TwoCan: Top of the Flops
The spoken word has a much longer and more widespread history than that of the written word. It is perhaps the oldest in creative expression and is now a modern phenomenon. Now – right now – you will see the tradition alive and very much with the youth. 21 year old Rapper and poet Thomas Russell aka TwoCan is playing his part in this tradition with his comic witticisms and high energy performances, namely with the UK’s largest Rap Battle league, Don’t Flop.
Born in sunny Ipswich, a town infamous for its lack of fame, Thomas has been pursuing the art of spoken word since the age of 16. ‘I started writing poetry when I was 16, because a girl I fancied used to be really into it. After I discovered I wasn’t half-bad I began to do live performances and it all spiralled outwards from there, with the typical chaos these things tend to have.’
Russell started rap battling at the age of 20, which alongside his experimental hip-hop, are his current priorities. ‘Rhyming words’ are the rappers overall passion and Russell thrives off the essential nature of the medium: ‘There’s nothing like connecting into a flow on a beat, and when you’ve nailed a decent verse in a song it puts you on a natural high’.
His topics take on ‘awkward stories’ about various failed conquests and ‘unpopular opinions about the world.’ More often, TwoCan’s spoken word takes the form of experimental hip-hop. ‘I’ve always loved weird hip-hop. Artists like The Streets, Aesop Rock, Scroobius Pip, Dr Syntax- they all subvert the traditional image many people have of the genre.’
Thomas prides the versatility and flexibility he finds in hip-hop and tries to push it in new directions in his own work, in both subject matter and style; ‘That’s why I love it I guess, it’s an area in which you can always find new ground.’ From topical to downright absurd and comical, the rappers skill comes from a unique fusion of the two. ‘Spliffstory’ shows of the rappers idiosyncratic approach, openly tackling the history of weed and its use in modern society over the peculiar beat, whilst ‘Bob Arctor 2’, pays homage to classic ‘boom-bap’ hip-hop beats with surreal TwoCan witticisms.
TwoCan’s high-energy has a positivity and light-hearted approach that is always ready with wit. ‘What I really want to do is make people laugh. As much as I enjoy doing serious work, I would rather be known for a cult comedy-rap album with a small but intense following than a commercial banger which made me millions. Millions would be nice though, I could buy that jet-ski I’ve always wanted.’
TwoCan sees his greatest achievement as an artist as going toe to toe in a battle with Unanymous and Chris Leese with Don’t Flop, home of UK battle rap, and coming out the other side better off. ‘They are two of the best battle rappers in the country, at international level, so to battle them in a 2 on 2 and have that boost my career rather than detriment it is pretty insane.’ Rap-battles are currently TwoCan’s most successful aspect of his rap-life and he gets them by attending lots of smaller events and ‘smashing it.’
‘They then ask me back more regularly and audience members there will usually go online and check out my music off of the back of a good battle (or what we in the industry call a ‘body bag’ performance).’ The rapper feels his art has boosted his confidence in life in a lot of ways. ‘Also writing about a certain subject can change your perspective. There have been a few situations where I’ve written a song on a specific topic and come out the other side with a changed viewpoint.’
Despite Russell’s success with the renowned Don’t Flop, he sees the ‘oversaturation in the hip-hop market as his biggest set back. But he advises to ‘keep grinding hard and doing what you do because you enjoy it and eventually somebody will recognise it and pull you up to the next level. It’s worked for me so far.’
‘My advice for anyone who wants to rap but doesn’t think they can to start doing it. Everyone is bad when they start. It’s not something you’re born with (unless you’re born with it), but something you learn over time. It’s taken me years to get even here, and I’ve still got a long way to go on my journey, but it’s all through practice.’