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.

Photo: Shawn Theodore via Schure Media Group/Roc Nation

Interview: Buju Banton Is a Lyrical Purveyor of African Truth

A candid conversation with the Jamaican icon about his new album, Upside Down 2020, his influence on afrobeats, and the new generation of dancehall.

Devout fans of reggae music have been longing for new musical offerings from Mark Anthony Myrie, widely-known as the iconic reggae superstar Buju Banton. A shining son of Jamaican soil, with humble beginnings as one of 15 siblings in the close-knit community of Salt Lane, Kingston, the 46-year-old musician is now a legend in his own right.

Buju Banton has 12 albums under his belt, one Grammy Award win for Best Reggae Album, numerous classic hits and a 30-year domination of the industry. His larger-than-life persona, however, is more than just the string of accolades that follow in the shadows of his career. It is his dutiful, authentic style of Caribbean storytelling that has captured the minds and hearts of those who have joined him on this long career ride.

The current socio-economic climate of uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrusted onto the world, coupled with the intensified fight against racism throughout the diaspora, have taken centre stage within the last few months. Indubitably, this makes Buju—and by extension, his new album—a timely and familiar voice of reason in a revolution that has called for creative evolution.

With his highly-anticipated album, Upside Down 2020, the stage is set for Gargamel. The title of this latest discography feels nothing short of serendipitous, and with tracks such as "Memories" featuring John Legend and the follow-up dancehall single "Blessed," it's clear that this latest body of work is a rare gem that speaks truth to vision and celebrates our polylithic African heritage in its rich fullness and complexities.

Having had an exclusive listen to some other tracks on the album back in April, our candid one-on-one conversation with Buju Banton journeys through his inspiration, collaboration and direction for Upside Down 2020, African cultural linkages and the next generational wave of dancehall and reggae.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox


[Op-Ed] Speeka: “‘Dankie San’ brought me closer to kasi rap”

A personal reflection on one of South Africa's most influential hip-hop albums, 'Dankie San' by PRO.