It has become apparent that I’m totally disorganised. Here I am my second piece for the site and again roaming the streets of South London like a Broadmore escapee. However, this time I have batteries for my Dictaphone just no tapes. It is Saturday afternoon and the pavement of Streatham High Road is bustling with shoppers when the heavens decide to add to the occasion and open. Not only am I running late, have no means to record the approaching interview, but am now wet and cold. Cursing my luck and doubting anything else could happen to make today harder when fate adds a few more cruel twists, but we’ll skip the details because I doubt you care. Someone somewhere is having a good chuckle at my expense.
I am beginning to ponder as to why I am putting myself through all this on my weekend off when it suddenly occurs to me; remembering that I am about to meet DJ 279 makes the two hour train journey from university seem worth while. I am actually quite excited and looking forward to this interview. You can be forgiven for thinking “2-7-who?” well, that is unless you are from London. DJ 279’s Friday Night Flava’s radio show runs the airwaves in South London. Fuck Westwood-this is what the true hip-hop fans listen to on a Friday. What other radio show plays the likes of Ali Vegas, Canibus live from Subterrania or the UK’s Joker Starr and Ty months before everyone else catches on? For two years I have religiously turned into 96.9 fm at 9 PM, and on numerous occasions tried to take the piss by phoning up, requesting five tunes at a time and then dubbing them. But today I am going to meet the face behind the voice that dominates my tapes. However, 279’s CV extends beyond being my mine supplier of rap, any reader of HHC should be able to tell you that. He has been nominated for two MOBO’s, won an EMMA for overall best radio presenter, been runner up for the last six years in HHC’s poll (only a matter of time) and has been running Flava of The Month for years; thus flying in the likes of Canibus, Madskillz, Xhibit and the Rza for a while to liven up our Thursday evenings.
We meet in KFC; I spot him by his Dada hat and Mecca jacket. After a brief chat we make our way to his car and then off to Tulse Hill. I can tell that this is by no means his first interview as he clasps the Dictaphone in one hand and a chicken twister in the other. Here I am with the hardest working man in UK hip-hop so it is only natural that I begin by asking:
So Two, what’s in the pipeline?
Boy, basically I just wanna keep doing what I have been doing. You know, when I started off doing it, I started being involved in music just because of being into the music and ended up being a DJ and then ended up on the radio. And I just wanna keep putting that love and passion and time into making something happen- you know what I mean. I may not even be around when it does but just to know that for the time that I am doing it that I can actually help to help move things forward in some way.
He takes a bite of the chicken twister and begins to explain the mechanics of promoting to me.
What I had to do with the whole Flava of The Month thing was, I think…when I started it about eight years ago there was nothing as far as hip hop goes really there. You know what I mean, we was just kids like someone who is 16/17 now wanting to be into garage; a couple of years ago there was nothing there and now all of a sudden it is the big thing. And I think through that period of sort of ’91 onwards to now hip-hop has gone through an evolution where it has become accepted and it is not stigmatised with being a fad music that is going to disappear in a couple of years time. The music has become quite influential in lots of areas; pop music, jungle, drum and bass, RnB and because of that it has been accepted in a lot more areas.
So the need for someone to go to a rap club witch plays pure hip-hop beats is not as essential because you could go to Rotation and they’ll play Wu-Tang or you could go Fresh and Funky and they will do the same. So you end up having to sort of go deeper into it for the people who really love it as opposed to just people who like all kinds of music and they’ll go out and they listen to…they don’t mind if there is a little bit of hip-hop of a little bit of RnB, few garage records thrown in, a little bit of ragga, da da da-da.
