5 Of Tricky’s best tracks

Sam Davies

To celebrate the publication of the Bristolian enigma’s autobiography, here are five of Tricky’s best productions… 

Tricky has never been a trip-hop artist. Though many would say his debut album is the definitive example of the 1990s Bristol sound, he’s always hated the term. “Who likes trip-hop?” he asked the crowd at his first ever solo gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 1995, to cries of “Yeah!”. “Well fuck off home then!” he replied. 

He’s never been a rapper. Though he grew up MCing over reggae beats and trying to emulate Rakim and Chuck D, he always felt uncomfortable being considered the UK’s answer to hip-hop. 

Tricky as a child. Credit: Bonnier Books

He’s never been a pop star either, though he’s starred in short stories by David Bowie, collaborated with Grace Jones, and turned down Madonna (hungover), Prince (flu) and U2 (“a really awkward situation”). 

He was never even going to be called Tricky. Had Island Records not persuaded him otherwise, him and his singer would have released his first album as a band called Maxinquaye. Instead Maxinquaye became the title of the album, named after his mother Maxine Quaye, who committed suicide when Tricky was four. 

Though he defies categorisation, Tricky invites wonder, awe, obsession. His new autobiography Hell Is Round the Corner sees him delve deep into his story so far. Here’s that story in five songs. 

 

Massive Attack “Daydreaming” (1991)

As a teenager in Bristol’s Knowle-West estate, Tricky began rapping with local reggae and hip-hop group the Wild Bunch, whose members included rapper 3D and DJ Daddy G. Tricky only started producing, chopping up samples from Bollywood soundtracks and American hip-hop records, because he’d noticed that rappers didn’t tend to last long unless they could make their own beats. In contrast to the MCs he admired at the time, Tricky spoke his lyrics softly—not a stylistic choice, but out of shyness. The Wild Bunch eventually became Massive Attack and the first piece of music Tricky ever produced became “Daydreaming,” their first single. 

Credit: Bonnier books

 

Tricky “Aftermath” (1995)

Tricky left Massive Attack because Daddy G wouldn't lend him two quid to buy sausage and chips while they were on tour, among other reasons. By then he’d written “Aftermath,” but didn’t know what to do with it. Then one day he met Martina Topley-Bird, a teenage girl from a local private school, sitting on a wall outside his house, and asked if she could sing. She became the voice of his debut album. “I like writing for females,” Tricky said in 2016. Then in the book: “I’ve realised that many of my lyrics are written from a female perspective.” For the Maxinquaye photoshoot Tricky and Martina posed as bride and groom, but with roles reversed—and Tricky in a dress.

 

Tricky & Björk “Keep Your Mouth Shut” (1996)

“The only thing that came out in the ‘90s that was new, was my album,” Tricky says in his book. He’s talking about Maxinquaye (and adds “I’m not saying it was the best”), but with time his second album Nearly God proved to be even weirder, even more arrestingly beautiful than its predecessor. Nearly God is also the alias under which it was released, as Tricky’s label Island let him slip out a wildly experimental record without major fanfare. Splicing between a two-second sample of Brooklyn rap duo Das EFX and a grumbling loop of cavernous ambience, tracks like “Keep Your Mouth Shut” laid the foundations upon which electronic producers like Actress and Andy Stott would later base their sound. That’s Björk singing; she and Tricky dated for about two weeks.

 

Tricky “Analyze Me (feat. Martina Topley-Bird)” (1998)

As far as Island were concerned, the proper follow-up to Maxinquaye was the brilliant Pre Millennium Tension. Equally good, Angels With Dirty Faces came soon after that, which Tricky recorded in LA while taking peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus. He was also suffering with mental illness, struggling with the pressures of life in the public eye. The result is the darkest, most psychedelic listen in Tricky’s oeuvre. “For all those who wanna analyze me / My mother committed suicide when I was four or five,” he breathes. His earliest memory is seeing her body in an open coffin.

 

Tricky “When We Die (feat. Martina Topley-Bird)” (2017)

Tricky’s book includes passages written by family and friends, colleagues and collaborators, but Martina is absent. The two have rarely worked together since the 1990s, the conclusion of which marked the end of Tricky’s peak. If you want to make sense of his patchy late career—during which time he’s fidgeted uncomfortably with record labels, ex-managers and debt—you should skip to False Idols and Adrian Thaws (which is Tricky’s birth name). 2017’s ununiform is less convincing, but its closer “When We Die” features a rare appearance from Martina, gesturing towards their sacred chemistry once again.

Tricky’s autobiography, Hell Is Round the Corner, is out now


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