Más Tiempo: Why Skepta and Jammer are embracing house music - Features - Mixmag

Más Tiempo: Why Skepta and Jammer are embracing house music

When Skepta and Jammer stepped into the booth of Ibiza's legendary DC-10 club for the soft launch of a new project Más Tiempo, they surprised many — but the UK rap icons' relationship with DJing and house music runs deeper than you might realise. Robert Kazandjian gets the full story

  • Words: Robert Kazandjian | Photographer: Will Ainsworth | Photography Assistant: Tom Morgan | Editor & Digital Director: Patrick Hinton | | Design & Direction: Keenen Sutherland | Creative: Kieren Birtchnall | Production & Creative Assistant: Becky Buckle | Lighting: Will Churchill | Lighting: Dylan Schultz | Stylist: Johnson Orchid | Styling Assistant: Jessica Skeete-Cross | Makeup: Karla Quiñonez León | Grooming: T Styles | PR: Emily Gale | Shot at Shoreditch OTR Studios
  • 22 November 2023

There’s a lot going on inside Mixmag HQ, in the immediate aftermath of Skepta and Jammer’s live Cover Mix recording in The Lab LDN. After a late arrival that heightened the crowd’s excitement, and an hour of spinning everything from minimal tech to deeper house cuts, the Más Tiempo figureheads are understandably buzzing and eager to carry on the party. They embrace. Skepta dips outside for a quick smoke. Jammer changes his black T-shirt for a vibrant yellow one. The rider is full of mixers, but there’s a conspicuous lack of booze, so a member of their team is quite literally sent to the shop. Everyone, cover stars included, sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to the mag’s editor. And then we stream into the green room for the interview.

Read this next: The Cover Mix: Skepta & Jammer (Más Tiempo)

To say we’re joined by an entourage isn’t fair. The word ‘entourage’ summons images of hangers-on and security. It’s family in the room: Skep’s long-time manager Sam; producers J Kolo and Ossie, who feature on ‘Touch Me’, from April’s two-track drop ‘Mas Murder’; Stokey grime vet turned house head Jammin, who produced ‘Down Shovel’, a Más Tiempo release from July; and the legendary Zed Bias, who gifted garage skankers with ‘Neighbourhood’ in the year 2000. “That jumper, it’s a hot jumper … next time just wear a tee,” Jammer advises another member of the crew who’s on their way out, dressed in a roll neck.

“I'm still breathing very heavy, still,” he jokes, from behind his sunglasses. “I shouldn’t even be vaping!” Jammer’s energy while DJing is relentless, reacting to every mix like he’s just struck gold, sometimes even corralling ravers with an imaginary lasso. “The adrenaline is mad though, because we’re playing all our own music,” he says. “Unreleased, unmixed,” Skepta adds from across the table. He’s a calm, meditative presence in a black beanie and black custom varsity jacket, ‘Más Tiempo’ emblazoned in colourful letters across the back. Both men are rocking heavyweight chains too, adorned with jewel-encrusted ‘Más Tiempo’ pendants that shimmer blue and red when they catch the light. “And we get to see how the people react to the music in real time,” Jammer continues. “Because it’s about the people. Yeah, it’s about us as well, because we’ve got something to contribute. But it’s for them. Big up the girl, who was on the right hand side behind us. She was going mad! She’s the person I wanna play our tunes to, you get me?”

The Más Tiempo journey began last August, when Skepta stepped onto the hallowed terrace at DC-10 in a dove-white cap and tee, with Jammer by his side. The first record he spun was Alex’s Urban Mix of L.L Project’s ‘Khine #3’, hinting at a depth of knowledge about the world they were entering into. “Drake gave us the Circoloco drop - ‘Man’s never been in DC-10 when it’s shutdown’ - that was a mad ting,” Skepta remembers. “It felt like everything came together, all the songs we listened to, all the house and garage, the drum ‘n’ bass, any music that we listened to actually, it all built up to that moment. Goldie gave us a few tunes too, so we was spinning some Goldie stuff. It was just magical, man. We’ve played so many shows since then, but I definitely remember it being such a wholesome inception.”