And then there is another set of people who only want to hear hip-hop and I think those people are in the minority at the end of the day. So that is where I see myself, as one of those people. Not that I don’t like the other types of music but I really love my hip-hop stuff so I try to put the parties on for them. The problem I have got with the people who really love this thing is for the most part, as far I am concerned, most of them don’t really support it, they say they do but they don’t really support it because they seem to be reluctant in a lot of cases to wanna come out and pay to attend something. Everyone wants to be free, everyone want to be a VIP and on the guest list. No one is prepared to put their hand in their pocket and support the parties. Just like I feel that a lot of the people that say that they love the hip-hop from the UK don’t actually go out and buy the music. They’ll listen to the radio show and tape it for their own personal uses and stuff but they won’t actually part with any money. And in order to make them part with any money now you can’t just say “here is a party, come down we’re gonna be playing some records and have some fun” because that’s not good enough anymore.
…They’ll know all the lyrics and you’ll think, “well they must be into this shit”- so how come you don’t see them the rest of the time?…
In ’92 that was cool, now its like “I’m only coming out if there’s some big name person there”. And the motivation for a lot of them to come is not there. So to quantify that, if you look at something like Wu-Tang. If Wu-Tang comes to London next week Brixton Academy will be sold out with 4000 people and 8/10ths of them people you will never see. But if you stand in the crowd and watch when Wu are performing they will be singing every word to the albums. They’ll know all the lyrics and you’ll think, “well they must be into this shit”- so how come you don’t see them the rest of the time? And so it has got to a point where unless you have got a really good personality or someone who is really famed in hip-hop half the people don’t come out. But at the same time when you have got someone who is really well known there is another set of people who want to come out but they don’t want to support it- so they wanna get in free. So you end up half the time putting on the parties for not a lot of financial gain, which is not such a problem, but the problem we have is trying to keep the whole thing tight so that you don’t actually lose money.
I work in an area really, where if I didn’t put my hand in my pocket to bring Canibus over no one would have, because he ain’t gonna make the promoter ten grand or whatever. So they ain’t gonna bother whereas I will bring him over cos I actually like what he does and I know that there is a lot of other people like me who like what he does. So having done that for quite a while there’s other people who recognise that, those same people… you know like when Eminem very first was going to come over to the UK I was the one that was gonna bring him here, this was before he was well known (about 2 ½-3 years ago). A sort of political situation blew up cos after I initiated the whole thing he started to get popular and the record company came and put a strangle hold on it, and started dictating what can go down.
All the time you just end up supporting the artists that are on the lower end of the market and then when they blow up and become well known you can’t actually get to do anything with them- cos at the end of the day people just won’t let you. So what I have to do in order to be able to do certain things, its like if you do something really commercial like the Eminem parties that are on this weekend you will make stacks of money and you can take some of that, and you can say “let me do something which is a little bit more underground and not so profitable”. So I am having to sort of find ways to try and branch out what I am doing cos there are a lot of things that I am doing because there are a lot of things that I’d like to do, but they are not necessarily viable as far as the costings and stuff go. Which means I’ve got to make money in one area to put it into another area, which has meant that I have kinda had to branch out and do things with other people.
So for 2001 what I have basically done is, I’ve formed a couple of different alliances with different people who at the end of the day can allow me to get into certain things that I can’t do on my own because if I pick up the phone and try and do something the record labels will either; block it off or they won’t assist in actually bringing the whole thing together. And from where I’m standing I just feel like it’s because the station I work for isn’t big enough or me as a DJ isn’t big enough. So therefore they don’t want you to do it but they ain’t just gonna come out and say that, you know what I mean. So a lot of the times when I do stuff I just have to keep it under raps until I either have to send someone to New York or make some calls, deal with the whole situation and get everything sorted, everything paid for and then tell the record label. Cos if I do it the other way round they just always wanna try and get involved in what I am doing and just mess the whole shit up. All I will say is there are some plans to do some very good things this year and hopefully- not even hopefully, there’s no way that they’re not gonna happen.
I am quite surprised to hear a promoter take the view that cramming people into sweatboxes is not the main concern, but the quality of the performance and ensuring that the consumers are pleased are the integral elements. As you can see the man appears to be in it for the love and not the money. However, its all good having Flava of the Month at Subterrania (Ladbroke Grove) every couple of months but what about us!
