Rodney P, the Riddim Killa, UK rap’s first superstar, radio star, cover star, rap superstar. From London Posse to his latest album out now, “The Future”, Rodney has always cast an all seeing eye on this UK rap scene. Eloquent and elegant, Lingo and I invited him to chat to us over a few shandies in Brixton. It’s a long ‘un, so forgive the lack of introduction to the man cos, well… he needs no introduction.
Introduce yourself and tell us what hidden reggae gem everyone should have in their record collection.
Yeah, this is Rodney P, a.k.a. the Riddim Killa and the one reggae gem everyone should have in their collection, today’s choice would be “Revolution” by Dennis Brown.
What are your thoughts on Sizzla being banned from the country…?
I think its ridiculous. They’re trying to ban dancehall music. I see a lot of reports about it and they say it’s reggae music. They need to make a distinction between reggae and dancehall. Reggae is the most socially aware, hopeful, creative music out there… that’s reggae. The music of the people. Dancehall is club music, it’s raver’s music, it’s a different ting. Plus, you have to remember, about the gay issue, that in Jamaica, homosexuality is illegal. The man who make them tunes come from a different society, a different way of thinking and does that mean that anyone who comes from a place where homosexuality is illegal is then illegal themselves?
Tell us about “The Future”. Why has it taken so long to come out and how close is it to the album you envisaged when you first started making it?
It’s taken a long time to come out. Firstly, I will say, I haven’t always wanted to make a solo album so people are looking at my career as a whole and saying that I’ve been doing it for 15 years, how comes I haven’t made an album? Well, we were doing London Posse stuff for a big part of that. And the London Posse died down and I didn’t really envisage a career in hip-hop. It was because Doby called me to say, come make this tune. I was always going to be a fan, I was always going to have lyrics, I was always going to write lyrics but I never envisaged making no more records. London Posse finished. I never knew there was an audience for Rodney P. Then we set up the label and that’s when I really started thinking about making an album. We first set up the label and I wanted to run a label that was running correct. To set up a record label, all you have to do is make a record, press it up and put it out. That’s all you need to do.
“…If you like Will Smith rap and that’s what you wanna do, by all means do it. That ain’t me. If you’re faking it, you need shooting….”
But I wanted a label where we were handling our business. That’s why I linked with Braintax and we wanted to do it right. We come up against all type of hurdles in that time, I got a publishing deal with EMI and they were putting a lot of faith in me and gave me a lot of money to do the project. In order to fulfil what they wanted, I had to make sure the label was running right. I had to clear samples, I had to make sure all these things were in order so that then took us two steps back as well as taking us two steps forward. I was already in the process of making an album that I’m going to put out on an independent hip-hop level, but with EMI involved, I’ve got to step up my game. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and figure out what samples are we using, who’s going to get paid for them and whatever else and that slowed me down.
In terms of the way the album sounds, it doesn’t sound how I originally intended it to sound but it sounds better and that’s all good. It kept evolving and at the time it was like a curse. But in hindsight, I was able to compile the album and listen to it as a whole and I’ve now mastered the formula. The album we originally laid out, in my opinion, was too long and too varied. It’s now shorter, more concise and a more enjoyable ride.
How much of that do you think is down to the album being leaked on the internet?
Nothing changed. This internet thing is good promotion for me. I don’t consider it sales lost, I consider it a fan gained. A lot of these regions, I ain’t got distribution there anyway. That’s not a problem for me. The album being changed had nothing to do with people hearing it already. It had to do with a making a better album.
What kind of beats and sounds were you looking for in terms of production on this album?
You know what? I make hip-hop reggae tunes. I do hip-hop reggae. From the London Posse days to now, that’s what we’ve always done. I’m a hip-hop fan but I do a form of hip-hop that is hip-hop reggae. That’s what I do.
Is there still stuff on the album you left out and held back on?
There’s more stuff to come. I’m always recording. Plus, the original layout for the album had “Murderer Style” and “Big Tings We Inna” and those tunes have been out already. So this time I thought, everything that’s been out already, we’ll pull it back. It starts with “Riddim Killa” forward.
What have been the reactions to it, now it’s out?
