Since this article was originally written (based on interviews and articles by other people) I have spoken to/emailed/interviewed Sparkii, Dobie, No Sleep Nigel, Erroll Bull, DJ Devastate and MC Mell'O'. Thank you all for your time and patience in answering my questions and taking time out of your days to get back to me. Nuff respect due. Sparks – you started it all off. Thanks man.
The major (online) sources are listed at the end. I've tried to be as accurate as I can, but if there's anything glaringly obvious that I've missed or got twisted, let me know. Massive props to the various writers for Hip Hop Connection, whose back issues I have pillaged for a lot of the interviews with Rodney P and Bionic at various stages of their career, and Mark 563 for some of the article scans.
NOTE 1: I've marked internet sources for interviews with a hyperlinked "i" after each extract I've taken so the sources themselves get more traffic as a result of this page. MAD props to you if I've used your article, interview or personal recollection as a source - thank you for your effort and for posting it up on the net. I hope this blog brings more people to your site. Let me know (in the comments section) if anything needs adjusting.
NOTE 2: I've taken the liberty of breaking it into three parts to make it easier for you to read. When you get to the end of one section, click on the hyperlink in order to move to the next section.
Part 1 - 1985-1988 is HERE.
Part 2 - 1989-1992 - you are here.
Part 3 - 1992-1996 is HERE.
Rodney P - London Posse MC
Bionic - London Posse MC
Sparkii - Producer
No Sleep Nigel - Engineer
Dobie - Producer
DJ Devastate - DJ / Producer
Erroll 'Bull' Samuel - Manager / Promoter
DJ Biznizz - DJ
After Westwood bailed on his Justice imprint, the now mostly two-part London Posse ended up moving to the newly formed Mango Records (a subsiduary of Island records that sprung up in 1989), who had offered them a deal that included an opportunity to record an album. The offer had been brokered by Erroll “Bull” Samuel, who was now the group's manager.
Bull was road manager and producer for UK Reggae superstars Aswad, and was working at Island Records, although his ties to London Posse had actually started way before then, with close ties between Rodney and Bull's families. “I knew Rodney as a baby,” says Bull, “I knew him before I knew Bionic.” Bull also had family ties with Aswad, which led to his working with Island Records, primarily with reggae artists.
Bull: “I used to hang out with Aswad, I'm cousins with Drummie Zebb. They got me to work with them. I started working as a producer and stage manager for Aswad, and working with Maxi Priest and so on, loads of reggae people. I was working at Island all the time, working with Bob Marley and all them. Then I got fed up with Reggae. It was about that time that Rodney came to me and I heard Money Mad. He gave me a CD or a tape or something with it on. I didn't see Money Mad as a big thing, but I played it to Suzette Newman, one of the Island MDs, and I got them signed through her.”
Sparkii: “Bull had some weight with Island records, he knew some contact, and he approached Rodney and Jeff and they approached me as a producer. At that time I was starting to get a rep for doing this, to come in and firstly make some demos if they could get some time and get a deal with Island Records, possibly.”
Sparkii, bottom left, with DJ Pogo, MC Mell'O' and DJ Biznizz
Ready to record a demo for Island, Rodney, Bionic and Sparkii decamped to a studio in Acton for a week during the long hot summer of 1989 to come up with a rough track to present to Suzette at Island to seal a deal.
Sparkii: “There was a heatwave, and all the public transport was on strike. It used to take me four hours to get to the studio - four hours in traffic in a heatwave, get there, do the sessions, then come back, same thing for a week. In that session, we agreed the plan would be: make one commercial Hip Hop / Reggae tune.”
The surroundings were raw but conducive to getting the job done - for a group that was embracing its hip hop / reggae roots, the urban venue mixed well with the locals.
Sparkii: "We was in the middle of an industrial site, in Acton, pure container ports around, and the studio was on top of a factory. It was like you had to go up onto the roof to go in, like a fire exit sign. In there, bust the door open cos it was so baking, ten rastas outside, we didn't think nothing of it.
"What's down there?"
"Oh, it's a cutting studio, a Reggae cutting studio. They come and get dubs. And there's a Jamaican soul food shop down there, man's getting food down there."
"What, in the middle of this industrial park?"
"Yeah, what you want Sparks?"
I was like "I don't need none of that man."
They were like "Look man, Island'll buy you whatever you want, we're all going down there."
However, the sessions also produced two other tracks that Sparkii saw as frontrunners to make a deal with the label.
Sparkii: “We did one tune called "Girl You Better Change Your Mind" using the Eddie Kendrick track, which has been sampled nuff times; we did a demo of that where I mixed it with Roy Ayers, "Red Black And Green" - that was a nice combo, a cheeky one.
We did one that was dark, I can't remember what music we used in it, but it was Mandrill. I think it was Fencewalk. We did a nice tune with that.”
“Live Like The Other Half Do” was the third tune, but Sparkii wasn't keen on it – at the time, he was not a reggae fan, and had more passion for jazz and electronic music.
Sparkii: “I absolutely hated having to do it. One, because it was Reggae, and two, at the time it was just to get a deal.”
The plan was for the Posse to use “Live Like The Other Half Do” to get a foot in the door with Island, then move on to more gritty recordings. “Man kept saying, "it's just to get a deal,” explains Sparkii. “They were like 'Once they hear our potential, they'll sign us, and the first thing we're gonna do is 'Money Mad' remix. You're gonna remix it Sparks.'"
With this promise in mind, Sparkii reluctantly took on the task of creating a hip hop / reggae crossover tune. Despite his lack of love for reggae, the beat was made up of snippets from old reggae tunes: “I took the drum sounds off an old Steely and Cleveland song, "Life Is What You Make It - Ragamuffin Love" (Frighty and Colonel Mite) and a couple of breaks,” he elaborates. “The loop was made up of anything that was on Island Records - we had a crate of reggae records, and we'd dig through it and use that.” However, the session would prove to be a technical challenge.
Sparkii: “I'd never done a proper reggae sample like that before, so it took me ages. I had to actually understand the timing of it and get my beat to work with it. This was all done on a 909 drum machine, all of my songs were made then with a 909 and a 950 sampler, or a Mirage before I had a 950. Every one of them is made from that. But it's pretty primitive to do something that's swinging like "Live Like The Other Half", it was a bit hard, I was almost a bit out of my depth.
At the end of it, they were like "Yeah Sparks man, you can play keys."
"Yeah, I can play keys, no problem."
"Play on this man."
"Why do I have to play on this one, I hate Reggae."
"Go on, just play on it."
"Alright, I'll play on it, I'll play a little trumpet sound solo or something."
So I played that, but then they was like
"Aw man, no, we want a piano solo or something. You can play jazz, play some jazz on it."
"I can't play jazz, I just LIKE jazz."
"Nah man, PLAY jazz."
