Monday, 30 May 2005

Sink Or Swim?

Roll Deep Artwork, originally uploaded by chantelle.

By me from Touch Magazine... the unedited version

Roll Deep:

Not all of us have been fortunate enough to live our lives locked into pirate radio frequencies, where British sounds roam free. For those of us that do it’s part of everyday life, crews such as Bow E3's finest Roll Deep and their many counterparts of far greater importance than any of the latest American imports.

Now in their fifth year of business, the Roll Deep brand has spread way beyond the M25. Dedicated Touch readers will no doubt have seen the various sixteen or so members grace these here pages before, be it as a group or as individuals. But Roll Deep are going to be surprising not only an existing fan base with their debut album, In At The Deep End, but listeners the country over.

Take for example the producers. Wiley, the unofficial Roll Deep forefather is famed for his eski-beat genius, a trend setting beat maker if ever there was one in the new millennium who has a penchant for nu jack swing and anything with a twist. Target’s distinctive sound is often epic and while still around the average grime tempo of 135BPM has a far more apparent hip hop influence. Danny Weed on the other-hand having only let off one heater on vinyl, Creeper, his sound as witnessed on Target’s Aim High mixtapes is pretty unpredictable and what the crew might call ‘one-away’. Put the three in a room or on an album together and and the resulting sound spectrum? It's equally diverse.

“Wiley and I sat down and wrote a plan of what we were going to do,” explains Danny from new label home Relentless Records (who previously bought us So Solid and more recently Lethal B’s ‘Pow’) “We have thought maybe we need more grime or more or where we've come from on it but it's something different and I’m happy with everything on it… we’re coming a bit like a Club 18-30’s” he laughs before Target backs him up. “Everyone will be surprised by it. We're trying to bring a breath of fresh air and not do the same thing all the time because our scene is simply not growing.”

A breath of fresh air? Shit. First single ‘The Ave’ is a straight 80’s throwback, while the inspiration for future classic ‘Shake A Leg’ came from a Buddha Lounge CD. The ‘Good Girl’ sample was found in Wiley’s dads vintage record collection (he also engineered a few tracks), then there’s ‘Be Careful’ featuring vocals from EMI rock act Alex Catana. Another artist Danny & Target are developing, Alex Mills, also provides a female touch to ‘Remember The Day’ among others. Equally as surprising is that the only guest producer is not a grime king pin but Eurogang's Dirty 4orts (responsible for 'Show You').

Lyrically it’s low on the testosterone fueled ramblings, instead more time showcasing a vibrant party vibe while still being informative throughout of the respective MC’s mindset and life on (and off) road.

The only thing that remains absent now is Wiley whom it seems is not getting heavily involved in the Roll Deep album promotion. Having parted company with XL Recordings last year, he’s kept a fairly low profile of late, according to him, on a journey of self re-discovery both musically and personally. It was largely due to issues surrounding Wiley’s contractual desires that led to In At The Deep End, going to Relentless instead of Island Records.

In a separate conversation with Touch, Wiley broke it down. “I was always playing catch up to Dizzee and I wasn’t ready for the competition… But I learnt a lot from back then and from when I was talking with Damon Dash. It made me realise that we’ve got to do what we feel is right. This is our country and we know it better than anyone else.”

Of course a lot of people will be thinking so why's Wiley seemingly contradicting himself and repeating history? But between Wiley and the rest of Roll Deep they appear to have struck upon a formula that works.
“A lot of people put our music down saying it’s not commercial, it won’t work… and that makes you really think sometimes.” Wiley pauses “The others understand that I’ve done a lot of work already on the group album, the initial stuff, and I know the boat won’t sink just cause I’m not doing certain things. They’re working hard to promote this album and they’re all big enough to do it... It's just since I heard 'Pow' it made me think that I don't need to change my music to make people happy and ever since that I’ve been making bare grime, some of the heaviest tunes I've made in ages, so I'm in the studio with the new Roll Deep members (Meridian Crew’s JME and Skepta and ex-OT MC Syer) getting new stuff ready. Roll Deep are going to be keeping the streets happy too this year, you know this right?”