There’s something I must know and it is what all South Londoners are asking. Why have we got nothing down this end of the world?
You know what that’s one thing I always ask myself, it’s like South London as a whole- you can go to Wales, I’ve been to Wales on the weekenders and Southport, and you say South London and there is a whirl of people there. But for some reason when their tends to be things in South London the people don’t come. I don’t know it’s just weird, it seems like South London people will travel anywhere else to go raving but when its on their own door step they don’t really seem to come out, and I think what’s worse is we don’t really have that many venues around the area.
…trying to get someone to come out during the week who’s at college in Egham for example, to come to Brixton for a hip hop party on a Tuesday night- it really ain’t gonna happen…
There’s stuff in Brixton and I’ve been Mass on a regular basis like the first Saturday of every month (Movement) which is quite heavily hip hop based, and we used to have other things in Brixton going on but there ain’t that many venues that will let you do hip hop and if they do it’s always during the week. So trying to get someone to come out during the week who’s at college in Egham for example, to come to Brixton or to come to Streatham for a hip hop party on a Tuesday night- it really ain’t gonna happen cos how are they gonna get home? How are they gonna get to the other side of London- it’s a long ting. It’s just difficult. Even where Subterrania is, it is not ideal but at least it’s a little bit closer to the central part of London, where you can get to anywhere if you don’t drive. It’s a good question man, but I don’t know the answer to it.
How long has the radio show been going on for now?
The show’s been going 8 years now. I actually started it at the end of October 92, and that was something I always wanted to do. There was a point where I was like “yeah, I’d love to be on the radio playing all the music I like” and all the rest of it. I suppose I just followed my dream and got lucky, and ended up getting a radio show. But I actually started off helping Steve Ren; he used to do it before I did it. I used to just answer the phones and stuff just like Jane Flame and Tosh do now. Until one day he decided he didn’t want to do it and then the Managing Director just called me up and said “look, your boy don’t wanna do the rap show, what’s the matter with him?” and basically asked if I wanted to take over, which I did. And I have been doing it ever since.
So there is potentially a MacFarlow (Tosh) show? (Jokingly said- very joking said, if you listened to the show you would more than understand)
Hahaha, I think the only problem with that would be that he is not really a DJ as such. It’s the same with Jane Flame, although they love the music they are not really DJ’s. I think it would be a mistake to operate a rap show especially, without being the kind of DJ who wants to take it down to a street level. At the end of the day hip hop belongs on the street not on the radio, so it’s like there is no way I feel you could be a DJ who is representing hip hop properly and just confine yourself to just coming on (the radio) at a certain time and leaving at a certain time. Because from where I’m standing, I think I am correct here but the people who are in the scene; and who like the music look to you to create things out there, so they expect you to put parties on and bring artists over and do these battle competitions and all that kinda stuff. You are expected to do that just as being the person who’s on the radio playing all the records. Unless Tosh is gonna start Djing I don’t know if it will happen, but we’ll see.
That would be quite a strange one, a controversial show.
Friday Night Flava’s has always tried to support UK talent and at one point used to contain a section where up and coming Mc’s got the opportunity to battle more well known UK rappers or even American artists. A memorable show being Canibus rhyming with Rodney P, David J and Kamikaze. Has the Round Table started again yet?
Nah nah, I really wanted to start in January but what I sort of found is that of a lot of the people who’ve came forward there hasn’t been that many of them that have been really good. But in the few that are really good they are all studying and doing stuff till the end of February. I didn’t really wanna drag them away from studying and all the rest of it, so I just kinda decided that okay, well, it seems like by the end of February all that stuff should be cleared up. So hopefully I can get the first one off. There will be a lot of the people who at the end of the day I think won’t come forward until they hear other people on there. Then they’ll realise that when I say I’m not joking I am not joking. It’s something I wanna do, it’s something I did before and I did because I just felt like there were just the same MCs out there and there wasn’t a sort of rollover situation where new people would come along and sort of challenge the people that were there. You know what I mean; it just was nothing! It just seemed to be a set of people and that was it, and I think when I did it the last time I just sat down and thought “how can I get these guys to come out the woodwork?” and that was the concept I came up with and it worked.