So I had to work out the chords on it, and I hated it. Hated every minute of it. The session was funny, but musically, it just wasn't me.”
In addition to his discomfort, Sparkii wasn't happy with the final version of the song, especially with the piano solo at the end, but as he wasn't a reggae musician and it was supposed to be a demo, he expected there to be another chance to smooth it out a bit.
“This was Island Records man, we had Bob Marley's studio under our office, the fall-out shelter! What did they want ME to do that for?” he explains. “That was literally my attitude. Or, at least, they were going to get some musicians to replay that shit, cos like, there's that bit at the end where Rodney goes in and sings over the piano bit. I didn't even know the song, there was about four terrible notes on it! It's quite sophisticated, like when the chords change up, and I played some really bad, clashing chords, and they're painful for me to hear.”
Perhaps due to the overall idea that these were supposed to be demo recordings, the sessions were fun, free-for-alls with ideas and lyrics flowing with the enthusiasm of potentially getting a deal with a major label.
Sparkii: “We got so drunk in there making "Live Like The Other Half", that Jeff couldn't stand up. We had to go into the voice booth and put him in a chair, then pull the mic down. You know his trademark sunglasses? He had them on. We looked in the booth and were like "Fuck me, it's Ray Charles!" He just looked blind, and he was drunk, sitting down like this.
"Right Jeff, we're going in for a take. (pause) Jeff? Jeff?"
I went in there, lifted up the glasses, and he was out. Sitting in the chair, music running in the headphones. Shook him a bit, "Look, we gotta run through this tune star...." He was like "Yeah yeah yeah". Me and Rodney was CRACKING up. Anyway, he did it, and we always called that the Rock and Roll session. When we finished recording, we left him in there. He didn't move! Everytime we looked up, we saw Jeff in a chair, just sitting there with a boom mic. He was just sitting. You'd think he was looking through the glass at you.”
Maybe due to the closeness of the reggae cutting studio, the group got a legendary visitor during these recording sessions.
Rodney: "Coxsone Dodd came to the studio while we were recording 'Live Like The Other Half'."
At one point you can hear Bionic laughing mid-line ("Another case of racist police brutality") while it sounds like Rodney is shushing him on the ad-libs in the background.
Rodney: "We started laughing at the lyric while we were recording it... I said 'shit' as an adlib while he was rapping and he cracked up!"
The tracks they submitted obviously impressed the heads at Island, and within a week the Posse were signed to an Island subsiduary - Mango Records.
Their first post-signing project was a remix of “Money Mad”, their signature tune from the previous year, which they chose Sparkii to remix.
Sparkii: “It was the first time anybody had asked me to do a remix, like a proper remix. It scared me, I'll be honest, cos it was a tune I loved, but I knew its weaknesses. I knew the reggae tune that it was supposed to be (“Bad Boy”), and I knew the Hip Hop record that it was supposed to be (“This Cut's Got Flavor”), and what's more, I knew what Bryan "Chuck" New didn't know, I knew the break that that Hip Hop record was supposed to be (“Think”). So I was like "You know what? I could do this man".”
The recording sessions for the remix took place in a much more accomplished location than the Acton Studio – the track was reassembled and re-recorded in Island's Fall Out Shelter (situated at the back of Island Records, where Bob Marley used to record), and used a lot more organic effects than the original.
Sparkii: “We didn't get all SSL digital on it - we had to have an SSL desk, to recall original settings, cuts and mutes and so on - but we got valves, tube compressors, shit that was MADE for reggae. Not made for pop music down at Jive.”
The track wasn't so much remixed as completely re-recorded, even though Westwood and the mysterious Bevington were still credited as producers.
Sparkii: “I resampled all the sounds - some I sampled from the reel, not the record, from the reel - and some I resampled. That song is a composite. I put the beat back together again. I found the original to be muddy. I'm not from reggae, but I understood that reggae people knew frequencies, and this tune came from reggae. It's not supposed to be muddy. It's not supposed to be dull, especially in that era. For me, it was a pleasure to do it, and once I knew how Fallout shelter sounded, I knew I was going to batter it.”
Recording at the Island building was just the start - they set up camp there, with an office and access to the facilities.
Sparkii: At Island Records, they used to have a big warehouse at the back of it. The front of it was like a house, the back of it was like an outhouse that was used like a warehouse. They got like a little private road inbetween them. They also used to have table tennis in there, and in the main part of the building where the staff was they'd have bar football, but table tennis was where the lads were. You'd go over there and see some random stars playing table tennis in some grubby warehouse! So we used to go over there for the table tennis and stuff."
For the remix of "Money Mad", The Posse took the radical decision to completely re-record the lyrics, even though this was the classic release that they were most associated with at that time. This was a brave move, but one that would become a staple for them – recording one version of a track, then coming up with different lyrics and re-vocalling it. However, this would be a re-recording with a difference – they wanted some of the original lyrics from the original recording, mixed with their new vocals.
Sparkii: “They came in with their lyrics, and then they were like "Sparks, we want this line off of this..." and at first I didn't know what they was talking about.
"You want a remix? All the lyrics are on the reel already."
"Oh, them lyrics are done Sparks, they're done with mate."
I was like "But this is a classic track bruv!"
I was shitting myself. They come in halfway through the day talking about they're taking off the lyrics from what was at that point the coolest style of British Hip Hop that I'd been entrusted to mix. I could have lost my name on that. If they'd done lyrics that wasn't as good as they were, that would have been my arse. They put out a record that was so gully before, if they'd then come out with some softy lyrics because it was on Island Records and it had my name on it... no. But when I heard what they was coming with I was OK.”
The first single that the duo released was entirely based on Sparkii's studio contributions – the A side was “Live Like The Other Half Do” and the b-side was Sparkii's (uncredited) remix of “Money Mad”, with the new lyrics and a cleaner, crisper sound. (These were eventually released in 1989 as #12IS 447, and at the start of 1990 on a 7” with an instrumental of “Live Like The Other Half Do” on the b-side released as MNGS 735) This was a surprise, at least for the producer of the tunes.
Sparkii: “I thought the tune with Mandrill was gonna come out, one of the other ones we did. I thought "Live Like The Other Half" was just to get us through the door. For me it was a demo, and I was horrified to hear that they was going to put it out as a double A. They put out my demo! I never got a chance to mix it again! I never would have left those notes on it. I was pissed - "You didn't even fade it.... you could have faded it early man!" They just used it as I gave it to them.”
Rodney: "We never did a final mix... Sparkii was never happy with the piano playing. It was only supposed to be a demo."
Even though "Live Like The Other Half Do" is an upbeat track musically, it goes to some dark places in the lyrics.
Bionic's verse being stopped by the Police and falsely arrested - "I said 'It wasn't me', they said 'Well it must have been your brother, but one nigger's as good as any other, so you're nicked'" - are based on fact ("it's not altogether true", says Rodney, "because, you know, we've got artistic license and that, but it's definitely based on a true story") and Rodney's lines about "the situation I'm placed in makes this the job / I couldnt get a real one so I guess I have to rob / to make a living mate" show a concern about how society was split socially and economically from one extreme to the other.
