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Interview with Threefold Media
I recently interviewed Newham Generals’ Footsie for a biography piece to be featured on his webpage. We ended up talking about his music career for 90 minutes, during the course of which he revealed tons of facts and little tit-bits of knowledge that I thought right to share. Footsie is a candid interviewee and once we discovered we had a mutual appreciation for Old Skool reggae outfit Black Uhuru, it was on! Big up Foots for dropping knowledge and taking the time to speak to us.
So let’s take it back to the beginning. You’ve said in various interviews that your Dad has been a big influence in your music, in what way?
From early my Dad had speakers – he was a big soundman and throughout childhood I could hear his stuff. Reggae music. He was part of a group called ‘King Original’, East London’s finest sound system and played with Saxon, Coxsone and King Tubby. My Dad was big! He used to take me to studio and I would just soak it all up; I met famous people and learnt about drums and vocals. My Dad was a world-class drummer, he did world tours and produced an album for [famous Reggae musician] Eek-a-mouse. So yeah, I’ve been around stuff.
That was my foundation, the music of my house. In fact ‘King Original’ is going to be the name of my solo album.
Ok so what music made you want to become a musician/producer/MC?
Jungle. As a kid I wrote my first bars to Reggae, Ragga and Bashment – whatever Dad was playing and he said that from that point he knew I was going to be a music man. My older cousins used to listen to Hardcore and Acid and whilst I thought it was interesting, it didn’t really click. But when I got my first radio it was the first time I could tune into what I wanted, and I chose Drum ‘n’ Bass and Jungle.
Take us back to that time when Grime was first emerging as a sub-genre of Garage. What were you doing back then?
I was making music bruv. I was making tunes and MC’ing in the Garage scene when Grime popped up. Grime wasn’t the first thing I’d MC’d on. Drum ‘n’ Bass came first and then Garage – I went from MC’ing at 90 miles per hour to MC’ing over the short breaks in vocal Garage tunes, which was hosting more than anything. Then, in Garage, beats and bass became more prevalent. It wasn’t named anything then as it was still considered Garage, but the Locked On label and people like El-B/Groove Chronicles came with this new industrial, harder sound.
I went studio, building tracks with an older guy called Dada and thought ‘I can do this!’ Dada was a computer wiz so I bought a load of bits and he built me a PC. We made tunes together but he was always trying to tidy up and polish my sound and I didn’t want that – I needed my own computer! From there I had to learn the ropes, making sh!t beats for a couple of years, but then I started making things that I wanted to MC on – completely different to the vocal stuff that was popular at the time.
Having been through so many different music scenes and stylistic changes, do you think that knowledge sets you apart from the rest of the Grime scene today?
Yeah man, this ain’t my first thing. We tend to put our heart into music regardless of what it’s called because we know as artists, we are bigger than Grime. Genres come and go.
You’re a producer as well as an MC, which came first?
MC’ing came first, producing came later on…
Which do you feel most competent/comfortable at?
I’ll be truthful and say producing. However, recently, I’ve had much stronger belief in my spitting and I want to explore it. As a producer you can duck out the limelight a bit whereas for somebody like Double, he wants that stardom. For me I love to be able to sink into the background and be easy.
You and Double met through local radio/Jungle scenes. How did it go from bucking each other on sets to joining N.A.S.T.Y. Crew together?
Double linked me one day and we went to the studio. We made it a regular thing and ended up making tunes like ‘War Wid.’ I wasn’t in N.A.S.T.Y. at this point but Double was. I was showing him my beats and together we made a good few tunes – some of which are unreleased and I still have. It was good back then, because whenever we linked up we recorded at least one tune and arranged them properly instead of just spitting blindly. We knew how songs should be made.
Double brought a lot of ideas to the table which was great because at that time I hadn’t really spat over many of my beats, I just concentrated on building them and becoming a better producer. My spitting suffered but it had to be done. I’ll sling them out at some point as they’re sick riddims! The playfulness in some of the songs is a lot.
You, DEE and Monkey left N.A.S.T.Y. and went on to form Newham Generals. How long after leaving Nasty was it until you signed to Dirtee Stank?
