Given that both grime and drum & bass share a musical ancestor in jungle, it should come as no surprise that the best MCs are the ones who straddle the two genres and flit between them with ease.
Having previously established a name for himself in the world of grime, Slay has shifted his attention to the higher tempo of drum & bass and is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the standout voices of the genre.
In a short amount of time, he has already managed to place a wide variety of successful releases under his belt, including: Back In Action, a recent collaboration with Whiney on Lens’ Hospital Mixtape; Lil Souljah, a soulful and heartfelt feature with Lenzman; his breakout single, Let It Slide with Kasra on Critical; a double A-side with Sl8r on V Recordings; and a slew of collaborations with fellow Mancunian Chimpo.
Slay may have only began his foray into higher tempos relatively recently, but he is here to stay.
We recently caught up with the Manchester MC to discuss his recent activities, his musical journey from grime to drum & bass, and MC culture…
I saw that you had a set with Serum and another set with Hyroglifics for Critical XX at Printworks. How was it for you?
It was sick you know! The set with Serum was definitely one of the best I’ve had so far this year.
Didn’t I see that you and Serum played a tune you have together as well?
Yeah, we got new music coming out. We have a tune together which we’ve had for at least a year now, or at least it feels like it’s been that long! It was good to perform it and the crowd had a good reaction. There’s still no release date for it yet – I’m only joking when I say this but I reckon Serum is waiting for me to blow up and then he’ll drop it!
Any more plans with Serum or anyone else involved with Souped Up?
Nothing with Serum but I did send some vocals over to Voltage. I did a drill freestyle on my Insta and Inja heard it, rang me up and said ‘yo, send me the thing, I wanna do a verse on it’.
So, then he ended up doing a verse on it, we posted it on Insta, then Voltage heard it and said ‘yo, I wanna do a drum and bass version’. I sent the vocals over, but I’m yet to hear what he’s done with it. I think it was around the time he and his girlfriend had a baby, so I just left him to it. Maybe I should hit him up and remind him!
How did the Critical link come about?
Just being around all the time is the best thing for making links. I went to Outlook 2019 and wasn’t booked at all, but I just went because I knew everybody. I ended up doing seven sets! It just so happened that Critical had a stage takeover on the last night and Fox went ‘you’ve got to jump on with me’. From there, I don’t know if Kasra saw that set or heard about the set, but we ended up doing Let It Slide together.
I love it when MCs pass the mic around. It creates such a good vibe.
Only when it’s the right MCs though!
For sure! Speaking of Critical, do you have any more plans with the label?
Yeah, I have a forthcoming release with Foreign Concept called Tell Me What’s The Vibe. I had a release on Chimpo and Sam Binga’s EP, Murda Dem, and I think Sam Binga has a radio show with Foreign Concept. I made a tune called Maybe with Tweakz and Dava (which also features EJ Kitto), and they played it on their show. This new tune I made with Foreign Concept is a bit of a similar track. It’s a bit of a nice one, one for the girls.
You also just dropped Back In Action with Whiney on Lens’ Hospital Mixtape. What’s the story behind that one?
That one just happened! I feel like my name was floating around and people just wanted to work with me. I think the Hospital link happened through my agent; I’m on Hospital’s agency, Clinic Talent, so I think it’s just a case of connecting dots at this point.
It’s great that you’ve got Hospital’s backing!
Yeah, Critical were one of the first established labels to mess with me so it’s good to have some love from two corners of the scene. I’m definitely grateful for that.
I also saw last year Whiney collaborated with P Money as well. Why do you think we’re seeing more MCs crossing over from grime into faster tempos?
There’s a few reasons why. Grime music is rave music and there’s not many of those nights anymore. MCs still want to get booked for raves and be out there in front of the crowd and get paid for it. Furthermore, we’re MCs; we like music. If someone comes up to me and says to me ‘will you do this?’ If I like it, I’ll give it a go nine times out of ten. Grime’s kind of died down and I also feel like it’s getting cooler to MC on D&B these days. I can’t say why it’s happening, but I like to think it’s my fault!
How did you start MCing in the first place, and how did you end up MCing over DnB?
Briefly, I started off really young. I grew up on old Sidewinder tape packs and stuff like that. I first heard a set with Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, and DJ Slimzee. I resonated with that because at the time, I was mostly surrounded by American hip hop, but these were people like me doing things I liked.
I started MCing and won an EA Sports competition with a few mates (Mayhem Crew). Off the back of that, we ended up doing a music video through them, and that’s what cemented our name throughout the Grime scene in Manchester. Over the years, I ended up linking Chimpo and we started doing things with LEVELZ.
The drum & bass development happened when Chimpo asked me to hop on the instrumental for what would later go on to become No Trust with Chimpo and DRS. From there, everyone really loved that verse and I just went with it! It felt natural, and everyone said it sounded natural. It wasn’t really planned out to be honest. So that’s how the journey came from grime to drum & bass.
Last year you also had a UKG track with Bakey, Vibing Season, come out. Do you want to keep releasing outside of D&B?
