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Graffiti writer

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Graffiti writer Khans in action in north London
Graffiti writer Khans in action in north London

Graffiti writer Khans became famous in the late nineties. Known for his activity on tube trains in London, he was widely respected, for his funky styles. As someone who came to the UK from a foreign nation at the age of 7, he found music helped him to integrate into life in the capital and music has never left him since those very early days. Often putting quotes from songs next to his pieces is a sure sign of how much influence music has on his life, so we thought he’d be the perfect candidate to bring together our love for both art and music. He’s also prepared us a special Spotify playlist of some of his favourite pieces of music, so make sure you flick that on while you read all about what he’s got to say below…


“‘Pass The Dutchie’ was the first tune that I remember getting into. Fresh off a plane and straight in to a unfamilar cultural environment, I was absorbing all the new sights, sounds and language aged 7. I only realised the context of the lyrics when I revisited the tune years later, that’s the eighties for you. “Me listen to the drummer, me say listen to the bass, give me little music make me wind up me waist…”

Top Of The Pops and all of that stuff was new to me. I was listening to everything and anything at first, all the eighties stuff from Madonna to Culture Club, Wham, Spandau Ballet. Hip hop crept in and has been part of my musical vocabulary since. I’m not even a die hard hip hop head, but ever since my schoolfriend DJ Mark Ruston started plying us with copies of all the ‘Electro Sounds’ albums, I was hooked with the whole Hip Hop thing (graffiti being the thing that really got me). ‘DWYCK’ is just one of many nineties hip hop tunes that are classic – stripped back beats and bass, killer rhymes and flow. ‘I Gotcha Opin’ is another fine tune that for me hasn’t aged. Their debut album ‘Enta Da Stage’ (alongside ’36 Chambers’) was on contstant loop on my Aiwa back then. The original version was all hard, aggressive spittin rhymes, then when I picked up the remix on import they just flipped it on its head with the half singing, half rapping style, the laid back horn and strings. Quality.”

Respect to the olders

“Older brothers and sisters were really important back then, they were a big musical influence in the ‘burbs because they were already out there getting into things, they were mods, they were casuals, they were into football, anything new really and that influenced us. Hip hop was starting to get big, there were all these electro compilation tapes with a mix of early hip hop and all that kind of stuff around ’86. Lots of tapes got copied and circulated at school with a curious mix of electro, hip hop, early house and eighties pop. The Walkman had just come out and I would be blasting all the music out through my headphones. I picked Soul II Soul ‘Keep on Movin” as its is just a timeless positive track and reminds me of the whole era around the late eighties and early nineties, when London was just doing its own thing music, street fashion wise.

Electro Sounds compilations introduced Khans to hip hop in the mid-eighties
Electro Sounds compilations introduced Khans to hip hop in the mid-eighties

That led on to ’88 when acid house came in, all the guys and girls I knew started going out raving. Older brothers and sisters were already into raving, and we followed them into the warehouses and clubs in and around London. That music filtered through with lots of tapes as well. My big thing was early house, Ten City and a lot of that kind of stuff, which was intertwined with guitar music and some elements of hip hop when I got into skating. My tastes were always quite diverse in a way I guess, never fully focused on just one kind of music.

Fast forward to my hardcore raving days and later the whole jungle/DnB scene, riding around London in a battered Golf Mk1 GTI, listening to Rush FM then later locked in to Kool FM. Fun times, lots of good tunes throughout that period but I picked ‘DJs Take Control’ (over ‘Music’ LTJ Bukem) as it just reminds me of my first rave – Telepathy at the Michael Sobell Centre. It’s a classic hardcore tune and still makes me bop about.”

Nineties gold

“In the nineties it felt really eclectic, the people making the music, especially DnB, seemed to come from a multitude of different backgrounds, musically and socially. We’d be out during the week as well as weekends, there was so much good music; RnB, hip hop, early garage, New York deep house – it was a good time musically speaking.

Todd Terry, Kenny Dope and DJ Pierre pose with a piece painted for Strictly Rhythm by Serve FBA
Todd Terry, Kenny Dope and DJ Pierre pose with a piece painted for Strictly Rhythm by Serve FBA

I’d be at university listening to Strictly Rhythm, while doing outlines and ignoring my coursework. Just chilling! I was still going out a lot, hitting clubs a lot more than proper raves. A couple of my favorite house tunes are thrown in the mix on this playlist. ‘Don’t Lose the Magic’ just touches me, lyrics ring true in so many ways and ‘Deep Inside’ because I’m a massive Masters At Work fan. A couple of old tunes got thrown into the list because so many tunes just sample older joints and then you naturally start listening to the originals. That’s when I got into eighties grooves, seventies disco, funk and all of that. When I worked in Tower Records Camden town, lots of Mastercuts albums followed me home and enhanced my musical education. The Raw Silk tune was a memorable one. I first heard the lyrics sampled on an obscure 12″, always wondered where it was sampled from, then heard the original and I was smitten. Same with ‘Don’t Joke With a Hungry Man’, quality title, quality funk. Last but not least – you can never put together a playlist without a Tony Bennett tune thrown in somewhere!

I started raving a bit later, so around 17/18, when hardcore was coming through. It was exciting, not only because of the music itself but the whole culture around it – the pirate stations, going to people’s houses listening to vinyl, going to Unity Records, Blackmarket and picking up the latest tunes, raving solid. That led into drum’n’bass. Hardcore started to drop off because a lot of people thought it was getting too dark – some people got into house, some went into jungle, happy hardcore, just anything that was a bit different. We were going to Roller Express, Labyrinth, some random place on Mondays down in a basement on Tottenham Court Road, so many spots back then.”

Graffiti and becoming part of London’s underbelly

“With the graffiti quotes, I guess music just fed into what I was doing, so if I was feeling a tune it made sense to quote it next to a piece. It charts my musical tastes and it’s also a way of communicating with other writers who are into that music; if you know where the quote comes from.. you know, if you don’t, you don’t. It was a thing for all the other music heads out there. I guess some of the quotes were tied in with the piece, too.

Khans infamous panel: "Just 4 U London... London.. London"
Khans infamous panel: “Just 4 U London… London.. London”

Since I came to England in the early eighties I could see straight away that there were these subcultures; it was an interesting time, London was at the epicentre of so many things – fashion crossed over into the streets, music and everything around it was influencing so many aspects of business and London influenced the world. People were really receptive to new things, there was a buzz around everything, especially in those hardcore days. The UK was doing its own thing and the US had no idea what was going on, most people from Europe didn’t understand what it was all about; breakbeat, drum’n’bass – it was London, pure London. Look at it now, it’s taken over the world.

When I first came to London music helped to break down barriers. There was so much going on at school, music made it easier to connect with people. I was absorbing everything straight away, the hip hop fashions, laced in with that was all the popular culture as well; pop music and all of that. I guess being into the ‘cooler’ stuff; graffiti, skating, it gave me a particular outlook that aligned with me with others of the same viewpoint.

I think, having Asian parents, they wanted me to get into all the classical kind of stuff but they didn’t really realise what I was getting into. It’s not like I was blasting it out night and day, I had music playing on my headphones most of the time. I remember them getting pissed one night because I’d stayed up really late listening to Tim Westwood, or someone like that, on the radio. They obviously would have preferred that I didn’t listen to that kind of music but what can you do? That’s the thing, in London music is all around you, it’s almost impossible to avoid it, you’ve got access to it and no one can really stop you.”


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