Rodney: "Man was roadman. Man was doing what we shouldn't be doing... we was robbing people and keeping up antics. We were putting out records, but this ting doesn't make no money, so at the weekend man's like (laughs)... It was being young and black and wanting to get some of the pie." (HHC #214)
The first London Posse single to be released as a 7".
(The label mistakenly credits the instrumental as being produced by Westwood and Bevington – this is a mixup, probably because of the credits on the 12'' single - the “Money Mad” remix - being cut and pasted blind onto the credits for the 7'' single.)
The dim view of the Police in this track (a recurring theme in Bionic's lyrics for several years) is one that is based in real life experience - one such tale comes from Ronny Oner, a promoter who booked the Posse for a gig in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales in 1989 at Charbonniers Nightclub. According to him, "they got pulled over by the Long Arm (of the law) on the Severn Bridge!"
Westwood also recognised the truth in the lyrics - he knew full well that they knew first hand "what it's like being stopped by the police and other everyday struggles that black youths face today." As Bionic said on the Janice Long Radio 1 show back in '87 - "my records sell very well cos I tell the truth."
Sparkii: "So, 'Money Mad Remix' came out and it all went a bit mental. Before I'd even really had a chance to finish cussing that 'Live Like The Other Half' was my DEMO, it was already like #76 in the top #100 records! That was when records were selling UNITS. I never expected that - John Peel was playing it, everyone was going bonkers, and I was like 'Fade it out, quickly! Please!'"
On the strength of their growing reputation and the impact of Money Mad, the Posse found themselves headlining the "Revolution Of Rap" tour in late 89, along with UK stalwarts The Cash Crew and Freshki and DJ Mo Rock, amongst other acts, and the gigs kept coming.
Away from all the normal activity, and showing that they weren't just concerned with all tings British, Bionic and Rodney appeared on the political UK posse cut "BROTHER - Beyond The 16th Parallel" on 4th + Broadway (#12 BRW 139) in 1989 (you can hear the whole track here).
A project started by South Londoners 'Gatecrash', B.R.O.T.H.E.R. was intended to raise awareness of the political situation in South Africa. The track “Beyond The 16th Parallel” was produced by Gatecrash themselves, alongside DJ Supreme from Hijack and one of the members of Standing Ovation.
Alongside the Demon Boyz (another UK group who rapped in British accents), MC Mell'O', Cookie Crew, the She-Rockers, London Rhyme Syndicate, Katch-22, and some of the more rapdifire groups such as Gunshot, Hijack, and solo artists Icepick and Overlord X, London Posse rapped about apartheid in South Africa (BROTHER stood for "Black Rhyme Organisation To Help Equal Rights"). All artists donated their fees to the ANC (African National Congress).
Bionic and Rodney's 8 bar verse from B.R.O.T.H.E.R.
They were joined by UK-based dancehall acts like Junior Reid, Tenor Fly, Ricky Rankin and Tippi Irie, to name but a few, not to mention Jerry Dammers from the Specials, another group that highlighted a particularly UK version of reggae.
1990: GANGSTER CHRONICLE
ASSEMBLING THE PRODUCTION TEAM
Sparkii: "Straight away, the record company said "We're gonna make an album," we want you to do it. I'm like "yeah, I'm in!" I got my team, me and Nigel, got the DJs etcetera. I did it where I usually recorded in Brixton."
So, the quest was on to record an album for Island. Sparkii had already supplied two tunes that would be used, and he was on board for another four tracks (six if you count the two skits - “Remedy For The Black Ash Blues” and “Money Mad Bonus Beats”). The Twilight Firm (DJ Devastate and Brian B) would produce two tracks, and Bionic (under the name 'London Posse Productions') would produce one.
Devastate: “I was a HUGE fan of London Posse, so when they asked me for beats for their album I was so happy. I knew it would be history in the making, just based on Money Mad!”
At this point, No Sleep Nigel came on board to oversee the crisp sonic shine of the project alongside Sparkii and Twilight Firm, and the album was recorded in Cold Storage Studios, situated in Cold Harbour Lane, and Joe's Garage in Brixton (Rodney: "Ten minutes from my house.").
Nigel had previously worked with the Sparkii and the Jus Badd Crew on their classic "Freestyle" 12" in 87, as well as Blade's "Lyrical Maniac" and "Coming Correct" with MC Mell'O'.
No Sleep Nigel: "Cold Storage was the studio where I did a lot of early work with other artists. It was through Sparkii no doubt that they came down to Cold Storage with me. It was on his recommendation, because I'd been working with him with Mell'O'. We'd all met up before at a studio in Bromley where I started, where we finished off some of the tracks from Hardcore Volume One. Then I moved from Bromley up to Cold Storage to work, in Brixton, which was much more of a professional set up. The other one was still a professional set up, but it was much more of a home studio. It had a sixteen track Fostex tape machine, that kind of thing. Whereas moving into Cold Storage, it was two inch tape, twenty four track Amek desk, made by Rupert Neve. It was all a bit more upmarket there. I pretty much made that place my home for about three years until its demise, ate and slept there almost."
1990's "Gangster Chronicle" (#MLPS 1066) - is still arguably one of the best and most influential UK hip hop albums ever released, even though Rodney and Bionic "went in to do the album without knowing what the fuck we were doing," according to Rodney. The timescale for recording the album depends on who you ask.
Rodney: "We recorded it in little bursts but over a quite concentrated period of time - maybe a month, month and a half. It didn't take very long.”
Sparkii: “It was recorded in more or less a week. All of my tracks were pretty much recorded in a week other than the initial "Money Mad" remix and "Live Like The Other Half Do".”
Either way it was a remarkably small window of creativity to produce such a well-rounded album.
Sonically, the album still had the reggae feel, but used more lush-sounding sounding samples than had been the case before, from the likes of artists such as Isaac Hayes, Courtney Pine and Marvin Gaye. There were collabos with vocalists (Culture Mark, one of Bionic's reggae chatter friends from Brixton, guested on "Sexy Gal"; Tyrone Henry - a schoolfriend of Rodney's - and R+B backing singer Samantha filled out the vocals on "Tell Me Something"), interpolations of well-known tunes ("Gun In A Baggy" by Little Lenny was pillaged for the chorus of "Livin Pancoot", and Phyllis Dillon's reggae version of "Woman Of The Ghetto" was interpolated for "Tell Me Something"), and even at one point a quick Marvin Gaye-sampling instrumental skit - "Remedy For The Black Ash Blues".
All this becomes even more remarkable when you bear in mind that the tracks were created in the studio and often recorded from start to finish in one session.
