Interview with Jammer: A chat about Lord of the Mics with grime’s elder statesman
So often throughout the history of music, pivotal moments have taken place in far from glamorous surroundings, from dive bars and social clubs to youth centres and abandoned warehouses. In grime, so many of these moments have taken place in Jammer’s East London basement. Laden with studio equipment and with graffiti scrawled all over the walls, Jammer’s basement has become a sort of grime scene Abbey Road.
The basement had already been used as a studio for some of grime’s early pioneers, but it wasn’t until 2002 when Wiley, the godfather of the genre, clashed Kano, the scene’s hottest young talent, on the stairs of the basement, that it became known as grime’s battle arena and the Lord of the Mics series was born.
Clashing has been part and parcel of grime since its inception. In fact, more so than any other genre, grime has always maintained a sporting, competitive element that has won it a great deal of fans. Grime clashes can range from a good-natured test of technical ability and skill, to a more personal, ego-driven form of lyrical combat and Jammer’s basement has played host to the making and breaking of too many careers to count over the years.
Just before Christmas, Jammer released the fifth instalment of his Lord of the Mics series, featuring some of the grime scene’s most promising artists, including MCs from Manchester, Birmingham and East London, the home of the genre. “This one only took me 2 weeks, a week to organise the clashes and a week to film it,” he tells me, “it flowed a lot quicker than usual”. Many fans were surprised to see LOTM5 come out so quickly and easily, as previous versions have been plagued with tales of dropouts, no-shows and the kind of flakiness and unprofessionalism that is so unfortunately common with grime artists.
Jammer, however, is an experienced professional and knows more than a thing or two about putting out his own projects independently. “If you listen to LOTM you’ll see that it’s up to a certain spec,” he tells me, “I think it’s important for people to lead by example. If I’m putting out quality music and people see that then they can’t put out lower quality music because I’ve set the standard.” This attitude is why Jammer is respected as one of grime’s elder statesmen, and his advice is often sought out by the younger generation. “I’ve got all these artists coming to me wanting to put music out because they want to have PR, they want to go on radio they want to have it dealt with professionally,” he claims, “even if it’s not coming out on a major label, they want an independent release that’s treated like it’s coming out on a major”.
Lord of the Mics has showcased some of the scene’s biggest names and brightest talents, as well as providing a platform for up-and-coming artists to prove their ability. Classic clashes such as Skepta versus Devilman or Scratchy versus Footsie still provoke angry debate amongst fans now, while Bashy’s schoolyard taunts to the floundering Demon will forever rank among grime’s most popular moments. Every fan has a dream clash they would love to see become a reality and Jammer is no different. “I think me and everyone else would like to see Dizzee Rascal versus Wiley,” he tells me, “another clash that would be great would be Dappy versus Lethal Bizzle.” Jammer makes no secrets of his admiration for the N-Dubz frontman, “Dappy is immensely talented,” he says, “obviously the way he carries himself in the public eye isn’t very good professionally but musically he’s amazing, one of the best ever to come out of England”.
If you ask most grime fans what clash they would most like to see, the names you will hear come up most often are P Money and Ghetto. Towards the end of 2009 and in early 2010, Ghetto and P Money traded blows with war dubs, freestyle videos and radio sends all directed at each other, until Risky Roadz decided to organise a face-to-face clash between the two to decide the winner once and for all. The clash never happened, but that won’t stop it being mooted every time Lord of the Mics is brought up in conversation. “The reason why I didn’t say that clash is that it’s still possible,” says Jammer, “I put up the 10 grand for Ghetto to come and clash because that’s how much he said he wanted but he was beating around the bush when it was time to sign off the papers”. “I know him personally as a mate and I think he had some people around him who were saying that he shouldn’t do it” he tells me, “I think it’s a little bit of fear and also that he’s battled so many people in his career that he wants to take a different route.”
Social media has been set alight with discussions about Lord of the Mics 5, with the Lil Nasty and Maxsta clash in particular causing controversy. There has been a great deal of speculation about a Lil Nasty lyric, which was censored but is believed to make reference to Maxsta’s younger brother, who died tragically in 2012. “The reason I censored it is that I don’t want people talking about it,” he tells me, “I respect Maxsta for staying in and we’ve all been together every day on this tour and the guys are really cool with each other”. There was also talk on Twitter that one of Lil Nasty’s brothers had thrown a punch at Maxsta during the clash, however this didn’t make the final cut of the DVD and Jammer claims he knows nothing about it. “The only punch I know about was Marger and Lay-Z (on Lord of the Mics 3) and I put it on the DVD to show that if anybody ever thinks they’re going to hit anybody in a clash again, your career will be non-existent,” he tells me, taking an unusually serious tone, “after that he has not been part of the scene. He’s not allowed to work with us and he’s not allowed to be around us, not because we’re going to do anything, just because he’s not welcome”.
Controversy aside, Lord of the Mics 5 is a strong offering, with some very impressive individual performances. “The Blizzard and Shizz clash was really good in terms of the lyrics and the way they bounced back and forward,” he tells me, “Grimmy and Grim Sickers was really entertaining. Not every clash is about being the best MC, sometimes it has to be about bussing joke and having banter”.
The sixth instalment of Lord of the Mics is due to come out early this year, and confirmed names include up and comers Jayeye, Villain and AK, as well as grime veterans P Money and Big H, who was due to appear on Lord of the Mics 4 until his opponent, Scratchy, pulled out. “H was going to do it but then Wiley paid Scratchy 10 grand not to clash,” he tells me, “I’m trying to get the Sox and Trilla clash on there as well.”
Jammer also recently announced the formation of a Lord of the Mics battle league, in a similar vein to Don’t Flop, called Big MIc Man. “I’m trying to build a league because Lord of the Mics is a funny thing where an elite of people get onto the product but there are a load of kids out there who would love to be on it,” he tells me, “I want that to start this year”.
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