It's no small feat that 30-year-old Adrian Thaws, a mixed-race street kid from Bristol, England, has managed to create one of this decade's most distinctive, virtually unprecedented music styles under the nom de rap Tricky. His distillation of hip-hop into a cinematic, often nightmarish, soundscape of funk beats, soulful vocals, spoken grumbles and some of the most wicked sonic thrills ever popped out of a sampler has been labeled trip-hop. It just as easily could be called Tricky music and it can be experienced Nov. 5 with DJ BMF at House of Blues.
Since his origins rapping with Bristol-based group Massive Attack, Tricky has been interfacing the sounds of the streets with the music in his head. "I wanted Massive Attack to do a cover of a rap song, and they weren't into it," he says. "So I've always been into representing hip-hop -- but in my own way, because I knew I wasn't American. I didn't live that sort of life."
There's nothing tricky about his success. For Tricky, creation is as natural an instinct as a predator's need to hunt. The only thing that will soothe this savage beast's hunger is feeding. "I just keep learning and trying to have fun and not get too caught up in it," Tricky says, his voice racing over the phone. "It's meditation more than fun, actually. Writing lyrics or writing music is like a meditation."
Since his 1995 debut, "Maxinquaye," arrived to critical genuflection, Tricky released three records: "Nearly God," a collection of tracks with guest vocalists such as Neneh Cherry, Alison Moyet and Bjork; "Tricky Presents Grassroots," a mini-album featuring underground rap acts; and finally, his second proper album, the apocalyptic "Pre-Millennium Tension."
As Tricky began recording this year's Angels With Dirty Faces (Island), a broken leg threatened to curtail his hectic pace. Tricky and his backing musicians ventured to New Orleans and holed up in the popular studio/residence Kingsway. "The bedrooms are just upstairs from the studio, so it was real convenient," he says. "I didn't leave the house for two and a half weeks, because I couldn't move around much. I was just making music. I was rested and very relaxed, and not tense."
It seems the only things able to distract Tricky from creating new music have been other creative endeavors: remixing, starting his own label and touring. He's produced tracks by artists ranging from horror rappers Gravediggaz to Elvis Costello.
In September, Tricky hopes to release the first two records from his own Durban Poison label: the debut of Baby Namboos, a group made up of Tricky's cousins, and a spoken-word album that features true-life crime stories told by British gangsters. Island Records, the label that releases Tricky's own albums, is said to be in a state of turmoil after the departure of its longtime head, Chris Blackwell, and the company's recent sale to Universal. "Island Records is falling apart," he says. "People are leaving because they don't know if they're going to have a job in a couple of months. So I just have to wait and see what the damage is after they fall apart."
Tricky's live show is closer to a club/DJ experience than a rock spectacle. You won't see Tricky hamming it up or working the crowd. In fact, you might not see much of him at all. He's been known to perform behind stacks of keyboards or with his back to the crowd. "I don't feel like it's a performance," Tricky says. "It's just as important for me and my band to have a good time as it is for the crowd to. If we ain't having a good time, then you ain't gonna have a good time."
In some ways, Tricky has been felt and not necessarily seen by the entire spectrum of underground and popular music. "It gets me confused," Tricky admits. "Sometimes I think I'm a very successful artist and other times I realize I'm not. But this album is more successful than all of them, for the time scale we're on now. And that makes me happy."
Reflecting on his rise from ghetto orphan to cultural elite, Tricky can't help but feel appreciative. "I've been lucky enough to get accepted for doing my own thing, and now people take it for granted that I'll do my own thing," he says. "My fans have stayed with me through change, and that makes me feel strong. I've been lucky, so I just take advantage of it."