Tricky (born Adrian Nicholas M. Thaws on 27 January 1968) is an English musician and actor. As a producer and a musician, he is noted for a dark, rich and layered sound and a whispering sprechgesang lyrical style. Culturally, Tricky encourages an intertwining of societies, particularly in his musical fusion of rock and hip hop, high art and pop culture. His debut album Maxinquaye was nominated for the Mercury Prize and voted Album of the Year by NME Magazine.
Tricky was born in Knowle West, Bristol, England. His father left the family before he was born and his mother, Maxine Quaye, committed suicide when he was only four. He named his solo album after her - Maxinquaye - and once said that though he hardly knew her, he feels like she's speaking through him with his words.
He spent his youth in the care of his grandmother, who often let him watch old horror movies instead of going to school. At 15 he began to write lyrics ("I like to rock, I like to dance, I like pretty girls taking down their pants" MixMag '96). At 17, he spent some time in prison because he bought forged ?50 notes from a friend, who later informed the police. In an interview, Tricky said: "Prison was really good. I'm never going back" (NME '95).
Eventually he met DJ Milo and hung out with a sound system called The Wild Bunch, which by 1987 evolved into Massive Attack. He received the nickname 'Tricky Kid' and at 18 he 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).
In 1991, before the release of Massive Attack's album Blue Lines, he met Martina Topley-Bird. 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 weren't interested. So in 1993 he decided to press a few hundred vinyl copies of the song. He cut it directly off of the tape, so that the song is basically "just bassline and hiss". (NME '94). Finally, a white label got him a contract with Island Records and he started to record his first solo album.
He left Massive Attack to release his debut album, Maxinquaye. The album was a massive success and Tricky was catapulted to international fame, something he was notably uncomfortable with. This was because the impact of his album truly set the stage for trip-hop within the black community in the United Kingdom. Tricky was able to do so much with his music by incorporating different musical genres in his sound, but ultimately making sure he made the overall product his own. In fact, the Maxinquaye album review by the Rolling Stone magazine read, "Tricky devoured everything from American hip-hop and soul to reggae and the more melancholic strains of 80s British rock." It is important to note that Tricky paid tribute to early hip-hop artists whose music was, and still is, influential in the hip-hop scene. He also incorporated commercial pop music into his music, and by combining early hip-hop and pop samples in his music, he found a way to appeal to both audiences, which rarely happens. As Hesmondhalgh and Melville wrote, "Tricky showed his debt to hip-hop aesthetics by reconstructualizing 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??)." Mixing all of these elements, Tricky created "a mercurial style of dance music that immediately finds it own fast feet."
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. Different versions of the same songs appear on both albums - called "Overcome" and "Hell is 'Round the Corner" on Maxinquaye and "Karmacoma" and "Eurochild" on Protection. When Massive Attack were asked, in a radio interview on CFNY (Toronto), about why the lyrics were the same, they jokingly said that it was because he was lazy.
Tricky found it difficult to cope with the huge success of Maxinquaye and he subsequently eschewed the laidback soul sound of the first album to create an increasingly edgy and aggressive punk tinged music that echoed his personality as he became more erratic and unreliable.
In 1996, Neneh Cherry and Bjork appeared as guests on his second album Nearly God. The opening number was a cover of the Siouxsie & the Banshees pre-trip-hop song "Tattoo" that had previously inspired Tricky when he forged his style.
In 2001 Tricky appeared on the Thirteen Ghosts Soundtrack with the song "Excess" which features Alanis Morissette being slightly heard during two of the choruses.
In 2002, Tricky also appeared on the Queen of the Damned soundtrack with the same song "Excess."
Idiosyncrasies and media controversies
By the time Pre-Millennium Tension was released Tricky was increasingly irritated with the 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. The Face published an article claiming that vocalist Martina Topley-Bird had to single-handedly bring up the child that Tricky had fathered.
He has also been concerned with racial stereotyping of the media. In the documentary Naked & Famous he explains how photographers want him to frown angrily in photos, because that's how black artists are marketed. He points to a recent cover of The Big Issue, where he has a more ambiguous, confused look on his face, as being more how he feels. In the song "Tricky Kid" from Pre-Millennium Tension, he writes "As long as you're humble/Let you be the king of jungle." (This lyric is a reference to Goldie and their spat over Bjork.)
Throughout his work, Tricky blurs the normally clear sexual definitions found within hip hop. Despite the heavy influence he drew from American hip hop in his debut album, Maxinquaye, he fights against typical sexual representations by, for example, dressing as a woman on the side sleeve of his album cover. Within many of his tracks he blends elements of varying types of music, and use his lyrics to create a much more ambiguous and blurry reality of sexuality.
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 reportedly put off actor Gary Oldman (who played Zorg) because, while he had his back to the camera, he was eating a Twix bar, to Oldman's anger ("He's facking eatin' a Twix!"). "But Gary Oldman took me in, used to make me cups of tea and shit like that. He's got a real deep soul. Y'know, he permitted me to hang out with him and he's up there." . He also appears briefly in both the 1997 John Woo directed Face/Off (his single "Christiansands" is also played during his brief cameo) as well as the 2004 Olivier Assayas film Clean, playing himself, and had a large role in the music video for "Parabol/Parabola" by Tool.
In 2001 Tricky appeared in online advertising for the webisodal show We Deliver, about a marijuana delivery service in NYC. Though he didn't actually appear in any episodes, in the advertising it appears as if he's a customer of the service.
Tricky's website last reports him busy at work with the musical acts signed to his Brown Punk record label. Several new solo works have been featured in television programs such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The L Word and Girlfriends, and he contributed "Au Revoir Emmanuelle" to a compilation entitled Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited.
In October 2006, soundgenerator.com reported that Tricky would release a new album in 2007. The February 2008 issue of music magazine MOJO reported that Tricky's new album would be released in April 2008, but it was not. Titled Knowle West Boy, it was reported to chronicle his upbringing on a tough Bristol council estate. It was released in the U.K. and Ireland in July 2008 (September 2008 in the U.S.); the first single, "Council Estate," came out on 30 June. A website promoting the new album, knowlewestboy.com, is now online and features audio and video samples. In an interview with The Skinny in July 2008, Tricky suggested that the album's release was delayed by Bernard Butler, who allegedly demanded a co-producer credit on the album after contributing to recording sessions which were ultimately discarded by Tricky.