On grime, theatre, radio, practising patience and never giving up.
Grime MC, producer, actor, script-writer, label owner, chef? “I’ve just been doing bare cooking bro, so much cooking honestly”, says Jammz as he answers my FaceTime call on Thursday night, sipping a glass of Wray & Nephew’s and mixer. Originally, we were supposed to catch up on Wednesday, but such is Jammz’ schedule — even during a nationwide lockdown — something cropped up. “I do a bit of everything, bruv. I’m a creative, I help link things together and connect the dots.”
When the current COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK in mid-March, Jammz was about to embark on a nationwide theatre tour with Poet In Da Corner — a play written by long-time friend Debris Stevenson that has since gone on to earn critical acclaim after debuting at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2018.
“I’d been following it for a while but she first came to me with the play in 2015, 2016”, he recalls. “It’s basically a play about how Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Boy In Da Corner’ changed her life while she was growing up and she initially just asked if I could write some songs. It was basically a case of taking the tracks from Dizzee’s album and using them as a blueprint to write new versions of each one, but making them more applicable to her life and her experiences. I actually wrote the first one (’Stop Dat’) when I was on tour with Kano in Nottingham.”
His re-booted version of ’Stop Dat’, co-written with Debris, soon turned into a whole album’s worth of reimagined material, with the pair going back and fourth, cramming in sessions where they could while he remained on tour. With a first-class degree in creative writing, Debris broke down Dizzee’s original album tracks in terms of their structure, patterns and even cadence; “I just followed her lead and that process to begin with”, Jammz reflects. But his involvement wouldn’t stop there.
After deciding to change director during the play’s early planning stages, Debris asked Jammz if he’d like to be involved in character development; unbeknownst to him, she’d earmarked him for a role already. “Once the director changed, the role of the character (SS Vyper) I was helping to develop and oversee instantly became bigger”, he says warmly. “I was now suggesting lines and even potential story lines, which eventually lead me going along to The Royal Court in 2017 to give a reading for the role. It was just a reading and I wanted to go along because I’d obviously followed and been involved with the whole process, but I wasn’t expecting anything from it. After I’d given my performance, the AD, Vicky, came over and said, ‘You read that so, so well, you might as well act in the play’.”
“After I’d given my performance, the AD, Vicky, came over and said, ‘You read that so, so well, you might as well act in the play’.”
“I think Debris had kinda wanted that all along”, he continues with a grin, “so I was like ‘alright cool, let’s do it — what’s the worst that can happen?”. Despite initially struggling with his lines — “bruv it was so hard at first!” — Jammz and Poet In Da Corner went onto score rave reviews from across UK media in its opening run, logging 4-star reviews from The Guardian, The Times, The Metro, the Evening Standard and Time Out.
It’s an interesting entry point into Jammz’ make-up and wider artistry, which runs far deeper than any one discipline. An active grime MC since his college days, he initially struggled to make an impact on the wider scene, aside from a group of friends and people local to his area. It was 2010’s ‘I Am Grime’ EP — written as a response to grime artists of the time choosing to sign with major labels and move into more mainstream pop spaces— that would inadvertently form the groundswell for Jammz to really make his presence felt.
Despite coming up in a congested scene dominated by venomous, fiery young spitters like Kozzie and Marger, Jammz made it his mission to be heard. He was a regular at The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, one of the few venues in London that would host regular grime events at the time, where he’d try and get on the mic whenever an opportunity arose. But it’d be a run of ‘I Am Grime’ t-shirts, released in collaboration with day one grime blog, Once Upon A Grime, that’d first make waves and pique people’s interest. “Nobody knew who I was, but the t-shirts travelled further than me at the time”, he concedes with a smile.
With I Am Grime established as a brand, Jammz’ breakthrough tape ‘Hit Then Run’ (2015) would then go on to light the touch paper for a career that has seen him dominate London’s airwaves, tour the world and spearhead grime’s latest golden generation of MCs alongside names like AJ Tracey, Novelist and Big Zuu. DIY internet and pirate radio spaces aplenty had breathed new life into a despondent scene and grime soon became the go-to genre on everybody’s lips.
