Battle rapping as a teen in Newcastle skate parks took him to the heights of the most popular battle rap platform in the UK, but as he gets older, his musical direction is beginning to evolve. You may know Max Gavins as ‘Suus’, spitting bars and dropping punchlines on Don’t Flop. Leaving his ‘Suus’ persona behind, Max’s new album 1994 marks a turning point in his music; with melodic choruses and country influences, we spoke to Max to find out what sparked this change in direction.
Ride Music: Tell us first of all a little bit about yourself and how you got into music?
Max Gavins: I was 10 when I wrote my first bar, but I don’t know if I really consider me starting music until I was about 13/14 because of how bad it was.
I got the Anger Management DVD for Christmas one time and I just saw how sick it was and thought ‘well that’s what I wanna do.’ I know I’m not gonna be like Eminem level in 2003. Like the whole sort of vibe of that tour, the backstage documentary thing, it was all just following Em’ through their tour and it looked so mint, so I just thought ‘I wanna do this.’ So that’s what inspired me to get into rapping.
I thought I was the only person in the North East rapping for about two or three years, I discovered I wasn’t in like 2007.Basically, I got MySpace, I realised you could search the music pages and filter by location and genre. So I literally just put ‘Newcastle, rap/hip-hop’ and just added everybody that I could. So… Projekt, Dialect, Verbal Terrorists, Skrufz, Text Offenders, Dap C…I literally just went through and added every single one. It’s good that MySpace is pretty irrelevant now because I’m sure there’d be a lot of cringy messages from 13 year old me saying like ‘aww your music is so sick, check out my music’ then linking them some proper dodgy track.
RM: Did you start by looking to get into the battle rap scene or was it just coincidence that you ended up there?
MG: Other than ‘8 Mile’ I didn’t know battle rap was a thing. Basically it was Deffinition, Deffinition was another one of those names that came up on MySpace. So me and him started talking over MySpace, then we started talking over MSN, then he introduced me to battles.
He sent me a couple of the WRC things, it must have been in 2008 but Grime Time and Don’t Flop were just starting to emerge so, he sent me a couple of those too.
I still didn’t really get it, like Thesaurus was the first person I saw and my first reaction to him was ‘his voice is really weird, I don’t like him’ but obviously I grew to like him. Then one day Deffinition messaged me like ‘I’m going to do a battle event in Newcastle, do you want to do it?’ Because I was his mate I was like ‘yeah fuck it, I’ll do it’, having never written a battle rap bar before…it was at Exy park in Newcastle, I battled Deff, that was my first battle…obviously I lost.
Then he did another one of them, unfortunately the footage got lost for the first one, the camera man stole it so er… It was a decent crowd because it was literally just like kids in the park, skaters and shit, so they saw a crowd gathering and they just joined it. They got really into it!
After that Def did a few other events of the same kind and during this time I think I had added Eurgh (Co-owner of Don’t Flop) on Facebook and I had sent him Def’s battle with GJ, then Deff got on Don’t Flop. From that Eurgh checked my battle after, I didn’t send him it he just sort of saw it, he said he had another 15 year old coming into the game, Blizzard, and said it would be really cool if me and him could battle and we did…then Blizzard got famous and I…didn’t.
RM: Do you still consider yourself an active battle rapper?
MG: I change my mind everyday really… after my battle with Max Pepsi a couple of months ago, straight after that battle if you’d of asked me if I was active I would have said yes.
But the stuff that’s happened after it has reminded me why I don’t bother with battles anymore, like… it was meant to be out of the 6th of June…and today it’s the 4th of July, it’s still not out.
I just don’t feel like I watch battles enough really… you’ve got to keep up with it to be good at it I feel. But I’ve got a couple of offers from other leagues that seem to have their shit together a bit more than Don’t Flop, at the minute. Like Dub Scandal, they’ve given me a couple of opponents to check out and I’ve just not checked them out, I’m just so not in a place where I want to watch battles anymore.
I mean if the battle is right and the event is right then I’ll take it. If Don’t Flop do another one in Newcastle I would probably do it.
I don’t think I’d ever go back to doing it as prolifically as I did. I mean in 2011/2012 I probably did a battle every couple of months, I don’t think I’d go back to doing that ever.
RM: What’s been your favourite battle to participate in?