Read this next: Skepta on DJing in Ibiza: "I felt Virgil's Energy in the booth"

It was the soft launch of a new, house-focused label, fronted by the Boy Better Know mainstays as DJs and producers, but also offering a platform to fellow producers too. Subsequent sets in Miami and Milan soon followed, building up to an official unveiling in London, in April this year. For more casual listeners, the move came straight out of left field: what was the Mercury Prize-winning leader of grime’s mid-2010’s renaissance doing in-front of a mixer and CDJs, alongside the pioneer who gave us Wiley Vs. Kano on the stairs? The simple truth is they were coming home.

Before grime, before producing and MCing, before ‘Private Caller’, Jammer’s Lord of the Mics DVD series, Skepta duppying Devilman and the founding of Boy Better Know, both legends cut their teeth in music as teenage DJs. As they enter the fourth decade of their lives, the development of Más Tiempo feels like a lovely full circle moment. “It was a Tuff Jams speed garage CD that my dad bought home. I would say that was the moment I really wanted to DJ,” Skepta explains. “And I was definitely influenced by DJ Fonti from Heartless Crew too, the ‘Crisp Biscuit’ mixes. When I was in school, me and my friend Wesley Nelson used to put the headphone wires through our blazer sleeves, and listen to Fonti’s mixes in class. We used to love it, man.” There’s real warmth in his voice as he reminisces. “Then I bought a belt drive vinyl player. And I had this karaoke machine that allowed me to change speed on it, so I used to experiment with those. That’s how I learnt to mix.” He became the DJ in Meridian Crew, spinning records from his living room on Meridian Walk in Tottenham, for the likes of Big H, President T and his younger brother JME, as well as rival MCs who came to the estate from nearby places like Edmonton and Wood Green to clash.

“I was DJ Jammer P in my ends, before I ever made a beat. I was a DJ first,” Jammer adds, reflecting on his journey. “And ‘Sweet Love’ [by M Beat and Nazlyn] was the first record I ever bought.” He then serenades the room with a few bars of the chorus. “I remember it was five pounds. Me and a DJ called Supa D went halves. We went halves on some belt drives, too. I loved vinyl. That’s why me and Skep decided to do vinyl releases. We wanted to bring something physical back. And bring back that togetherness. That’s what I felt today was.” This idea of togetherness is one of the driving forces behind Más Tiempo. It’s taking the sense of community that those lucky enough to grow up with grime’s inception experienced, and shaping it into a broad representation of British dance music. “The mission is for us to all be together, doing something great. It’s bringing people together. Zed Bias is in the room,” he continues. “We’ve been in the studio with him. I studied his records when I was growing up. It’s like we’re bringing the past, the present and the future together. Más Tiempo is an escape from everything. It’s giving us more time to do what we love. The sounds that we’ve learnt about on our journey is what makes this so spectacular. It’s a melting pot that we can grab from. And there’s freedom in house music. There’s no one way.”

Skep chips in, “We just make tunes. When I go on my laptop, there’s no set BPM, I just do stuff. Even when we [BBK] did the ‘Tropical’ mix CDs, there were elements of house there,” he says. “That’s what makes house music so amazing. We’ve got a BPM. We’ve got some sounds. Let’s see what we can do with them. It’s the beauty of coming into the genre like this. We’re getting to do what we want instead of having to pander to anyone, you know?”

Referencing the past over futuristic, spacious soundscapes has defined the handful of Más Tiempo releases so far. “If you don’t respect the people that came before you, where are you really going?” Jammer says. “That’s what we try to do. Not in a forceful way, but in a truthful way.” During their set in The Lab LDN, the crowd levitates when Skepta drops a pulsating house edit of Rebound X’s classic ‘Rhythm ‘N’ Gash’ instrumental. April’s ‘Mas Murder’, produced by Skep and Jammer, lays a Musical Youth sample over deep grooves. ‘Touching My Body’ - a dreamy vocal cut, released in July - features Etta Bond, who collaborated with Skep on his pivotal, reflective ‘Blacklisted’ mixtape in 2012. And most notably, ‘Can’t Play Myself (A Tribute To Amy)’, features Amy Winehouse’s soulful hook from ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’. It’s the first time the Amy Winehouse Foundation has cleared a sample of the late British icon and Queen of Camden’s voice. “We need to just stop for a moment,” Jammer jokingly suggests, aware of the historic significance. Did Skepta feel an added sense of responsibility when producing the track? “First of all, it was definitely an honour to do it. We did it initially because we played our launch party at KOKO, in Camden. And it’s ended up being a worldwide tribute to Amy,” he explains. “I don’t like when producers mess around with the vocals too much, it starts getting mad, init. I wanted to respect the vocals, and be respectful with the production. That’s what I was focussed on. Like I said, it’s an honour. I’m thankful to Amy’s estate for letting us use the sample. And it’s just been another way to celebrate a great artist.”

