Veiled from the din of a hectic East End A road by a scrubby petrol station and a brooding rough-wood sycamore is the Lord Of The Mics head office. Inside, a couple of neatly arranged desks and a time-worn leather couch ring themselves around an expansive whiteboard heaving with black ink.
It’s mid-May and the launch night for the sixth instalment of Lord Of The Mics is descending, meaning that for Jahmek Power, aka Jammer, and the rest of the four-man team, the past week has been arduous. Scrawled under the header ‘Promo’ is a catalogue of deadlined tasks that need concluding if the event is to enjoy the success of previous instalments. (By all accounts, it was a pretty memorable experience.)
Armed with two bulging black bin liners, Jammer – wearing jeans, a tilted hat and a black t-shirt – scuffs the faded redwood carpet, stooping by the entrance to mount the bags atop of an already swelling pile. After a moment’s consideration he decides: “We’ll do the interview round the back,” nodding to the doorway at the far end of the office. A member of the team grins from the sunken sofa. “Round the back? That’s wrong!” The rest of the room erupts into laughter.
“Round the back” is a moderate studio room that glows yellow – the consequence of a solitary dangling fuzzy bulb and an absence of natural sunlight. At the far end, two plastic chairs, buffered with cushions, have been folded out. Mounted on a sandy computer desk is an Alto keyboard; peering from above, a framed red and white ‘Jahmanji’ print, Jammer’s debut album released on Big Dada in 2010.
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Jammer, ‘Ten Man Roll’, from ‘Jahmanji’
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Both he and LOTM have journeyed a winding path from their original recordings, which included no more than Jahmek and a new flip camera. Though initially gifted to film “the family stuff”, Jammer would instead use it to record his friends, the first step to what would eventually become a prevailing platform for seasoned veterans and hungry newcomers.
Though he has origins in jungle, Jahmek spent his teenage years sculpting an alternate sound, grime, which was sweeping East London throughout the early moments of the 21st century. He wasn’t alone either; his friends Kano, D Double E and Skepta were at it, too. When not preoccupied with inadvertent trailblazing, they would all hang out in the basement of Jammers mum’s house.
‘The dungeon’, as it was known, unpredictably became a hub of the grime scene with genre frontrunners, N.A.S.T.Y. Crew (which included Jammer, Kano and D Double E) and Roll Deep spending hours together despite the competitive rivalry they were entwined in. “We were the two groups that were going against each other, but at the same time we were very together and very studio connected,” Jammer remembers, identifying his friendship with Wiley as one of the many bridges between the two groups.
Competitive sparring would see both crews frequently go head to head on radio stations, but these performances had yet to be translated into a purely battle format. That would soon be put to an end. One afternoon, after idling with Kano in ‘the dungeon’, Jammer suggested that he go head to head with Wiley, who was returning from a trip to the states.
“Wiley came straight from the airport and we just pulled out the camera.” Wiley, jetlagged as he may have been, accepted the challenge. “And then we went into the basement,” Jammer continues. “I remember it was me, Skepta and Kano, and a few others of us there, and they got it cracking.”
The swivel camera he filmed on has since been upgraded, but the original footage is intact. Most, if not all of it, has found a home on the internet, where intrigued observers, nostalgic 20-somethings and the artists themselves can relive 2003 to 2005 in pint-sized portions. Competitive, brazen, even humorous at times, the footage is the most accurate reflection of the emerging scene.
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If it wasn’t for radio, there wouldn’t have been no grime scene…
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Another fundamental tool in the evolving grime story was the pirate radio station. In a recurrent game of cat and mouse, illegitimate broadcasters would sprout in houses and tower blocks, before being shut down once officers from communications regulator, Ofcom, had caught wind.
“The radio, for me, it brings back everything,” says Jammer. “That is the beginning.” His path took him from Mission FM – a station local to the Hackney area – to a coveted slot on De Ja Vu FM. Lord Of The Mics and likeminded platforms propelled the garage offshoot into the visual age, putting names and lyrics to faces – but radio was the genesis.
“If it wasn’t for radio and for us being able to broadcast our stuff to people, there wouldn’t have been no [grime] scene,” he says. “There wouldn’t have been no dream. That is what people forget – without that you wouldn’t hear our music.”
With the exception of a handful, pirate radio stations rarely stretched from their local bases. But despite grime’s general focus on London, the fledging genre did find a way to prick the ears of Def Jam founder and cross-genre producer Rick Rubin, in the States.
“Rick was just into the stuff, and he just wanted to hear more,” Jammer recalls, though as a teenager he did not fully grasp Rubin’s reputation. “When I was told who this guy was I was like, ‘Okay cool,’ but I didn’t fully have an understanding of these things. I was just making music for me and my friends to go mad, but the energy travelled over to the masses.”
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Jammer, ‘Murkle Man’
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That method proved fruitful and, a little while after the release of the first Lord Of The Mics in 2004, Jammer scored a solo success with ‘Murkle Man’, produced by Wiley. The accompanying video, a tongue-in-cheek effort, saw Jammer draped in a cape and patrolling his local area, a large M emblazed on his custom outfit. It still sends crowd into frenzy whenever performed. “That was so magical,” he says, grinning. “It wasn’t a thought out procedure – it was just an energy kind of vibe.”
‘Murkle Man’ put a face to the flamboyant producer previously heard chattering over the opening scenes to N.A.S.T.Y. Crew’s cult tracks, and the brand he had envisioned was at last forged – with “the dreadlocks and everything”. Rolling his sleeves up, he reveals the ‘Jahmek The World’ logo – a self-caricature that balances the globe in an outstretched palm, printed on his old vinyl records.
With Lord Of The Mics now deep set in grime’s framework, there can be little denying what would remain if Jahmek’s fruitful career were to end tomorrow:
“It’s really exciting for me, because I know I’ve been involved in something while I’m on this planet. When they go back to talk about who created [grime], I’m definitely up for being spoken about. God forbid if anything happened to me before I reach my next achievements – I feel that what I’ve done is deeply embedded, and enough to last me.”
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Words: Aniefiok Ekpoudom (Twitter)