Tricky (musician)

Last updated

Tricky - August 13, 2009.jpg
Tricky in 2009
Background information
Birth nameAdrian Nicholas Matthews Thaws
Also known as
  • Tricky Kid
  • Tricky Rock
Born (1968-01-27) 27 January 1968 (age 51)
Bristol, England
  • Producer
  • mixer
  • musician
  • vocalist
  • actor
  • Vocals
  • keyboards
  • harmonica
Years active1985–present
Associated acts

Adrian Nicholas Matthews Thaws [5] (born 27 January 1968), better known by his stage name Tricky, is an English record producer, [6] rapper and actor. [7] Born and raised in Bristol, he began his career as an early collaborator of Massive Attack before embarking on a solo career with his debut album, Maxinquaye , in 1995. The release won Tricky popular acclaim and marked the beginning of a lengthy collaborative partnership with vocalist Martina Topley-Bird. He released four more studio albums before the end of the decade, including Pre-Millennium Tension and the pseudonymous Nearly God , both in 1996. He has gone on to release eight studio albums since 2000, most recently Ununiform (2017).

Massive Attack British band

Massive Attack are a British musical group formed in 1988 in Bristol, United Kingdom, consisting of Robert "3D" Del Naja, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall and formerly Andy "Mushroom" Vowles ("Mush"). Their debut album Blue Lines was released in 1991, with the single "Unfinished Sympathy" reaching the charts and later being voted the 63rd greatest song of all time in a poll by NME. 1998's Mezzanine, containing "Teardrop", and 2003's 100th Window charted in the UK at number one. Both Blue Lines and Mezzanine feature in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

<i>Maxinquaye</i> 1995 studio album by Tricky

Maxinquaye is the debut album by English rapper and producer Tricky. It was released on 20 February 1995 by 4th & B'way Records.

Martina Topley-Bird English vocalist and songwriter

Martina Gillian Topley-Bird is an English vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who first gained fame as the featured female vocalist on trip hop pioneer Tricky's debut album, Maxinquaye (1995). She also worked with him on his subsequent albums Nearly God and Pre-Millennium Tension. In 2003, Topley-Bird released her debut solo album, Quixotic, which was critically praised and earned her a Mercury Prize nomination.


Tricky is a pioneer of trip hop music, [1] and his work is noted for its dark, layered musical style that blends disparate cultural influences and genres, including hip hop, alternative rock and ragga. [8] He has collaborated with a wide range of artists over the course of his career, including Terry Hall, Björk, Gravediggaz, Grace Jones, and PJ Harvey. [1]

Trip hop is a musical genre that originated in the early 1990s in the United Kingdom, especially Bristol. It has been described as "a fusion of hip hop and electronica until neither genre is recognizable", and may incorporate a variety of styles, including funk, dub, soul, psychedelia, R&B, and house, as well as other forms of electronic music. Trip hop can be highly experimental.

Hip hop music music genre consisting of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping

Hip hop music, also called hip-hop or rap music, is a music genre developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans and Latino Americans in the Bronx borough of New York City in the 1970s. It consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted. It developed as part of hip hop culture, a subculture defined by four key stylistic elements: MCing/rapping, DJing/scratching with turntables, break dancing, and graffiti writing. Other elements include sampling beats or bass lines from records, and rhythmic beatboxing. While often used to refer solely to rapping, "hip hop" more properly denotes the practice of the entire subculture. The term hip hop music is sometimes used synonymously with the term rap music, though rapping is not a required component of hip hop music; the genre may also incorporate other elements of hip hop culture, including DJing, turntablism, scratching, beatboxing, and instrumental tracks.

Alternative rock is a style of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1970s and became widely popular in the 1980s. In this instance, the word "alternative" refers to the genre's distinction from mainstream rock music. The term's original meaning was broader, referring to a generation of musicians unified by their collective debt to either the musical style or simply the independent, DIY ethos of punk rock, which in the late 1970s laid the groundwork for alternative music. At times, "alternative" has been used as a catch-all description for music from underground rock artists that receives mainstream recognition, or for any music, whether rock or not, that is seen to be descended from punk rock. Although the genre evolved in the late 1970s and 1980s, music anticipating the sound of the genre can be found as early as the 1960s, with bands such as The Velvet Underground and artists such as Syd Barrett.

