To wrap up this tumultuous year, we shift the spotlight to a very special artist and Navarre’s Lounge collaborator, whose brand-new, aptly titled project “Hindsight Is 2020” is released in all major digital stores today. The said artist is none other than an independent rapper and producer Jacques Dingle hailing from Leeds, England.

As Jacques occasionally reminds us in his lyrics, he is no newcomer to the hip hop genre and has been active on the scene for over 20 years now. Stints in various parts of the world and competing priorities have kept him from ever approaching music creation with laser focus and consistency. That said, he swears he never put down the pen, and in the past few years has been more active than ever. We caught up with him to find out more about what he’s up to.

Jacques (I’m guessing that’s not your real name), tell us about your beginnings as an artist and where the name comes from.

You’re right, it’s not, and neither is Dingle. It’s slightly bizarre, but the alias represents a union of two ‘important’ parts of my identity formed throughout adolescence, at the end of which I coined it. Previously I went by the more generic “Epidemic MC” of a Leeds-based hip hop crew named Critical Elements. ‘Jacques’, in French, is the translation of my real name, James (I happen to be part French). But it is also a bourgeois name and symbolizes my more refined, intellectual, and even slightly pretentious side. ‘Dingle’ is the family name of a low-life traveler family from Yorkshire in a popular English soap opera, thus representing my humble roots, occasional disregard for rules, and Yorkshire heritage. It’s a kind of dichotomy, a bit like ‘Marilyn Manson’ is, who I can’t cite as one of my major inspirations.

In that case, who would you consider some of your major musical inspirations early on?

The first of these would have to be another American rock star, Kurt Cobain. He was the first musical persona to blow my mind and inspired me to learn guitar at age ten. I ditched this several years later as my listening tastes shifted towards hip hop and lyricism became my new-found obsession. Guitar, acoustic or electric, didn’t seem to have much of a place in this new genre.

It’s a long list that just gets longer, but it all started at age 12 with ‘Big Willie Style’! Despite being criticized in hardcore rap circles, Will’s easily-accessible, fun, care-free, and non-aggressive style was the perfect initiation at that time of my life, and he’s still an idol of mine today. Around the same time, there was The Fugees’ ‘The Score’ – grittier, darker, and opening up a world unbeknown to me, while still fairly and slick on the lyrical front. Then came Ma$e, Puff Daddy, Warren G, Ice Cube, 2pac, Biggie… the list just exploded. Slightly later still there was Mos Def & Kweli, Pharaoh Monch, Eminem, DMX, Nas, Noreaga, Dre & Snoop, and a bunch of British and French artists and groups… It felt like a time when hip hop was sacred; not so many people were doing it and these guys instantly became my role models. Most of the proceeds from my newspaper round went on hip hop albums and by 15 I was the undisputed go-to-guy in school for knock-off rap CDs – that was my hustle.

I should also cite non-rap acts whose influence has definitely shaped me, albeit less obviously. Mainly from the jazz, funk, neo-soul, and even Latin & World Music scene such as Herbie Hancock, Parliament, Roy Ayers, Buena Vista Social Club, and Cheb Khaled.

So when did you start making music?

A bunch of friends and I recorded four versions of a track over different vinyl instrumentals directly to cassette tape in 2000. We were 14/15 at the time. It was terrible but I still have the cassette and will forever cherish it! I continued to write endless pages of lyrics over the next few years but the recording aspect all but stalled as other pursuits took precedence. It wasn’t as easy as it is today. 

That was until I moved away to university and created the aforementioned group with three other guys – a producer and two rappers, one of whom (Ganjaccino) features in my new project. We headlined a number of open mic contests, landed a few radio slots, and warmed up for a couple of UK hip hop acts at local venues. But then I moved away and the thing fell apart. Once again, other life pursuits took precedence – mainly living/working in other countries, learning their languages, and indulging in their hedonism. But again, I never stopped penning lyrics, and some of them are finally seeing the light of day in more recent times.

How would you describe you style today in a nutshell?

My major rap inspirations overall being the likes of MF Doom, Aesop Rock, Percee P, Kool G Rap, R.A. The Rugged Man and Celph Titled means that, for me, lyricism, flow, metaphor, and technicality come before all else. So I tend to place these before smoothness and accessibility. I do feel this is changing, however, as I continue to mature as an artist so I’m subtly working on combining the best of both worlds. Storytelling is also important to me. If I’m not bringing killer braggadocious wordplay to the table then there’d better be some deeper meaning that the listener can engage with!

In 2018 you finally released your first solo project, The Give Back. Talk us through that. How did it come about?

First of all, I will always feel indebted to a dear friend and collaborator, J.Crackstar, who I first properly met in 2016 and who gave me the opportunity to work with him. At that point in time, I was still recording raps over instrumentals into my phone! The idea of recording and producing music still felt like such an inaccessible feat at the time for someone not being particularly technical (or patient). I wouldn’t have known where to start. We did a project in 2017 under the alias ‘Underdogs’ and went on to do a second project in 2019. Seeing how accessible home-recording is spurred me to develop a simple home studio and finally do an album of my own, combining content as much as ten years old with fresh material. This probably explains why the album has such an old-school sound to it!

I teamed up with another friend and earlier collaborator, Crimson Fridge, with who I’d worked within the post-Critical Elements era and had me covered on the beat side of the house. Of all the producers I’ve worked with, his production is my favorite and best-matched to my style. Within 9 months I finally had a solo album. The title implies it is intended as a homage to all the musical inspiration I had absorbed over the past 20+ years, which, rightly or wrongly, has contributed to who I am as a person and to my world view.

You’ve literally, today, released your second solo album, this time entirely produced, mixed, and mastered by yourself. Tell us about that and where we can find it.

Correct. It’s actually not the first time I’ve produced an album single-handedly, this was back in 2018 with a project I did with fellow Yorkshire rapper, Aristoski. But this is different as it’s a very personal project and I’ve strived to make it as strong as possible on all fronts – not just where vocals are concerned. The concept, the production, the mixing, and mastering…

I began working on Hindsight Is 2020 in mid-2019 as a collection of self-produced tracks and no particular theme. But then I became heavily sidetracked due to a number of personal reasons and didn’t really pick things up again until, as it happens, you and I first connected and collaborated back in January. This really spurred me to pick things up, it was the kick-start I needed, or else I could easily have relapsed into hiatus mode once again, so thank you! I seemed to be going through a transformation on a personal level, and then Covid emerging seemed to signal the path for the album. I knew it needed to be a more introspective, in many ways “darker” project than its predecessor, which was pretty light-hearted. Although it has its share of upbeat, satirical and, I hope, humorous moments too.

The title is a popular expression referring to the ease with which one can look back at times past and analyze why things played out the way they did, in contrast with the present moment when we’re sailing through life unaware of the broader implications of how we’re living both individually and as a species. There are several running themes throughout personal inner conflicts including my continued grappling with / questioning of the nature of vocation and purpose, the potential dystopia implied by our development on a physical/material level while neglecting our spiritual needs, and, connected with the latter point, Eastern philosophy and entheogens, whose medicinal potential I’ve become fascinated with this year.

You can listen to the full album on Spotify, Soundcloud, and all the major streaming sites as of today.

What’s next for Jacques Dingle?

Well, you and I of course have a project in the pipeline featuring the likes of Skyzoo, A-F-R-O, and MysDiggi, which is looking like my most exciting project to date. So for me, that takes priority. I’m also working on several tracks here and there with an array of other artists, and my goal for the new year is to FINALLY learn an instrument. I like to think I’ll be ‘ripping mics until my last days’, but if not, I’ll need something else to keep myself out of trouble!

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