Introducing Cape Town Beatmaker Cutting Gems

Okayafrica spoke to Cape Town beatmaker Cutting Gems (aka Jeremy Bishop) and naas' Thor Rixon in the lead-up to the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival.

There’s an air of mystery that hangs around the video for Cutting Gems' "Tonight/Baby," but after a little digging we found that the ever-so-secretive Jeremy Bishop (aka B#; aka Cutting Gems) produces left field hip-hop and electronic music with unexpected influxes of Soul and R&B. Jeremy has spent a fair amount of time lurking in the shadows musically, holding off on releasing his music until now. His debut EP is set for release on March 3rd via naasMUSIC, the same team who introduced us to Oltak’s "Stars/Lemonade," among other gems. We got to know young Bishop and the naas team a little more in the lead-up to this weekend’s Cape Town Electronic Music Festival. Watch the naas-produced video for Cutting Gems' inaugural single "Tonight/Baby" below, and scroll on for the full interview.


Shiba for OKA: Tell us a bit about Cutting Gems as a musician…

Cutting Gems (Jeremy Bishop): Well, I’m a 21 year-old producer born in London, but raised in Cape Town, South Africa. I first got into making music when I was 12 when I started teaching myself guitar, and through that learnt a lot of music theory that still affects my music today, even though it's no longer guitar-driven. I now primarily work as a beat-maker, although I do often record myself playing guitar or keyboards/synths in my songs. Previously I’d been DJing under the name ‘B#,’ but I wanted to move away from playing other people’s music and return to making music that I love. I do not sing (or at least not at the moment). The vocals off "Tonight/Baby" are actually taken off Ashanti’s "U." It's funny for me that a lot of people have asked if it’s me singing when I’ve taken for granted that it’s a pitched-down female vocal sample. I always point to the lyrics “Now I’ve been known to crush a brother once or twice before / But what you bringin’ to the table looks like so much more.”

OKA: As manager of naasMUSIC, what do you look for in a great track? What about Cutting Gems drew you guys to work together on this?

Thor Rixon for naas: We always look for originality above anything else in a track or body of work. People that are pushing a unique sound is what really grabs our attention. Also artists who are very driven and hard working excite us and make us want to work with them. Jeremy approached us with some of his tracks a few months ago and we were really excited by what we heard and the enthusiasm he had for this EP he wanted to release.

OKA: What can we expect from the rest of the EP?

naas: The rest of Cutting Gems' EP features Jeremy's diversity in sound production and mood which leads the listener through many lavish soundscapes. The rest of the album features a few more uptempo numbers compared to the first single, "Tonight/Baby."

Cutting Gems: I think "Tonight/Baby" sets the tone for the EP in a more overstated way than anything else, in that it is more condensed than some of the other songs I’ll be releasing. It’s the only song which features a strong vocal part (not that I haven’t used vocals in the other songs). The rest of the EP focuses more on instrumentation and texture, or at least I feel that that’s where it succeeds. I have never thought of my music as being a contribution to a scene, although this is probably quite naive as so many people have had an effect on me locally. I’ve always just made music which I like, even though I’ve been aware of local and international trends.

OKA: What was the conception of this video like?

naas: When we first heard Cutting Gems' EP, we knew we wanted to produce a video for one of the singles. When we decided on "Tonight/Baby" we threw a lot of ideas around amongst myself (director), Stewart Innes (co-director & editor) and Jeremy. Jeremy was very hands-on from the get-go and had really great ideas to add to the video. The initial idea was to have a static frame of a female singing the lyrics to the track without seeing her eyes. As you know, this idea evolved into what you see in the final product.

Cutting Gems: Stewart (editor of the video) is a good friend of mine, and I’d been throwing ideas about doing a music video with him for probably over a year. When he recently started working with the guys over at naas, and I had an upcoming release, the stage was set and we went ahead. Although a lot of the original ideas were not present in the final video, the frame of a girl singing the lyrics was kept from the beginning and we worked from that. The focus was never really on getting a bunch of ‘hot’ girls, although admittedly it did play a factor aesthetically. I liked the idea of playing on the lyrics, which portray a strong female will.

OKA: What are some of your favourite music moments from 2013? Any predictions for 2014?

Cutting Gems: Internationally, my highlights from 2013 would have to include Lone’s Airglow Fires, Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, Snoopzilla & DāM FunK’s 7 Days of Funk, everything by DJ Rashad, Machinedrum’s ongoing Vapor City project, Mount Kimbie’s Cold Spring Faultless Youth, and labels Soulection, Huh What & Where, and Lucky Me. Locally, CTEMF (Cape Town Electronic Music Festival) who are pushing serious boundaries and bridging the massive (geographical) gap between South Africa and the western world. Damascvs releasing quality left-field tunes, John Wizards exploding internationally, Wildebeats winning competitions to play festivals overseas (muh boi!), continued game changers from the Gravy crew, and discovering new local producers more and more regularly.

Cutting Gems' debut EP arrives 3/3. Until then, stay caught up with Cutting Gems and all things naas.


6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox


How Nigerian Streetwear Brand, Daltimore, is Rising To Celebrity Status

We spoke with founder and creative director David Omigie about expression through clothing and that #BBNaija pic.