Early life

Tricky was born in the Knowle West neighbourhood of Bristol, to a Jamaican father and a mixed-race Anglo-Guyanese mother. His mother, Maxine Quaye, either committed suicide or died due to epilepsy complications when Tricky was four. [2] [9] His father, Roy Thaws, who left the family before Tricky was born, operated the Studio 17 sound system (formerly known as "Tarzan the High Priest") with his brother Rupert and father Hector. [10] Bristol musician Bunny Marrett claimed in 2012, "It became the most popular sound system in Bristol at the time." [11] [12]

Knowle West

Knowle West is a neighbourhood situated on a low plateau in the south of Bristol, England, about 2 miles (3 km) from the centre of the city. Historically in Somerset, most of the area is coterminous with the Filwood ward of Bristol City Council, although a small part of the estate lies within Knowle ward to the east. To the west are Bishopsworth and Hartcliffe. To the north are Bedminster and Windmill Hill and to the south Whitchurch Park and Hengrove. The population as of 2008 was estimated as 11,787. The area is approximately 1.26 square miles (3.3 km2) in extent.

Bristol City and county in England

Bristol is a city and county in South West England with a population of 463,400. The wider district has the 10th-largest population in England. The urban area population of 724,000 is the 8th-largest in the UK. The city borders North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, with the cities of Bath and Gloucester to the south-east and north-east, respectively. South Wales lies across the Severn estuary.

Jamaicans ethnic group

Jamaicans are the citizens of Jamaica and their descendants in the Jamaican diaspora. Most Jamaicans are of African descent, with minorities of Europeans, East Indians, Chinese, Middle Eastern and others or mixed ancestry. The bulk of the Jamaican diaspora resides in other Anglophone countries, namely Australia, Canada, United States and the United Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, other Caribbean countries and Commonwealth realms. Outside of Anglophone countries, the largest Jamaican diaspora community lives in Costa Rica, where Jamaicans make up a significant percentage of the population.

Tricky experienced a difficult childhood in Knowle West, [13] a "white ghetto" in Southern Bristol. [14] He became involved in crime at an early age, [13] and joined a gang that was involved in car theft, burglary, fights and promiscuity. [15] Tricky spent his youth in the care of his grandmother, who often let him watch old horror films instead of going to school. At the age of 15, he began to write lyrics ("I like to rock, I like to dance, I like pretty girls taking down their pants" MixMag, 1996). At 17, he spent some time in prison after he purchased forged £50 notes from a friend, who later informed the police. Tricky stated in an interview afterward: "Prison was really good. I'm never going back". [16]

Horror film Film genre

A horror film is a film that seeks to elicit fear for entertainment purposes. Initially inspired by literature from authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and Mary Shelley, horror has existed as a film genre for more than a century. The macabre and the supernatural are frequent themes. Horror may also overlap with the fantasy, supernatural fiction, and thriller genres.

Lyrics are words that make up a song usually consisting of verses and choruses. The writer of lyrics is a lyricist. The words to an extended musical composition such as an opera are, however, usually known as a "libretto" and their writer, as a "librettist". The meaning of lyrics can either be explicit or implicit. Some lyrics are abstract, almost unintelligible, and, in such cases, their explication emphasizes form, articulation, meter, and symmetry of expression. Rappers can also create lyrics that are meant to be spoken rhythmically rather than sung.

Pound sterling Official currency of the United Kingdom and other territories

The pound sterling, commonly known as the pound and less commonly referred to as sterling, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory, and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence. A number of nations that do not use sterling also have currencies called the pound.


1987–94: The Wild Bunch, Massive Attack

In the mid-1980s, Tricky met DJ Milo and spent time with a sound system called the Wild Bunch, which by 1987 evolved into Massive Attack. He received the nickname "Tricky Kid" and at age eighteen became a member of the Fresh 4, a rap group built from the Wild Bunch. He also rapped on Massive Attack's acclaimed debut album Blue Lines (1991).

