Words: Gemma Lacey
With whispers circulating of an exciting new album by Gorillaz we snared some time with the enigmatic Russel Hobbs from the group. An exceptional dude, who’s lead an extraordinary life. When he’s not being possessed by dead rappers, growing to ten times his regular size and being celebrated as a modern day Gulliver in Pyongyang, he’s behind most of Gorillaz’ dopest beats. This week he’s soundtracking your Caturday with an exclusive playlist, sharing the secrets of his inimitable style showcased in a bespoke portrait by Jamie Hewlett and telling us why the Devon Rex is his favourite feline.
You’ve got strong hip hop roots – being born in Brooklyn and having been possessed by your late friend Del – can you tell us your top three hip hop artists?
That’s like trying to pick my top three funny cat videos. Just not possible. Let’s lose the hierarchy, there’s enough of it out there already. But I’ll give you three, in no order… If we’re talking BK, I’ve got to say Biggie. Who else? Then I’d pick MF Doom. Underground legend. Born over here but spent most of his life stateside, the opposite of my deal. And for someone new, check out that kid Earl Sweatshirt. Great name, fresh sound.
If you could be inhabited again by another famous rapper, who would you choose?
Makes it sound like I enjoy getting possessed. You try being used as an inter-dimensional glove puppet. It’s not something I actually ask for. Ever eaten some seriously spicy food? Yeah, seems fun at the time, but you’re sure as hell glad when it’s out of you. But, if I had to choose, let me go for… the ghost of ODB.
You’re known for your love of trainers and slick style, do you have any sartorial advice to share with our readers?
Check out Filling Pieces, and also Casbia. These small European sneaker labels making high quality kicks. And you won’t see a single logo on them. Who wants to be a walking billboard? Free yourself from logos, man, don’t let them brand your ass like corporate cattle.
You’ve led an eventful life, dealing with demonic possession and being inhabited by your dead friends souls, how do you cope with the constant changes? Do you have any ways you cope with these stresses – like yoga or meditation?
Zumba. I zumba the pain away. Nah only kidding. Meditation is cool, the problem I have is if my mind gets too relaxed, that’s when the demons get in. It opens a big old door to them. So I’ve got to stay vigilant, switched on. But that’s no bad thing, helps me stay alert in a world that’s trying to dumb me down every second of the day.
How do you feel about being replaced with a drum machine on Plastic Beach?
It’s kind of prophetic, right? We’re all slowly getting replaced by machines. It’s happening. Maybe it’s already happened and we don’t even know. I mean, you could be a cyborg. How would you know?
How would you describe the other members of Gorillaz in one sentence?
Oh changing the subject are you, smart move. Just like a CYBORG.
Noodle’s an old soul in a young body, a deep-thinker, and super-cool, you know, without even trying. 2D just wants everyone to get along, he’s always optimistic despite the bad stuff that happens to him. Murdoc is the bad stuff that happens to him, who kind of feeds off other people’s pain, but I mean the fact is, the darkness inside Murdoc does create some great sounds (just don’t tell him I said that).
Murdoc’s approach to get you to join the band was pretty unusual, can you tell us a bit more about it?
He abducted me. I was working my job at the record store, Murdoc came in asking for some old vinyl from the 50s, got me all distracted. Then he jammed a bag over my head and dragged me out. When he took the bag off I was in Kong Studios. Naturally, I was going to exact retribution, but then he played some tracks he was working on, and… I was impressed. Guess that sums up our vibe really, a mix of respect with an impending threat of violence.
You recently became a giant on your adventures to plastic beach. What were the biggest challenges of this – we heard you had to sleep on the roof for a while?
The biggest challenge was people judging me. Because yeah, I get it, I was big – but I’ve got an overactive thyroid. People see a sixty-foot giant and assume they’re up all night crying and spooning cookie dough into their faces. It was my THYROID.
Now Gorillaz are all living in one place again, can we expect a new album and if so what are you most excited about?
You can expect whatever you like. What is coming will come, whether you expect it or not.
Have you ever had a pet?
2D is kind of like a pet. Obedient, eager to please. Eats a lot of dog food. But actual animals, yeah, a few. But I’m not into the word ‘pet’. That’s just an object for your own amusement. I use the word ‘buddy’ or ‘comrade’. Sure, I’ve shared a crib with a few animal comrades. Used to hang with a Komodo Dragon, he was cool. But he moved on and we kind of lost touch.
What’s next for you and Gorillaz?
What’s important isn’t what’s happening next, but what’s happening right now. That’s all you can control. And listen, me and Gorillaz – that’s two separate things. Our paths entwine, then separate – like a messed-up pretzel.
Do you like cats? If so what’s your favourite breed and why?
I love cats. They’re always the first to spot ghosts in horror movies. I should get one actually. I’m a big fan of the Devon Rex. It’s got these big eyes and pointy ears and looks a lot like an alien. And we all feel like aliens, don’t we.