It’s been good, man, it’s been good. I was worried that it’d be like when you wait so long and your anticipation builds and you get it and it’s a letdown. The reaction I’m getting is that it was worth the worth. People are feeling it. I ain’t trying to compete with what’s out there. I’m trying to do my ting. If you know what I do, you’ll like it. If you don’t like what I do, there’ll be something on there for you.
Taking it back to the London Posse days… in 1995 in HHC there was an advert for the next London Posse album coming early 1996. What happened to the lost London Posse album?
(Laughs) A lot of it is going to be coming out. I’m going to put out some of it. A lot of it I’m glad didn’t come out because it wasn’t up to the standard we set for ourselves. Them days were different days, different tings was gwarnin. Life was overtaking the music ting. I mean, UK rap ain’t always pay and we gotta eat so man was more concerned with eating than rapping. There’s a lot of quality tunes that didn’t come out. And part of it was because of the music industry struggle. At that time, we had our own label then as well. “How’s Life in London?” we released ourselves on Bullet records, which was our own label. It’s all been a learning curve that’s got me to here. Right now, I feel I have the tools for the job. Cos I’ve had enough knock-backs and enough setbacks and enough successes to learn my lesson on road.
Is there gonna be a London Posse boxset?
Nah, nah… There’ll be two EP’s of new stuff and previously released London Posse that I like. A lot of it we re-released already with the “Gangster Chronicle” album. But there’s a few things like “Here Comes the Rugged One”, which is my favourite London Posse tune, which you lot probably never heard. There’s a few bits to come out. I’m not thinking on a platinum sales thing, more on terms of giving the audience something special.
What’s Bionic up to?
Bionic’s doing his ting, hustling and bubbling, trying to get ahead like the rest of us. He was in America for a while, doing some work with Tricky. He’s got a little brother who has a group, he’s doing stuff with them, he was doing some management. It’s the hustle, bruv. It’s all the hustle. You just try to get ahead.
Any plans to do more work together?
Nah, nah. Not to say it’ll never happen but there ain’t no plans for it.
In terms of 1Xtra, how do you think 1xtra has helped the UK hip-hop scene?
I think 1xtra has helped the UK music scene as a whole. Things like 1Xtra and Channel U, they push it forward and give the audience our own voice. For years, we’ve been listening to other peoples’ voices telling us stories, now we got our own outlets for our stories. And the kids are loving it, they’re getting involved. A lot of people look at Channel U and say the video’s shit and they’re all rubbish and reh, but it starts somewhere and it’s up to you to move it forward. If you’re at home and you watch Channel U and say they’re rubbish and you could do better than that… well, do better than that then. And next year the standard will be a little higher, and the year after, the standard will be higher… The ball’s started rolling and it’s up to us as artists and up to us as an audience to make sure we get what we need out of it now it’s rolling.
How did you and Skitz first meet and how did you both decide to put a radio show together?
Basically, Destiny who used to work in the original Deal Real shop in the West End said to me when I was in there once, Skitz is looking for you, here’s his number, call him. And that’s how me and Skitz met. He was putting together tunes for his album. We did “Dedication,” we did “Revolutionaries” and it rolled from there. In terms of the radio show, when we were originally asked, we turned them down because we thought we wouldn’t have time to do that. Then, it didn’t take a lot of thinking to realise that maybe we should make some time to do that. We have too much fun doing it and there ain’t no real plan to it either. We just decide what we’re going to play on the day. We don’t have no playlist. No one standing over our shoulder saying what we can and can’t play. We just play what we like and it’s like. We don’t do the UK hip-hop half hour. If it’s good we’ll put it in the mix.
(Whilst I change batteries, Lingo and Rodney P continue talking about characters in UK rap, which is where I jump back in…)
Infinite Livez is a character. He’s got his own thing. I appreciate people who come at it with their own angles. If you sound like someone else, I ain’t gonna really like it. I don’t care how good it sounds. A lot of good rappers sound like someone else and no matter how good you are, I’m going to listen to you with dull ears. If you bring something new to the table, you’re gonna stand out from the crowd. Like Infinite Livez and Sway and Skinnyman and Roots Manuva and all these people who have something distinctive about them but they all have that UK thread running through it. And that’s why they’re successful.
“…I’m a hip-hop kid. I’ve done drum’n’bass tunes, I’ve done garage tunes, I still do em and enjoy them but I’m a hip-hop kid….”
How importance does your show place on breaking new talent in UK hip-hop?