Sound system (DJ) mobile sound system

A sound system is a group of DJs and audio engineers contributing and working together as one, playing and producing music over a large PA system or sound reinforcement system, typically for a dance event or party.

The Wild Bunch were a sound system and loose collective of musicians and DJs based in the St Paul's, Montpelier and Bishopston districts of Bristol, England.

<i>Blue Lines</i> 1991 studio album by Massive Attack

Blue Lines is the debut studio album by English electronic music group Massive Attack, released on 8 April 1991 by Wild Bunch and Virgin Records. A remastered version of the album was released on 19 November 2012.

In 1991, before the release of Massive Attack's album Blue Lines, he met Martina Topley-Bird in Bristol. Some time later she came to his house, and mentioned to Tricky and Mark Stewart that she could sing. Martina was only fifteen years old, but her "honey-coated vox" impressed them and they recorded a song called "Aftermath" (though The Face '95 mentions that the first song they recorded together was called "Shoebox"). Tricky showed "Aftermath" to Massive Attack, but they were not interested. So in 1993 he decided to press a few hundred vinyl copies of the song. He cut it directly off the tape, so that the song is basically "just bassline and hiss". (NME 1994). In 1995, a white label got him a contract with Island Records and he started to record his first solo album, Maxinquaye . [17]

Mark Stewart is a British musician and founding member of The Pop Group. A pioneer of post-punk and industrial hip-hop, he has recorded for On-U Sound Records and Mute Records.

<i>The Face</i> (magazine) magazine

The Face is a British music, fashion and culture monthly magazine originally published from 1980 to 2004, and relaunched in 2019. It launched in May 1980 in London by Nick Logan, the British journalist who had previously been editor of New Musical Express and Smash Hits.

White label

White label records are vinyl records with plain white labels attached. There are several variations each with a different purpose. Variations include test pressings, white label promos, and plain white labels.

1995–2001: Solo breakthrough

Tricky performing in 2008. Tricky mp3h1934.jpg
Tricky performing in 2008.

Tricky left Massive Attack to release his debut album Maxinquaye , co-produced by himself and Mark Saunders and prominently featured singer Martina Topley-Bird. The album was successful and Tricky consequently attained international fame, something he was notably uncomfortable with. [18] The Maxinquaye album review by Rolling Stone read: "Tricky devoured everything from American hip-hop and soul to reggae and the more melancholic strains of '80s British rock". [19]

Authors David Hesmondhalgh and Caspar Melville wrote in the book Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA: "Tricky showed his debt to hip-hop aesthetics by reconstructualising samples and slices of both the most respected black music (Public Enemy) and the tackiest pop (quoting David Cassidy's "How Can I Be Sure?")." [20] As the Rolling Stone article further explained, Tricky created "a mercurial style of dance music that immediately finds it[ sic ] own fast feet." [19]

Tricky failed to complete a number of lyrics for the Massive Attack album Protection and gave the band some of the lyrics he had written for Maxinquaye instead. Thus, there are songs across the two albums that largely share the same lyrics —entitled "Overcome" and "Hell is 'Round the Corner" on Maxinquaye and "Karmacoma", and "Eurochild" on Protection, respectively. Tricky found it difficult to cope with the huge success of Maxinquaye and subsequently eschewed the laid-back soul sound of the first album to create an increasingly edgy and aggressive punk style of music.

In 1996, Neneh Cherry and Björk appeared as guests on his second album Nearly God . The opening number was a cover of the Siouxsie and the Banshees pre-trip-hop song "Tattoo" [21] that had previously inspired Tricky when he forged his style. [22]

In 2001, Tricky appeared on the Thirteen Ghosts soundtrack with the song "Excess" which (briefly) features Alanis Morissette during two of the choruses. In 2002 that song also appeared on the Queen of the Damned soundtrack.

2002–09: Mixed Race and other work

Tricky at the 2009 INmusic festival. Tricky @ INmusic festival.jpg
Tricky at the 2009 INmusic festival.