We saw guys getting snapped up at the time and everyone was trying to sign Double. But with my beats, we had that little bit extra to us, unlike a lot of crews, I got my studio together and we made a CD of tunes. Other crews were doing anything whilst we stayed focussed and kept that structure. It was more than just spraying.
Double had a couple of meetings with Dirtee Stank and he took our CD along. We got signed off the beats and Double to be honest, that’s what it was. Double was Dyl’s idol growing up too, so it was a natural thing.
Before you released ‘Generally Speaking’, you and DEE toured the country with Dizzee solidly for a couple of years. Did that live experience shape the outcome of that album?
It was a massive learning curve. The first tour was a massive slap in the face for us because we were going from raves and reloads to teenage crowds who didn’t know who we were and who would start looking at their watch waiting for Dyl. Although we would always have a splash of fans there, most of the crowd didn’t give a f**k about us. We had to battle that and that’s why Dubs and I are strong because it was sink or swim time then and we definitely swam. It was such an education.
Looking back what do you think about ‘Generally Speaking’ and are you happy with how it was received by critics and fans?
That album was ahead of its time. If we dropped it now, it would get soaked up differently. For me, ‘Generally Speaking’ was the best foot forward, and even though we didn’t have an instant ‘bang’ with it, I think we’re better off because with instant success comes an instant decline. We’ve built on it just like Diz did. People chart his career from ‘Dance With Me’ and ‘Bonkers’ but man had been about for six years prior to those releases. He has a whole new fan base now and that shows you that the hustle is never over, even after all that success.
That album is a live album – it’s loud, bassy and meant to be played out over a big system. You can’t ignore them sh!ts! People expected us to go fully commercial I think, once they learned about the affiliation with Dizzee. When they found out we hadn’t, they act shocked. I was baffled by that, but hey, I know my music is good and the bosses are feeling it. ‘Generally Speaking’ is the strongest pillar in our foundation and from that we get recognition for staying true.
Has there been any stand out performances in your career either as Newham Generals or on a solo top?
Erm, all of them man. It has been the deepest learning curve so I can’t even pick. Saying that, Europe was deep – everyone had a hard time out there, including Diz. We were away for weeks, some of the clubs were sh*t, the food was rubbish…for the first week it’s ok but a second week of sh*t food really gets to you. At least on tour here you can dip into a Nandos or something!
Lovebox was really good. When we hit the stage it was a bit sparse, but as soon as we got going people came running to us. Halfway through the first song we had a decent crowd and by the third it was rammed.
Will you keep up your FWD and Rinse appearances over the new year?
Yeah, definitely! Although radio has become less of a priority now because although our Rinse set was one of the most downloaded, we can’t keep using up all our new bars and beats. It’s like giving out an album every week. Why would people buy our album when it’s out?! But bursting the rave is always on the menu!
I read an interview with Rusko in the Guardian recently and he said some of the best times he’s had have been at FWD>> with us on the mic, the early FWD>> days. This guy is working with Britney Spears!
You’ve maintained an enviable presence at the top of the Grime scene. Co-signed by Dizzee, playing consistently at raves and festivals, getting ‘Bag of Grease’ up in the iTunes chart. What would you say has been key to your growing success?
That iTunes chart position was crazy. It reached number 26 in the chart and number 2 in the Hip-Hop and R’n’B chart – next to Eminem and Lil’ Wayne. But I gotta big up Laurence man, as well as the whole Dirtee Stank crew. The musical climate changed too; people are ready for grease again and we stayed greasy even when it wasn’t fashionable. I haven’t heard the word ‘Grime’ banded about as much as I do today…
You live in Forest Gate, East London, which is where Grime originated. How important is your area to your music and to you as an artist?
It’s everything. That’s what makes me tick, makes me how I think – you know them ones? If there’s youts getting drawn over by the feds or you hear something greasy goes down then it can only make you want to lock down your sector and protect what you have.
Living in such close proximity to other MC’s how did you ensure you stuck to your own sound?
I gotta big up Double because he is an innovator. Meeting Dizzee has fully confirmed the fact that Double is a star as they both have the same aura around them. He has a star quality that is the result of knowing that your style is like no other. He schooled me, not even lyrically, but in terms of what he does and how he does it.
