For years the MC has been a marmite topic within drum and bass. Some love them, some question them. But no one can deny the influence lyricists have had on the music scene. From the esteemed history they’ve built, to the people they help with their words, MCs have long been a pillar of our beloved music culture. But they’re still not being recognised enough in D&B. This is the message DRS & Dynamite are echoing with the release of Playing In The Dark.
It’s a collaborative album reminding everyone why the role of the MC needs to be valued more. A topic that can easily get swept under the carpet at times, but one DRS & Dynamite have identified as a pressing issue by bringing it to the forefront of their project.
As two titans in the scene originating from hip-hop, neither MC is a stranger to using his music as a canvas for social commentary. The kind that opens dialogues and raises awareness. Through 16 tracks crafted by a mammoth line-up of D&B producers, DRS & Dynamite not only emphatically explore a range of topics close to their hearts, they remind everyone why the lyricism of MCs is so important.
There may have been two mics involved in the making of this album, but throughout the project there is one voice. A voice that celebrates the past, calls for change in the present, and looks ahead to the future with a positive outlook of hope.
UKF caught up with Dynamite to delve into his debut project with DRS, and discover why nothing’s more dangerous than two mics in the right hands.
How was the album launch party?
It was epic. It was the first live MCing I’d done since March, so that was beautiful and strange in the same sense. I was nervous about how it was going to go, but it was great performing songs live and doing an album playback where we talked through tracks. The combination of performing the album and releasing a beer to go with it was magical.
It must have been awesome brewing your own beer. That’s most guys dream growing up…
It was beautiful. I went down to Signature Brew and helped brew it myself. I was there for eight hours… It was awesome. Del couldn’t come, but I made sure the beer represented him with the smokiness. The wine influence was my side. The beer and the album went down really well with everyone at the event. It was a very positive, celebratory environment.
I saw a video of you performing Get Down and it looked like everyone wanted to do anything but that…
Haha yeah. Security had a hard job trying to keep people on the benches and stop it from turning into a rave! But they did a great job. When we wrote Get Down it wasn’t a premonition of Covid where everyone would literally have to stay down… It’s funny. Everyone wanted to get down, but they also wanted to get up. But they had to get down even though the tune is about getting down to get up. Wow.
I’m not surprised people were excited, considering your link up with DRS is a special moment within D&B.
It’s a seminal moment. It came about from us having conversations backstage at events. We always talked about doing a single together, but it was said too many times, so I was like – right, I’m going to get some beats. Back & Forth was the first track we did. We actually did three songs really quickly and straight away it sounded like a project. We knew there was something there. It was an album screaming out to happen.
The first track Two Mics sums it up perfectly – Nothing’s more dangerous than two mics in the right hands.
Definitely. I’m really happy with that track. Originally the album was going to be called Two Mics, but we changed it. I really liked the two mics concept though and didn’t want to lose it altogether, so when I got sent the Missing beat I was like – Okay great, I can put two mics in and get the message across in an even better way. It’s cool that it’s the opener because it’s like us saying to everyone – let’s show you why two mics are so dangerous.
That does feel like the main narrative of the album. Two mics combining to create a single, more powerful voice.
Yeah, the whole process was about finding the strongest track we could. No one was trying to outshine each other, we just wanted to give the best version of ourselves. It’s not a competition, but it was good to be pushed by each other. Every MC wants to be the best, that’s just how it is. That’s how Wu Tang were, but when they worked together they were magical. So when Del would send me a verse I’d be like – Right, time to sharpen the pen… I imagine he was the same as that’s just an MC mentality. We wanted to make each track more powerful than the one before.
Were there any particular DRS bars that made you want to sharpen the pen?
“It matters what these words mean while both thumbs are tap dancing on this broken phone screen trying to write myself free” That’s a bar and a half. That’s from Do You Ever with Etherwood. I also really like “Broken bottle genie, unicycle wheelie” from Back & Forth. What a bar. Salute to DRS!
I imagine working with a list of amazing artists inspired you too. Especially those who’ve been key parts of your past – people like Roni Size.
For sure! I’ve been in this industry for years and have amassed many friends, so it only felt right to include as many as possible on the album. I had to involve Roni. There was no way I was going to do my first 100% D&B album without him. It was great to have Die too. He’s another Bristol brother from Full Cycle Records. The whole project was a very natural, family-driven collaboration. When we spoke to the producers we told them to just do you. We were then able to put our messages into each track.
There are a lot of powerful messages on this album, particularly the ones calling for change. Playing in The Dark’s lyrics surrounding the undervaluing of MCs are important to hear.
That’s right. It’s a subject important to MCs. We are doing it for us, we do it for the industry, and we do it for our brothers and sisters holding microphones. I respect DJs and what they’ve gone through, but I feel MCs are often undervalued. I love what MC lead units like SASASAS and Problem Central are doing, but it can be challenging working with liquid sounds as an MC’s presence is often frowned upon. As MCs we always strive to uplift the sound when it needs a boost, and to add seasoning when it needs some extra spice. Anyone blocking that opportunity is not contributing to the balance and unity D&B is about.
That line “this game isn’t ours cus they’re holding us down” stuck out to me. Like you say, this scene is meant to be about unity.