No Sleep Nigel: "Those tracks represent a maximum of twelve hours work from start to finish, including the lyrics being written in the studio, and also being late night sessions starting around ten o'clock at night and going through to ten o'clock in the morning. The entire creation of the track would occur during a twelve hour period. It was late night, nearly always. I don't know if it was cheaper or something; it was down-time, they used to call it."
The inner sleeve
Similarly to the previous sessions with Sparkii, the duo had a habit of writing or adapting lyrics on the fly. The lyrics didn't always stay the same for long, however, and Bionic creatively influenced Rodney in a lot of ways.
Rodney: "Bionic was always the MC I looked up to."
No Sleep Nigel: "Bionic was the instigator of a lot of it – the choruses would be his invention. He would write the choruses, come up with the ideas for the songs, you know, he'd come up with the titles. He would pick things and they'd both write about it. He was leading the process in terms of subject and that."
Sparkii: “That's what was wicked about Jeff. They used to write in the studio. They'd come with lyrics, go in the voice booth and drop it, and then Rodney'd go and drop a verse, and then Jeff'd be pissing himself laughing saying "Nah, I gotto change mine mate," and they'd do this one-upmanship, constantly. So they actually took longer because of it. They were pretty much one or two or three takes, not much takes.”
Devastate: “They would often come in with lyrics, lay them down in the booth, listen back then rewrite the whole thing with even better verses! That used to always amazed me, they had nuff lyrics and very clever word play. Rodney and Bio had lyrics for days, they were lyric bantons!”
No Sleep Nigel: "The thing I remember is them sitting at the back of the studio, coming up with lines, feeding lines to one another going “look at this one!” and laughing and stuff like that while me and Sparkii were trying to get the technical stuff sorted out."
Rodney: “We had a million lyrics, literally.”
The tracks seeming finished wasn't the end of the story though. Just as Sparkii and even the suits at Island / Mango seemed happy with the tracks, things could - and did - change.
Sparkii: "We'd put down two tunes in a day, and I'd be working the next day recording tunes, lining up, and they'd come in early afternoon, voice, and go, and leave me and Nigel.
The next day they'd go and drop em off at the record label or we'd take em to the record label, and they'd come back the next day and say "Yeah, we need to revoice yesterday's tunes, they ain't good enough."
"What you mean they ain't good enough?"
"Lyrics ain't good enough! I got better ones, I wrote em last night."
"Man, this is TAPE. You wipe those lyrics off, they're gone FOREVER. We ain't got spare tracks to have spare vocals stacked up."
You know what I'm saying? I wasn't going to use 23 track recording for all of that. The codes would take up one track, you know what I mean? Me and Nigel would be like "Those lyrics are raw, they've got too much swearing in. Those lyrics will get changed. They went off too much," or whatever. And the record company would call us, and they'd be like "The tracks are wicked. Love em." Then Jeff would come in and say "We're changing em."
Rodney: "We used to do that a lot back then."
The lyrics that Rodney and Bio came up with have been criticised by some - Dele Fidele in the NME, reviewing Gangster Chronicle when it was reissued in 2001, said "the concerns of Rodney P and Bionic seem juvenile and ignorant, in a way only hard-headed roughnecks can be."i
The lyrics that made it onto the album, however, are - if anything - toned down from the original recordings, possibly self-censored by the MCs themselves due to label politics.
Sparkii: "Jeff and Rodney wanted to soften them, but the record company would have them going on like NWA if they could have had that, like killing everybody and all that. It was actually them two that reined themselves in. I'll give you an example. "Livin Pancoot" was the first one we did, but it was the last one to get revoiced. I've still got cassettes, I think, of the other lyrics. Almost every tune had at least two lyrics from each of them taken off. One from each of them. If they had two verses on a tune, one was always changed. At least.
"Some of them girls think they fine but they ain't really fine at all / so who you trying to screw you ugly pineapple headed butters?" That lyric there, that was not there. There was a lyric there that was an anthem for the duration of the recording of the album, and I still know the lyrics off by heart.
"Coots.... I find them, fuck them and forget them / Truth, I ain't willing to let them / Take loose women, you know you regret them / They linger longer, trying to juice your wonga / You let it go once, next they're saying let's get joint / accounts, so she can juice you like a mango / and go, switch go with the next man..." He went off in a torrent about some girls... the only lyric that stayed was "I'll stick with Maxine, why? She's black queen". Those lyrics killed it! But they took em off, just took em off."
No Sleep Nigel: "I got a feeling that interest was slowly being lost up at Island Records because of the nature of some of the lyrics. Not particularly the gangster stuff, but the sexist stuff, given that a lot of the people who were going to be expected to promote this album and see it through were women."
The beats were laid-back at times ("Original London Style", "Tell Me Something"), and frantic and claustrophobic at others ("Jump Around", "Gangster Chronicle"). As opposed to other contemporary UK hip hop groups releasing tracks at the time with more of what has come to be termed as a "brit-core" sound like Hijack, Gunshot and Silver Bullet, the album was sonically more mellow and less harsh than others, which only served to heighten the impact of the hard-hitting lyrics.
As far as the production and mixing is concerned, the finished album sounds crisp and clean. The drum programming, sample chops and mixing are all amazing, considering what a low-budget and tight turn around the album had. In addition to that, a lot of the album was formulated around Bionic and Rodney turning up with ideas and records to sample, the samples being chopped and the beat being made there and then.
Rodney: “We had all these things we wanted to do but we didn't know how to do it. I didn't know nothing about studio equipment, people didn't have Akais in their houses and stuff, we didn't know nothing. We just had ideas and we needed the man to come and put it together for us.”
No Sleep Nigel: "I would just be there and do whatever I was asked to do, and with those particular things, we had to work as hard as we could. There was always something going on, always work to be done."
The sharp, clean and soulful sound was echoed, in part, on a contemporary release: MC Mell'O's classic LP "Thoughts Released (Revelation 1)". Sparkii was responsible for the sample heavy and soulful sound of several key tracks on that album, such as "All Terrain MCs" and the amazing "From The Heart". This similarity isn't surprising, as Sparkii was working with an 808, a newly acquired 909 and Akai 950 (courtesy of Mell'O's recording contract).
Sparkii: “I used to live in the studio. That studio did lock-outs. So I wouldn't have to reset the desk every day, I'd just stay there. I'd do somebody else's stuff at night, or sleep there, or do my own stuff, or sometimes we'd just work round the clock, do 48 hours and then sleep a day. Do a week in, then a week out. Or I'd do a weekend, like Friday to Monday morning, and not sleep all weekend, just recording and mixing stuff, and then sleep all week. That's how I used to work, always.”
No Sleep Nigel: "Sparkii's tracks were all put onto tape. We were using C-Lab Creator for software, with an Atari ST. We were using an S950, which was in the studio so Sparkii didn't have to bring his own. He'd probably have his 909 there as well which he'd trigger stuff from. He'd do a lot of stuff in the S950, and trigger it. I would feed him code, we'd get stuff on tape, and a lot of the arrangement would be down to muting and un-muting stuff on the desk, rather than prior to then or doing it in the computer."