Tricky's studio album Knowle West Boy was released in the UK and Ireland in July 2008, and September 2008 in the US. The first single from the album was "Council Estate" and features the artist as the sole vocalist: "It's the first single I've ever done with just me on vocals. I couldn't whisper that song. I had to come out of myself and do a loud, screaming vocal. I wanted to be a proper frontman on that one." [23] In an interview with The Skinny in July 2008, Tricky mentioned that Knowle West Boy was the first album for which he decided to enlist a co-producer. Ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler was Tricky's initial selection, but, less than enamoured with Butler's technical prowess, Tricky finished the album by totally re-recording all of the material. [24]

On 8 December 2009, Tricky's 1995 debut album Maxinquaye was reissued with a bonus 13-track CD featuring B-sides, outtakes and seven previously unreleased mixes of songs such as "Overcome", "Hell is Round the Corner" and "Black Steel". [25]

In December 2009, the media reported that Massive Attack met Tricky in Paris and asked him to work on a future project—Daddy G said: "Things seem like they've healed between us and Tricky. It's been quite well documented how us and Tricky get on, hasn't it? It's not that well, but things have changed. Things have softened up. We saw Tricky a couple of weeks ago in Paris and it was quite an amicable meeting after five or six years." [26] Tricky agreed to record with the band and he revealed in a June 2013 interview that "there's a couple of songs which are OK, which are really good actually to be honest with you". However, Tricky also stated in June 2013 that he could not spend more than two or three days with Massive Attack and described band member Daddy G as "very arrogant". [27]

Tricky's ninth album Mixed Race was released on 27 September 2010 and the first single from the album became available on 23 August. The album includes contributions from Franky Riley, Terry Lynn, Bobby Gillespie, Hamadouche, Blackman and Tricky's youngest brother Marlon Thaws. [10]

In June 2011, Tricky's then label Brownpunk signed on Mexican band My Black Heart Machine for one single, "It Beats Like This", which Tricky co-produced. [28] My Black Heart Machine was then commissioned by the label to cover a song from Maxinquaye for an album of covers by Brownpunk's roster; the band chose "Hell Is Round the Corner". "It Beats Like This" was released independently by the band on their first EP in April 2013.

Tricky produced rapper Omni's album IamOmni (produced by Tricky) (released under the moniker IamOmni) that was available from 30 August 2011 as a free download on Omni's official site.

2012–present: False Idols, Ununiform

In April 2012, Tricky performed Maxinquaye with Martina Topley-Bird at several concerts around the UK including, for the first time in several years in his home town of Bristol. The concerts featured regular interruptions orchestrated by Tricky, where he brought his youngest brother, Marlon Thaws to rap on stage alongside other local rappers as well as encouraging the audience to come up on stage. The review of the concert in Manchester said it was "shambolic" and a "car crash" with Tricky often leaving the stage and continuously forgetting his words, leaving Topley Bird to carry the delivery of the tracks, resulting in many leaving early after repeated issues with Tricky's behaviour and shouts of "wanker" from the crowd. [29]

On 26 June 2012, Tricky appeared on stage during Beyoncé's headline slot on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury for the track "Baby Boy". Partly the result of technical difficulties with his microphone, he later stated he was "mortified" by his own performance, saying, "I've never been so embarrassed. My body just froze". [30]

In February 2013, Tricky announced the release of a new album, False Idols . The album is the follow up from his 2010 Mixed Race and featured Peter Silberman, Fifi Rong and Nneka. Tricky released this statement about the album:

"This new album I'll stand behind every track. I don't care whether people like it. I'm doing what I want to do, which is what I did with my first record. That's what made me who I was in the beginning. If people don't like it, it don't matter to me because I'm back where I was." [31]

In spring 2014, it was announced that Tricky is to perform at a number of festivals throughout Europe over the summer of 2014, including Control Day Out in Romania, festival Couleur Café in Belgium, Positivus Festival in Latvia and Galtres Parklands Festival in England, the latter of which he co-headlines with contemporaries Morcheeba.[ citation needed ]