On the subject of Wiley, the state of play is totally understood by the rest of the Entourage. “Where he fails in some areas he's doubly good in other stuff so we can't really moan at him, look he's the best A&R out there” says Danny. “It's just one of the things people will have to accept and one of the first things they'll get to know about how it is with Roll Deep” Target concludes on the subject.

It’s the crews strong friendships that allow for such compromise. Despite many people thinking Roll Deep formed a couple of years ago following divisions within the Pay As U Go Cartel (PAUG), which Target, Flo Dan and Wiley all belonged to, it was actually born in 2000, a mere nine months after Pay As U Go.

Wiley, having made ‘Terrible’ as a follow up to the now seminal PAUG debut ‘Know We’, needed a name to put the tune out under as it featured MC’s that weren’t in the Cartel. It was over hearing Flo Dan talking about rolling deep (meaning rolling with more than one person) that got the stamp of approval with the other original members Breeze and Bubbles (whose current status within the crew is unspecified). But they only really came into prominence when they grew in numbers, Wiley pledged an exclusive allegiance to Roll Deep, and the arrival of a young MC called Dizzee Rascal. From there on in the story unfolds. Hours spent on pirate radio, headlining raves, DVD appearances, magazine articles… then Dizzee got signed and left. A lot of cynics thought that would be the end of the book, but it was a new chapter. It hasn’t overly effected the crew personally (bar perhaps Wiley) nor creatively. Unlike many of their supposed rivals, Roll Deep boast many individual characters and artists in their own right; Scratchy, the boy next door with slang to rival the dictionary, Riko, a war lord who flips between cockney and yard, Flo Dan, the bashment scholar and social thinker, Trim, a fresh poet in the mix, Breeze, the missing hip hop link.

And here we are, In At The Deep End, an album that's no doubt going to be revered or described as ‘an experimental masterpiece’, ‘standout alternative' or 'pop-grime showcase’, because (being real part 1), that’s how perception goes. For some reason, let’s call it history and a dose of habit weighed in with an ounce of ignorance, but if you’re bringing through music from the streets, especially if you're group is predominantly black, the cliched tag is on before you’ve even attempted the climb the charts. Will Roll Deep have to face ‘the new So Solid’ tarring simply because of their roots? It’s arguably this kind of lazy stereotyping that means we're still yet to see a multi-ethnic Busted or a black Coldplay perhaps.

And that’s exactly why there’s something more significant at work here. There’s a glimmer of hope at least that by sticking two fingers up to expectation and standing up to be counted by their music and that alone Roll Deep are challenging these dogged perceptions.

“We don’t want to fit in we want to fit out” Target says. Trim on the otherhand puts it like this “I mean, this isn’t for the tugs dem. But when you’re with your bredrins you have fun so that’s what we’re doing like any other boys might. I don’t think anyone in Roll Deep expected to go in this direction but listen to it and don’t care about anything. That’s what we tried to do.”

Looking at it slightly differently, If it’s true that you can take a man out the hood but not the hood out of the man then in this context it's also fair to argue that you can’t save a man from himself. So while the society that’s breeding some of Britain's most creative forces still appears to be on the verge of self-destruction, perhaps what Roll Deep are doing, and without even realising it, are introducing themselves and a new generation to the prospect of saving themselves by breaking free from society's expectations. It will be an interesting swim to safety but surely worth every stroke?


Evo said...

People shouldn't hate rolldeep there album will be gully and wat i heard so far may not be "grime" but seriously wat is grime nowdayz wen u have producers like f tizzle and lowdeep plus more making easy listening "grime"(i hate that word its still garage to me)


chantelle that was a great artickle and very well written you are obviosly very intelligent but no one cares about his grime movement its a niche movement and you uk heads need to stop hatin on hip hop damn everyone hatin on hip hop and talkin about the old days if not for hip hop where would these grime heads be come on hip hop is better than grime. like i said you a grat writer but move on to soul or hip hop where you get better exposure this grime sucks a little bit ui cant even play this shit without catchin a headache. holla.