Exclusive Interview: Jammer – “I’m proud that my career is not about a moment.”

Jammer on 'Are You Dumb? Vol.5', his creative process and success...

Grant Brydon

6 months ago

By Grant Brydon

From N.A.S.T.Y. Crew to Boy Better Know, Jammer is a true grime soldier.

For almost two decades the East Londoner has been using his platform to elevate others, regularly putting the advancement of the music and culture ahead of his personal gain. Whether bringing artists through his now legendary basement to record, or inviting MCs to clash on Lord Of The Mics, he’s been an integral player and a positive force in the culture.

This year he’s deservedly refocussed his energy into his own creations. With almost a decade behind him since the last volume of his iconic Are You Dumb? mixtape series, his freshly released fifth instalment sees him back on top form: grime distilled to pure beats and bars, a reminder of the authentic sound, the one that Jammer fell in love with so many years ago.

We caught up with him to speak about his return to the series, his music making process, his verse on Skepta’s ‘Detox’ and the biggest obstacle he’s had to overcome in his career…

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How has the reception to Are You Dumb? Vol. 5 been so far?

It’s really been amazing man. It’s mind blowing. Everybody’s loving it, everybody’s praising the work and just understanding how much effort mans put into making it sound how it sounds. It’s authentic, straight original grime. I’ve been happy the way it’s been received by people.

Why do you think now was the time for a new volume?

I look at [each instalment] like reminders, a lot of this series that came out, they were defining the direction of the sound and where it was going.

Every now and again I feel like I need to drop some stuff so that people are like “Oh yeah, that’s what this stuff sounds like.” Because sometimes the sound can vary just through new producers coming in, some people mix the sounds, there’s a lot of 808 driven music going on right now, and you get a lot of grime MCs spitting over trap beats, so the sound gets misconstrued.

That CD, is just like, the backing tracks – forget the raps and the lyrics, just the sound of the CD, that’s what matters. Because that’s what separates UK music from every other music in the world. It’s the sound of the beats.

Now I’m doing the series again and I’ve been successful, this instalment it shows me that I should be doing more of this type of thing, and I’m just going to get back in the studio and start cooking again. No slacking.

How long were you working on it?

I was making music for the whole year, and then halfway through I was like “Oh, I’ve got a lot of music. Let me start formulating it to projects and stuff like that.” And when I started to separate it I realised that a lot of the music sounded like a new Are You Dumb?, so I just putting it together straight away.

Was there a particular song that triggered that process?

‘Skank On Me’. Everybody was like “You need a reason to put this out. Just make up a reason.” Everyone who would come to my studio was like “It needs to come out.”

So I started putting together more records, and I had more records on there that sounded like ‘Skank On Me’, that were more chilled and talked about my life and what I’ve been through, but I pulled them back off the record because I looked back at the other Are You Dumb? CDs and I remembered that they were very uptempo CDs. I wanted to keep the excitement there.

So I kept ‘Skank On Me’ on there and then I made a whole load of new songs that were just banging, and I put them on there.

On a number of these songs you give the listener a little taste of your process: referencing Logic, Cubase, having your MacBook Pro in your rucksack. Do you make a lot of music in the go?

Yeah. I’ve always got my laptop with me, so if I’m in a hotel room I just bang in the laptop and the sound card and we get it cracking. If you look on my Instagram there’ll be a lot of times where I’ll be in hotels and I’ll have my laptop on. I’ve got a mini studio so I just travel with that man, I’ve got the speakers, the boom box, you know what I’m saying? Get it cracking!

How important is that accessibility for you? People might assume you need a big studio set up to release music on this level…

If you’re a carpenter you’ve always got to have your tools out, otherwise you ain’t gonna be sculpting anything. So for me I needed to have my tools out.

I found that sometimes I was in places and I just came back from the most amazing party, just done a sick show and then I’ve got all this inspiration to record a song. But I haven’t got no studio and I’m trying to phone around people at like 4 o’clock in the morning: “Can you get a studio in Birmingham so I can record, I just finished a show.” That’s all long.