Tricky announced a new album titled Adrian Thaws in June 2014. It was released on 8 September 2014. [32] Skilled Mechanics was released in January 2016. [33]

His thirteenth official studio album, ununiform , was released on 22 September 2017, and featured collaborations with Asia Argento, Avalon Lurks, and Martina Topley-Bird, as well as a cover of Hole's "Doll Parts". [34]

Blink, an imprint of Bonnier Books UK, has acquired Tricky's autobiography. Commissioning Editor Kerri Sharp acquired World rights from K7 Music – the independent music company headquartered in Berlin, where Tricky now lives. The book is currently untitled and will sell as a £20 Hardback in October 2019. [35]

Idiosyncrasies and media issues

Tricky performing in Barcelona, 2008. Tricky - Sala Bikini, Barcelona.jpg
Tricky performing in Barcelona, 2008.

By the time Pre-Millennium Tension was released in 1996, Tricky was increasingly irritated with the British press, particularly articles written in The Face magazine. The Face had been an early champion of Maxinquaye , but saw Tricky as more a duo than a solo project. [36] The Face published an article claiming that vocalist Martina Topley-Bird had to single-handedly bring up the child that Tricky had fathered. [37]

Tricky has also been concerned with racial stereotyping of the media. [38] In the documentary Naked & Famous, he stated that photographers wanted him to frown angrily in photos. He points to a cover of The Big Issue , where he has a milder look on his face, as being more representative of how he feels. In the song "Tricky Kid" from Pre-Millennium Tension, he wrote: "As long as you're humble/Let you be the king of jungle".

Throughout his work, he blurs the normally clear gender definitions found within hip-hop. Despite the heavy influence he drew from American hip-hop in his debut album, Maxinquaye, he fights against typical gender representations by, for example, dressing as a woman on the side sleeve of his album cover. [39] As many of his tracks blend elements of varying types of music creating a difficult-to-define sound, so do his lyrics, creating a more ambiguous and blurry take on gender and sexuality. [40]

Side projects and film career

Tricky has guest-starred on a number of albums, including a notable appearance on Live's fifth studio album, V . This appearance came as Tricky and Live's lead singer Ed Kowalczyk had developed a close friendship, with Kowalczyk contributing vocals to 'Evolution Revolution Love', a track on Tricky's album Blowback .

Tricky has also acted in various films. He appeared in a significant supporting role in the 1997 Luc Besson film The Fifth Element , playing the right-hand man "Right Arm" to evil businessman Mr. Zorg. He also appears briefly in the 2004 Olivier Assayas film Clean , playing himself, and had a large role in the music video for "Parabol/Parabola" by Tool. He was also rumoured to have a brief cameo in John Woo's 1997 movie Face/Off , but has denied that this was the case, although his single "Christiansands" was featured in the movie. [41] Tricky also appeared as Finn, a musician who loves & dumps main character Lynn in the US sitcom Girlfriends .

In 2001, Tricky appeared in online advertising for the web series We Deliver, about a cannabis delivery service in New York City. Though he did not appear in any episodes, in the advertising it appears as if he is a customer of the service. [42]

The launch of a record label entitled "Brown Punk" was announced in mid-2007 that was a collaboration between Tricky and former Island Records executive Chris Blackwell. At the time, Tricky said: "Brown Punk represents a positive movement where you find intellectuals mixing with the working class, rock mixing with reggae and indie mixing with emo." The Dirty, The Gospel, Laid Blak Mexican band My Black Heart Machine were acts that were signed to the label, but as of October 2013, the label appears to be inactive. [43] [44]

Personal life

Tricky has stated that he has "been through a lot... I've been moved around from family to family, never stayed in one house from when I was born to the age of 16. ...I'm not normal. It's got a lot to do with my upbringing....Staying somewhere for three years then going off for three years. My uncles being villains. All that stuff. I've got quite a dysfunctional family....for some reason, in my family, the mothers always give the kids to the grandmothers". [45]

Tricky has fourteen paternal siblings. [46]