MG: Tony D. I think I’m most proud of that battle just simply because I just love Tony’s performance in it, I love my performance in it, I think it’s just a really good battle. Tony is a fucking legend man and people still say I’m the closest he’s came to losing which is just such a crazy thing, considering the people he’s battled.
RM: Your new album 1994 recently dropped, but why did it take so long to come out?
MG: So, some of those songs, like Mic Ashley came out the season before the season we (Newcastle United) got relegated. So, some of the songs are about 3 years old. Honestly I don’t even know why it took so long, it was just little bits that needed finishing, because I was based in Liverpool a lot of the time and Dap (Producer) was based here in Newcastle.
Then there was a problem with the mix and we had to wait ages for the mix to get done. A couple of the songs had open verses that we were trying to fill, so the track with Rex on it, it was originally meant to be Just B. I sent it to Just B first and he’d already got a song that was pretty similar so he decided to not do it, then I was sat their thinking who would be good on this. Then eventually, I don’t know why I didn’t think of Rex earlier but, Rex was definitely a great fit for that song.
Just little things honestly it was just proper microscopic things, tiny, tiny things that needed doing and they just weren’t getting done.
I’m not going to do another album after this or another EP or anything. I’m gonna just do songs, either songs by themselves or songs with videos, just put out the odd song because doing stuff this way takes far too long. By the times it’s finished, some of those songs are almost 3 years old, I don’t want to listen to music I’ve made 3 years ago particularly.
The concept behind 1994 is centred around sort of, reminiscence and all about me really embracing — because I’ve always, always repped North East, but this album was about getting closer to home and where I grew up, that’s why I changed my name from Suus because Max is my real name so it’s a lot more me.
RM: What’s the difference between Suus and Max Gavins?
MG: A song like ‘Catnip’ or ‘Better Today’, Suus wouldn’t have had those songs, or ‘Whiskey Wine and Weed’, I like to think I have a bit of a laugh, I don’t take life too seriously.
There are some songs on here that are silly, they’re just fun, I felt like Suus was a rapper’s rapper where as Max Gavins is a bit more just what I want to do. I’m not trying to think ‘ah what would be a sick bar’ I’m just hitting a concept and writing about that concept as true to it as I can, and not really caring about what the average hip-hop head thinks about my music, I’d rather worry about what the average person things about my music.
I also feel like my sound is more melodic now. I’ve always messed around with melodies but I feel like now I’m not scared to put a song like ‘The Way’ on the album where there’s no rapping at all, it’s just me singing.
RM: Have you always been interested in singing as well as rapping?
MG: It sounds stupid but I’ve always loved music with melody, I’ve always preferred the more sort of main stream rap artists because they incorporate melody into their tunes.
My problem with most underground hip-hop and ‘rappy rap’ I can’t listen to it, the beats don’t catch me because they’re monotonous, you can spit the best verse in the world but if it’s on top of a monotonous beat with no sort of melody it won’t catch me. It sounds shallow but at the same time it’s almost shallow to do it the other way and not open your mind. So people hate Drake because he’ll rap for four bars, sing for two bars, then go back to rapping. But actually what he’s saying is still great but he’s done it in a way that’s catchy and sticks in your head and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I’d love to do a project one day where I don’t rap at all, just sort of like a little EP or something.
Tyler the creator said something that resonated with me recently, he said “rap has a time stamp on it”, you very rarely get a rap song that’s timeless, where as a song like for example, first thing off the top of my head, ‘There She Goes’ by The La’s, that could be released tomorrow and still sound brand new.
RM: Where do you see your sound going in the next few years?
MG: You’re probably going to hear new stuff in October, or if anyone has been to a gig where they’ve heard me perform ‘Take Off’, that’s sort of the road I’m going down now. So, 1994, I don’t think has a single song on it that’d I’d write today, I don’t think I would make those kinds of beats anymore either.
I haven’t written much recently but the stuff I have written I’m really really happy with, I think I’ve found a spot where I’m comfortable both in my rapping and singing. I think there’s a middle ground I’ve found and it’s all over very modern sounding beats but not modern in the sense of ‘mubble rap’ or anything like that but modern just in the sense of fresh and new. It’s not through intention, it’s not like ‘oh that’s what’s hot’, it’s just what I’m listening to nowadays.
1994 is available to stream on all major platforms now.
Max Gavins interviewed by Johnathan Ramsay