Meekz’ “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” & the Manchester State of Mind
Hip-Hop and The City have always been intrinsically linked. The art form – now the global art norm – was born from crumbling concrete and Baby Huey records in the early 70s Bronx, a place where things were falling apart, not coming together. Caught somewhere between streets of rubble and Hard Times, Hip-Hop burst out of pavement crevices like a broken fire hydrant, giving voice to a generation of inner-city survivors across the world. Like no other culture before it, it gives voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless. At its core, it makes makeshift news anchors out of an otherwise-forgotten underclass. And that underclass, it turns out, has had incredibly important stuff to say for almost fifty years now.
Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind” (1994) is perhaps the most obvious example of a Hip-Hop record capturing the aura of a city on wax. The drums are sparse and big like towering skyscrapers in Manhattan, a Joe Chambers piano loop creeps throughout the song like trains do New York, and a metallic bleep in the background drifts in and out of the song like a glitch in the matrix. Nas starts the song by saying “I don’t even know how to start this” before laying down one of the greatest verses ever, capturing the unnerving uncertainty we all share as we go about life in the city.
Songs like “N.Y. State of Mind” are important because they plug in to a side of a city tourist guides can’t show you. The spirit and atmosphere of a city is what builds its character and sets it and its people apart from the rest, and capturing it on record is not something that’s done particularly well, particularly often. But Meekz’ “Cant Stop Wont Stop” is different.
In just one year, Meekz has risen from the streets of Gorton to earn his place as a top-tier UK talent. In the process, he has produced a Manchester anthem in “Cant Stop Wont Stop”. A song which not only defines Meekz’ story, but Manchester’s too.
The song starts with a hypnotizing, melancholy piano loop as unrelenting as Manchester rain. From the beginning, the stage set is defiantly gloomy. At points, the melody rises up for air as it gasps for a couple of hopeful notes before descending back into darkness. After a couple of loops, Meekz opens the door and enters the room, offering a glimpse of light before firmly shutting the door behind him as he mutters “Do it for the whole mob, I aint never had no job, always been my own boss, I don’t do no dead food, yeah I do my own wash”.
In the background, a female vocal chant is drowned in and out of the beat by producer Mika. The chant weaves in and out of the piano loop in a synchronised, relentless fashion and begins to sound like an echo from a march far out of sight. And then.
“CANT STOP, WONT STOP (never)”
The opening line wakes you up. Meekz cuts through the sorrow and pain of the piano and finds motivation in it instead. There is something quintessentially northern there. The ability to make something from nothing, hope where there is none. Northerners – Mancunians in particular – are historically proud to have done things on their own terms, despite the odds. Manchester is a city proud to turn solace into rapture without outside help or recognition. Meekz has been a relentless mouthpiece for that energy, and it takes ultimate form through his raps.
But even the video is unapologetically unorthodox. Directed by KC Locke, Meekz appears in custom-made military fatigues, on top of a convoy of tanks, swerving through mud somewhere in the forgotten wastelands of the industrial north. The urgency of the video is anchored by a backdrop loosely populated with remnants of what is left of that forgotten past. What looks to be Fiddler’s Ferry power station – a landmark coal-fired power station near Warrington – looms ominously in the background. There is no smoke coming from the cooling towers, just fog and grey skies. Whether it is Fiddler’s Ferry or not, such a huge symbol of northern pride and history flashing in the background for mere seconds before disappearing for good needs little explanation. The song is a letter from the trenches, in all ways imaginable.
“Remember waiting for the drone drop, can’t stop, won’t stop”
The struggles of life in the northern city aren’t hidden; they are there for all to see. However, they aren’t dwelled upon either. Just like those struggles, Meekz’ own personal shortcomings are touched on repeatedly in the song, but are ultimately subsided by an overarching tunnel vision that won’t give in to the past.
Throughout the song, Meekz frames haunting memories, experiences and situations – waiting for the drone to drop contraband over prison walls – as placemats for his philosophy “Cant Stop, Wont Stop” to sit on. Putting blinders on life is something we can all, deep down, acknowledge the need for when we get knocked back. The message? Find the motivation. Use it. For him, for me, for the city of Manchester.
“Gettin dots ‘til I drop
Turned me so rotten
I can feel my soul rottin’
Grew around fiends with no teeth but I’m dough gettin’
Bally on me, ho gettin’, dough makin’”
The seventeenth-century Japanese poet and samurai Mizuta Masahide once said “My barn’s burnt down – now I can see the moon”. Resilience in the face of adversity is not something unique to the North, to Manchester or to Meekz. But we do certainly have a strand of it we can safely call our own. It might not be cup-half-full all the time, but even when there’s just dregs left – there’s hope. The city is behind Meekz because through songs like “Can’t Stop, Wont Stop”, he brings its spirit to life. And that feels good, because ultimately struggle is a necessary cog in our machine, and without it we’re not the same.
I was recently on a train pulling into Manchester Victoria from Blackburn when the song came on shuffle. A lit-up Beetham Tower in the distance ducked and weaved out of the skyscrapers in my peripheral as the final verse played. That was when I knew I had something to say:
In a London-centric world, tracks like “Cant Stop Wont Stop” make me proud to call this red brick jungle my home.
“Can’t rest, can’t rest, won’t rest
Believin’ in the process,
Every day’s a progress
Slow steps, I need my own clothes next”
You can now buy Meekz’ own clothes line on his website at https://meekzmanny.com/