Living in Malta it’s quite easy to keep your ear to the ground for new up-and-coming artists that are emerging from the underground. One such group of musicians is 215 Collective. These guys, with the help of other major talent in the genre, are creating a scene for hip-hop in Malta. Last month, at Underground Sound’s Cypher and Hip-Hop event, was the first time I had the pleasure of hearing Aidan “Caro” Spiteri-Caruana performing. And, boy was he impressive.
I met up with Caro to talk to him about his short rapping career, his influences and what his, and 215 Collective’s, future plans are – including a new summer tune that the guys have been working on. Sitting in a quiet, secluded park in Gzira, we chatted about his music and his passion for what he loves to do.
So, first off, how long have you been rapping for?
I’d say 2011/2012 is when I started. That’s when I realised that I could rhyme a few words together. But I was more about playing about with words, I was never serious with them. I only got serious gradually throughout the years. As you start realising what you can do, start learning about yourself as you’re going through life, everything starts coming together. At first I was just doing this for fun and stuff, you know? So it was kinda like that.Then through the years I kinda got more serious. So, give or take about 6 years. But the past 2 years I’ve been taking it serious.
What was it that made you realise that this is something you could take seriously?
So, Eddie Fresco from 215 Collective, I’ve known him since secondary. Our English teacher introduced us to each other because she knew we both liked music. Basically just bouncing off each other, that’s how we started really. It was amazing seeing someone else with the same vision as you, the same ambitions as you. So we’d go meet after school, I’d rap a bit and we’d show each other what we’d written down. It just started like that. The bond grew bigger and bigger until after secondary where we spilt ways because we went to different schools.
When did it all kick off again, so?
Once I saw him near Junior College and he asked me if I was still doing music. I told him I just made time for it when I was bored or had nothing else to do, you know? And he was like “I’m seriously sad to hear that because I bought a mic and stuff.” He actually went out and paid money, bought a mic and some recording equipment. A week after we met I went to his place and I spit a rhyme over a line of instrumental and I heard it back through the speakers. I’d never heard myself like that before, I usually just hear myself off of a recording on my phone. But to actually sit back and chill and hear through the speakers that was like the ignition to say there’s product here, I can make this work.
A Passion for Music
Nice, cool man. So, I’ve listened to a few of your tracks and a lot of them are very passionate, they seem like the lyrics come from the heart.
*Laughs* They do man, they do.
What is it that inspires you to write your lyrics?
I suppose life, man. Life. Honestly, I’m one of those deep thinkers, I don’t take life as it is. You know when people ask what’s the meaning of life? That’s tough man, like, I mention that in Kanagawa, the song that I released:
I ask myself, what is the meaning of life,
What will happen if I don’t get it right,
What will happen if my insecurities and every other thing I fear eat me up and start controlling my life.
So it’s tough because I’m so aware of life. Before music I wasn’t as aware as I am now. Music kind of gave me that key to open up and realise…life. So I do it because I’m passionate about it and I seriously mean what I say.
So, speaking of your new track, Kanagawa. Can you tell me about it?
We actually released that about a year ago, but we used a beat that got done for copyright issues and was deleted from YouTube and we didn’t consider it anymore. But then I was like “fuck that, man” that’s a hard track, it’s up there with Letter to My Ex. So I went online, found a beat, bought it and recorded it on that. Kanagawa is basically just life, it’s a wave. I just talk about self-doubts, everything. Sometimes life is calm, sometimes it’s rough. It’s my fears of life, where I want to be, trying to make it out of here, trying to reach my dreams. Everything.
So it means a lot to you?
It means a lot to me, man. That’s one of those tracks that I’ll look back and say if you want to judge me, judge me by that.
Are there any artists in particular that you have found have helped to influence your passion and your artistic style?
To be honest with you, the first artist that inspired me to write was Drake. I remember hearing Headlines and that was the first instrumental that I ever riffed to. Other times I would just search random beats and just write a few bars and that was it. Before that I was into SBTV a lot and that’s what inspired the lyrical side of what I do because everyone who goes on SBTV has bars. There’s so many different underground artists on there that are not mainstream.
It kind of gives you an eye opener to how many talented people there are. I was always picturing myself, I still have it in my head, doing a warm-up session one time on SBTV. That’s the aim, I want to be on that. Other than that, I’d say like Frank Ocean – he’s like one of them artists that I’ve cried to, man. Listening to his music is like that pureness.
So would you say your influence comes from something deeper?
Influence comes from what I resonate to and it reflects on my music. If I resonate to a certain artist, it’s because of a certain track where they’re talking about something real. I’m not saying I don’t like all these top artists right now. I still enjoy current mainstream music, but I can’t sit down and say it inspires me.
So you take your influence from yourself? From your own life experiences?
Exactly man. That’s exactly what I do.
How long have you been with 215 Collective?
We were properly formed about May of 2016, but it was in the works for months before. So there’s no official date to say when it all happened. It was more like a gradual thing, that we eased into.
And how has your experience with 215 Collective been?
Wicked man, because I wouldn’t be doing this otherwise. If I didn’t know Eddie, I’d still be in my room looking at my phone and practicing and that’s it. Being with them obviously pushes you but we bounce off each other with this energy that we hype each other up with. It’s given me the platform to actually write something, record it, hear it and then give it to other people to listen to.
So it’s really after opening up a lot of opportunities for you?
Exactly, exactly. It’s been amazing. There’s no other way to put it. I say everything happens for a reason and it’s true.
You guys have started to pick up a bit of traction in Malta. When did you first notice that people had actually started to catch on to what you’re doing?