For Skepta, Más Tiempo is one of a series of artistic endeavours that have seen him pivot away from rapping, from selling paintings inspired by childhood shopping trips with his mum at Sotheby’s auction house to relaunching his MAINS London label at London Fashion Week. Early next year he’ll be making his directorial debut, with the fictional film Tribal Mark. Has rapping become artistically less fulfilling for him? Or has fatherhood reshaped the path he’s walking? “I just feel like we’re always growing and evolving,” he says, thoughtfully. “Maybe being a dad has played more of a part than I noticed, init. I took a break after my son was born, just to recalibrate and understand who I want to be on the screen. Because before I didn’t care. I was just rapping, chatting shit. But now I gotta do the school run,” he laughs.

“How has the school run been since Más Tiempo?” Jammer asks, grinning.

“It’s been great, man. They [the school run mums] see me as a great guy, like a ‘fashion designer, DJ guy’ now,” he replies wryly.

“Because before it was GREAZE!” Jammer booms. The green room erupts in a burst of laughter. Much of our interview unfolds in this way, with Skep reclined in his chair, quiet and thoughtful while Jammer moves around the space, full of chaotic joy. “Right now, I might be the hype one, saying bare tings. And Skep might say less than me. But the thing is, it’s balanced.”

Rapping is often described by artists as a therapeutic process. But therapy sessions are intimate, private spaces. After a long career of soul baring in public, does that process become spiritually draining? “It’s life, it’s pain, it’s trauma. You’ve gotta put all that shit on record,” Jammer says, sitting back down next to me. “Even when I sound happy spitting a bar, it’s still mad. Like ‘Murkle Man’ is a robber’s tune. It’s about taking your food! But he’s a superhero. Them times there, if I’d said that on a riddim in the wrong way, nobody would’ve played it,” he explains. “But with Más Tiempo, there’s not that element behind it. We’re just playing music people can enjoy. Now we’re being embraced in a different way, that we haven’t been before. And I’m ready for that journey.”

“That’s it, that’s perfect,” Skep adds.

In December, Más Tiempo will play to 15,000 ravers at the freshly minted Drumsheds superclub in North London, just a mile away from where Skepta grew up and spun his first records as a DJ on Meridian Walk. The line-up, which Skep and Jammer curated, features UK dance music legends like DJ EZ and Maximum, alongside rising superstar selectors such as HoneyLuv and Kitty Amor, and special guest Green Velvet. “Like Claude VonStroke and Todd Edwards on the same line-up is mad, init,” Skep says of the stacked bill. “We are a reference point for a lot of people, when it comes to music, through Boy Better Know. The amount of good times we’ve had raving to house music, if we can give other people that feeling, we’re gonna do that! And it’s round the corner from my yard, init. Where I grew up. So I’m definitely gonna feel at home.”

Joy is central to the chapter of life Skepta and Jammer are now fully immersed in. Everything that’s surrounded Más Tiempo so far has been illuminated with embraces, smiles and vibes. During their set at The Lab, that element of joyfulness was tangible, from Jammer’s wild DJ moves and trademark lasso to Skep screaming “bumbaclart” at an especially dutty drop! There’s a sense that two of grime’s most enduring figures are reconnecting with their inner child. “Me and my brothers, we’ve always been gamers,” Skep explains. “My dad used to work in Cash Converters, when we came to England, so he used to bring all the computers home. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a gamer. And to me, a CDJ and a mixer is just another game. I used to play shit like Music 2000 on PlayStation. That’s why I really love producing on FL Studio, because it's literally a game. What we’re doing now is just us gaming.” He taps on the table like it’s a controller. “It’s like doing a Hadōken, init.” The room fills with laughter again. “Buttons, technology, I’m always up for that. And there is an element of being a child again, because I did lose that when I really got into rapping.”

“Sometimes society tries to trick you into believing your imagination won’t take you to where you want to get to,” Jammer adds, in a tone more serious than it’s been during our conversation. “ I always knew I’d be a DJ in the end. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything different now, then I was doing back then. This is what I do.”

‘Can’t Play Myself (A Tribute To Amy)’ is out now via Más Tiempo & Island Records, check it here

Robert Kazandjian is a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter

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