Watching him build lyrics in the car and then hearing them later on the radio or in a rave is mad and in fact, that’s how we made ‘War Wid.’ We made it up and performed it live for the first time in a rave. At this time I wasn’t even in N.A.S.T.Y. I was just rolling with Double and getting a touch on the mic!
Your styles complement each other – Dee has the rapid delivery, then you come with the slower ‘call & response’ bars…
Remember I’ve seen Double get DEEP reloads in the rave with bars like “Don’t start trouble with the Double…” When he takes off with stuff like that crowds just go mental and make the dumbest noise “AAARRRRRGGHHHH!” Listen to the Sidewinder Nottingham tape pack, listen to what he does to the thing. Fucking amazing.
In your own words Dee is the best MC in the game. Is it sometimes daunting writing with him?
Nah not at all – I clocked I need to stay as close to him as possible. He’s out of this world. I know that’s where I need to be and so instead of becoming daunted by it, I use it as fuel. Back in the day if we were at a rave, after I’d spat “Bare right hooks” “It’s Footsie again” or “bang him in the head with a GAT”, I would be finished – in terms of getting reloads. But Double would start flicking though – his repertoire is massive.
I’ve seen him spit a new bar after every Jackum he got; bar *wheel* new bar *wheel* new bar *wheel* new bar. Most guys can’t do that and to have that MC rating you – it must say something.
Listening to the ‘Slang Like This’ remix or ‘Like it or Not’ you sound rejuvenated…
I’m getting the votes man which is good! I lost a bag of weight, I’m going to the gym – my mind is a lot more focussed these days. I’ve been working on my lyrics and delivery and I must credit that to Cage and Dizzee. I’ve been around for 2 of Dizzee’s albums now and I have seen what it takes for a top artist to make an album. I was inside the creative process – I made beats for them. Only a twit in that position would ignore everything going on. It’s possible and I’ve seen people do that. The learning curve is a lot and I’ve done a pile of vocals that are getting ratings at the label…
Will they be on ‘Gas Mark 7’?
Yeah man that’s my solo ting. ‘King Original’ will be my production album and for that I will be upping levels again because people still don’t know what I’ve done production wise! Even though Skream came up to me once and said that I was one of his influences!
Listening to your beats I sense that they have a real atmospheric feel to them – they almost fit in between Dubstep and Grime. What would you say your production trademark is?
I dunno man. The drums? The skip? Skitz says I’m a dan for a plasticky middle sound…I know what he means but then again I don’t! I was talking to someone the other day and I realised that I made Dubstep before it was called Dubstep. Check J Da Flex’s 1xtra’s playlists from back in the day – my beats made up half of it!
I was being played to the FWD>> listener before Dubstep had been made a genre. I’m just about beats and bass, no matter the genre.
In an interview with Logan you said that people started versioning your beats without permission and so you stopped giving them out. Is this why obtaining your instrumentals been difficult if not impossible?
Yeah man, once I linked Double I didn’t need anyone else spitting over my beats, bar Dizzee. That said, now I’m going to start fucking with a couple of artists. Lots of people have hollered but until now I’ve parred it.
You and Tubby announced on Twitter today that Braindead is back up and running. What made you relaunch the label?
Frustration. Tubby should be bigger. There was a time when Tubby was as big as Slimzee and I’m sure that by working with us, it has hurt his reputation a bit. It’s a nice vehicle for us, and we have a bag of music to release…
Will it be an outlet for yours and Tubby’s material exclusively or will you be looking to sell other artists work?
We are gonna get it bubblin’ man – Me and Tubby first then we’ll see. It’s a natural thing for us. I’m gonna look to do an E.P. with Double, get some of his beats on there because his fans I’m sure will want to hear them…
What’s happening with his production these days?
It’s hard bruv, you really have to decide between the two. Look at Dizzee, his beats suffered because he couldn’t concentrate on it as much. He still makes a nang beat though and we’ve done a bunch of tunes with him, about 10, for our new album and he’s spitting Boy in the Corner stuff. Our album is gonna be a next ting! I can’t wait to get those tunes together on a CD.
What does the future hold?
Big tours. Once our new music comes out we wanna get out there and smash it, dripping sweat over the audience and that!
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Wooo Riddim Launch
Maveric Sabre – Inside ft. Footsie (Prod. by Footsie)