Indy a Wich: Prague duo bring hip-hop to wider Czech audience
Hadej Kdo by Czech hip-hop act Indy & Wich was one of the most eagerly awaited recent new releases. This latest offering by the rapper Indy and the DJ-producer Wich is the first recording in nearly five years by the popular duo, who were largely credited with bringing hip-hop to a mainstream Czech audience with their successful debut album My 3 or Us 3. This record, which also featured rapper La4 (hence the title) was released back in 2000, just two years after Indy and Wich's first ever gig in 1998. The relationship between the two men goes back further, however, to the time when they were both tearaway teenagers on the streets of Prague in the early 1990s.
When I met Indy in a busy café, he told me how he and his recording partner Wich first met:
"We were originally graffiti writers so we basically met in front of a wall. One day, I saw a piece he did and I told him how nice it was. I then asked him if he wanted to see one of my pieces, which was further down the same wall. He came and looked at my piece. We smoked a cigarette together and then we started to become friends. It took us nearly seven years of spraying and having this great city adventure before we finally started to do music because we began to get a little bit tired of the 'night shifts' needed for our graffiti hobby."
Indy and Wich first became acquainted with hip-hop music when records by American rappers like Grandmaster Flash and Das EFX began appearing in Prague record shops in the wake of the Velvet Revolution. As avid graffiti artists, both Indy and Wich felt a natural affinity for this unruly American music. Over time, they eventually put away their spray cans and started making their own Czech brand of hip-hop.
Since they began writing and producing music Indy and Wich have each worked with many other Czech and foreign rappers and artists, but many fans feel that it is the collaborations between the two of them, which offer the best platform for their talents. So what does Indy think is the secret behind this successful alchemy?
"First of all, it's just a friendship because we enjoy the work together. If you enjoy something it can be good and come out in the right way. The second thing is that he's a great producer. We sometimes laugh at how he could get some five-year-old kids just saying blah blah blah on his beats and it would sound good. Thirdly, we really try very hard to get the right beats for the lyrics, we try to get the atmosphere together. So it's partly the specific process of how we make it. But basically it's just joy. If something is joyful it's cool."
As the duo's front man, one of Indy's main roles is to come up with the raps and rhymes for the backing tracks Wich prepares for him. Although neither is averse to occasionally using English-speaking talents, Indy also writes many of his lyrics in Czech, a complex language that one would think isn't naturally suited to the rapid-fire rhythms of rap music.
Indy agrees that writing Czech rap lyrics is indeed a task that poses many challenges:
"On the one hand it's the same process because it's just the rhythm of the language. On the other hand it's not the same because English is quite short. Some English words are shorter. You can spit them out more quickly. The Czech language is more complicated. You can express one thing ten ways. Also, ten people will hear one lyric and hear ten different meanings. That's perhaps the basic differences between the languages."
While Indy is the group's wordsmith, his partner Wich is usually the producer who writes and arranges the backing tracks. Like all hip-hop beat merchants Indy and Wich also make extensive use of sampled music. So how can Czech artists like this duo - whose market is very small compared to their counterparts in the United States - afford to pay for these music samples?
"No comment (laughs). Sometimes we use the samples that could be really well known. But they get cut and edited so much that they aren't recognisable. You would feel some harmony or whatever, but you won't be able to find out who did the original. If you're asking whether we clear this sort of sampling for copyright, I'd have to say we don't."
Paradoxically, Indy believes the small scale of the Czech music market means that they are unlikely to incur any major punishment for their occasional use of unauthorised samples:
"If some really big label manager who owned the copyright was to come here and hear this stuff, he would know that we are releasing only about 5,000 or 10,000 CDs. Therefore the punishment wouldn't be so big. He couldn't ask us for three million dollars or something like that just for one sample. At least I hope that's the case. A friend of mine who's training to be a lawyer told me that!"
Whether it involves spraying graffiti on walls or making music together Indy and Wich have now enjoyed a close working relationship for the best part of two decades. In recent years, they have also pursued a number of solo projects. Wich is a sought-after producer who has worked with leading Czech singers like Katerina Winterova of Ecstasy of St. Theresa. He also released his own solo album Time is Now in 2004.
Indy meanwhile now has his own record label, Maddrum Records, which has signed a number of younger acts. So will the duo's work together take a back seat to their side projects in the future? Or does Indy think that he and Wich can continue making their own unique brand of hip-hop for years to come? After all, they've now been making music together for almost a decade. Both of them aren't getting any younger and hip-hop is not exactly an area where it's easy for people to grow old gracefully...
"You should really ask my girlfriend that. I wonder about that too. I still have some back-up plans. I would like to continue working in music. I would like to get more involved in the production side of things because I also do some of that stuff. But I think there is still plenty of time to finish this job and then we will see. Maybe I'll be this fat A&R guy making money out of younger people (laughs). I really don't know"