Definitely! I don’t want to be known as a drum & bass MC. That wouldn’t make sense because I’ve got such a career in grime. I’m pretty much open to anything. I’m an MC; I’m an artist. I’ll get bored if I just stick to the same thing!
I’ll always have releases throughout the year which aren’t drum & bass. I’m working on a 140 project with Chimpo at the minute which I can’t say too much about. We’re also working on a drill tune which is a different project. No UKG things in the works at the minute, but I’ve been meaning to get on to Bakey because everyone I’ve spoken to really likes that tune.
Aside from Dizzee and Wiley, what other MCs have inspired you?
Obviously, I’ll have to say Trigga. He was one of the first well-known Manchester MCs whose lyrics I knew. We put out a grime tune together called Dance Dun with Zed Bias. Otherwise, my main inspirations are people who are original. I’m inspired by being different, so the pioneers of the scene are what inspires me.
I feel like lyricism is emphasised a lot more in MC-driven genres such as grime or hip hop…
There’s a difference between being a host and being an MC, but in drum & bass they’re all bunched into the same category. There are amazing hosts in drum & bass, amazing hosts, but they don’t have bars. There’s nothing wrong with that though, they are sick at holding the crowd just by talking.
A lot of people say drum & bass MCs don’t make sense, but they’re hosting! It’s just a totally different thing. In most other forms of music, you’re just spitting bars and the whole point of it is to be lyrical.
You can definitely tell that you pour your soul into your lyrics. There’s the ‘I ain’t give a woop ever since I been a father’ in No Drama with Teej, and all of Lil Souljah with Lenzman… How has your personal life influenced your art?
A great, great deal! Anyone who’s had a kid will tell you that a lot of things which mattered before don’t matter anymore, and that’s the point where I am in my life. I was on a hype before, but I’m, at that point in my life and these are the things which are around me.
Going back to the role of MCs in D&B… Do you think MCs, and hosts, are overlooked?
Definitely yeah! There’s this whole attitude where ‘all MCs are bad’… there probably are more bad ones than good ones, I get that, but that’s the same as everything! It doesn’t mean that all MCs are bad.
Do you think the transformation of jungle into drum & bass had something to do with MCs being overlooked?
Definitely! I’m very much a grime head, I didn’t grow up in love with drum & bass so I didn’t experience that, but MC culture is very much a jungle thing.
I recently saw a documentary, The Rest is History: The Early Days of Drum and Bass. One of the main points it made was that the shift from jungle to drum & bass was marked by an abandonment of ‘black’ elements from the music, such as dancehall samples and ragga basslines…
Absolutely, but I think it’s worked in my favour. I remind people of something by just being real. That’s one of the main reasons why people vibe with me, and I know that because when I see the older guys in the scene, they see that too and it resonates with them.
Some people do need to remember where MCing comes from. The MCs who other people rate are the ones who try and act a bit street, so it doesn’t make sense to me why those MCs end up being excluded. I do get it though, because we don’t want to ruin what we’ve got by making it too street. Everything gets commercialised a little bit, but at the same time you can’t condemn them for it because it’s what they created.
I do think it has an impact, but that’s a bonus for me because I remind a few people of the essence of drum & bass.
What steps do you think can be taken for the drum & bass community to reconnect with its roots and embrace the history of the genre?
I can’t say let everyone in and take the piss, but I think we should at least give people a bit more of a chance. I only feel like I’ve been accepted because the big labels accepted me. Before that, there was a whole ‘can we trust this guy?’ kinda thing.
I would say that the bigger people in the scene need to not be so precious with what they’ve got and take the music to a new place which isn’t so separated from the past. Change is something which needs to happen within the scene, not necessarily with the crowd.
Do you think the crowd and the scene are closely linked in Manchester?
In Manchester, we do it really well. But what we don’t do is transfer the energy from the community towards the mainstream side of things. We’re cool over here, we’ve always been cool! We need to transcend the mentality that ‘this is how we are, and we’re not going to accept or change anything’. I feel like we’re too talented!
What was it like watching Manchester get on the map of drum & bass?
About time! But seriously, I think Manchester has always had its own thing and been respected, even if it’s not as much as we wanted it to be. I grew up here and it’s all I know, so it doesn’t seem any different to me. When people ask me about how healthy the Manchester scene is, I just think ‘is everywhere not like this?’
Anything else you want to share with us?
I want to make it a mission of mine to show that the DJ isn’t better than me! The producer isn’t better than me! I want them to hold the mic for an hour on stage when the DJ isn’t doing a great job. I want to get rid of the hierarchy of DJs, MCs, and producers. It shouldn’t matter.
MCs: stop taking bookings for £50! You’re ruining it for everyone. I’ve seen so many MCs just be happy for the promoter to put them on the lineup. Half of these people wouldn’t accept that from the corner shop man, their cousin, or their family friend. I think the cloakroom guy gets paid more than some MCs. Think about that! Big up Chimpo, Fallacy, Indika, all the Bloc2Bloc crew, K1, and myself!
Back In Action by Whiney and Slay is out now on Lens’ Hospital Mixtape
Follow Slay: Instagram / Facebook