A significant portion of the album was recorded in Cold Storage Studios, but part way through recording, production shifted to Joe's Garage.
No Sleep Nigel: "Cold Storage was a bunker, it didn't matter whether it was night or day. Cold Storage was called Cold Storage because it was actually a big old meat locker. We had a door that was about a foot thick – a fridge door to get into the studio. It was closing down and some of us ended up working at Joe's Garage on occasions. I was sort of freelancing there, and we finished off the album there. I can remember the telly being on in Joe's Garage, and it was the World Cup - Cameroon were kicking arse. Joe's Garage is a reference to the Frank Zappa album. You had to go through n automobile repair yard to get to the stairs at the back which would take you up to the building behind that. It's like a little Victorian-built industrial estate with lots of businesses around that yard. It was like a castle, because it had gates at the front. No-one could break in and no-one could break out. (laughs) It was pretty much sealed in once you were in there. They were right at the back, so it was quite a secure place for a studio."
While the Posse were working on their vocals, and then reworking their vocals, pressure from Island to rush the recording of the album was mounting. This led to some corners being cut and the sessions became more intense.
No Sleep Nigel: "There were a lot of night sessions, everyone was under duress and there was so much to do – so much prep. When me and Sparkii and Mell'O' were recording (note: on other projects), we'd chill out a hell of a lot more in the studio and be able to have a lot more of a laugh because there wasn't the same sort of pressure as there was just to sort of bash the London Posse album out. You'd be getting visits from the A+R man, and stuff like that. Island didn't even wait for it to be mixed, or care. There was a good number of the tracks, like the ones we did in Cold Storage, that never got a finished mix. 'Oversized Idiot' was one, 'Livin Pancoot' was another one. And sometimes you can detect a certain tiredness in the voices because as a result.
The vocals were being done at three in the morning by very tired MCs in those sessions, and if you listen, you can hear that, then they'd never get a proper finished mix. What would happen was Sparkii would say "let's do a little something on the mix."
"Well, we're not going to get it finished today."
"Yeah, but we can make it sound better."
Of course, that made it sound acceptable, but we were all tired because we'd been working on the track and the important thing - to come back and mix - never got done."
Brixton Crew, 1989 (including Twilight Firm, DJ Pogo, Cutmaster Swift, Sparkii and Reinforced Gus)
The Twilight Firm used different techniques to Sparkii and Nigel for their recordings.
No Sleep Nigel: "I remember when we worked with the Twilight Firm. They were building stuff – they had an MPC and Devastate had a deck. He'd be playing the music, then he'd start sort of cutting stuff. Then once he'd found the bit he'd wanted while cutting, he'd sample that, then put it in the track.
They never did patterns in the MPC – it was always one long song. When they programmed stuff in, they'd tap from start to finish when they added stuff in. It was kind of a long process. Because I didn't have anything to do, I'd start getting tired. The reason I got the name No Sleep Nigel was because there was never a point where I wasn't doing something through a whole night, whereas everyone else would have a bit of time off, have a nap or things like that. But sessions like that, the only job I had to do was winding the tape back in case they wanted to hear something. But even then, it might be that they hadn't even got to record it to tape. I don't think they let anything go onto tape. It all had to be run live off code, onto tape. I think that was their secret weapon – like their hidden security."
Devastate: “We were on top of our game and pretty much had the production thing on lock! We had success with the Demon Boyz LP, produced 3 tracks for the Einstein LP and were producing and remixing tracks for UK and US soul artists. We got on well with Rodney and Bio. They weren't that dissimilar to guys we grew up with so they were easy to be around. They were very laid back in the studio and just let us do our thing. Rodney would always asked me to do some scratching on their tracks which I was more than happy to do. Bio would always nod and smile with approval when the beats were banging out of the monitors, and every so often he would shout out 'fucking dett mate'! He cracked me up because his talking voice is the same as his rapping voice, he was a true MC.”
"Money Mad" and "Live Like The Other Half Do" had already been heard by the public (and discussed here), but what about the others?
"Livin Pancoot" was an uncompromising look at a "housing estate slag", says Rodney, "a mucky girl, foolish girl, a dirty girl - you know, not too smart." The chorus used a reinterpretation of Little Lenny's "Gun In A Baggy", a reggae tune of the time - "It was real current at the time, and that's why it connected with a lot of people outside of the hip hop scene."
Sparkii: “I love that track, LOVE it. It's one of my all-time favourite tunes that is produced by me. I used the 202 to add the sub. I drew that music sample ten years before Nas – the Soul Children. Funk Incorporated is the horns. 'Livin Pancoot' killed it. That "she, she, she had a rubbish body"... We used to come into the studio, and get absolutely hammered. All of us: me, Nigel...."
"Original London Style" was a mellow, Marvin Gaye sampling track looked at the different dialects and slang that the group were using, a combination of London slang and Jamaican slang.
No Sleep Nigel: "'Original London Style' was one of the finished ones, which was done in a different studio – Joe's Garage – later on when Cold Storage was on its way out."
Sparkii: “'Original London Style' is Marvin Gaye (I Want You) on the chorus, and Isaac Hayes (Ike's Mood) on the loop. Production-wise, I had that song before we started the album. That was one of my themes. What I did was I put a bassline on it - I asked a friend (Eustace Williams) to come and play a reggae five string bass cos it had an extra deep string on it. I asked him to play Bootsy and Fred Wesley, "Four Play". That's what "Original London Style" is. I asked him to replay it for me.”
Rodney: "Being in New York people didn't really know what the hell we're talking about, so it was kinda inspired by that - and then the fact that I'm a UK black, so I can talk with this reggae accent, this Jamaican accent, or I can talk with my cockney friends. There's all these different ways of talking that are London. So, it was just bringing that to the table."
Sparkii: “I came with three different loops for the chorus, and none of them really worked. What we was gonna say in it, we couldn't decide... "They always comin out with new words Cockneys, what's the new one?", which was from this BBC Dialects record. "Regional Accents", bought for the purpose of London Posse. That was killer. And I'm a Cockney - I'm authentic Cockney, they're South Londoners!
Basically, they'd come in and they'd just come back from New York and the Special Ed lyrics "it's the dialect that I hang", Jeff had that idea worked out but we wanted to put a different piece of music in it. I thought yeah, we'll go with the Marvin Gaye, "I Want You". Nigel timestretched it. That's one of the only times I've ever timestretched anything. We had to timestretch the loop, cos that record's a very slow record, to get it in time. It worked, it kept its pitch, it's nice.”
There is a brief instrumental skit directly after “Original London Style” - “Remedy For The Black Ash Blues”. The casual listener might think it's a continuation of the same track, and they'd be right.
