Dialect: ‘I’ve just turned up the heat a bit’

Grime MC Dialect features on an album showcasing talent from the Leeds City Region. Duncan Seaman reports.

Leeds grime MC Dialect, aka Marcus Shellington.
Leeds grime MC Dialect, aka Marcus Shellington.

Leeds grime star Dialect is among 13 artists featured on a new compilation by the city-based label Come Play With Me.

His track Come Up showcases a distinctive flow which has made him one of the leading figures in the Leeds grime scene for over a decade.

The 31-year-old – whose real name is Marcus Shellington – has been making music since he was 16, following in the footsteps of his father Cleve Freckleton, aka the Rev Chunky.

“I was performing after a year or so,” he says. “I used to go to a place called Host in Chapeltown, which was like a learning centre. There are studios there, and I started doing poetry. I had my first performance at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. There was me and a group of lads, we used to be in a crew together when we were younger, that was probably the first time I performed live.”

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    At that point grime was in its infancy. “That’s why I think I’ve managed to keep relevant, I started when it first started,” he says. “It was in the early days when Dizzee Rascal was putting out Boy in da Corner and you’d got Wiley and everyone paving the way for everyone.”

    Dialect became noted for a series of rap battles with fellow MCs. “I’ve done 43, I think,” he says. “The biggest one for me was against AJ Tracey (who has gone on to score top 10 hits with Ladbroke Grove and Rain). But in the rap battle world as well, where it’s not just grime, it’s spoken word, a capella, I’ve battled rappers from America and I flew out to Canada to battle there because they heard about this battler from Leeds with a crazy accent. It was an amazing journey.”

    He sees the verbal battles as entertainment. “The more you’re giving off, the more you get back from the crowd. I see rapping as similar to boxing – you’ve got people with different styles, they’ve got different potential, and it’s only when those two collide you see which is the overcoming strength.”

    Over the years Dialect has released a series of singles and EPs. He believes his music has evolved. “I wouldn’t say I’m a completely different writer, but in my early days I was testing my limits with flows and metaphors,” he says. “I got really into the art of writing and performing, trying to master it. I think over the years I’ve got better at making music. I’ve always loved music but there is still a difference between saying a few lyrics over an instrumental to actually making a song which people can relate to. I think only at this age now, at 31, have I fully mastered the song side of it and expressing myself that bit better. I’ve always been on a high level in rapping battles but I feel that right now is where I’m at my most experienced. I’m at the best I’ve been in that sense, I’ve just turned up the heat a bit.”

    Having performed at a recent Black Lives Matters event in Millennium Square, Leeds, he is heartened that the movement has gained ground. “It was a bit tense when the whole [George Floyd] thing happened, and everything was going was a bit crazy, but the whole Black Lives Matters has come back in force. There’s been casualties on both sides but I think anyone involved that wants to do it in a peaceful way and educate people, it’s a beautiful thing.

    “I was there at Millennium Square and it was a brilliant turnout and I got chance to perform. I was very nervous, I was thinking, ‘wow, I’ve not really been asked to do something like this before’, but because I’ve been doing this for a good 15 years, I’ve been working really hard at stuff, and for me to get asked it was humbling and also a blessing but I feel like maybe I’d earned the right to be able to do this as well from how much I love my community, love my people.”

    On a practical level, he hopes it will cause some genuine change within the music industry as well as society. “It’s already having an affect,” he says. “There’s a music label that has vowed not to have any music of black origin named as ‘urban’ which is a powerful thing. Some people had an issue with it, I can’t say personally that it triggered anything in me that made me think ‘why do they call it that?’ but when you put it into perspective, for them to change things and make it more equal and basically more on the style and not just call it ‘urban’ it’s a really good thing. It shows that it’s changing people’s minds, their perspective on things, so it is having an effect right now.”

    Now doing a day job so he can invest in studio equipment, Dialect intends to have new music out later this year. “I’m going to try to make a really big comeback and make sure everything I put out is consistent and looks great,” he says.

    Come Up is on the vinyl album Come Stay With Me, out today. Other artists featured include Talkboy, Magick Mountain, Team Picture and Dead Naked Hippies. For details the Come Play With Me singles club and the album launch on Friday July 17 at 8pm visit www.facebook.com/ComePlayWith/