Trapstar and DJ Logan Sama School You on the History of Grime and Share New Mixtape
The fashion designer and the Rinse FM DJ talk the past, present and future of the UK’s booming musical movement.
When Trapstar tapped pioneering grime DJ Logan Sama of Rinse FM, Kiss FM and BBC 1Xtra to help curate, collect and craft a mixtape, the inspiration was simple: take emcees and producers new and old and ask them which beat, which riddim, which sound made them fall in love with grime as a genre. The result is a 22-track tape — the bluntly titled Trapstar x Logan Sama Mixtape — of new blood and living legends sharing mic time over production that sounds nostalgic for those in the know, and ahead of its time for those unfamiliar with grime’s history and heritage.
There’s an instinctive urge to draw parallels between grime and hip-hop — an reflexive attempt to make something familiar and palatable. Even those at the heart of grime culture, like Trapstar co-founder and namesake Mikey Trapstar, try their best to find analogies and corollaries between the two distinct-yet-related genres: Trapstar himself likens More Fire Crew’s seminal street hit “Oi!,” for example, to Black Rob’s “Whoa.” Elsewhere on the eponymous tape, Skepta flips Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” so that Ghetts, So Large and Rival can flex their own riddims over an American hip-hop classic. When pressed on the necessity of a mainstream cosign, Sama points toward the music industry’s structure as a whole. “if you’re fucking with what Skepta and Stormzy and mandem are doing right now, there’s so much more for you to discover, musically and artistically.” In short, outsiders are welcome here. It doesn’t matter if listeners were clued in via an OVOSound Radio mix or via blog links — so long as it comes from a place of appreciating the culture and environment that birthed this sound, this culture, anyone can hang.
Read on below for the designer and DJ’s takes on grime’s history, the spread of roadman style, and what’s next for the genre.
Logan, can you tell us a bit about your background and some of your credentials?
Okay, so I started out playing on Rinse FM, the legendary pirate radio station, at the turn of the millennium with the founders of grime before grime even existed. It wasn’t even called grime! It was during the transitional period between underground garage and a new sound that we didn’t have a name for. And I was the first person on the radio to present it, to be a voice for it and just give information to the people through my radio show. And to champion this new sound and culture. Because before that, it was very much dance music. Garage was dance music and rave culture. Grime is way more of a voice, way more emcee-led and I championed that and transitioned over to the biggest radio station in London, Kiss FM, for the music. I did the first ever legal grime show on radio. I did that show for ten years before I left Kiss FM because they reformatted to a more commercial format and I wasn’t really fucking with that any more. And in that time, all the artists that are coming up now all came through the show; the documentation is there on the YouTube videos with all the legendary names who went on to do so much more. Now I’m just out there championing the sounds in the clubs ’round the world and on BBC 1Xtra. All the artists on this tape, I fuck with all of them or all of their careers. When it came to putting this CD together, Mikey and Lee reached out and said ‘We trust you and your knowledge’ and they put their own bits in there together and we put together an incredible project with great talent, legends, emerging talent and some of the historic music, instrumentally, that we remember listening to when we were teenagers, man. We remember hearing it on pirate radio when it was formed, and we’re privileged to have been there. I was there in the room when this music was formed, in the studio when it was being built, when legendary albums were being made and vocals were being recorded in and around Boy Better Know and Roll Deep and Nasty Crew and all other places. I’ve been there from before we even had a name for it. It’s great to be here in 2015-2016 and to see the fruits of everyone’s labors coming through and seeing the rewards that they deserve for their work and creativity.
How do you see this tape fitting into the pirate radio canon? Is this an extension of hopping on another artist’s riddim or more of an American-style mixtape?