It’s not about breaking new talent. The focus is good music. It’s the talent’s job to provide us with the music. If the music is good, we’ll play it and hopefully that’ll take you to the audience you’re trying to get to. But that’s on you, and you gotta bring us the hot shit. We’ll play it. We ain’t got no qualms about playing anything from anywhere as long as it’s good. The week before last, I was stopped at the BBC door by a kid who gave me his CD. That happens a lot. You get a lot of CD’s and a lot of them are bollocks. Took my man’s CD upstairs, liked it, played it that night. If your shit’s good, we’ll play it, not a problem. It’s on you to deliver us the quality goods first. There ain’t no bias in it, no set rules, bruv, just make it good. And when I say good, I don’t mean, rap well. I mean, produce it good. Mix it well. Make sure it stands up well against whatever else we’re playing. Make a record. Don’t send us no demos cos we can’t play them.
Added to that, what advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
Believe in yourself. When we came out of London Posse, no one were really into us cos we were doing reggae and we were talking in English accents and at the time, no one had ever heard that. The hip-hop scene weren’t in it. We were getting love from outside the hip-hop scene. The indie boys and the SE London white boys in Pringle jumpers. We were talking to them, we were talking in a real accent they could understand. I was talking about South London stuff and what was going on in Brixton and they were feeling it. But the hip-hop scene weren’t feeling it. We liked it and we thought it was the best thing so you can’t tell me nothing. So we kept it moving and we kept it rolling. Now, 20 years later, what we were doing as London Posse, everyone does. I say to anyone, you have to believe in your own shit first. Don’t expect me to think you’re good if you don’t think you’re good. If you believe you’re good, don’t let no guy deter you from what you’re doing. Go through and do it. At the same time, don’t fool yourself. Listen to your music. A lot of people give us records and I think, “What the fuck were you listening to when you made that cos you can’t really believe that’s good.” My advice is believe in what you do, believe in yourself, don’t think you know it all and remember it’s a learning curve. Keep doing it.
Would you say London Posse was the template for…?
Yes. Most of the MC’s about today come from the London Posse school of MC’ing. That’s a fact. When we started, no one rapped like this. Now everyone does. That ain’t to say that everyone heard London Posse and thought they wanna be like that. But the idea we put on the scene as a seed has grown into this and the scene follows the lead that we set. If someone else came out and was really successful as a fake American rapper, this whole scene might be different. We come and change the direction and thankfully people picked up on that kept up on that and we’re now here.
How has the scene developed since putting out your first album to “The Future”?
It’s developed a lot. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. A lot of lessons learned. The big part of the development of the scene has been for me, the development of other scenes. Drum’n’bass and Garage. These initially took away our money, took away our venues but the lessons learnt in them scenes, we’ve now brought them back to hip-hop and we’re all benefiting. A lot of hills and valleys. We’re doing tings now. The amount of times the door’s been shut on us means we’ve had to learn the lesson. We’ve had to set up independent labels, we’ve had to find a way of getting our music out there. Now we do and the music’s out there and it’s selling units and we own it and that’s worth something. When I was younger, I could go out everyday and listen to hip-hop. The late 80’s, early 90’s, every day. Now it’s less cos the venues are more corporate. There aren’t as many venues as there were. But the scene in England is healthy, it’s strong and it’s not a London-based scene anymore. It’s a UK scene. And that’s better for everyone.
And it’s good to hear people from Liverpool rapping in Liverpudlian accents…
Yeah, and doing it well. People like Northern Monkeys, Estate Agents, Broke-N-English, they’re fucking wicked. They’re Manchester boys and there ain’t no mistaking where they come from. And that’s a good thing. Regionally, everyone’s strong and as a collective, we’re getting stronger then we got a product we can take out to the world and say, this is what the UK does as a product. Before, there was all this fake Yankee shit. We fake American accents badly, and that ain’t a good product. I ain’t standing behind that. But now, I’m proud to stand behind the scene. A lot of is still bollocks. I don’t want anyone to think I’m nationalistic and UK rap is the best thing in the world. I don’t believe that. I believe there’s a lot of bullshit music being made here but there’s also a lot of quality being made here. You have to recognise that and give credit where credit’s due.
“…You have to be honest in your music and not just follow what you hear coming from other people….”
Has there been any international feedback to “The Future”?