I just need the mic in my rucksack, then pull it out, “Bang! Record me!”

What is the most fun part of the music making process for you?

Listening to it at the end! It’s amazing making it, because it’s magic innit, to me it’s like magic. But my most important part is when I stop and I listen back at the end of the song, and if I’m like “Bruv, I did that! All me. Just now. I just done that. That’s insane!” That’s my favourite part because it reminds me who I am every single time.

Is it important to you to be able to make a full record from scratch?

This King conversation that everyone’s screaming about: “King this,” “King that.” I’m saying you can’t be a King in music unless you can go into a room with your laptop and come out with a song, without no one else. That’s the top boys: the ones that can make the beat for themselves, they sing, they spit, they do everything. For me, that’s when you’ve reached your pinnacle.

You’ve described the process of creating this tape as being “back in the gym.” What are you training for?

Right now I’m training for me. So when I get on the stage I’m as fit as I can be. When I get in the public arena musically, I’m as fit as I can be. If I get an opportunity to do anything I’m as fit musically and skill-wise that I’m going to deal with it properly. You can’t be out here and get into situations where people ask you to do stuff and – because you haven’t been in the studio, you ain’t been writing – you’re not active enough to execute what you need to execute.

It’s like being a boxer. You can’t just get up out your house after not training for months and go into the ring, and fight someone, you’re going to get beat up. So talking about music, you need to be pro-active all of the time.

I’ve watched you make a bunch of surprise appearances at festivals and shows over the past year to perform your verse on Skepta’s ‘Detox’ and the reaction is electrifying every time. What was the process like writing that verse, and did you think it would have that kind of reaction?

It was very tense because we was all on the farm, we was there for a couple of weeks. And that day when we was writing the song, everybody was walking around writing their lyrics. It was very intense. Obviously it was the anticipated Skepta album and this is the tune with the crew. What’s it gonna be? Everybody knew how much that was going to get heard so everyone was trying to write their best shit.

When everyone was writing I kinda just ducked out. There’s a lounge bit behind the kitchen and there’s some big fluffy cushion, and I just sat there listening to the beat and writing my lyric. I wasn’t even writing to the beat that we spat on, I was writing to some other beat. I was just looping it writing my lyric.

When I went in the booth and put my lyric down everybody was going crazy. To be honest I thought my verse was good, but I didn’t think it was that good. But I’m just here to express myself and let the people tell me what’s really good.

How does it feel when you come out to perform that verse?

It’s insane. That verse there is a moment, it’s more than a verse. That 16 bar is bigger than some people’s whole records. It just showed me, and it showed everybody, how much a powerhouse Jammer is as an MC: when he really stops and takes a minute out to pen a lyric, it gets dangerous.

What are you most proud of about your career so far?

I’m just proud that my career is not about a moment. There isn’t one moment that I’m most proud of, it’s everything, and there’s more to come. I’m not just an artist, I’m not just an MC.

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to overcome in your career?

Just being in the hood and people trying to drag you down and get you into politics and beef. The N.A.S.T.Y. Crew split and when that was happening, issues with Marcus Nasty. I had to overcome it because I had to go to places knowing that people might want to start trouble with me; I had to go there knowing that I’m going there to push music and let people know that I’m not here for the nonsense. But it was good because it taught me so much, and people gained a lot more respect for me because they saw that nothing anybody’s going to throw at me is going to stop me.

What does success look like to you?

Success is just every day waking up and being able to make my music. It’s just being alive: that’s success. Some people think that success is money, fame, girls. Success to me is getting up everyday and being able to go and do another day of what I love.

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Interview by Grant Brydon
Photography by Olivia Rose

Jammer plays his first ever headline show at XOYO on 18th April, you can buy tickets for the show here.

Are You Dumb? Vol. 5 is out now.