Grime MC turned pop artist Jammer is late. We’re waiting at a bar/table tennis hall for the renowned ‘Lord of the Mic’ to arrive to chew over his second album Living the Dream.
But when he does eventually arrive, Jammer is very much adhering to the title of his record. Dressed in shorts, vest, chain and garish, foliage patterned blazer he looks every inch the pop star with a photographer on hand to document his every move. It’s ridiculous.
But if anyone working in grime has earnt the right to do whatever he wants, then it’s Jammer. His reputation as a MC, producer and one of the forefathers of the genre proceeds him. Beginning with work with N.A.S.T.Y Crew, he made or had a hand in many of the most important releases from the genre while supporting and arguing with his peers all the way.
Alongside the likes of Wiley, Lethal Bizzle, Skepta and Kano, Jammer succeeded in taking the sounds out of pirate radio and into the mainstream. Jammer’s first album, Jahmanji, dropped on Big Dada and set out his stall as an artist straddling the divide between the pop charts and underground raves. He deserved kudos as much for the glorious chaos of singles Ten Man Roll and Party Animal as the record sleeve featuring Jammer standing next a huge elephant.
As an interviewee, this MC makes for an intriguing subject, prone to talking at a million miles a minute before collapsing into giggles. M sat down with him to get the low down on his forthcoming album Living the Dream, how he first started making grime and why he posed on his album cover next to an elephant…
What were the first songs which turned you onto music?
My dad was in a band so I used to go to the rehearsals with him a lot, listen and play a little bit of drums or percussion.
After that I began to get into DJing and more electronic music. Ragga, bashment and jungle. That’s where my involvement in music in the sense of taking it seriously and thinking I could see myself doing it as a career began.
What kind of music were you DJing?
I started playing garage - which became popular with the kids of my age at the time - Wookie, Soul II Soul, Zinc and people like Oris Jay and MJ Cole.
While I was DJing I began to think I wanted to do more than just that. I didn’t know what but knew it was more than just choosing a song and playing it. I ended up getting a job at Essentials Direct, which was the biggest music distributor in the UK at the time. I was working there and got a chance to be in the studio and around people.
How did you first meet other grime artists like Wiley?
I started building my own studio and fell in with [Rinse FM station manager] Sarah Lockhart. She moved on to do stuff with Geeneus. I started producing music and handing it over to Sarah. At that time, guys like Oris Jay were coming through. The beats had a drum n bass feel and the garage soul with just a little bit of vocal in it. I heard that and knew I wanted to make music like it.
A friend of mine introduced me to [Roll Deep member] Flow Dan and he came down to my studio with Wiley. Wiley was doing big things at the time so to hook up with him was massive. I played them some of my beats. But I was new to it and Flow Dan and Wiley just laughed at my tracks.
I’ll never forget it. It made me want to make sure people liked my music rather than laughed at it in the future.
What is it a natural step from making beats to spitting rhymes and verses?
That came a long time after me and N.A.S.T.Y crew split. Back then there were so many MCs in the studio that I didn’t have time or chance to experiment. So when we broke up, I did.
Wiley heard some of my ideas - he was with Maximum (this was before he was part of Boy Better Know) and came down my studio. So I did some beats for him which is when I recorded the Murkle Man. He played it on his pirate show that night and after that my phone just never stopped ringing.
I remember when Dan Stacey at 679 Records was doing a lot of stuff under this Run the Road banner. They had an event and I helped them compile a CD. We put the Run the Road at Fabric event where Kano was supposed to perform live. DJ Cameo was playing and put me on the spot by playing the Murkle Man tune. He asked me to perform it. I didn’t want to do it but he forced me to. I took the mike, did the lyric and that was it. Everyone in the scene started calling me for shows and performances to the point where I didn’t want to perform it anymore.
How do you approach the creative process?
I think I’m a bit of a psychopath because, even with the elephant on the front cover of Jahmanji, I just woke up and one day and was like ‘I want an elephant’.
I started phoning people asking ‘can you get me an elephant?’ They thought I was joking. I wasn’t. I want to be unique, whether that’s with the album cover or the music.
How did you come up with the Murkle Man persona?
I was making the tune with Skepta and he advised me on what bits to edit. I took the best bits, cut it down, arranged it and recorded it. Then when we’d done that, we were like ‘what are we going to do for the video?’
My first thought was I wanted to be a superhero. Then everyone was like, that’s it! I got a designer to do me a suit in green and purple. Two days later he called me and he was like I’ve got the suit done.
It was just me thinking out of the box and trying to do something a bit different.
How was it posing for a photo next to an elephant?
When I was next to the elephant, the trunk was going round my leg. The zookeeper guy was like ‘be calm’. But I’m standing there next to this massive elephant with this 50 foot drop behind me. It was pretty intense. But after doing it, I thought it was a great thing to have done. The elephant was so close to me, just looking into my eyes. It was very intimate.
How did you make the new album Living the Dream?
I made an album before it but when it came to releasing it, it wasn’t what I wanted to come across as. I’d been through a few things in my life and I just want to make an album that I wanted to make. Even with the first album on Big Dada, they let me be creative but at the same time, there was still pressure to sell a certain amount of records.
With this one, I wanted to enjoy every aspect of the record with no pressures. Whoever gets it understands it and enjoys it. So that’s what I did. I went in the studio, pressed record and just went with it. It took me two months. No one could believe it when I’d finished it.
What does grime now mean to you?
Grime was something we created and used to give us our own platform and make people acknowledge us. It might be a big worldwide selling music one day. A lot of Americans are influenced by grime artists, particularly now. But we’ve been doing it for years. For everyone who was there at the start of the scene, whether they’re still doing grime now or not, the genre gave them a career and made sure they could feed their families, have a life and enjoy themselves. Grime has given me a life.