“Everyone just wanted to be the sickest MC.”
“That whole period was so much fun, I ain’t even gonna lie bruv”, he recalls. “Nobody was doing grime with the intention of blowing back then, mandem just wanted to go radio every week and spit. In the beginning, it was a way for me to channel stuff and it was just a release really. Because I went along to places like Flex FM and Mode FM so regularly, I ended up meeting a lot of like-minded people. Everyone just wanted to be the sickest MC and over time, everyone got better and better. It was such a pure thing.”
“I’d say we created a whole new ecosystem you know”, he continues. “I got to meet so many DJs and so many producers, who in the end all started making things with each other and created new ideas, new spaces. So much work came out of that period, it’s mad thinking about it.” Standout singles with Local Action followed (‘Final Warning’ w/ Finn, ’10 Missed Calls’ w/ Dread D) as well as 2015’s ‘London Living’ with Plastician — a track he acknowledges as one of the most defining of his career so far. Two instalments of his extended ‘Warrior’ EP series, both of which drew widespread critical acclaim for their lyrical content and beat selection, were also important yardsticks in Jammz fast-emerging career.
Ultimately, it was a time that proved bountiful for all, but one that also mapped out different futures for different artists. Despite later being profiled alongside Little Simz, Stormzy and Krept & Konan in The Guardian at the back end of 2016, Jammz was never motivated by stardom, instead dedicating his time to utilising his skills to push grime in different ways. “Sometimes the picture is bigger than what you can see in front of you”, he says firmly, “and without all the stuff I’d done in my early career, I probably wouldn’t be doing the stuff I’m doing with Poet In Da Corner now.”
“Sometimes the picture is bigger than what you can see in front of you”
“Essentially, it’s all timing”, he continues. “I remember going to Fabric with P Money very early on in my career and he’d ask me to come on stage, but I’d never bother to spray. I just knew I’d go on the next time and do it twice as well. I’m cool being patient and to be honest, even if I don’t get the accolades, one thing I have got is a fanbase that support me. And they’re flipping loyal, bruv.”
That loyalty has become integral to the growth of his I Am Grime brand, which now incorporates a monthly radio show on Rinse FM with DJ and co-head, Jack Dat, and the label arm, which has housed a variety of Jammz’ vocal and instrumental projects. A vastly underrated producer and beat-maker to boot, Jammz released his first 12”, ’Keep It Simple / The World’, in 2016 after teasing the beats for months. It’s a record that has since taken on cult status, such was the speed with which the first pressing sold out, but rather than give into fans’ voracious appetite for new beats, Jammz again sat tight and waited. “For me, I’m definitely a fan of teasing music for ages. Like 6-8 months at least, until it’s undeniable. The same thing happened with ‘French Montana Riddim’ (another cult Jammz & Jack Dat instrumental, released in 2019*), that tune was rotating for four years before we decided to put it out. I’m patient. I like building things slowly.”
On reflection, Jammz’ slow-build, long-game approach to all aspects of his career has benefited him unilaterally. But is there a part of him that wishes he wasn’t, in his own terms, ‘a jack of all trades’? “It works against me, it proper does”, he concedes. “But do you know what I think it is? When you’re good at a lot of things, people will look at you and think you don’t need help. People will send help and support to people who visibly need it, rather than amplify the stuff that you’re already doing well. I used to get hung up about it but over time I realised that’s just how it is and it’s easier to just crack on, innit?”
“When you’re good at a lot of things, people will look at you and think you don’t need help.”
And crack on he has. With ‘Free Up The Riddims Volume 2’, a second anthology of blistering, long sought-after Jammz productions, recently dropping via Bandcamp, I Am Grime Radio still running monthly on Rinse FM and a host of creative projects keeping him busy in isolation, it seems that even when the world has ground to a halt, Jammz is still finding ways to work. “One thing I don’t like doing is sitting still for too long because otherwise my brain just wanders”, he confesses, “so this whole period has so far made me sharper at what I do. And more dedicated about what I do.”
Jammz – ‘Free Up The Riddims Volume 2’ is out now: https://iamgrime.bandcamp.com/album/free-up-the-riddims-volume-2-2