Lyrical and Cultural Diversity: Serocee on His Reggae Roots and Working with Toddla T

Radio 1 DJ and rapper Serocee
British rapper Serocee is a veteran of the underground dancehall and hip hop scenes who first caught our attention back in 2006 with his debut release, Life.

The track, which samples the Gaylads’ reggae classic Joy in the Morning , is a positive and uplifting dancehall rap which inspired us to seek out and interview its author.

It took seven years, but we eventually caught up with him last month and enjoyed a long and productive chat.

In the interview below, Serocee talks about his role in Toddla T’s pioneering sound system, shares his thoughts on contemporary music and reveals how he is influenced by reggae stars such as Papa San and Peter Tosh’s son, Andrew.

What’s your earliest memory of reggae and dancehall music?

Being in Jamaica and hearing artists like Papa San tearing down the airwaves, way before I was old enough to understand what they were talking about, and getting kuffed nuff times by my aunty for reciting the lyrics because they weren’t exactly politically correct or appropriate for a young person.

After that, when I was around 12-years-old, I remember my dad saying: ‘You need to get educated about this music’ and dragging me to an Andrew Tosh concert. I would have preferred to go to a jump up event with Shabba Ranks, but he was like: ‘Nah man, you need some grounding in this type of environment’.

At that age, Andrew Tosh concert didn’t seem cool, but I think it was a good thing because as a big man now I can appreciate and understand how it opened my eyes to the best of reggae music and what it’s really about.

Name your top three favourite Jamaican rappers…

First would be Papa San (above). He’s a Christian now, but he had lyrics and was a year-to-year DJ. It’s great we have things like Youtube that allow you sit down and see how deep that bredda really was.

Second, even though I don’t necessarily want to admit it, I have to say Vybz Kartel; purely because you cannot deny the man’s talent and ability. And thirdly, I’d like to say Ninjaman or Konshens, but it would have to be Bounty Killer.

As someone who has listened to reggae and dancehall music for decades, I’d have to say these three artists epitomise the whole thing in terms of consistency and impact.

Is the British reggae and dancehall scene in a healthy state?

It’s better than it was. Stylo G was number 18 in the UK charts last month, which is a good look. When I saw that, I thought to myself: ‘Have I really lived to see middle-class Britain singing a tune about sound boys?’

If you’d have said that to me three years ago, I would have probably slapped you in the mouth and said: ‘You’re a madman,’ but it’s happened and I rate it.

It’s in a better place, but what I don’t want to see is the door being opened for Stylo and then no other artist gets a screechy in for another 10 years, because there is a tendency for that to happen.

There is a wealth of UK talent now and the more you look around, the more you see it. We have a good number of males and females representing.

It’s in a good place, it’s just about where we go from here. We need to maintain and keep authentic reggae sounds. As reggae people, we shouldn’t feel that we need to keep changing the ting. For example, Shaggy has a tune with Beres Hammond, Fight This Feeling , and they’re bringing back authentic reggae and I’d really like to see more of that.

So what do you think of the popular trend of fusing dancehall and EDM?

There’s a lot of that going on right now; I’ve even found myself as part of that circle. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but the challenge is when people start segregating everything and saying: ‘This is reggae, that is dancehall, and that is dance music etc.’

You can say it’s a form of dancehall and reggae, but I don’t feel you should be saying ‘This is what [reggae] is now,’ because once you start doing that the whole identity is gone.

For example, I was playing an old-school Super Cat tune in a bashment dance in south London recently and a girl came up to me and asked if I could put some dancehall on. I asked what she meant because I just couldn’t compute, and she said she thought Major Lazer was dancehall.

I don’t have a problem with Major Lazer doing a tune with Popcaan (above) or Mixpak doing an album with Kartel; in fact [Mixpak producer] Dre Skull’s music sounds more dancehall than Major Lazer’s.

I don’t have a problem with that being an aspect of dancehall, but I do have a problem when that is being described as the form of music I love when I can recall Garnet Silk, Cutty Ranks, Ninjaman and so many other artists that built this thing and made it strong. Just throwing a dancehall artist onto a dance beat doesn’t make it dancehall.

To paraphrase Bob Marley: ‘In this great future, you can’t forget your past,’ and that’s the problem we’re facing right now because the yout’s are only interested in what’s going on right now, but there’s a long history that you need to stay on top off and that’s why I’m glad a lot of old reggae sounds and rhythms are coming back and being remixed.

BBC Radio 1 DJ and producer Toddla TYou’re an integral part of Toddla T’s sound system, how did that come about?

The funny thing is, now T (above) is on Radio 1 there’s a lot of focus on him, but a lot of people don’t realise that I’ve been working with him for 10 years. We go way back; he was in my very first music video, an unreleased tune recorded before Life.

T loves dancehall music. We used to go to each other’s houses and watch DVDs, videos and any footage we could find of old school reggae guys. That was part of our grounding; anything to do with sound systems.

We started producing hip hop and then sooner or later he started saying ‘Boy, I want to produce some bashment riddims.’ Obviously, he wasn’t sitting down in a studio in west Kingston, but it came out as close as possible with the sounds and equipment he had available to him at the time.

That was our vibe and I would jump on a riddim and start spitting. From there it built and built, we met a few people and now as far as Toddla T sound system is concerned, you have me and T; MC DRS from [old-skool rap group] Broke ‘n’ English; and Shola Ama.

We work collectively as a sound with productions by Toddla. It’s very similar to an old sound system format; we’re just taking it to new stages.

Why do you think the project has been so popular?

Timing. We were always wondering how we were going to take this to another level, and the only other level was to get some people together, go on the road and perform live.

Each of us has our own music, DRS and Shola have their own thing so when you put all these elements together; it makes sense.

We have put out a single and are working on an album; let’s see what happens when that comes out because so far people have accepted it with open arms.

It’s gonna be different from anything you’ve heard from either myself or T before. We’ve got legendary garage singing sensation Shola Ama spittin’ bars on tunes, so it’s gonna be different, that’s all I can say.

When can we expect to hear that album?

Give it another six to nine months. We’re gonna have to put out a few singles here and there before we get that boom sound.

You’ve been around a long time and seen lots of rappers come and go. What’s been the key to your longevity?

Papa San had a tune called Year to Year DJ where he said that to be good artist; your name has to be circulating with at least a few good tunes year in and year out.

That was the key to his success and I’ve adopted that mantra and tried to be a year to year man. It’s very easy to say: ‘I only like this.’ So many people I speak to only like one type of music, and that’s it.

I listen to everything. I listen to what the yout’s are listening to and keep myself fresh and interested in what’s going on because if you don’t; you just end up on some old-skool vibe that nobody is really interested in and then end up with the realisation that time moves forward, not backward.

If you had the power, what’s the one thing you’d most like to change about the music industry?

I’d like it to be talent over everything.

What advice would you give a young person who reads this interview and thinks: ‘I want to be an MC like Serocee?’

Don’t be like me; be better. I’ve made tonnes of mistakes. Just keep your focus righteous.

What does the future hold for Serocee?

I’m gonna keep doing what I do. You’re gonna see much more stuff on the Toddla T sound and more singles coming from me. I’ve released six singles in the past six months and I’m gonna try and maintain that.

Listen to Serocee on BBC Radio 1 between 2am and 4am on the first Thursday of every month; catch his No Manners Bashment show on (87.7fm in Birmingham) every Saturday between 10pm and midnight; and check out his monthly Mek Money Monday podcasts; and Rum and Bass club night, every second Friday of the month at Riki Tik’s bar in Brighton.

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