Sparkii: “Every tune I used to make, because I'm old school, I'd do bonus beats. After the tune stops, there's a little gap and then other shit happens for two minutes and it's just a beatstrumental. We'd do one full version for me, but the master wouldn't have it on there. They were one track short for their album, so they took one of my bonus beats, gave it a title of its own and put it there to make up the album.”
The two DJ Devastate / Twilight Firm tracks are back to back, but completely contrasting.
Devastate: “The general vibe when recording Jump Around and Sexy Gal was excellent.”
"Jump Around" was a party tune, which according to Rodney "was one of the later tunes we did, and we just wanted to make a straight hip hop tune just to show we could make straight hip hop tunes."
Devastate: “Rodney asked for a straight up Hip Hop joint for the clubs so I made the Jump Around beat. If you listen to the beat it has similar feel to the Demon Boyz track 'Vibes'. I wanted the track to have a similar bounce so I could cement my sound on the scene.”
No Sleep Nigel:"'Jump Around' was done in Joe's Garage. It might have been one of the ones we did around the time of the World Cup."
Even though the group weren't releasing tracks on Westwood's Justice label anymore, he still showed them support. "I remember going to Brixton Fridge back in the days with Rampage," says Rodney, "and that tune came on - Westwood used to murder it!"
"Sexy Gal" is a massive dubbed out bassline beast of a track for the ladies, and one that Devastate worked on with his brother, Brian B. “Sexy Gal was great to work on,” Devastate says. “The beat was straight Hip Hop but the B-line was dancehall all the way. The vibe just clicked. We understood reggae music in the same way Bio and Rodney did, because we all grew up on the stuff, nuff said!”
"It was a vibes ting,” says Rodney. “It was girl lyrics. We formulated the tune and we had three verses down, but we didn't have a chorus for the longest time." Enter Culture Mark, "one of Bionic's bredrins from Brixton: he used to chat on soundsystems, a proper reggae DJ. He had a Professor Nuts kinda style - a storytelling style."
No Sleep Nigel: "'Sexy Gal' was done in Joe's Garage, definitely. Culture Mark had this great thing about mad cow disease – I was just sitting there thinking 'this is fucking great!' It had this mad moo in it as part of a chorus, he had the whole thing off pat. I was waiting for someone to say 'yeah, let's use that!' but I never heard anything more about it."
Devastate: “Brian experimented with this Roland machine that enabled him to move the octaves of the bassline, I could remember bubbling to the beat in the studio, I think we even blew the monitors if I remember rightly.”
Sparkii: “The epitome of Hip Hop reggae for me was Twilight Firm. No doubt about that. That's what they do all day. The epitome of that was "Sexy Gal", all DAY, with Culture Mark rapping. That tune there was like that "Under Me Sleng Teng", digital reggae. They came with it PROPER with a Hip Hop beat, where the beat hit and he could do that chorus without it sounding like a corny reggae chorus. And Jeff, rather than trying to be a reggae MC on the reggae tune, he rapped straight on it. It was BAD. I love that record. Even the little pitch change at the end, the key change, out of the range of the song but they did it anyway.”
After the situation with "Live Like The Other Half Do", where Sparkii was unhappy with the demo version coming out and yet it was one of the Posse's most recognisable tunes, "Sexy Gal" equalled some healthy competition from the Twilight Firm.
Sparkii: "I heard "Sexy Gal", and in my mind, I got whupped. My biggest claim to fame was a tune that I hated, and a tune I didn't make - Money Mad. It's not my original. I thought "Livin Pancoot" and them were wicked tunes, but at the time I thought "Sexy Gal" had it. They played it in the office and I was like "What is this? This is some new shit. Never done before, never done again." Sonically, it's wicked. It's almost got that Kraftwerk quality to it. I thought I'd got a spanking."
The title track "Gangster Chronicle", by contrast, was a massively dark track (based on a Courtney Pine sample that Rodney bought to the studio to sample) that partially looked at attitudes towards the black communities in England by the older white generation. With Bionic's lines about a "fuckin old c*nt with the National Front", it goes to some pretty dark places. The scratched up and slowed "baayyy-beee" sample in the chorus just adds to the claustrophobic, dark feel.
Rodney: "Lyrically, it was what we was always dealing with. Man was kinda radical them days there - pro-black, radical, like aggressive with it. So that's lyrically what it was all about."
It was chronologically the last track recorded for the album, hours before the deadline for submitting the rough mixes to the label. Sparkii was called on at the last minute to go in and make the track from scratch.
Sparkii: “They were like "Sparks, can you come in?"
I was like "Well...I done my tracks." And, I was in Brixton and my gear was at home. I was doing a session in the studio at the time, I didn't have all my gear with me. I said "Well, what beat?"
"Nah, nah, we'll have to make something."
"Make something in the studio? The last day of your album delivery, you got to deliver ten tracks, you ain't got a producer, you ain't got a track, and you're saying we're gonna make it..."
Monday morning, they need to go and deliver the demos for every track. They still need mixing and mastering, they just need to show that they've got the body there. I'm like "Alright, fuck it."
Rodney provided the basis for the track, recorded at Joe's Garage; Sparkii looped it up and put a drum pattern to it.
Sparkii: "I went in to the studio and Rodney had a crate of records. Everything in it was on Island Records, he'd been all round the companies in Island Records getting free records. He had the Courtney Pine in there. Courtney used to play for a lot of the early reggae people when he came up, he was signed to that label, he was black, he was English. Rodney said "This tune here, Sanctuary, I really like this."
It was track one. Put it on, and that bassline starts.
'You wanna use that?'
However, it didn't appear as simply as that - Bionic had another idea.
Sparkii: “I looped it up, kinda got a tempo, programmed a beat that was very straight sounding. A bit predictable but you could rhyme to it. Then Jeff got up, and Jeff was like...
"Sparki mate, the beat's bad and that, but you always put the beat on the two and the four. This could be a bit more iggy, a bit more erratic."
I was like "Whaddya mean?"
Jeff went into the studio, sat down at the drum kit, and played a beat. An off-time beat, and he rocked it. He was like "Like that!"
No Sleep Nigel: "We were upstairs at Joe's Garage, and it was a big room that had a drum kit in it, which is where Bionic would have gone and played."
Sparkii: "Then Jeff came back in, started hitting the keyboard as close as he could get it to what he played on drums. Now, I play drums, a little... I'm alright. So I picked it up and played the beat he had hit out, and that became the beat for us. All we had was the bassline and some 808 drum sounds with this beat me and Jeff had put together. They sat down, wrote the lyrics, and as soon as I heard the first couple of bars I started to play all the strings on top of it. Nigel said "I've got some wicked string samples, library sounds, I've been waiting to use em. I've got the whole orchestra."
