Interview by Rick Thorne. Photo by Brian Bartholomew
From Murder Dog Vol 9 #2 (2002)
What was it like coming up as a U.K. rapper in the '80s?
The scene at the time when we first came out, most of everyone rappin' here had fake American accents. That was the base of British rap at the time and when we came out we came out a bit different, talkin' like how we talk here, using the Jamaican, the street slang that we have here. You know we kinda set a new trend at the time. And it weren't immediately taken to with open arms. The reggae sound systems had already set the pace in England in terms of U.K. black experience bein' put out ya know? We kinda felt that was the way to go and plus we had been to New York and seen that the thing that had got us over the most was the fact that we was English. Goin' out there with fake American accents didn't seem to make no sense.
So the other British rappers had American accents?
Yeah, I can say across the board, everybody. Until we came out, until we came out as London Posse.
Did you start out independent?
No, when I first came out on record I was like 15 in this thing. And I weren't no independent rapper, I came out with a record deal. That was 1986. I'm old-school bro, I'm old-school, y'get me? The independent thing came later, after 'Money Mad' days when we set up Bullet Records and put out 'How's Life In London', and that was like around '95. I mean we came out and did that first record on Big Life Records, so when we came out with a deal we was kids, didn't know what we was doin', come on the scene, we was puttin' out music, goin' on tour, makin' money, everything was all cris, ya know? But then ya know, it ain't all gravy and shit happens. Ya know how it goes. So it weren't until two years that man really came back to the music and said 'right we're gonna do this music ting'. But it's like in between you gotta live and like I say man it ain't all gravy, y'get me.
Was hip-hop big here when you started?
Again when we first started out there weren't really no hip-hop records bein' put out. I mean London Posse was one of the first groups out makin' records. We weren't the first but we was one of the first. When we came out on Island Records on Mango, when we put out Gangster Chronicle, which was like the early '90s by then, the scene had grown and there was something really happening there then. Then there was a lot of groups, there was Hijack and there was Demon Boyz and there was Mello and there was all kinds of things happening by then. But we had already been out five years by then ya know, we done a lot of work by then.
What got you into making hip-hop?
You know what, I just came in this thing as a fan. I found hip-hop music at the age when you just come into the world and I was lookin' for my little ting. My family's West Indian so I grew up with reggae music and plus we grew up in England so we had the pop charts. And then at about 12, 13, ya know I'm steppin' out into the world and I'm lookin' to make my mark and boom, there was hip-hop music, and it fitted me. I got family in America as well so I was goin' to America when I was young, goin' back and forth to America. It was just vibes for me. I never actually wanted to be a rapper, that was never the job I wanted. We used to write lyrics and fuck around with ya bredrins and do this rappin' ting and we kinda fell into it. It kinda happened like that and again, it was at a time when no one else weren't really doin' anything in England, so because we did do it, it was kinda easy to find us 'coz no one else weren't doin' it. I never came out and said 'yeah, I wanna make a record'. Them days man never had video and bling chain. Those were different days, we came in it for the love of the music bruv, it was the music y'get me?
Describe where you grew up.
Battersea, South London. Battersea's a nice place to live bruv. It's a good nice environment, a good place to grow up. I mean it's an inner city, nuff housing estates, nuff tings gwarn but ya know. It's a good place for young black folks, young white folks, for people. It's a good place to grow ya know. A lot of times places get reputations for bein' certain ways from people from the outside lookin' in, they say it's the pits. But if ya live there it's all good.
How did you hook-up with Bionic to form London Posse?
Bionic, he used to know my bigger brothers. It was just like through
mutual friends and when we linked it was just a matter of exchanging
ideas on what we thought the music should be and what it wasn't and then
fuck it, we could probably do it better. And again we just linked on
a bredrin vibe and we got lucky enough to be offered work just like out
of the blue, it just fell on us. Because we were bredrins it was tight
and because we had the same idea on what we thought the music should
be. Not this fraudulent thing, it should be representin' how the man
them live. I mean in England, reggae music was always the hardcore
music and hip-hop music was always kinda soft music, kinda for the college
kids, a bit soft ya know? But we was a bit ruder, ya know?! And we felt
like we should have that stamp on the music, it's not about copying man,
we got a story, we got history, we got stories to tell and we really
felt that and because we had that same kind of mentality it was easy
for us because we had something that no one else wasn't doin' at the
time. And we were bein' honest and because we were bein' honest the youts
then, who grew up where we grew up recognised what we was doin'. When
we put out that 'Money Mad' man there heard themselves in the record.
That's how we was livin' and man them heard themselves in it. And that
made the difference than 'yo, yo, son', which is cool if I'm listening
to American, I wanna hear American tings, but if I'm listening to an
English man I don't wanna hear that fuckery.
I remember Chuck D saying he liked the fact you had that English/Jamaican slang.
Yeah man, that's what made us stand out. I mean hip-hop/reggae for us, that's what we do 'coz that's what we grew. And that's what I still do now ya know, because that's me.
Why did you call the London Posse album Gangster Chronicle?
Because at the time we was young and thuggin'. And if you hear it it's an album of like social commentary stuff. Kinda like a chronicle of different things, of different perspectives of how we live and how we were livin' at the time, and ya know it kinda fitted.
Are you surprised it turned out to be a landmark album?