It needs more work. Some people really don’t like MCs at events. It can get ridiculous. It’s like going to a restaurant and saying you don’t want any waiters. You just want the chef to bring the food out to you… It’s not how it works. If an MC is booked to perform, let him or her do their thing. It’s a weird one, but these are the hurdles we have to jump over.
I remember when people started questioning line-up posters and why MCs were always at the bottom in small writing. We need more positive dialogues like this.
It’s good to have these conversations. Things need to change. This isn’t an ego trip though, it’s an equality issue. I like it when I see a flyer with London Elektricity and Degs next to each other. It’s awesome. It doesn’t mean one is bigger than the other, they’re just equals. Some flyers do take the piss… But I think we are moving into a new territory where the balance is up for readjustment. The fact we’re having this conversation means it’s happening already.
A major label such as Hospital signing lyricists demonstrates that. It’s a big step forward for the scene.
Absolutely! It’s fantastic they’ve signed Inja and Degs too. I was very happy to sign this album to Hospital as I’ve worked with them for years. When the album was coming we had interest from multiple parties, but after sitting down with Hospital we knew they were going to put their all into it. I think they’re leading the way in that aspect. I’m sure there will be more male and female lyricists to come through further down the line too.
It’s great because these sort of developments will likely encourage new lyricists to put themselves out there.
I hope there are more MCs out there right now feeling inspired to make their own body of work. Particularly to write complete songs and think about song structure, not just relying on the live element. DRS and myself are both hip-hop. I was writing songs for Reprazent, with Skitz and The Nextmen, and DRS was in Broke ‘n’ English. So we’ve always been song-minded. It’s not for everyone though. That’s okay. Just don’t let yourself be held back. Take on the challenge.
I think one of the biggest changes to MC culture has been lyricists putting more focus on writing tracks with deeper meaning. Whether it’s about society, mental health, racial indifference.
Definitely. Coming from a hip-hop background, the genre has always been a platform to speak about whatever is on your mind. Whether it’s the worries of your community or the hatred of racism raining down on you, or just fables and stories, that’s the canvas. Although D&B is a peace, love and unity environment ordinarily, there’s no reason why the genre can’t be a canvas for social commentary of the time. That’s why it’s happening more in D&B now. We want a genre that has opportunities to speak out, there shouldn’t be any limitations.
A good example is your track Brothers. There is a very deep-rooted message around community unity.
Yeah it’s about the struggles of the community. Young black and white boys have lost their lives to gang culture and the violence that comes with it. It saddens me to see the lack of unity at the moment. People are dragging each other down when they should be helping each other up. So the line saying “What happened to my brothers, now my brothers are wearing face covers” relates to how you see someone as your enemy instead of your brother. Whereas back in the day you’d see someone you didn’t know and you’d give them a nod because they’re going through the same struggle as you.
I’m not trying to say we want to see rainbows every day though… Life is tough, life is hard, life is real. But I appeal to inner-city communities and the youth to work together and view each other as brothers or sisters, not enemies.
It’s particularly relevant at the moment because of the animosity being caused by pent-up frustration.
You’re absolutely right! People are broke, people have lost their jobs, and they’ve been penned up inside a Covid box. There are horrible atrocities of racism happening in the states, and it has been happening in the UK but swept underneath. There’s lots of inequality. People are at boiling point. I’m all for the fighting of injustice as it must be eradicated on all levels, but I don’t want to see innocent lives getting lost due to anger being taken out on the wrong people. It’s not all doom and gloom though, there’s a lot of positivity being spread.
Highrise FM is a track doing exactly that. In amongst the deeper album messages calling for change, it’s important to also celebrate the pirate radio days that shaped your careers.
Pirate radio has been a blessed part of my history and a lot of MCs. Crush FM, Kool FM – It was an amazing time. It was all about serving the community with music and good vibes. We were always at risk of being raided by the police, but we knew people wanted to hear good music! It was a joy to write Highrise FM. Myself and Del have both walked that road, so we could see it clearly in our minds. We created our own radio station and literally had an image of putting up the antenna when writing the track. My wife is actually one of the callers, along with my brother, myself and Del. We had a lot of fun.
Sending good vibes to the community is the message Still Beautiful also relays. It ends the album on one final powerful note.
It’s powerful by design! Still Beautiful was actually recorded when I was in Thailand with my wife. The beat is such a beautiful tapestry, so big ups Keeno and Obsel. I really wanted to do something uplifting, whilst also recognising the difficult times we’re in. As much as you can get beaten down by the negativity, I wanted to remind people there is still beauty around us and within us.
That’s important to remember, especially with everyone being desperate to get back to normality. The good times will return.
I don’t wish to sound negative, but even if they don’t return you still have to recognise the beauty in the tragedy. If you don’t then you’re just going to live your life in misery. Like I say – “Even if the door you’re pushing is hard to open, even if the window you’re looking through is broken.” Even if you’re going through a tough time in your life, you have to try and find beautiful moments. Looking at my late father, I buried him almost 10 years ago. Of course he’s no longer here, but the beauty is in the memories.
Of course I want to get back to reality, and I believe we will, but there will probably be another shitty situation that arises when we do… Whether it’s another virus, a war, or an injustice, we’re always going to have a situation to contend with. That’s the nature of life. But you’ve got to try and find the beauty in it even when it’s tragic. Hopefully this album reminds people to look for those beautiful moments in life.