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Contributing Editor | Twitter: @JamesMBKeith
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Nothing speaks to the competitive spirit of grime quite like Jammer’s Lord Of The Mics. Skepta vs. Devilman, P Money vs. Big H, Wiley vs. Kano. It’s been responsible for some of the most historic, and in some cases zeitgeist-shifting, clashes in the genre’s 20-year history. Heavily inspired by the long history of sound clashes that can be traced back through 20th century Caribbean history (Jammer also cites the American hip-hop DVD series, Smack, as an influence), Lord Of The Mics gave the grime scene one of its biggest franchises and cemented the raw, unpolished format of two MCs trading bars back and forth as one of the cornerstones of the genre.
Through thick and thin, the competitive element of grime has been its lifeblood, but there’s more to Jahmek “Jammer” Power than Lord Of The Mics and grime. Recent releases such as “Nasty”—the punishing, percussion-heavy collab with drill architect Carns Hill—and his Natural Selection project, which mixed R&B, trap, hip-hop and more, have shown us a producer and artist at his most varied and adventurous best. Outside of the studio, Jammer is even busier and his latest venture, Top Producer—while still containing the competitive spirit of LOTM—isn’t tied to any one genre. And the premise is simple: budding producers, picked on the strength of beats they submitted, go head-to-head in a series of tasks set by Jammer.
Each episode pairs Jammer with a guest host to help him judge the heats before a grand final with a larger panel of judges to pick the overall winner. And there are tasks, each of them designed to test the skills that every successful producer has to have. This all comes out in the rounds, such as ‘The Beatpack Round’, where each producer has to make a track from the same set of kicks, snares, toms, hi-hats, bass sounds, etc. Then there’s ‘The Sample Round’, where the contestants are given a vocal or synth sample from one of Jam’s producer friends to build their track around. And finally, there’s ‘The Reference Beat Round’. In much the same way that artists will want to recreate a track that’s climbing the charts, this task is designed to mirror the spirit of a track of Jammer’s choice.
We sat down with Jammer and his cousin, Neron Power of Rich Power Films—who shot the series—to discuss the six-part show’s creation, its roots in grime history and its global future.
“Without grime, I can openly say that there would be no UK drill, how it is today; there would be no Afroswing, no UK rap, how they are today.”
COMPLEX: How did the process of making Top Producer differ from making Lord Of The Mics?
Jammer: Mainly, it wasn’t so intense. You don’t have to worry about the MCs ending up getting into an altercation because there’s no talking back and forth; no one’s saying anything crazy to each other, so it was a much easier space and a more relaxing space to work in—a lot less stressful. And, also, it was different because there are tasks. There’s a lot of setting up that you have to do; there’s a lot of emails, the first two rounds where they’re sending beats in. We don’t actually see the people physically, but we do in the finals.
Neron: We used Jammer’s network and his socials to put out a call to all producers to send in their beats to our Top Producer email. We got over 300 submissions from all over the world—places you wouldn’t imagine—and we went through literally every email and listened to every beat that was sent in. There’s a lot of beginners that send through their things, just looking for a chance. There’s also people who are counterfeit, people who are sending through other people’s needs. We had to go and vet each person’s email that we came across and go and look on socials to see if they really were who they said they were. So that was a task in itself.
With Lord Of The Mics, Jammer’s got his ear to the streets every day of his life, so he knows who the hot MCs are that he needs to get on the platform for the end of the year or whatnot. Whereas with Top Producer, although Jammer does know who the hot producers are right now, we’re trying to find the emerging producer who hasn’t really got the platform yet. So that’s where the difference is, literally going through all of these beats and the different producers, vetting them and finding out who actually has the skills to be the next top producer.
When did you acually start shooting Top Producer?
Neron Power: It was ages ago! Let’s see… It was last year, May. We shot the first four episodes over two days. We had one day where we had two co-hosts come in and we judged the first six producers, and then the second day, which was a Sunday, we had another two co-hosts come in and we shot the other six producers. And then a couple of weeks later is when we shot the finals. We learned a lot from doing that, actually, about how we can speed up the process on the next one.
Okay. So there’s definitely a Season 2 locked in?
Neron: It’s not locked in, but we’re so passionate about it that we know we’re going to do it. So it’s 100% going to happen.
There’s a bit of history behind Top Producer, the show, and how it connects to grime history. Tell us about that.
Jammer: The whole ‘top producer’ thing came about when I made a song called “Destruction”, which featured Kano, D Double E, Wiley, Crazy Titch, Sharky Major, Hyper, Doogz, Esco, Monkstar, Footsie and Diamond Clique. It was an all-star track that came out prior to “Pow!”, so it was the first underground track that had every big grime act on it. When I was making the beat, Kano was in the studio. We were just vibing out and he was like, “Yeah, man. Top producer!” Then I was like, “Top Producer, rude boy!” Then he goes: “Behind the computer!” So it all came from that. I used to be at radio sets, DJing with guys, and they used to tap me and be like, “Yo! Say that lyric, man. Say it on the sets.” But this was before I was an MC. So ‘top producer’ became iconic from that moment within the original grime sets.
“Destruction”, with the ‘top producer’ intro, then got signed to 679 by Dan Stacey, which was a subsidiary with Warner Brothers at the time. And then I helped put together the Run The Roads project. A lot of the songs were put together by myself, [music journalist] Chantelle Fiddy, and a smaller team. And then Dan Stacey wanted a VIP version of “Destruction” with the ‘top producer’ intro. That took it to the next level; that was where it took off and started living its own life because 679 pumped a lot of money into that project, and it went worldwide.