Logan: This is very much in the style of a US-style mixtape; firstly, they’re all individual tracks. It’s basically freestyles over other peoples’ beats collected together. It’s a compilation. To be honest with you, if this was done in a different way I think it would be a legendary album. But the way that we’ve put this together, it’s still going to be a legendary project. The way that it does reflect that pirate radio style is in the sounds, man. These are the instrumentals and beats that we were cutting on dub-plates and going to the pirate radio studios and playing over the airwaves 15 years ago, when we were first starting out. You’re getting it in a digestible format that a wider audience can understand in terms of tracks, but the sounds are important and vital. It’s that authentic, early sound that made me honestly fall in grime in the first place and that’s what we’re tryna get out to the people. It’s kinda like we’re giving people something they don’t know about but in a way that they can digest it. It’s basically an album, but with subversively introducing sounds and elements to the tape that are gonna be educating a whole new audience, which is what excited me about the project in the first place.
What was the inspiration behind this tape? What’s the story behind it?
Mikey Trapstar: The first thing that led to the tape is that I was driving, listening to old school tapes from 2002—the tape was a rave, a night called Sidewinder, featuring Dizzee Rascal and Slimzee. So I was listening to that and the sound of that era was very personal to us. At that time, this was in winter 2014, or just turning into winter, so this led us to call Logan in January 2015, and that was the reasoning behind the tape.
So the tape is like us capturing that era of grime, roundabout 2002 to 2005, the period of golden-era grime. And then we have the new emcees of grime with the veterans and poster-boys of grime on the tape. So it’s bringing in the new generation and the old generation together. And the whole theme of it is that they were allowed to pick a track that inspired them, which they fucked with and made them fall in love with grime, and then spit over it. Some great homage—like Section and Stormzy because they was way younger at the time, so it’s something that got them into grime, and then you have some emcees, such as like Kano and NJ Fever on tracks that they spat on when they came out!
DJ Logan Sama: Wow! (laughter)
Mikey: Say that again?
DJ Logan Sama: Man said NJ Fever! Take it all the way back. Give them the nostalgia.
Mikey: I went to school with him! I’ve known him since I was 13. But uh, yeah. So veteran emcees who, if you are really into the genre you would know what these people did, like Logan and I just spoke about a guy who changed his name. Basically, veterans spitting on tracks that they can go over now because they don’t think how they used to. So that’s the whole essence of the tape; it’s the essence of grime, to be quite honest. Logan can touch more base on the music, then.
Logan: My excitement about this project is that, for me, the whole nostalgic thing with grime is something that is kind of overdone in the UK. So I’ve never been a fan of going back too much because you end up ignoring the breakthroughs that are happening and going forwards and obviously in 2015-2016 grime has gone so far forwards that it’s been an incredible thing for someone who’s been doing it for 15 years. It’s an incredible time and an exciting time. So normally, when it comes to nostalgic stuff, I wouldn’t really fuck with it but when Mikey got in touch with me about putting this project together it really excited me because the audience that Trapstar has and the attention that they’re getting around the world, and the attention that grime is getting around the world, it’s been very apparent to me that the history of what he has been doing in the scene is undiscovered by so many people. And I thought it was an incredibly exciting project to take contemporary artists, be they youngsters that are coming through right now or legends that’ve been releasing music adn relevant in the grime scene for well over a decade now, gotten them all together and showcasing the classic sound of grime, which never got the chance to get the shine it deserves. And it’s exciting to me because grime, sonically, doesn’t really age. I can show this music to someone who’s never heard the beats before and they’ll think it’s all new music. A great example of that, of course, is Stormzy’s “Shut Up.” The instrumental to that track is 14 years old, but to the wider audience that heard it, it sounded brand new and fresh. Like something they’d never heard before, and that’s the real exciting thing about grime, for me. No matter when you come across it, whether it was back in the day when it first appeared like at Sidewinder or if it’s reading blogs about Skepta and Stormzy in 2016, the music still sounds as exciting and fresh as it always has done. What we’re doing is we’re putting this project together so that in time these are gonna be the instrumentals that made us fall in love with grime in the first place in the UK. Alongside the most exciting vocal and lyrical talent that we’ve got around right now, be it the new youths like Section coming through, like Novelist, like Jamz and other people. Or legends like Roll Deep, Raw Squad, Newham Generals, DW, Kano, Ghetts, so many names on there, y’know. Bloodline, they’ve been doing it for ages. It’s such a great mixture of talent on such certified legendary instrumentals, so for me it’s a really exciting project.
