Born Adrian Thaws, c. 1967, in Bristol, England; children: (with Martina Topley Bird) Maisey, born 1995. Addresses: Record company--Island Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019; 8920 Sunset Blvd., 2nd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Despite having been credited with inventing the genre known as "trip-hop"-- the spacey, atmospheric variation on hip-hop that began captivating listeners in the mid-1990s--the multi-faceted British artist known as Tricky has worked to distance himself from the label. "People are always making up stupid names for shit," he complained in Option. It is this impatience with categories that has driven him, from his early work with the groundbreaking group Massive Attack to his rapidly evolving solo recordings and collaborations with artists both world-famous and obscure. Tricky's passion for new sounds has led him to push aside boundaries with reckless abandon, wielding samples and beats in disorienting new ways. "Sometimes my music don't work on the first listen," he asserted to Dennis Romero of the Los Angeles Times. "You could listen to it and think, 'Hmm, what's this all about?' You have to take time and be gentle with it. It don't hit you straightaway."

Adrian Thaws, as Tricky was christened, grew up in Bristol, England to Anglo-Caribbean parents. His mother took her own life when he was only 4; his father departed soon thereafter and left young Adrian in the care of his uncles and grandparents. The underworld activities of his uncles influenced his own adolescent misbehavior. "I was quite violent growing up," he told Romero, "doing it because there was nothing else to do." Though he grew up to a backdrop of reggae, his imagination was captured by ska, the uptempo Jamaican pop that saw a huge resurgence in Britain during the first wave of punk in the late 197s and early '80s. In particular Tricky Kid, as he was then known--thanks to his skill at petty crime--revered the bi-racial ska-rock of The Specials. He later became enamored of hip-hop storytellers like Slick Rick and Rakim.

Tricky fell in with a posse of Bristol hip-hoppers known as the Wild Bunch, rapping at parties and experimenting with mixing. Soon he found himself rapping with seminal hip-hop innovators Massive Attack. He spent several years working with the group--eventually producing and writing lyrics in addition to contributing vocals-- but then found even their relatively open approach too limiting. He had met a teenaged singer named Martina Topley Bird and recorded a track with her titled "Aftermath"; Massive Attack decided not to use it, and Tricky subsequently went solo. While preparing his own musical recipe, he also collaborated with cutting-edge pop artists like Bjork. A couple of solo singles became very popular in the underground dance music world. Tricky's subversive, pot-fueled sound--alongside the dark vibe of fellow Bristol act Portishead -- was declared truly original. Island record tracked him down despite the fact that he had no permanent residence, offering him a unique contract that permitted him to record with other labels and even let him create his own imprint.

This eclectic vision was first unleashed in its unadulterated form on Tricky's debut solo album, Maxinquaye. Named after his mother, the album embraces a vast range of styles, and includes "Black Steel," a version of "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" by rap agitators Public Enemy. The Tricky version is sung by Bird in a disaffected murmur that undercuts the original's fury. "I knew it was going to work," Tricky said of the track in Musician. "I f---ed around with some Indian religious music to make that beat up, and I'd had it for ages. As soon as Martina sang it, I knew we'd gotten it right. And Chuck liked it," he added, referring to Public Enemy leader Chuck D. "He came up to me at a party and said 'Thank you' and all I could say was 'Thank you.'" In the wake of the album's release, Tricky described his approach in Pulse!. "I take a sample, rip it apart and then replay it on the keyboards," he declared. "I'm just a little kid messing around. It's like throwing paints on the floor and saying it's art." Critics generally felt the album was art, and showered the young producer-artist with acclaim.

By 1995, the accolades had become nearly religious in their intensity. Spin put him at the top of their list of artists who represented "The Future of Rock," calling Maxinquaye "revolutionary." Tricky himself told the magazine, "I don't try to make a song. I don't use big sounds or melodies." His disavowal of pop song structure was even more decisive on the 1996 release Nearly God, a collaboration with a number of well-known artists that included Terry Hall of The Specials--one of Tricky's heroes-- as well as Neneh Cherry, Bjork, and Alison Moyet. Bird also contributed to the ollection, which Rolling Stone described as "a set of collaborative vocal-soundscape improvisations" and deemed "fabulous."

The same year Tricky Presents Grassroots, an EP, was released. This effort explored more traditional hip-hop territory with young rappers Hillfiguzes and other relatively untested artists, yet it fared less well with critics, who awaited yet another 1996 album, Pre-Millennium Tension, with bated breath. "Oh, it's punk," Tricky said of the latter in Raygun. "It's just a punk attitude, a total punk attitude." In the same interview, he expressed a desire for far-flung power in music. "I want to control hip-hop," he declared. "I want to control jungle, I want to control rock music, I just want to keep destroying everybody's illusions. There ain't no point in being in it, unless you're in it that deep."

"Tricky is probably the most spontaneous music person I've met," Bjork told Spin. "That is very smittening. Affects you on a creative/unconventional level, not on an artificial/musical one." That spontaneity was reflected in Tricky's affinity for wild photo shoots, cross-dressing, and other flamboyant displays. His home life, however, was fairly down-to-earth, much affected by the birth of a daughter, Maisey, whom he had with Bird. "Because of her, I'm more positive," he told the Los Angeles Times. Yet he never claimed to have been a former wild man tamed by fatherhood. "I'm completely normal," he claimed in Raygun. "I'm like fish and chips. Really normal."

by Simon Glickman

Tricky's Career

Singer, producer, and songwriter, c. 1980s~. Member of group Massive Attack, c. 1990-95; produced tracks for Bjork, Neneh Cherry, and other artists, c. 1990s; signed with Island Records and released solo debut album, Maxinquaye, 1995; released album under umbrella name Nearly God on own Durban Poison imprint, 1996.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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