You’re known for putting MCs against each other, but where did the idea of putting producers against each other come from?
Jammer: Lord Of The Mics 9 has been shot already but my business partner, Ratty, didn’t want to release LOTM9 and he wanted to shoot it again. We came to a deadlock with Lord Of The Mics, so while we were waiting to see if we were going to release LOTM9 or shoot another version, me and Neron—who shot LOTM8 with me—were out on one summer’s day, just having a drink and chilling in the park, and he looked at me and said: “I know what you need to do next: Top Producer. You need to get producers and make them go head-to-head in a similar format to Lord Of The Mics.” And we just started having conversations about it and it expanded from there.
Neron: We knew that Jammer was the king of this competitive field, so we wanted to keep that but just develop it and shine a new light on these producers. At the time, there was a lot of talk online about producers and the credit that they deserve. We want the public to change their perspective on what they think about producers and the producer’s input to these songs and, hopefully, in the coming years, the producers will get the credit that they truly deserve. The hook with Top Producer is we select producers that specialise in different areas of music. So we’ll have a grime producer up against an instrumentalist who’s also up against a person who specialises in making UK garage. The interest in it is when we supply these three people with different skill-sets, the same materials and seeing what they come out with and if they’re going to try and trump the host by trying to produce something that you didn’t think they were known for. That’s what makes it interesting.
Why did you decide to go with TREND CENTRL rather than your own established platform?
Jammer: This was kind of about building a new fanbase, but also hitting a wider audience that aren’t necessarily just into grime. This is not a grime platform—this is a platform for all types of genres and all types of people. We want to broaden our horizons. The way that the TREND CENTRL platform works, it caters for just everyday, normal people that might not know so much about this type of stuff. So that’s the kind of demographic that we wanted to tap into as an entertainment show. The reason Lord Of The Mics did so well is because people liked my music. Some people didn’t know how to get into the individual side of it, but people always understand competition. So with that, it was really a way to broaden the fanbase and broaden the viewer. TREND CENTRL had a good understanding of what we’re trying to do and wanted to help us with that.
How do you see the Top Producer brand growing from here?
Jammer: Where I see Top Producer going is worldwide. There are producers all over the world. Like we said, we want to make a platform where we can celebrate producers in many different ways. I don’t want to expand too much on that yet, but you’ll find out shortly what that expansion looks like. Just look out for Top Producer. It’s going to be great. It’s educational, it’s entertaining, it’s fun, it’s jokes, and it’s going to grow around the world and it’s going to spread.
Neron: I feel like all different types of producers are going to lock into this. It’s got the legs to go to any country and do the same thing. It’s a very simple format; all we have to do is have a studio space, have multiple co-hosts, have the producers produce the beats, the judges, and then we have a final showdown.
You mentioned the competitive element earlier. Obviously, that was the heart of Lord Of The Mics. Do you think that other genres, like UK drill for example, are missing that competitive element? Is it something we need more of?
Jammer: I feel like drill is competitive, to an extent. There are groups—even in American drill, you’ve got crews like O Block, and they’re kind of sending shots on tunes anyway, but obviously there’s a street element to that. The difference with grime, which I would love to bring into drill, is that we use our lyrics and entertainment as scoring rather than taking it on the street. That was the great part about Lord Of The Mics—we learned to settle issues through words. I feel like that could be a great place for us to start dabbling and bring a lighter element to drill where people can take themselves a little bit less serious. We’re always meant to use music to grow, build a brand, start bringing out trainers, clothing, platforms, shows and all that. Everybody starts somewhere. When grime came out, there wasn’t a lot of things, but now you look at the scene and what it’s grown to and what Skepta’s done and how he has collaborations with Havana and Nike. And then you’ve got people like Kano and Stormzy doing their thing. That’s what I wanna see more of: growth! That’s what we’re all about.
As one of grime’s most iconic figures, I wanted to get your thoughts on the current state of the scene. Like, how do you feel when people say that “grime is dead”?
Jammer: Well, the thing is, everybody was saying garage was dead years ago and now you can’t get a ticket for Garage Nation, and all the garage festivals are sold out. People are like, “drum & bass is tired”, but them guys have been working for the past 25 years. Before Stormin passed, he wanted me to travel with him because he knew he had cancer and he knew he was going soon. He hadn’t left grime, but he had started doing drum & bass and became the biggest MC, winning all these big drum & bass awards. I went and witnessed it and it was like 20,000 people all raving to D&B.
Grime was born an underground subculture, and I think that’s when it works the best: right in its natural form. These subcultures live on, but for me, grime is exactly where it needs to be and it’s done exactly what it needs to do. Without grime, I can openly say that there would be no UK drill, how it is today; there would be no Afroswing, no UK rap, how they are today. You know what I’m saying? If you look at a lot of Giggs’ records, he was doing great things in UK rap and rising up, but he had a lot of issues with performing shows and doing stuff in that early time. He had done a record with Jme, “Man Don’t Care”, and then he was coming out at the big festivals with us. Grime helped open it up and show that it wasn’t just gangster rap when you can actually be on the stage and do this amazing thing. Grime has played its part in many different ways for the culture. Everything, all of today’s UK street music has the energy of grime.
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Jammer: “All Of Today’s UK Street Music Has The Energy Of Grime” – Complex