Yeah, I’m an international artist, bruv. I ain’t gonna answer that.
Who else is feeling…
Everyone’s feeling me man. If you meet me, you feel me. What can I tell you? Hip-hop music is a global ting. And a lot of the artists in England feel we get biased by American stuff. We’re the poor second cousin. Globally, it’s just music. People outside of England and America look beyond the origins, they look to whether they like it. So there’s a global scene for this UK hip-hop we do. And, Braintax, who does Low Life, who in terms of UK independent hip-hop labels, is probably the most learned member of the scene, he’s doing his ting. We’re definitely pushing boundaries and trying to get the music into as many territories as we can. We get about. In those tings, my history plays a part. A lot of people pick up on the London Posse ting and say, Oh, what are they doing now? It don’t matter how you find it, as long as you find it and enjoy it.
A lot of “The Future” is quite dub-heavy and you say you do hip-hop reggae. How important was reggae music to you growing up?
Before there was hip-hop, there was reggae. I grew up listening to reggae. I was the youngest in my house and I got four older brothers and an older sister, so I heard every kind of music there was. The predominant music in my house was reggae. Hip-hop never came till I was in my early teens and thinking about what I liked. And then, boom, there was hip-hop. Sugarhill Gang came and I thought, that’s me. Reggae was a big part of my growing up. That’s why there’s so much reggae in UK rap because that’s where we come from. A lot of us are from second generation families from the West Indies who grew up on reggae music. You have to be honest in your music and not just follow what you hear coming from other people, if you’re going to use your own influences and follow what you know, then in UK rap there’ll be a lot of reggae music.
I read somewhere that back in the London Posse days, whilst other hip-hop crews would be digging for funk and soul breaks, you’d be down the dubplates shops, picking up dubs and reggae 7”s…
Again, we had no idea what we were doing, it wasn’t something we planned. We weren’t sat there thinking “This is so new. No one will have done this.” It was just honest. Part of why it was honest. When I started rapping, I started raping in an American accent, like everyone else, as a fan of the music, following my favourite rapper. I used to go to America a lot with my mum when I was a kid. Me and Bionic would go to America and the first thing you’d discover, when you’re in a cypher out there was that rapping in an American accent and killing it and then stopping and being like, “Alright mate,” they’d just look at you. So we learnt that the best way to stay noticed was to use what you got. And we bought that philosophy home before we started making records. It’s important that we’re honest, represent what we do, what we do, they ain’t got and can’t do it. Them days, KRS-One was doing hip-hop reggae and he’s one of my favourite hip-hop MC’s. in terms of reggae music, it was a bit corny, because they can’t do what we do, because they don’t have the history and the understanding we have. So let us use our ting and sell that back to them. Instead of always taking what they’re selling us, come we give them something brand new and sell that to them. That was always the way we were thinking at the time. At that time, too, America was like Mecca. We wanted to sell records in America. What’s the best way of doing it? Reggae music and being honest.
“…My advice is believe in what you do, believe in yourself, don’t think you know it all and remember it’s a learning curve. Keep doing it….”
Now, I don’t focus so much on America anymore. America’s not really my Mecca anymore. America’s the Mecca for hip-hop music but not the Mecca for Rodney P. Now the honesty of the music is what we use globally. It’s just saying what can we use to sell in America. What’s the best way to move the scene forward globally? And the best way to do that is to be honest. The music I like the most is the music I feel the most. And to be feeling it, you’ve got to be telling the truth. Cos if you’re lying, I’d like to think I’m smart enough to decipher that. Also, if you want your music to stand the test of time, be honest and give people music that they can feel. Not music that they listen to and enjoy, but music they can feel and relate. Even down to this gangster-murk everybody ting, you keep talking about how you’re gonna murk everyone, soon enough, you’ll meet a man with a gun on him who’s gonna test you. I could go to the radio today and listen to the top three biggest tunes and decide I’m going to recreate them. Anyone can do it. I wanna do a vibe where it’s me. The reason why I’ve been here so long because I do me. People know me. I’m a hip-hop kid. I’ve done drum’n’bass tunes, I’ve done garage tunes, I still do em and enjoy them but I’m a hip-hop kid. Everything else I do is as a fan. A lot of people over the years have jumped ship and decided that rap doesn’t pay so they’re gonna do something else instead. But then you fuck yourself up. Who the fuck are you now? The scene you try and jump to don’t want you, the scene you jumped from don’t want you.
