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Jammer Lives a Life of Grime

The BBK member and grime pioneer explains the genre’s cultural impact, the Ian Wright incident, and collecting the Infinity Stones.

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Jammer is a pioneer of London’s grime movement. Often operating in the shadows, he’s always involved but is rarely the centre of attention. He’s dedicated his life to the sound and subculture that surrounds it.

Since the early noughties he’s been dropping classic riddims such as ‘Murkle Man’, participating in some of the most iconic radio sets and filming some of grime’s earliest clashes, via his staple Lord of the Mics series. This series helped bring grime MCs together, giving young talent a platform and engaging MCs from the midlands and other regions of the UK into the scene from as early as 2004. A formative member of the Boy Better Know crew alongside brothers JME and Skepta, Jammer is undoubtedly the man to speak to for a grime education, so we did just that. 

Now, 20 or so years after grime first appeared, Jammer has been making headlines off the back of a hilariously viral event in which the grime don was pushed over on stage by another musician who bore a striking resemblance to English ex-footballer Ian Wright. We jumped at the opportunity to get on a call and chat about the bizarre situation, some of his most memorable grime moments, and what Jammer has in common with Marvel’s Mad Titan, Thanos.

Jammer, what’s good man?
Hey, you alright? It’s early morning here, but I’m good.

You’ve got a new song out about an incident that may or may not involve legendary footballer Ian Wright. Can you break that down for us?
I was performing at Eskimo Dance, which is one of the UK’s biggest grime events. Mid-performance, as I was crossing from one side of the stage to the other, I was nudged over by another artist who was wearing a hat that Ian Wright had been pictured wearing in the press a lot around that time. So a lot of people mistook him for Ian Wright which caused a mad spiral on the internet and it went viral. My angle was to counteract the negative and turn it into something positive. Ian Wright himself, who is an iconic footballer, got involved and backed it and supported it and it just grew from there.

You managed to deflect a potentially ugly situation by taking the piss and turning it into something positive. As an OG in the grime scene, is it important to you to set a good example?
Yeah, I think it’s important for me to set a good example. The scene has come a long way. It’s underground music, it comes from the street, so in the early days there might have been altercations and situations that would have spiralled out of control. I think with a lot of younger artists looking at me on that stage and that platform, it’s not always good to react from instinct, and to take a moment to think about the consequences and the future.

It was a really awkward situation and took a lot of brain power to not react. To flip it into a positive and turn it into revenue, make money out of it and do something with a continuing positive effect, rather than get into an altercation live on stage in front of thousands of people, which would have also gone viral but not been positive for the UK music scene, you know?

No doubt, it could have gone the other way. I’m interested to know how you linked up with Australian producer What So Not for the production on this track, and do you feel like he did justice to the grime sound?
That was a pretty strange one. My friend knows What So Not and knew he was in town and was interested in meeting up with some of the people here who helped build the infrastructure. So my friend connected us, it was literally like 4 in the morning and he had a flight at 9 so we just literally hit the studio and spent like 3 hours recording.

Before he’d come to the studio he’d been listening to a track of mine called ‘Murkle Man’ and he was on his laptop and he started to construct the beat for ‘Ian Wright’ from listening to one of my most iconic records. When I heard the beat I was like “Oh wow, this is actually sounding like some original grime stuff from 2001,” and we started recording. After 10 or 15 minutes we knew we had a classic record.

You’re responsible for hosting some of the most legendary grime clashes of all time. I wondered if there was a particular clash you’ve gone back and rewatched the most?
My most watched clash would have to be Skepta vs Devilman.

That’s my favourite! A classic.
The most iconic clash for me though is Kano vs Wiley, the first Lord of the Mics.

Who do you think is the most unpredictable on the mic? Is there an MC who can blow you away every single time?
Yeah, D Double E. He’s the guy who has those lyrics that make me want to write music, that make me want to go to the studio and stuff.

Over here in Australia, we’re obviously quite detached from the UK grime scene, but some of the allure is that it’s almost been a series of legendary moments, with many of the earlier moments remaining completely undocumented. Were there any noteworthy experiences or moments that were never recorded, back in the day?
Yeah man, [there] have been so many clashes between people that have been spontaneous, so for me, regardless of who it is, a big name or a small name, there’s this thing of “Wow, that was just for us.” Because it wasn’t being filmed or recorded. There’s no moment where I thought “Ah, this should have been recorded!” I think those just become a personal moment. I think Chipmunk going on sets and doing that whole run where he came after Bugzy Malone, some of it was recorded but some of it was in clubs and at live shows, which was insane that it wasn’t necessarily online and stuff.

So about six months ago, your fellow BBK members Skepta, Shorty, and DJ Maximum came to Australia and did a show at the Sydney Opera House. I don’t know if you know much about that venue but it’s not somewhere you’d traditionally expect to see grime. Does it ever surprise you to see how far the movement you helped pioneer has travelled, and the cultural impact it’s had?
Yeah, I have an interest in that question because for me, when I hear stuff like that it’s really overwhelming. It’s groundbreaking that our music has travelled this far and has gone to places that you might only see opera music. It really does show me that anything is possible, anything you put your mind to, you can achieve man.