…I wanted to create an advert on the radio on my show and just have it like a court scene where you would just be summonsed to turn up to the radio station to rhyme on a particular day…
I haven’t really exhausted it to how I really wanted to do it because my original idea was to start it off using a lot of the more well known people in the circuit. But how I do it now is linking someone and to say “do you wanna do it?” Whereas what I wanted to do originally was… I wanted to create an advert on the radio on my show and just have it like a court scene where you would just be summonsed to turn up to the radio station to rhyme on a particular day. That’s how I really wanted to do it, I choose against doing it really because I wasn’t sure how it would go cos it wasn’t something that really happened before in that way. I felt maybe that if I was to do it certain people would think “Who the fuck does 279 think he is, about his telling me I gotta come down the radio and rhyme, who the fuck is he?” So, you know, I sort of thought, right, maybe I should do it the other way. But because of the success that it has been, maybe if I did it like that it would be okay. But initially I was a bit wary cos a lot of people have always got things to say and I feel that it’s really hard to please everybody. You try your hardest to do your best and sometimes it just ain’t good enough because people are just overly fussy and they just read into everything. They just read into stuff that is not even there.
Seems like a nice idea, you know to serpiner people to rap. That way if they don’t turn up it makes them look like they’re not brave enough.
Basically that was the whole idea. I wanted it to create a vibe like “yo- have you heard the advert? Cos you’ve been summonsed up for the round table man, with these other people.” It would create a vibe in the world of hip-hop. Because when I first started Flava of the Month we started to hold battles and this whole sort of West London South London thing kind of developed and it was in the days of MC D first being out and The Lords of Rap and people like that. It just created such a vibe that everybody wanted to battle and everyone was writing rhymes; it created a whole energy through the UK scene itself without the need for any sort of American influences and I wanted the round table to on a radio level do a similar sort of thing.
Hopefully, ummmm… I am just hoping that the people come forward cos I know that there must be people out there but sometimes I can see why when I sit round with a lot of these guys and they just feel uninspired and they’re like “Yeah I can rhyme, I can write rhymes, I can do this and that but I don’t know how I’m gonna get my records out, I don’t have any money, no labels are interested in what I’m doing,” and I think that whole theme suppresses their need and want to be in the game. I wanted it to act as a catalyst to a lot of people who are aspiring to do it or feel like they got skill to come forward and I choose the ones that are good and put them on and have then go out there.
Who are you tipping for the future, who’s gonna steal the lime light?
Who’s gonna steal the light this time round? I don’t know. You know what I really hope? I really hope it is a guy that nobody knows, who just comes forward and just blows the roof off it- cos that’s the best. That’s what I would really want, cos there is a lot of good MC’s, there’s the Mystro’s, there’s the da da da da. There’s a lot of people that you know write really good battle rhymes and they got really good flows, the Kamakazi’s, the Kidco’s and all that. And that’s cool, but everybody knows they are good. If it was to be some guy who nobody knows who would pick up that microphone or come to the studio and just blitz it for everyone to say “On my God, did you hear that guy- who is he?” Because I remember when I did rap competitions before Flava of the Month and I remember when David J first came to the scene. When he really just put his stamp on things and everyone was like “Who is he?” cos nobody kinda knew him, in a similar way that Jokerstarr’s record is doing really well right now but no one knows who he really is. Whereas everyone knows who Ty is and Tony from Blak Twang; so they always expect them to do good things and put good records out cos they got a reputation. In a similar way that Blade has or Taskforce and stuff, but when someone comes along who’s fresh and is not really part of the family if you like. Then to me that is the best kind of signature to put on something.