He was in a brief relationship with Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk in the 1990s. When asked in mid-2013 about the time the pair spent together, Tricky stated: "I wasn't good for Björk. I wasn't healthy for her. I feel she was really good to me, she gave me a lot of love and she really was a good person to me. I think she cared about me, right?" [47] He was also briefly married to Carmen Ejogo in early 1998 in Las Vegas. [48]

Tricky is a father to two daughters. The musician Martina Topley-Bird, who was discovered by Tricky while she was sitting on a wall near his Bristol home, was the mother of one, Mina Mazy (19.03.1995 - 08.05.2019). [49] Topley-Bird revealed their parenting arrangements in a 2010 interview: "She stays with her dad as well. He's a bit peripatetic so she's been moving around a bit. She hasn't had one fixed place for a while." The other daughter is by a Jamaican-Spanish woman called Malika. [50] [51]

In 2015, Tricky moved to live in Berlin, Germany. [52]


Studio albums

YearAlbumPeak positions Certifications
(sales thresholds)


Other charts
1995 Maxinquaye 34853
1996 Nearly God 107737
Pre-Millennium Tension 3014063
1998 Angels with Dirty Faces 2384353269143854
  • NZ: 20
1999 Juxtapose
(with DJ Muggs and Dame Grease)
2001 Blowback 34138285272916432933
  • FIN: 29
  • NZ: 22
2003 Vulnerable 888667212822432927
2008 Knowle West Boy 631479335358931862925
  • IT: 53
  • POR: 48
2010 Mixed Race 118
2013 False Idols 661493417439330
2014 Adrian Thaws 107
2016Skilled Mechanics
(featuring DJ Milo and Luke Harris)
2017 Ununiform 11452127

Singles and EPs


YearSong UK
"Black Steel"28101
"The Hell E.P."(vs. The Gravediggaz)1211227
"I Be The Prophet EP"(as Starving Souls)66 [65] Nearly God
1996"Poems" (as Nearly God)28 [66] 60
"Grassroots EP"(US only)EP only
"Christiansands"36128Pre-Millennium Tension
1997"Tricky Kid"28
"Makes Me Wanna Die"29125
1998"Money Greedy"2589Angels with Dirty Faces
"Broken Homes"56
"6 Minutes" (US only)
1999"For Real"45Juxtapose
"Bom Bom Diggy / Hot Like A Sauna" (UK promo only)
2000"Mission Accomplished EP"83EP only
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that country


YearSong UK FRA

US Alter.
2001"Evolution Revolution Love"7935Blowback
2002"You Don't Wanna"
"Mixed Up Faces" (as Rico vs. Tricky)single only
2003"Antimatter"97 [70] Vulnerable
"How High"
2008"Council Estate"Knowle West Boy
2009"Puppy Toy"
"C'mon Baby"
2010"Murder Weapon"76Mixed Race
"Ghetto Stars"
2011"Time to Dance"
"Mediate" (INXS featuring Tricky) Mediate: The Ralphi Rosario Remixes
2013"Nothing's Changed"False Idols
"Nothing Matters"39
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released.

Collaborating artists

See also

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<i>Adrian Thaws</i> (album) 2014 studio album by Tricky

Adrian Thaws is the tenth studio album by English trip hop musician Adrian Thaws, known professionally as Tricky. Recorded at Tricky's home studio in London, the album was released on 8 September 2014, through Tricky's own record label False Idols.

<i>Ununiform</i> 2017 studio album by Tricky

Ununiform is the thirteenth studio album by English trip hop artist Tricky. It was released by False Idols on 22 September 2017. Three singles were taken from this album, 'The Only Way', 'When We Die' and 'Running Wild', all of them released before the album. And alternative version of 'The Only Way' was uploaded on Tricky personal Soundcloud account a few weeks after the original, and later released as a single in 2018, this version was also included in the physical releases of the album, but unlisted in the back cover. The album features a variety of guest vocalists, including Russian rappers, American vocalists, his usual collaborator Francesca Belmonte, and Tricky's frequent-collaborator and former girlfriend Martina Topley-Bird. American hip hop artist Jay-Z co-engineered the album.


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