No Sleep Nigel: "I can remember doing the strings. I'd just got a load of S1000 discs or something that I'd acquired. It was an S1000 library that I'd come across, and it sounded pretty damn good."
Sparkii: I was like "Well, you know how to layer that?" He was like "Yeah." I said "OK, you layer, I'll play. So he'd call up each sound in the orchestra, I'd listen and think how it'd get used in a play - like I said, I did theatre - to build the drama. It was easy for me, all the layers, all the counter. We just did that all night until it sounded like a symphony.
I remember that I wanted to out-do Eric B and Rakim's strings on "Follow The Leader". I always thought the strings on "Follow The Leader" was lame. Cheap and nasty Korg M1 strings. I always thought "If I get a chance, I want to do something that's got that feeling to it, but do it properly." On some John Barry shit. Nigel came with the right sounds, and he mixed and balanced them out correctly. There were second strings, we actually called it second strings, and first violins... all the different parts. We basically spent the whole night doing that on top of the beat while they wrote the lyrics. When they dropped the lyrics down on top of that I was like 'oh my gosh.'"
Ironically for such a dark track, it was one of the few album tracks recorded during daylight hours.
No Sleep Nigel: "We were working during the day. I can remember it being sunny outside, and it had windows at Joe's Garage."
Sparkii: "I went home, and I spent all night reprogramming it with my library. I was finding the breaks, finding the sounds... that "heyyy-yeeeaahhh", the sirens, the drum sounds... all that sort of stuff."
No Sleep Nigel: "The 'baybeeeeee' sample is the Mahavishnu Orchestra."
Sparkii: "I went back in the next day, the Monday morning, and put it together. We got a day extension. They heard the track on the Monday morning, said "yeah, go back in, finish that". We went back in and finished it and that was the title track.”
On a slightly lighter note, "Oversized Idiot" is a great track towards the end of the album, with a much less oppressive beat (and much more of a headnodder) but still dealing with "social commentary", as Rodney P puts it. "A lot of man are fuckin idiots, and they're very big idiots, therefore: oversized idiots."
Sparkii: “Now that's a lyric from their stage routine. When I used to DJ with them, I used to cut back the original break, the Mohawks. Basic cutting back, that's all I could do. They used to do a routine to it, but they fixed it up and upped the lyrics on it, but that's from the live routine.
That one I made from the Mohawks with Joe Tex in the background, and by then I had it, I was like yeah, that reggae Hip Hop thing? I got it, I know how to bounce off of it without having to put corny stabs in there. I added the reggae frequencies on the live bass, you know what I mean? I knew how to make songs dubbed out, I knew how to do that with the samples. I drove the Mohawks bassline like it was reggae.”
Bionic in particular targets those crossover pop acts who
"never knew you was black til you heard Public Enemy /
What you telling me exactly? /
You do not know your roots and culture /
You sculpture yourself like a Yank, like a vulture /
You swoop on the troops and the dirty pancoots /
saying 'I'm a big dude' but that ain't the whole truth, is it?"
Rodney's line "You rap, you dance, you sing, you cling to your B-Boy mentality" is capped perfectly with Bionic's follow up "Same old gangster, no originality".
"Tell Me Something", with its smooth sound, was produced by Bionic, and credited to 'London Posse Productions'.
Rodney: "Me and Bionic produced 'Tell Me Something' on a whim."
No Sleep Nigel: "'Tell Me Something' was basically Bionic, who produced it on his own. That was created from nothing. The saxophone player was called in on it – Bionic figured “yeah yeah, we'll use that sax player” – and he put that track together. I programmed that for him – he would tap out a programme on a keyboard with the snare and the kick, but he didn't really know anything about programming. He used to be a drummer. He wasn't afraid to just try stuff out until he heard something he liked."
Rodney: "That was us just showing some versatility, a bit girly, doing something for the girls."
Recorded close to the of the album sessions, but before “Gangster Chronicle”, it's a fitting ending to one of the best UK hip hop LPs ever recorded - smooth sounding with a chorus that took its inspiration from a classic reggae track ("Women Of The Ghetto" by Phyllis Dixon) and a great contrast between Rodney in full-on hip hop MC mode and Bionic doing a full second verse of fluid reggae chatting.
The lyrical content of the album is incredible, with the technical MC patterns partially typical of the time but also surprising down to their fluidity. The content, as already discussed, was very striking due to its detail and realism, something that is supported by Rodney, who maintains the lyrics were based primarily on real events. "Same things with a lot of London Posse lyrics - we ain't pulling it out of the sky. If something happened on Saturday, Monday we was in the studio writing it... In them days, you have to remember man was writing lyrics all the time. Lyrics, lyrics, lyrics, lyrics, lyrics."
Such has been the impact of "Gangster Chronicle" that the UK's Hip Hop Connection magazine awarded it the prestige of being their best UK hip hop album of all time in 2007. This was above other classic UK albums such as Jehst's "Return Of The Drifter", Hijack's "The Horns Of Jericho", Gunshot's "Patriot Games", Roots Manuva's "Run Come Save Me", and so on. Maybe, in the consciousness of those who heard it, it seemed authentic, dealing as it does with issues such as the British National Front, standards of life in the UK, sex, drugs, social responsibility, police harrassment and the reality of living in Britain in the late 80s. As Bionic puts it in "Oversized Idiot", "I ain't a US replica, I don't emulate / the rhymes I generate penetrate, then you make / noise cos you know my voice is that of / a London black man that can rap..."
As Rodney P put it in a later interview, "it's an album of like social commentary stuff. Kinda like a chronicle of different things, of different perspectives of how we live and how we were livin' at the time, and ya know it kinda fitted." (Originally, it is said to have moved somewhere in the region of 20,000 copies, but has been a consistent seller again since the Wordplay expanded reissue - #WORDLP 017 - in 2001.) Certainly it's massively highly regarded, as the top spot in the HHC "50 Best British Albums Ever" shows. In that same issue, Disorda from Suspect Packages said "Bringing that original cockney swagger, Bionic and Rodney P rocked it big style."
To cap off a pivotal year for them, 1990 was also a massive year for live performances: they performed alongside some of the biggest names in hip hop at that point. In May they supported Eazy E and NWA at Brixton Academy (here's a clip of them performing Livin Pancoot) along with the Demon Boyz and MC Mell'O', and in November they supported Public Enemy at the London Arena for one of the biggest gigs of the year alongside The Afros, EPMD, Intelligent Hoodlum, 45 King, Masta Ace, Young Black Teenagers. Also supporting were Mell'O', Demon Boyz, She Rockers and the Outlaw Posse.
Bull: "They did a lot of touring, all over the place. They played Zimbabwe after Mandela was released: there were the UK shows, then there were two shows afterwards to play in Africa, and London Posse were asked to play there, Rodney and Bionic out in Zimbabwe. They were good times. I did a lot of gigs with US acts as well, basically we did them to get the UK acts some exposure, Demon Boyz, London Posse and them. I did the NWA gig to get the UK acts big. Suzette from Island asked me to get the US acts, so I figured we could get them and get exposure for our acts as well."
