Legion, the Mothership Connection rapper whose birth certificate says Charles Palmer, has been a feature of the dystopian underbelly of Manchester’s hip hop community for the best part of a decade. When his newly released solo EP, Phalanx, emerged at the start of this year, it was five years after the titular single’s video launch.

The record pieces together eight shards of sardonic scepticism towards society’s ills. Fed by Legion’s calmly narrative Nostradamus trails of thought, these shards’ bigger picture shine a torch on cerebral sci-fi schematics packaged up in iconoclastic mazes through their author’s mind.

Charles stepped forward to answer our questions on creativity, imperfection and the pieces of the EP’s puzzles.

What makes you pick up your lyrics pen?

I write when I’m having a difficult time in some shape or form. It is rare I would pick up the pen on a good day. I have that relationship with writing. Of course, it feels good to write. I think the more we write, the better we can deal with and make sense of our problems.

The album is produced by The Natural Curriculum’s Aver. What brought you together?

We share a love for music and hip hop. We met on a street in the Northern Quarter. He struck me as a geek, but also very eccentric and enthusiastic about what we were doing. One of the first things he said to me was, “You are like me, only more efficient”. I thought, “…and how would you know that?”

We worked on an album with Mothership Connection which was never completed. I had a great deal of conversations with him at his kitchen table where I honestly could not understand half of what he was saying. But Aver is very cultured. And he kept giving me these amazing beats. I think his work in a way is an invitation to be experimental. He’s definitely into weird shit.

For me the single and video for ‘Phalanx’ – shout out to Decland Foley on the video – really proved that Legion and Aver is a deadly combo. By the time the video was released on 1 January 2014, the material for the album was mostly there – at least in my mind. When we started talking about finishing the album, we seemed again to be in a conversation I could only half understand. I wasn’t sure if he liked it or not and how open-ended the process should be. When do you call an album ‘finished’?

In the same year, I started to enter another phase of life. I wanted to be a ‘better person’. The album faded into the background and I would sometimes wonder about its fate like a great epic. To be forgotten? Some things are better left that way. Or perhaps what I was actually doing was creating the necessary distance that is sometimes required, so that we can part with things.

Why did you choose now to air the album?

I saw a couple of people mention Phalanx in retrospect in the following years. And yet I still had the album. I was busy doing other things, but Phalanx still resounded with me. I had created the necessary distance. I had become a better person. Phalanx was now just a piece of art, not a precursor to my destiny. On 1 January 2019, exactly five years after the video for the single ‘Phalanx’ was released, I dropped the album in EP form. The cover art is designed by me. I’m happy with the feedback I’ve had so far, but would like it to reach a wider audience.

In what ways do you feel music defines its city and the city defines its music?

I wrote a whole dissertation on this subject. I like to think of it like a feedback loop. We are all oppressed in some ways – of course some people more than others – but in all of these situations there is always some opportunity that arises, as people assemble and try to figure out their predicament. It is through the manifest power of expression that people negotiate their oppressed states, overcoming the impossible. This movement is how change comes about, a catalyst for the changing face of the city.

Of course, not all change is good. As the music scene grows, live venues are in decline. As Manchester becomes more of an international city, local heritage is squashed.

Does the world need to be imperfect in order to fuel creative responses?

I would say simply that the world is imperfect and this does fuel creative responses. In fact, the imperfect nature of things necessitates creative responses. I think Kendrick says, “A perfect world is never perfect, only filled with lies”. I like this because it implies that creativity is truth. Perhaps this is the issue Aver had with Phalanx – it is too much like the world.

I remember Kydro, now of Room2 Records, said he felt “exhausted” after watching the ‘Phalanx’ video! I’m happy with these responses. I think as artists we should always challenge our audiences and try to redefine what ‘art’ is. I don’t know if this makes the world less imperfect, but I am sure it makes the world a better place to live in.

soundcloud.com/legionspeaking/albums

Ian Pennington