And obviously Skepta has done incredibly well internationally. Why do you think Skep in particular has been one of the MC’s to really take it global?
From early, when I met Skepta—we’d just started out MCing because we was producers before that—Skepta always had to try to be the best MC on the mic. When I used to look at Skepta write his lyrics, and we used to write a lot of lyrics together, Skepta wanted to be very clear with his English language. Whereas I was when I used to MC, I would speak a lot more in kind of lingo, a lot more slang and things that might take you a bit more time to understand what I was saying.

Skepta’s attitude to write lyrics that were very straight and to the point that didn’t have to lead you to think too much is the reason why [he] won one of the Ivor Novellos, one of the top writers awards, because it was about the language and the breakdown of language. I think the same goes for Wiley, they were very particular about how they worded their music and how they pronounced their words so it travels further, in my eyes.

For me, as I travel the world more I’ve grown to understand more about the way that people listen to music and London accents and become more strategic about even how I deliver my lyrics, so if you listen to ‘Ian Wright’ you can hear the pronunciation is much more clear and the language I’m using is much more universal than when I started out. I never knew grime was going to become this big so I wasn’t thinking globally when I first started out.

You make a good point with the language and slang. You early grime guys showed the world slang and patois that was more or less unique to London at the time. It’s a movement that changed the way that people communicated, in a way.
Yeah exactly! It’s interesting because I’ve had friends over from America or like, New Zealand, and they like to say “wagwan” you know what I’m saying? One thing about culture is that it gives people a sense of comfort, it’s welcoming, and when you have a culture that’s welcoming you can be a part of it, you can learn things day-by-day and become a part of that social unit. I think it’s important because it brings people together and that’s what music was made for; to bring people under one umbrella, one roof, one festival and to share the good vibrations of music.

You’re right, I think if people are really passionate about a movement they will find a way to tap in and understand it, even if it’s something that has never existed in a certain part of the world, there will still be people who relate to it. It’s cool that something that started off so unique to a particular community can eventually become a global movement.
[Laughs] Yeah man, it’s mad!

Ok moving on! I’ve seen you describe yourself as the grime Thanos, can you explain why?
Oh it’s because I’ve got all the stones innit. [Laughs] I have worked with everyone from every single area, I’ve been building from the streets up for over 20 years now and in every corner I’ve got the respect and so that’s what I mean by having all the stones. But also with the whole Boy Better Know group, when we all come together we look at ourselves to be like The Avengers or Transformers, whatever.

The mega guys, you get me? My role was always as the kind of person in the back and trying to make things happen. When I say I’ve got the stones, I mean every one of those fingers represent the hard work and dedication I’ve put in, even though it’s just banter, the ethic and the work that’s been put in is undeniable.

It’s not an overnight mission huh?
Nah man, it’s a very, very long and intense, and in-depth mission. Which most people wouldn’t start to comprehend until they got the information they needed.

You’re right, I think for almost the first five or ten years it was barely on the internet.
Exactly! You know, over here in London at the time street violence was rife and to even go to a club, there was no security and sometimes there would be a shooting or something like that, you know? For you to get through that in that time and survive it, and then build and get it to the stage where there’s 80,000 middle class students and you’re selling out the O2 Arena or doing the main stage at Glastonbury, it’s a massive swinging dynamic. [Laughs]

For me, that is what it’s really about, the end goal. And when I talk about having the stones, it just means doing the unthinkable and when you do the unthinkable you can’t let anybody deny that. You have to let people know—that no matter what they think—they need to educate themselves before they speak on it.

You’re right. That’s why I was excited to have the opportunity to speak to you, as a big fan of grime and UK rap who didn’t grow up in London. It feels like you’ve put a lot on the line for this movement.  Do you see it as your life’s work to elevate it as far as you can?
I get you man. And yeah, this is my life vision, my purpose, this is why I was put here you know? There’s more that will come, I think, that will lead hand-in-hand with this but I also think this was my purpose and I’m really here to keep building on it.

Who are some of the youths out there that are carrying the torch and doing you proud?
Right now, I’d say Jafro, Ten Dickson, Tommy B, Rawza, SBK are my main ones, the new up-and-coming guys.

And do you dip into the UK drill thing at all?
Yeah I do listen to a bit of the drill guys, I work closely with Mr. Crud who’s like a Jammer or Wiley for the drill situation. He was the guy who had all the kids around his house, working and recording. I worked with him recently, developing some new artists and that. It’s interesting fam, I feel like grime has birthed so many different types of music. It’s like a springboard trampoline for all types of music.

Ok lastly Jammer, what have you got coming up for the rest of 2019?
I’ve got a project called Black Russian and an album ready to go with loads of singles and features. Lord of the Mics 8 & 9 is ready to drop and yeah, just having fun [at] loads of live shows. I want to come to Australia this year, that’s kind of really the vibe.

Always working man. We’d love to see you out here soon. Appreciate you taking the time.
No worries bruv, appreciate it.

Check out the video for ‘Ian Wright’ below


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