We are sitting in your car, just off Christ church Road in Tulse Hill in the rain. Now, what is the reason for this then?
Basically, about 8-9 months ago a lady from the community zone, which is like a youth centre; called me up and said she wanted to start some DJ classes and I think she asked a few of the kids “who do you think you’d like to have” and I think my name must have come up one too many times. So she decided to call the radio station and track me down. She called me and said basically “we are going to be doing these classes on a Saturday, a few of them are really into their hip hop and they hear you mixing on the radio and said that they would kinda like to learn that. Would you be interested in coming down and taking some classes for a couple of weeks?” And I was like “I am not KRS-One, I am not a teacher- I just do it” But she was like “look, why don’t you just come and have a go and just see what’s it like.”
…I am not KRS-One, I am not a teacher- I just do it…
I was a bit apprehensive, not because I did not want to give my time to it but because I was thinking, well; I gotta stand up there in front of everybody and talk. People will be like “well you do that on the radio every week” but it is different cos the audience is invisible, but these people are sitting in front of you. So you got sort of use your ability to try and explain something and then try and teach them how to do it. In the end I said I’d give it a go and so far it’s gone all right. I must admit I am a better teacher than I thought I’d be. On a Djing level it’s really about once you understand what you’re trying to do, it is all about how much effort and practice you put into it. I have been doing it for about 10 months now. Obviously some Saturdays I’m away Djing in Europe or whatever, but whenever I’m here I come down and do it. I have to say it is quite rewarding. Looking back to when I was coming up in the game and I was trying to do some djing and trying to mix, there was no one to really help. There was no class you could go to and get someone to show you how to mix- you just had to learn it yourself. And I think there were lots of occasions where I’d reach out to people, to record labels to get music, or to different people to try to get work or try to do my little clubs and get a little rep for myself; and no one would want to help at all. I remember I always used to say “boy, you know what, if I ever get up there man, I’m never gonna be like that.” So that’s another reason why I do this, because this is an opportunity for me to do exactly what I said I would do 7 or 8 years ago. That’s the reason I come. It’s nice when you show the people that come something and then you watch and they do it. There’s no better feeling than that for me. As long as I can do it then I’ll continue to come and try to pass on some knowledge.
A UK hip hop veteran and a pillar of the community.
Yeah, it’s important man. The hip-hop thing comes from a community type of situation. If a lot of the bigger names in music, whether they be garage DJ’s- of course you’re busy and you can’t do everything but I feel like you get to a certain point where you should give a little bit back. You should try and re-invest what you have taken from it, what you’ve learnt, what you’ve brought to the table and try to pass it on to the next generation of people that are coming up- so that the thing you love can move to the next level. I think there is a lot of people who gain that celebrity status but would never ever consider doing that. I must admit that a lot of people when I tell them are like ” What….yeah, oh nice one man” but at the same time they are kinda like “rah, I’m quite surprised he is doing that.” But they just don’t understand and I think that if they just actually did it themselves then they would realise that, boy, you know what- TY could probably speak on this just as I could. Because he used to run ghetto grammar with Kosha and all that. I know Pogo (DJ) does the same thing in East London with DJ classes and running little competitions and stuff. It’s a way of making sure the next generation of people who come into this thing called hip hop have the right kind of approach and attitude, because you’re there to influence them on what to do and what not to do. It’s good- I’m happy about it.
All that initial hassle seemed worth the while- maybe Dj279’s happy go lucky attitude has rubbed off on me. I then accompanied 279 to his DJ class, where I am proud to say I held my own on the decks with the 12-year old girls. However, on the journey home I found myself filled with conflicting emotions; whilst being pleasantly surprised at hearing about 279’s extra curricular activities I felt disappointed that the other big names in UK hip hop don’t share the same attitude. At the end of the day can Westwood, who unfortunately is Britains biggest hip hop DJ say he has influenced or in any way helped the future generations of UK artists or fans? Friday Night Flavas won’t really sound the same again.