And it’s really important to me, the instrumental side of it. Because a lot of the hip-hop community that are discovering grime music don’t realize the fact that the instrumental side of grime exists on its own. The same way that so many other important genres like drum-and-bass and jungle or UK garage or even going all the way to dancehall and reggae culture with riddims and versions, where the riddim has its own life and emcees add something to it. Whereas in hip-hop, it’s very much song-driven and the instrumentals don’t generally have their own life. So that’s something that I’m looking forward to highlighting as well: that exciting part of grime. And I think that this tape, when people get their hands on it, if you’re fucking with what Skepta and Stormzy and mandem are doing right now, there’s so much more for you to discover, musically and artistically. That’s what made me wanna get onboard and made the best project that we could do. And I think we’ve done that.
I’m glad you mentioned the fact that these beats are ten years old, fourteen years old and I was wondering: Grime sounds like it’s from the future, even when it’s ten years old. How are these beats always ahead of their time? Because it’s not like the golden age of hip-hop where it has a dated aspect.
DJ Logan: For me, musically, what makes grime sound like that is that you’ve got a bunch of kids with no musical training and therefore have no rules to what they’re doing. They’re not following conventions in making their music. They’re doing what feels and sounds right to them, with whatever sounds they have around them and whatever tools they have access to. They’re not making it in multi-million pound studios with expensive equipment and software. They’re taking it back to the essence of what it was, in the same way that in the early days of hip-hop, you were just digging in those crates and using whatever sounds and loops caught your ear. That’s how these kids are making grime nowadays. They’ve never lost that. It’s never got to a point where people were making beats because we were hoping they were palatable to a wider audience. We’re still making the same fire and excitement and it’s a cultural thing, man. I think it crosses over into the fashion, as well, to the attitude and the slang. We’re just doing what feels and sounds right and we’re not really following conventional rules. And that’s why it’s always gonna sound different to everything else out there. Because there’s no template for it. I could never say ‘This is what grime sounds like,’ because it’s not. It might sound corny to say that, but it’s the real. I can’t tell you how to make a grime beat. You’ve just gotta catch the vibe and if it feels right and it works, then yeah, it’s gonna ring off. If it don’t, then it doesn’t.
What is your attitude to roadman styles—think Stone Island and Air Max 95s—becoming an international streetwear staple, as opposed to a localized British thing? Is it considered a good thing to see it spread or is it derided as being watered down?
Mikey: I think it’s getting its recognition because it’s always been there. I guess other designers have grown up through the genre and if you’re from that, there are a lot of British designers doing that and people travel and seen it through, as you said, you can see it up and down in London, but I dunno. It’s been a thing for years. So I think it’s getting its recognition now. Anything that gets its recognition is something positive, I guess.
Logan: I agree with that, man. Definitely. As long as the source is getting its recognition and it’s not about just coming in and taking what you want and taking it out of the culture and the context without giving due credit to the culture that it’s coming from. As far as I can see, it is getting its due credit.
Could you explain the intersection of grime and streetwear to give some context?
Mikey: It’s very wearable and it’s not try-hard in any way. The genre is from humble beginnings and so is the dress. It’s not over-the-top, West End night-club type of wear, it’s more of what fits well and feels good. It’s more that people consistently associate it with the waterproof tracksuit; non-glitz side of dressing. More, like, wearable and comfortable and that is what the genre came from.
So is it more about it being accessible and affordable?
That part of it’s changed, I think. It’s more about the essence of the silhouette. You can have a limited edition tracksuit from your favorite brand, it’s more on the silhouette. It’s not what you’re trying to go to a bougie club. You can now get in to the bougie club because they’ll recognize it, but it is more on the silhouette. The silhouette is more associated with trackies and sneakers.
Logan: I like what you said about the active thing, because it’s definitely clothing for getting active. You can’t (laughs), you can’t be not able to move and react to certain situations in the clothing.
Mikey: That’s why it’s very much associated with the lifestyle.