Sparkii: "We paid for NWA to come over - Bull Management. We used Aswad's tour mechanism to bring em, just so all of our bands could support 'em - London Posse, Mell'O', Demon Boyz. We rotated and we opened for them each night. We toured with them."
Bull: "We got NWA cos they were signed to 4th and Broadway. I was dealing with Jerry Heller, Eazy E and them. At the same time I was still working with Aswad and them, with tracks like Don't Turn Around and all that. It was busy times!"
The Posse were mixing with some of the greatest rap artists of the era, and it could be said that the Posse's style was rubbing off on their Atlantic counterparts.
Sparkii: "NWA got the reggae from Demon Boyz and London Posse. On that tour. We were paying Sunsplash on the bus and they were saying to us "take that jungle music off". And the next album they had them reggae MCs and all them tunes there. We're far far far far reaching!"
Marc Mac, production partner of Reinfored Gus (who was down with Sparkii and signed to Westwood's Justice label as part of the group “Trouble Rap”) remembers the way Rodney and Bionic used to control the crowd.
Marc Mac: “I used to have a sound-system at Notting Hill Carnival where all the emcees in London would get on the set as it was one of the first sounds to play only Hip-Hop at carnival. I remember seeing them at gigs and they wouldn’t be able to get past the first track they were performing as people would be going crazy and they’d have to rewind the same tune about seven or eight times.”
Two singles were released from the “Gangster Chronicle” LP: the first was "Tell Me Something" / "Original London Style" (1990, #12MNS 735) with a great picture cover of Bionic (on the front) and Rodney (on the back) posing for pseudo-mugshots, complete with mock-fingerprints.
The second single emerged in 1991, mainly consisting of remixes from the album: the a-side was the "Jump Around (Nomad Soul remix)", with Sparki's "Gangster Chronicle remix" on the flipside.
The Nomad Soul remix of “Jump Around” was remixed by Dobie and Howie B, with Devastate (producer of the original version) on the cuts. This signified the first time the Posse would work with Dobie, who would considerably shape their later sound.
Dobie (photo: Liam Rickett)
Dobie had been a member of the Soul II Soul sound system and had worked with Jazzie B and Nellee Hooper on various Soul II Soul recordings and remixes in the late 80s / early 90s. He and Howie B were working for Island Records and were given the chance to remix "Jump Around".
Dobie: "We did the Jump Around remix, and that was how we first really connected. They actually came to the studio and re-vocalled the remix... That was when we were first in the same room together properly, chatting and stuff like that. They came down, they heard the rhythm and they went crazy."
There were several different versions of the "Jump Around" remix produced, but the one that made it to release was the hard-hitting sample heavy version.
Dobie: "In "Jump Around" I used a Marvin Gaye sample, I used a Kool and the Gang beat programmed so there were extra drums over the top, we had bits from The Meters. Then we had live percussion on there and piano and stuff like that."
The 12" features the dancefloor friendly remix and an instrumental version that starts atmospherically with percussion, before coming with the full, soulful sound that Dobie and Howie created. This patchwork, full, seamlessly cut-and-paste style of production would be the basis of the Posse's beat choices for nearly the rest of their career.
Devastate: “I love the remix of Jump Around. Dobie did a fantastic job. I remember Rodney phoning me up and asking if I could do some scratching on the remix. The track at this point had already been recorded and mixed it may have been the first time I heard it.
I went down to Island Records recording studio with a few records and did my thing. It didn't take long because having worked with them I knew what they wanted. It felt good to be part of that project knowing we recorded the original version.” (note: Devastate's scratching is oddly missed off the CD versions of this track on both reissues - it can only be heard on the 12'' single.)
The remix for "Gangster Chronicle" on the b-side of the 12” featured an almost completely clean re-recorded vocal, replacing the more inflammatory words of the original. For example, Bionic's line "fuckin old c*nt" was replaced with "shattered old drunk".
No Sleep Nigel: "We worked in a Hackney studio for the revamped censored lyrics for Gangster Chronicle. They managed to do that thing like the Sex Pistols did in 'Pretty Vacant', where there were no swearwords any more but it still just sounded dirty."
It also features a third verse that didn't appear at all on the album version. Both MCs spit 8 bars with some classic lines such as Bionic's "So the London Posse made a tune with Sparkii / All about darkies who wanna rob Barclays..."
Sparkii: “I went and did the remix for Gangster Chronicle. I did one that was totally different music that never came out. I did that off my own back, I wasn't paid for doing that. Then the record company wanted one with Courtney Pine on it.”
(Note: Sparkii's alternative remix was released on the 2013 version of “Gangster Chronicle”.)
Bull: “I was working with Courtney Pine back then. Courtney got signed to Island and he was a friend of mine, and he ended up playing on the Gangster Chronicle remix with Sparki.”
Sparkii: “I was sitting on my arse chilling and I got a call and it was Courtney Pine.
He was like "Is your name Sparkii?"
I'm like "Yeah, whassup man?"
He's like "Yeah, you sampled my tune man... I fucking love it! Will you come and work with me on my album?"
And I was like "Yeah, OK." It was like a dream come true. I went and did a week of work with him, we made some mad tunes and stuff, and it never came out. I never heard from him for another four years, then he called me and wanted me to work with him again.”
Rodney: "Courtney being the man that he is... he came and touched it up for the remix."
However, according to Erroll Bull, the “Jump Around” 12'' was the end of the Posse's association with Island. “We left Island Records after Jump Around. We had Jump Around, that track, and Dobie did the remix of it. We took it to Island, and they sent it to Island America. They were going to make a video of it and everything, really push it.”
Unfortunately, the label didn't seem to push it as hard as they could have done and it was underpromoted. This was in part to do with the House Of Pain release of the same name - by the time the US release was due, Island America got cold feet over promoting a track with the same title.
Bull: “So I said fuck it, took London Posse off Island and we went independent with Bullett Records.”
Note: promos at this point were keeping the group in the public consciousness, regardless of how well the "Jump Around" remix did. The duo appeared in April 1991's Hip Hop Connection in a roughneck fashion shoot - unfortunately, the captions to the pictures referred to Bionic as Rodney and vice-versa. Still, it gave readers the chance to see Bionic (or Rodney?) showing off the best in 1991 fashion.
HHC#21 April 91 (original scans here)
Mango was closed down in 1992 by Island, but according to Bull when the Posse left the label they were given the masters to "Gangster Chronicle" as a gesture of goodwill.
Bull: “I got them out of the Island deal, and Island gave us the masters.”
The album had cost very little to make, but had made money back for the company. As a result of that, there was still income coming in from the album sales while they planned their next move.
You can find part 3 - 1992-1996 - HERE.