With the exception of Kamanchi Sly…
Well, Kamanchi Sly, that’s my man. For me, he don’t deserve any backlash and the reason that he’s doing hip-hop now is he’s a hip-hop kid. When he was doing his garage stuff, there was room for him to do it. Now the garage that they’re doing, he don’t enjoy. He’d rather do hip-hop. A lot of people get it twisted and give him a lot of stick. But trust me, Kamanchi’s a hip-hop kid, he’s one of our’s. When he was doing garage, he wasn’t doing it as a bandwagon thing, he was doing it as a fan. I’m a Londoner, and in London, ravers listen to all of that shit. You just gotta decide what’s your home-base. My home-base is hip-hop, always has, never left me. Kamanchi, he left us for a while but the door’s open for him to come back, cos how you gonna fuck with Hijack. You ain’t gonna fuck with them. Listen, them mans done their work, he’s allowed to go and do whatever the fuck he wants. He’s done more for UK rap than most man on the UK rap scene right now. In my world, he’s a top boy. Back in the day, Hijack and London Posse weren’t friends. They had the US ting, we had the UK ting. But I can recognise the fact that Kamanchi Sly is one of the best rappers that we ever had. Welcome home, Kamanchi. Hijack was the shit, you can’t front…
Which artists and which tunes…?
Sway DaSafo. Right now, Sway DaSafo is a top boy. Pesci, he’s been around for a long time, he’s exciting me. Mr 45 in Nottingham doing some good tings. Estate Agents, Broke-N-English, Northern Monkeys, man in Bristol, Surplus, Soldier Clique, Kaners, in Bristol. A lot of people man. I hate that question cos I always feel like I’m forgetting someone. There’s a lot of people doing their ting, Skeme and Big P… Right now is a strong healthy time, good tings are happening.
Is there anyone you wanna work with that you haven’t yet?
In the hip-hop scene? Any scene? Well, anyone you hear me work with, know that’s a real link, not a forced link. Who I’ve wanted to work with so far, I have done and who I want to work with, I will. Like Sway, I ain’t ever worked with Sway, but I’m gonna work with Sway. And we may not rap on a record, but I may be the man promoting his tune or the man taking it to radio. I’m gonna be working with Sway cos I feel that Sway is… one another thing about the scene, people like to grab on to the scene and hold on to their little corner. I feel like the more the next man eats, the more I can eat. So if we’re all eating, we’re ALL eating… so I feel that if Sway or Pesci can go through and create this massive audience that they’re gonna eat from, we’re all going to benefit. I’m about pushing the whole shit forward.
One of my pet peeves about the scene, is the little kids who hold on to it like a secret club and as soon as artists get a little mainstream exposure, they get accused of being sell-outs…
Yeah, they get called commercial or pop. That’s bullshit. Look at my track record, I’ve worked with a lot of commercially successful people. My thing is, I do me. If you know me, whatever you heard me on, you heard me. All of that “it’s gotta be underground” stuff, fuck all that shit. The rule is, the artist has got to genuinely like it when they leave the studio. I could go to the studio and make a pop tune that I hate, that I know will sell me a lot of units but I couldn’t sit with that. I’m the first customer. I gotta like it.
“…Everyone’s feeling me man. If you meet me, you feel me….”
I think the rule should be, if you make a track that if you heard it playing in a record shop, you’d buy it immediately, that’s what you should aim for…
Then you’ve done your job. Exactly that, bruv. People are in the music industry for different reasons, and I’m cool with that. If you wanna make pop rap, make it. As long as you like it. You need to know what you’re doing it for. This hip-hop ting is like therapy for me. So if I go and fuck it up and doing some fuckery I ain’t really into, I’m losing my moment on the couch when I can unload my problems. If you like Will Smith rap and that’s what you wanna do, by all means do it. That ain’t me. If you’re faking it, you need shooting.
Finally, shameless plugs / big up’s / shout-outs:
Yep, Original Fever, 7-10pm, live every Friday Night on 1Xtra. “The Future”, in your local record emporium, as we speak, go and cop that. This scene is our scene, let’s make it what we want it to be and stop fucking bitching and moaning about how good it’s not. Let’s make it better.