Nah not really. I mean we made it with the intention of makin' it wicked, that was the intention. Personally when I listen back to it now I can hear the things that we didn't do right on it. You're always like 'ah, we could've done this' and I can hear it, it just stands out to me but really and truly when we made it we made it with the job of bein' big, ya know we didn't make it to be a half-assed album, to just kinda slot into what everyone else was doin'. We was comin' to put our ting down y'get me, so it don't surprise me, of course it's good.
How many copies did that album shift?
Bwoy, ya know what over the years it's hard to say. Originally it did
about 20,000 for Island but one of the things with U.K. rap is that the
shelf life of it is really long, as opposed to sellin' 100,000 first
week. U.K. rap will stay on the shelves for a year. So that album, I
don't know what the final numbers with Island are off the top of my head,
but then with the re-release through Wordplay again we sold more this
time around than we did then. We've sold plenty with that shit.
It's still selling after 12 years.
Yeah, that's what I'm sayin' about shelf life, that shit got a shelf life! But ya know it's good for us because we own that shit, and at the time nobody was even thinking like business. It's because we was just fuckin' rowdy with it, we said 'man ain't ownin' our tings!', that was the mentality. It wasn't 'yeah, it makes good business sense that we should own it because later', we didn't even thought like that. It was just that those reels are ours! That was the mentality. And it's good because 15 years later with a little bit of knowledge it's like 'yeah, we can now go put that out, ya know we own that shit'. So it's good man, it worked out good. And it's been like a rebirth thing for the scene here now 'coz the scene here is flourishing again y'get me. And again it's like we're an integral part of that, man's in the middle of that fuckin' comin' with tings again, the scene here's good.
Do you think the fact that your old stuff is still so popular says a lot about the scene here?
Ya know what? If I'm honest I've never been a fan of British rap. Over the years I think most of it's been quite shit, ya know, put ya hands up, ya know. It's been shit. I mean there's a few groups, London Posse we were heavy, Demon Boyz was heavy, Mello done his ting, there's groups Hijack, that done their ting. But in general, it was shit. So it's good, a lot of the hard knocks that the U.K. rappers took over the years, the industry not supporting them and all that fuckery, really now it's like a favour because now we own all this shit. And now the success is comin' it's comin' back to us.
Do you think the major labels played a part in the scene falling off?
Yeah, I think that's part of it but I think the artists have to stand up and take responsibility for some of the fuckery that they did themselves. Lot of man got opportunities and wasted them, lot of man just put out shit records. That's the reality. Now we'll just brush that away, come and just build this together for real. Personally, I own my own label. Man like Skitz, them man, we own our own labels, our work's runnin' right. And the thing we're buildin' is buildin' good, foundation is solid. So it's just that every man can hold up their corner and play their position and do their work and make it run. And that is what's happening at the moment.
Have you been living alright off your music over the years?
Yeah man I'm alright. British rap over the years hasn't always paid my bills. Thankfully I haven't relied on British rap to feed me because man would starve over heres. But ya see now, now I can say yeah. Right now I'm makin' livin' off this thing, I'm not risking my liberty out on the fuckin' road, I'm makin' a livin' out of this thing here, trust me.
Where has it taken you around the world?
This thing has already taken me round the world, already. I been global. I get around bro, trust me. For me because I'm an emcee as well, over the years I haven't always been out on the hip-hop scene puttin' out tunes but I do emcee work and I do drum n' bass work, I do garage work. I go to Japan, I been to Africa a couple of times, I been to America a few times, I been all over Europe. I get around.
Would you spit over any kind of music?
Nah man. I'm down to spit over anything I like. If I like it, it can run. But I'm an emcee. My thing is ridin' riddim, we ride the riddim and we kill them, we riddim killers, that's what they call us, ya understand? We ride the riddim and get paid for it.
Are you checking for any of the garage stuff?
Yeah man. I got a garage tune comin' out soon bruv. I got a tune with
Courtney Melody and MJ Cole. For dem man that don’t know, Courtney Melody’s
like a big singer from Jamaica who had a big tune in the mid-'80s called
the 'Bad Bwoy' tune, and I re-licked it on a garage style and it's gonna
be big, trust me. I've got a label, Riddim Killa Records, and we do hip-hop,
my album's gonna be a hip-hop album, y'get me. But I'm diverse and I
do like to chase a cheque. I've worked with various people, I do all
kinds of things, I do drum n' bass things, I do garage things. And like
I say for me, the bottom line is that you have to like it. A lot of man's
rigid in their mentality of the music and what they will and won't do.
My whole thing is if I like it, you can't tell me nothin'. And I like
garage 'coz in London garage comes with where the girls go. For the man
who dem don't know, ya come to London and you're lookin' for girls, don't
go to the hip-hop club, go to the garage clubs 'coz that's where the
girls at. And ya see after I do my PA in the garage club, worries, trust
me, it's heavy! So yeah, garage is definitely gwarn'n.
So you're flexible in your attitude, moving from one scene to another?
Yeah man, the thing is I get love in all them scenes now. A lot of them scenes are built from the hip-hop ting, a lot of them man on the garage scene I know them from hip-hop ten years ago, a lot of the man on the drum n' bass scene I know them from hip-hop ten years ago. So it's like why wouldn't I, that's my bredrins, it's all good. We're like the forward thinkin' man and we're takin' it forward regardless. It's an emcee ting, ya know we ride riddim, this musical bias ting ain't runnin' again, man's gotta eat. And if you like it run with it blood trust me. Plus we're grown-ups man, they can't tell us what to do.