Among the tiny handful of musicians I’ve interviewed, I reckon I probably listen to about two of them on a regular basis. These two were the hardest to speak to. Unable to suppress my inner fanboy, the task of extracting some profound truth from these artists was replaced by the urge to mumble incoherent praise. In the excited anticipation of actually meeting them, I’d sort of forgotten to prepare any good questions.
And so this was the situation I found myself in prior to my interview with D Double E and Footsie of the Newham Generals. What can I say, I’m a fan! I’ve never tired of watching an old video of D Double E freestyling about cars in a back garden. The 10 minute audio of an NG performance on Westwood’s radio show sits comfortably at the top of my iTunes most played, mainly because Footsie and Double frantically bounce around on bars like Olympic gymnasts. Oddly, Street Fighter Riddim is more evocative of my early twenties than actual memories of my early twenties. My interview warm-up involved revisiting all of these, and very little else.
When I turned up, I suddenly remembered I didn’t really have anything to say to them. And when I shook hands with D Double, it seemed like he wouldn’t really have anything to say to anyone at all. He looked tired. Very, very tired.
But even if he couldn’t give me answers, at least he’d given me the memories. So if D Double wants to sleep through our interview, he can sleep through our interview. Plus Footsie was there to represent both of them, gamely answering my questions about the old days.
“These days you can be an internet hit without being a local king, but for us you had to conquer your block and be big locally. Your ends talking about you was your YouTube and Twitter.” Footsie and Double were MCing before Grime was called Grime. Both grew up in Forest Gate, east London, and both were involved with N.A.S.T.Y. Crew, a seminal collective that also nurtured the talents of Kano, Ghetts (née Ghetto) and Jammer.
“We met in school days. Double was like a local legend from young, so we knew of each other’s musical ability before we actually knew each other, and he lived round the corner from me, so we knew each other visually, but music was the common denominator.”
Depending on who you ask, this small corner of east London is one of the reasons Grime exists. If there’s select groups of MCs who helped shape the genre into what it is today, N.A.S.T.Y Crew would be one of them- especially as Grime’s flirtation with chart domination seems to be over. With this in mind, could another local crew ever emerge? “N.A.S.T.Y. Crew was in Grime’s infancy. Not to say you won’t get another sick crew, but just N.A.S.T.Y.’s meaning to the scene and that moment is hard to recreate.”
Even so, UK rappers are making waves with tracks that undoubtedly possess a more ‘original’ sound. Fairweather fans are listening to ‘That’s Not Me’ when five years ago it would have been ‘Pass Out’, so why the change? “That sound was the identity stage of it, so what better period to go back to than its ‘stand up and be counted’ moment.”
“That was its original, rawest energy. It was ours as well, pure UK.”
As anyone with a social media account knows, this uniquely British sound has all of a sudden attracted attention in America, with both Drake and Kanye co-signing UK talent. For Footsie, that just proves Grime was thriving anyway. “Everyone had shows in America before they shouted us out. They’re just getting their hands up to say they know what’s going on.” He admits “it’s a good nod to the UK,” but it’s not keeping the scene alive - and it’s not just America that’s interested.
“We just came from Japan, that was amazing to have people singing your bars, going nuts from start to finish.”
Even if there was no recognition, at home or abroad, Footsie doesn’t think he’d ever stop performing: “Music keeps me sane so I could never stop doing it. If I did I’d go mad.” Fortunately the audience is there, and with a new ep titled N To The G’s about to be released, it looks as if it’s only going to get bigger.
When I asked what the secret to their success was, D Double finally opened his eyes and chipped in.
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