Do you see grime artists making it without a cosign or does they still need it as a stepping stone to reach a wider audience?
Logan: The way that the industry works right now, it’s very cosign-based anyway, especially in order to reach certain levels, so unless that awareness of grime music and culture and people get used to hearing the sounds in certain places and elevate it to a wider platform, you always need that cosign now. Quality isn’t what carries you to a wider audience. So for me I’m not too bothered. As long as the artists are making great music continuously still. Like the music that Stormzy is making now is no better or worse than the stuff he’s been making for the last couple years before he got recognized. That work is being recognized now, the grime scene is being entertained and being accepted now. So I think in terms of breaking America and crossing over to America—that’s not the aim and it’s not the goal and it never has been. It’s always been about doing what we love doing and expressing the culture and getting the message out there and if people wanna fuck with it, that’s great! We accommodate them, man. We’re happy. The music has reach, man, it’s come from humble beginnings, so any love we get shown is reciprocated, like. There’s no shortage of appreciation when we get shown love for the genuine music. And I think that’ll continue. Stormzy’s dropping his album, Wiley’s dropping an album, Kano just dropped an album—the culture will carry on reflecting that Britishness and that part of British society that many didn’t even know existed, y’know? Most of America doesn’t even know it’s there. They’re still holding onto that tea-and-crumpets image of Britain. But that’s obviously not what the reality is, and that’s what grime is about. Grime is about getting reality out there, from how we live. And we’ve seen acceptance from people that appreciate real people, a real message, real music and a genuine culture. The energy and passion that we’ve got in grime is second to none. And hopefully some great collabs come out of it, but at the end of the day, we’re gonna carry on doing what we’ve been doing making authentic street music from Great Britain. The quality, production value and packaging are only gonna get better, the visuals and marketing. It’s a real movement. We’ve got kids who’ve grown up with this music in their ears for decades and it’s infiltrating the industry with people like Mikey and Lee that have grown up in this culture, influencing different areas. And we can do cool shit like this mixtape, which allows altogether our powers, whereas before I might’ve tried to fuck with a clothing brand that doesn’t completely get the culture. Now there’s people that are the culture, living the culture and representing it in a different way in a different place, and we can just link up and it’s a natural, organic thing.
Stream the mixtape below and for more on Trapstar clothing and news visit their site here.
Trapstar x Logan Sama Mixtape Tracklisting
1. Section Boyz – Oi (Prod by Chubby Dredd)
2. Newham Generals – Sense (Prod by Macabre Unit)
3. Ghetts, So Large & Rival – Thuggish Ruggish (Prod by Skepta)
4. Jammz, Big Zuu, Ten Dixon & Mic Ty – Fire Remix (Prod by Waifa)
5. Ruff Sqwad – Pied Piper (Produced by Rapid)
6. OGz – Eyez On U (Prod by Davinche)
7. Bonkaz – Go (Prod by Dizzee Rascal)
8. StayFresh – U Aint Ready (Prod by Eastwood)
9. Jammer, Fusion & Blakie – Gasman (Prod by Jammer)
10.Novelist – Take Time (Prod by Macabre Unit)
11.Nasty Jack & Marcie Phonix – Pulse Eskimo (Prod by Skepta)
12.Bloodline – Woah (Prod by So Solid)
13.Skitz, K9 & PhazeWhat – No Help Or Handouts (Prod by Silkie)
14.Kano – Pied Piper (Prod by Rapid)
15.No Lay – Mic Check 1 2 (Prod by Mikey J)
16.Stormzy – Shallow (Prod by DJ Marsta)
17.Roll Deep – I Will Not Lose (Prod by Wiley)
18.Invasion Alert – Freestyle (Prod by Various)
19.Maxsta & Scrufizzer – Slippin in SW (Prod by Wiley)
20.Lightning – Xtra (Prod by Rapid)
21.Mez, Snowy, J Dot & Kyeza – Dem Nuh Ready Yet (Prod by Macabre Unit)
22.Wretch 32 – Ghetto Kyote (Prod by Treble Clef)
Written by Ben Roazen
- Ben Roazen