Kahn and Neek Tally Up the Vocal Grime Classics

Bristol’s bass crusaders compile their favorites from a wealth of underground riches

Mark de Groot

When it comes to bass-heavy electronic explorations, Bristol has long been a center of innovation, and the efforts of Kahn & Neek – along with many of their young compatriots in the city’s ever-shifting scene – seem to indicate that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Working together, they’ve been responsible for a series of distorted dancefloor anthems on Hotline Recordings and their own Bandulu label, but they also craft soundsystem steppers under the separate Gorgon Sound moniker.

Kahn also keeps busy on his own, as the Young Echo collective member has served up a diverse array of bass-driven productions for labels like Deep Medi, Idle Hands, and Punch Drunk, while also finding time to collaborate with Vessel as Baba Yaga. In this excerpt from their Headphone Highlights special on Red Bull Radio, the duo talk through their favorite vocal grime classics.

Dizzee Rascal, Boy in da Corner (2003)

Dizzee Rascal - “2 Far” feat. Wiley


The first vocal grime track that I remember hearing was probably from Dizzee Rascal’s first album, Boy in da Corner. I’d heard tracks with MCs on garage mixtapes before then, but Dizzee was the first that led me to think, “This sound is a separate genre to garage.” I was 14-years old then. I didn’t go out [to raves] and I didn’t know how to differentiate [the sounds], so I started looking for other grime artists through Dizzee: “2 Far” features Wiley, “Hold Ya Mouf” features God’s Gift.

Roll Deep, “When I’m Ere” (Remix) (In At the Deep End, 2005)

Roll Deep - “When I’m Ere” (Remix)


I think this is one of the tracks that really stuck out for me when I’d see guys mixing at someone’s house: the energy of it, hearing all the MCs doing verses one after another, like in a cypher; trying to figure out whose voice was whose, learning by listening.


It’s one of my favorites because the original track is brilliant, but they managed to increase the energy on the remix in the way that they switch up the instrumental, and have other, non-Roll Deep MCs on it. If we were to equate it to a hip-hop track, it’s a great posse cut. It’s a grime posse cut.


This stood out for me because the instrumental was a step above most of the other production that was going on during that period. They’ve got an accordion sound in it that’s used in really interesting ways – not in a straightforward pattern, but still catchy at the same time. It’s unusual.


The original “When I’m Ere” was the first single from the major label album that Roll Deep made, In At the Deep End. Hearing the original being played on the radio was great because it was an adult-rated, underground-sounding record, placed amongst other, more pop music. I think that’s why it was a hit – it was one of the earlier grime tracks to break through [into the charts].

YSG, “Countdown” (Jammer & Lewi White Remix) (Countdown 12-inch, White Label)

YGC - “Countdown” (Jammer and Lewi White Remix)


I think the Jammer and Lewi White remix of “Countdown” is a good example of grime having a sense of humor. The sample at the start is from the Channel 4 TV show of the same name. In the show, [the contestants] have 30 seconds to use all these jamborees, and see how long a word they can make out of it. It’s funny because everyone in the UK knows what this sound is. Everyone watches the show but no one would ever think, “We should definitely sample that for an instrumental” – but they did.

This has a tongue-in-cheek element to it and that’s what sticks out about it for me – it’s a proper showerman buzz over this hilarious sample. It’s produced by Wiley, Jammer and Lewi White, the crew on it are YGC and then you’ve got Skepta and Jammer featuring as well.

Roll Deep, “Poltergeist” (Remix) (In At the Deep End, 2005)

Roll Deep - “Poltergeist” (Remix)


In grime, it’s kind of like a dance: where you have so many versions of other big rhythms and instrumentals; revised and reworked, playing versions that have now been lost. Logan Sama once told me that when they’d go to get dubs cut, they never got a digital recording of the track. They’ve all been lost in time, when their PCs gradually died. Terror Danjah has got that kind of radio-identified sound. He is one of the most iconic producers in grime. This is a rally track: each MC has their eight bars, and there are about 15 people on it.

Spooky, “Joyride” (Remix) (Joyride EP, 2006)

Spooky - “Joyride”


Neckle Camp was Jammer’s crew, which featured as Neckle alongside Jammer. Slew Dem and Neckle Camp were doing a lot of tracks together at the time and this is one of the highlights. Slew Dem productions were just burying everything else.


Like Jahmek the World.


They had Jahmek the World, Jammer’s label.


It’s quite similar to the “Countdown” remix in that it’s a playful instrumental with gunman lyrics over it, which [is a combination that] comes from dancehall.


They’re singing and talking slackness over it, and the juxtaposition of that is interesting to me – that you can have something so happy, playful and angry on the tune. It’s wicked.

Esco “Big” Bars, “Bad Man” (Non Stop Working, 2006)

Esco “Big” Bars - “Bad Man”


Esco was amazing, a proper king in the grime scene. He was part of Slew Dem Crew with Chronik and Tempa and they never had much mainstream success, but for that reason they remained true to the original sound. Most of Esco’s most famous bars are on “Bad Man.” I don’t know who produced it, but I presume it’s someone from Slew Dem.

As Neek said, there was a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor to grime back then, but Esco was serious. A real badman. There were people who were actually doing what they were MCing about and Esco was about that life. That kind of authenticity came through in his lyrics. His flow was wicked and if you hear him on a rally track with other MCs, he always stood out. He got respect from across the board, in a way.

Badness, “Aeroplane” feat. Skepta and Killa P (In the Name of Badness EP, 2008)

Badness - “Aeroplane” feat. Skepta and Killa P


This track came out in 2008 as a free download. Dubstep was so big in 2008 that the focus had gone off grime, so a lot of the best grime tracks from that period went under the radar. I wish that “Aeroplane” had come out a bit earlier, because then it would have been on vinyl and would probably have sold loads of copies.

It’s a wicked tune, but a lesser known one and from a strange time for grime. “Aeroplane” has parts to it that only British people would get or like, which is good in a way because it’s got British identity to it. Also, it’s cool to have Badness with his Birmingham accent, Skepta with his north London accent, Killa P with his south London accent together – and all with their different kinds of slang, too.

Roll Deep, “Bounce” (Bounce 12-inch, 2002)

Roll Deep - “Bounce”


This is probably the oldest one on the list. “Bounce” is from the period when Dizzee Rascal was still in Roll Deep. There’s a silly garage influence on the beat and it’s almost a transitional tune: when Wiley’s production was switching from a garage feel into a more instrumental, MC-led style of music; rather than just a drums record. When grime started out it had a lot of MCs and not many producers, but those who were multitasking – being able to produce, MC and DJ – were inventing, with everyone working in small groups and doing everything themselves. That way of working faded for a bit, but recently there have been a lot more young MCs coming out that actually produce, too. Novelist makes his own beats.

Plastician, “Cha” feat. Shizzle, Fresh and Napper (Cha EP, 2004)

Plasticman - “Cha” (Vocal) feat. Shizzle, Fresh and Napper


I first heard “Cha” (or at least owned it) when Mary Anne Hobbs released her Warrior Dubz compilation, which was also when I’d just started to get into DJing. It’s a wicked compilation that helped to introduce me to grime as well as dubstep. It was a healthy period of collaboration between the two genres and “Cha” is full of that energy. Shizzle has gone off the radar now, though. I don’t know where he is. Napper, similarly, you don’t see about, but every now and then he’ll pop up – some blundering thing. These MCs never quite got the attention that they deserved.

By Red Bull Music Academy on July 29, 2016

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