaborations, children born and parents lost.
“We were at a point where our relationship with writing music was all over the place,” Foreign Beggars’ Pavan “Orifice Vulgatron” Mukhi says. “We were on the move so much, we didn’t have our own studio … There’s reason why there was such a gap between the (albums). We could have churned any shit music out, but I think it took a little while to re-engage.”
It’s the “madness” of the London streets that’s kept them fresh but equally erratic – until now.
On Friday, Feb. 9, Foreign Beggars will unleash their latest album, 22 Karma. It’s a sound that brings the group back to its hip-hop roots, even while it opens their hearts wide for a more introverted and conscious take. It’s 12 tracks grapple with everything from technological isolation to racial inequality, the Syrian refugee crisis, corporate dehumanization, and the battle of love to overcome the darkest nights. Of course, there are definite party anthems to be had, but for the most part, 22 Karma bangs on some heavy realness.
“A lot of the best music you ever hear comes from an honest place,” Ebow “Metropolis” Graham says. “On this album, I didn’t really wanna do no super-scientifical rap shit. I just wanted to really connect with people. We thought it was important that, after you listen to a track on the album, you know a little bit more about who we are, how we feel, what we think about everything.”
Some of this new openness is owed to production assists from Bangzy, an up-and-comer Foreign Beggars discovered through Mukhi’s Brapp app. This kid sent them over a beat CD that had all their eyes wide, and you can hear his haunting touch on five of the album’s tracks.
“Everything was mad fragmented,” Mukhi says. “When we heard these Bangzy prodctions, literally it was like, ‘Wow, wow, wow.’ His music is kind of deep and emotive and current. It’s fresh … and it opened up a place [for us] to be more introspective. It gave us the space to lament a little bit, to reconnect with our feels in a way that we thought was honest.”
That was especially helpful for Graham. His mother passed away three years ago, and he says there was a solid year following her passing where he couldn’t write a single line.
“I felt like I wanted to speak honestly, to say something of note, but it took me the longest while to figure out how to do it,” he says. “For me personally, content wise, I’m vibin’ on this album. I love it. I think it’s the right blend between having your fun, wavy stuff, and then also being able to chat about some mad shit — and it was a pleasure. It was a joy to see us organically find that voice and start speaking from that angle, for us to make what I feel is some cool tunes.”
About a year ago, the guys moved into their own proper studio space. Situated in north London between a bunch of shady warehouse spaces is this compound of fun and vice and creativity. Drum’n’bass icon Alix Perez has a studio in there, as do Halogenix, Ivy Lab and others. There’s a brewery making its own beer, and delicious food on call. It’s definitely got that “madness” Foreign Beggars like, but it’s also offered the group a chance to focus unlike anything before.
“We came from a point in time when we would do everything ourselves and there was no structure,” James “DJ NoNames” Miller says. “We’ve always had that mentality of quality control, looking after your own stuff, keeping things within, and make important decisions yourself. You keep creative control and make sure you have the right people do the right thing. We know we have a small team of people that understand exactly what we’re trying to do here.”
Before 22 Karma drops, Foreign Beggars will host some of their favorite musicians in the in-house club spot for a Boiler Room-style listening party. It’ll be live-streamed so fans can get a preview of the album’s wild sounds and a taste of what the live show may have in store.
If you tune in and like what you see, you can check out Foreign Beggars as they make their way to North America for a quick run of shows. Just make sure you come with your dancing shoes on, because 22 Karma isn’t all gloomy news reax. The guys are still ready to get wild on some party vibes.
Tracks like “24-7” featuring Feed Me, and “WAVED” feat. Flux Pavilion and OG Maco are some real head-splitting bangers, the latter of which is a funky, booming monster Billboard Dance has for you on the exclusive below. Check it out before it hits the world, and check out all the group’s North American dates in the months to come.
Foreign Beggars North American Tour
February 23, 2018
City: Kelowna, BC
Venue: Sapphire Nightclub
Date: February 24th, 2018
City: Nelson, BC
Venue: Bloom Nightclub
Date: March 02nd, 2018
City: Salt Lake City
Venue: Sky SLC
Date: March 03rd 2018
Venue: Meow Wolf
Market: Santa Fe, New Mexico
City: Phoenix, AZ
Venue: Monarch Theatre