It’s best to ask that question to Eddie and Yannick because they’re more with the people than I am. I keep to myself a lot but obviously I appreciate my friends coming up to me when I release something. I don’t put myself out there to a level where I can see it from a bigger perspective though. Eddie and Yannick, they’re always out in Paceville meeting new people so they feel it more. But you do realise it, like the Facebook page is on over 4k likes and YouTube has 1.2k subscribers. So we’re getting a bit of leverage. Like I said, it’s one of those things that happens so gradually that you just don’t notice it.
Freestyling, Rapping and Creating Music
So, about the cypher event that Underground Sound hosted in Jah Ruulz. Obviously you competed in it, and did really well. What was your experience of the event?
It wasn’t my first time performing so I was comfortable doing it, but when they threw that random stuff out that’s when I was like “Don’t fuck up, people are here watching!” But it was a good experience. It’s not one of those things I want to do week in, week out because I wouldn’t be able to maintain it. I prefer to perform something that I’ve written, it’s more my style. But it was an experience, I get to say that I did it. I prefer to say that I went, did it and killed it than to stay at home wondering what would have happened if I went.
You never did any freestyle before this?
Event-wise? No. Messing about with friends though, yeah. But on a serious platform or in front of a crowd, never.
How did you find it differed from just messing about with friends?
It was tough. You kind of ride the wave, if that makes sense? It’s like, obviously all the effort of writing songs and throwing songs away you eventually learn the flow and some flows stay in your head. So, even if you start to mess up you can resort back to like 4 bars that you remember and you can pick up from there again. But for people to be off the dome 100%, that’s tough, man. Sometimes, you need to go to your safety box and bring out a few bars so you can catch the beat again. I’m not gonna lie and say it was 100% freestyle because it wasn’t, but like I said, I’m not that sort of guy.
So you prefer to sit down and record a track or just work on your lyrics?
Yeah absolutely. Like I said, freestyling will bring out the side of me that I’m not comfortable with which would be just doing it to sound sick. If I say something just for the sake of saying it I’m going to have that guilt because I don’t actually do it. So I much prefer to sit down and think about what I write and then release it as a track. That’s my prefered way of bringing out music.
It’s a good approach to take. So, when you sit down and think about what you’re going to write about, how long does the process usually take from initial thought to getting it on paper to performing it?
It depends on the vibe I’m in. For example, when I wrote Already Know, it took about 4 hours to write and then there’s other songs that I take like 2 weeks, 2 and a half weeks, to write. And then there’s some instances where I won’t even touch music for like a month. It’s in bursts, I don’t have a schedule.
When you say that you won’t touch music for a few weeks, what is it that brings you back to it?
There’s always that thing pulling you, but I don’t like forcing things. I’m not going to sit down and say I want to get a track done and spend 4 hours putting words in, making sure I rhyme and just say that I finished it. Even sometimes when I’m in school, or out walking, my mind will go back to that track and I’ll think about it more and go home and add something to it and see how it sounds. But if I realise that I’ve come to a point where I can’t add any more, I’ll stop. Maximum, if I come to a stop, I’ll spend about 30 minutes trying to see what I’ll do next and if I can’t, I’ll just leave it because it’s done.
So, it’s better to sit down and take your time and make sure that, for you, it sounds and feels perfect?
Exactly, if you force it it’s like you’re forcing the feeling, which I don’t want to do. Like I said, it’s a process, if I feel something I’m not just going to take that one feeling and put it straight into a song. It would be a process of what I’ve been through for the past month or what I’m thinking I want to do next. So it’s like a combination of everything really.
The Future for Caro and 215 Collective
Any gigs in the pipeline for 215 Collective?
I would say we do, but I’m not sure if they’re all confirmed yet. But, it’s more like chance at the moment. We might get a message next week asking us to perform somewhere on a particular date. That’s the downside to it though, there’s not a lot of places where hip-hop can actually be appreciated. But you can still appreciate it on a nice level. There’s always going to be this little corner somewhere where people go and listen to it. There’s not really a hip-hop scene in Malta, man. That’s what we’re here to try and change.
Going forward, do you think you’ll expand outside of Malta?
Of course. I’d like to go to London. I have family over there and I got a big influence from London in terms of flow and stuff, especially watching SBTV. I mean, making it over here in Malta, you haven’t really made it. If someone is established in Malta and that’s it, I mean, I wouldn’t be able to be happy with that. It’s kind of like a race against time too because I’m 21 and I don’t want to be 35-40 still trying to do it.
Anywhere else you’d like to travel to and perform?
I don’t want to say just one place because you got so many artists who go to different countries, so I’d like to be jumping from place to place performing music. But for me to be happy with myself I want to have something on an international platform and that’s what I’m hoping to do. Not to like down my country but the standards here for music are so low and if people see you doing something different they’ll try and take the piss. So, for me, here is not the place. I want to go to somewhere else with music for sure.
What’s next for 215 Collective then?
For now, we have this summer track coming up and it’s one that we’re so happy with. We have so much hope in it, we’re all willing to push it as far as possible. We’re going to start uploading it to international platforms.
Nice! Can you tell me a little bit about the track?
It’s a summer track, I can’t say too much about it, but from what it sounds like it’s going to bang. We’re going to release it about late June, early July. It’s one of them summer songs that’s like really catchy. You’ll be able to vibe to this so much.
Sweet man. I think that’s everything. Would you like to add anything else?
Not really, I mean nothing’s happening right now, except for school work and music on the side for now.
Alright, cool. Well thanks for taking the time to chat, it’s been great man.
If you would like to find out more about what Caro and 215 Collective are getting up to for the next couple of months, make sure to check out the official 215 Collective Facebook Page. While you’re at it, check out the YouTube channel too, they already have a serious repertoire of music there that you can listen to.
Words by: Shane McLáimh
Pictures Courtesy of: Aidan Spiteri-Caruana