Grime has always been a hard graft. Whether it’s building pirate radio towers on the roofs of east London’s high-rises or crafting beats on a PlayStation 2, hard work is in the DNA of the genre. While the possibility of viral fame has lightened the load somewhat for aspiring artists, there’s still a long grind to the top for those that want to make it as legends in the scene. Now that grime has established itself as a central part of the UK’s musical culture longevity is the name of the game for a new generation of MCs.
No one is working harder to build that legacy than Jammz. MC, producer, label boss and radio renaissance man, the Hackney-born MC has a reputation as the most diligentMC in the scene right now. We meet around 11 AM one dreary August day, he’s got two studio sessions and a radio slot scheduled for the coming afternoon, and that evening he’ll be working on the campaigns for his next releases. Jammz, of course, does all of his branding himself.
That tireless attitude is reflected just as much in Jammz music as it is in his day-to-day life. He’s been writing bars since the age of ten and producing since twelve, while he’s only made a real name for himself in the last few years of grime’s popular resurgence, he’s put in plenty of work, and it shows. His back catalogue is littered with references to grime’s history, from his flip of Scott Garcia’s icon ‘It’s a London Thing’ to his penchant for old-school sounding synths and samples. His lyrics are equally meticulous, balancing the grit of old-school grime with more overtly political subjects. Put together the work that Jammz has put into his music becomes unmistakable, a feat even more impressive when you take into account the fact he’s been juggling running a label, making his music and making regular appearances on every radio station in London from Radar to Rinse. To find out how he does it we managed to grab an hour of his time for a conversation that touches on everything from studying Skepta’s lyrics to his dad’s time on tour with Jools Holland.
Hey, Jammz. You’ve got a reputation as one of the hardest working MCs in the scene – what does an average day look like for you?
I don’t have an average day really. I’m very creative at night, so it depends on what my sleeping habit is like, if I’m up early I’ll do all my admin and stuff in the morning. I’ll go where I have to go, radio, studio wherever and go back home. Then when it gets to nine or ten I’m up writing or producing, creating something, I don’t know why, I’ve talked to other creatives, and they get the same thing… Anything can happen. It’s good to be able to have the freedom to do that.
How do you juggle it all?
I’m so bad at multitasking bro, I can be locked into something, and then something else pops up, and I’m straight onto the next thing without finishing the previous task. Sometimes it’s annoying. I try and give an equal amount of attention to everything; I don’t want to be closer to one area than another.
You got into rapping before producing right?
Yeah, I was an MC before I was a producer, I started writing in like 2001 or 2002. I used to listen to a lot of UK garage and jungle, my mum used to bring home records from the garage raves, and we used to listen to them together. My dad’s a musician as well, so I used to go studio with him as well. I wrote my first lyric in 2002 and got my first computer in 2004, and that was when I started producing.
Can you remember what your first bar was?
Uhh… ‘I’ll get raw, leave you on the floor, broken jaw, think you’re a rude boy come and get more, tell you again no-one’ll ever be your friend…’ I can’t remember, shit like that, playground lyrics. It was the sickest thing, at school everyone had a lyric, and we’d just be in the playground at lunch putting in our two pence.
Does producing affect the way you approach other people’s beats as a rapper?
100%. Producing has helped me understand how to structure songs and what works so when I got get songs from other producers. Sometimes it gets to the point where I try not to tell them what to do. I can suggest things, and they can take it on or not but nine times out of ten my suggestion is right. Not to be big-headed but I’ve got to the point where I know what’s going to work with me.
If you had to give up one…
It’d be producing. I can’t stop MCing. That form of expression is more important for me.
You’re quite a lyrical MC; you say stuff that exists outside of grime in your songs…
I try to do that. I honestly don’t see the point [otherwise], we’ve all got bars about MCing innit, but it’s like driving a car for the sake of driving a car, you should be doing it for a purpose. So it’s good to relate to other people that do what you do you know what I mean?
You came up on radio – how important do you think it is today?
It’s subjective, it might be important in one person’s career and might not be in someone else’s. I think in the wider picture though, as an artist, radio is still so important because it’s a community you can tap into, you can go radio, meet other artists, other MCs, producers, DJs. There are people who come to radio just because they like the atmosphere.
For me, it was a sick way to build my network and get to know people. In terms of DJs, there’s no better way than to connect with them, they’re the people who are going to go out and play your music.
From a fan’s perspective, radio’s still exciting to me, I feel like, the thing about consuming media today, everyone wants a finished product instantly, music videos, albums songs, but those are all things where once it’s done you can’t change it you get what I mean? With radio you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s not like putting on a song and knowing when the verse is gonna come. You might not expect this MC to show and he’ll show up, and there might be a clash, it brings a different energy to it. It’s the whole unexpected side to it which I like.
I’ve got so many stories of mad shit that’s just happened on the way to radio and the way home from radio, I’ve nearly lost my life going to radio, it’s mad things like that. It all goes towards the story [but] it’s good man, I like radio is important, it’s a very good community aspect.
Warrior was the last EP – it’s quite a political release, do you feel like you tackled those issues with Warrior or can we expect to hear more like it in future?
To be honest, as the issue persists I’m gonna talk about it. At the moment, there’s probably going to be a Warrior 2, I don’t know what it’s going to be about yet but that’s what it feels like. I just feel like I needed to express it because at the time there weren’t many people doing it in a credible way. Especially online people just find a reason to be outraged without exploring it further. Certain things were just pissing me off, and when that happens, I write. That’s’ the best way for me to express it constructively. I’ve sat down with lots of people, and they’ve said that that tune was an opening point for them to explore things, it’s good.
That’s affirming, I think with political rap people can often feel like they’re being preached to.
I was so wary of that; I didn’t want to feel like I was preaching. At the time, I was talking to a lot of people about the issues, and I was hearing a lot of the same things, so I was just reflecting on that.
What are your ambitions with I Am Grime?
I just wanted to strengthen it and build it up. It’s just getting enough that it’s self-sufficient. It’d be sick to get the label signed, but if not it’s not the end of the world I already know what I want to do with it. If the right deal comes along then we can talk but I just want to build a legacy so I can look back in ten years and it’s not about how much money I made, it’s getting to release this or perform at this festival, just doing cool shit. There’s more satisfaction in doing it on your own terms, I don’t have any of the stresses of a [major] label if I like I’ll do it, if not then I won’t.
You mentioned your dad’s a musician – he used to play with Jools Holland, didn’t he?
He’s been on tour with him. I don’t think he’s played for Jools, but he’ll tour with other bands, I remember he took me with him to some mad festival. I can’t remember what, we drove down a lot of A roads. That was sick to see at a young age to see how it works from the other side, finding out about roadies and seeing the musicians setting up their instruments.
Would you ever get your dad to play on one of your tracks?
Yeah, me and my dad are working on some bits man, he’s got some cool acoustic bits. We’ve talked about it for years, and we’re only just doing it, but it’ll get there.
What’s that like as a process?
It’s kind of weird y’know, because I’ve never been one to go and play my music to my dad. There’s been certain times, I remember the first freestyle I did my dad wasn’t happy with because I said some stuff that was mad inappropriate and he just sent me this long email one day. I just carried on with it but it’s got to the stage where he can respect and appreciate it a little more, it’s good because we have an open dialogue, same with my mum, I didn’t think she was interested until she sent me a mad text about it all. I was blown away.
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