Saturday, 25 May 2013

London Posse: Roughneck Chronicles Part 3: 1992-1996

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 is HERE.

Part 3 - 1992-1996: you are here.

Key Figures:
Rodney P - London Posse MC
Bionic - London Posse MC
Sparkii - Producer
Dobie - Producer
DJ Devastate - DJ / Producer
Erroll 'Bull' Samuel - Manager / Promoter
DJ Biznizz - DJ


The period 1992-1994 saw the Posse recording tracks for a new album. This involved hitting up old friends and collaborators for beats, and seeing what worked and what didn't.
Devastate: "After working on Gangster Chronicle I developed a friendship with London Posse. Both of them would come down to my house and I would play them beats in my bedroom. Rodney in particular has a hell of a lot of my early beat tapes and if still has them... he's got some gems. He's still got some of my records, too!"
Dobie: "They used to come to me for beats. They'd come up to my crib and that, and I'd be playing them beats. They wanted to do a new record and they were like "Yeah, you got any beats?" I was like "Well, I got this," and they were on it."

^ HHC's mocked up "Ladies Love Roughnecks" cover

According to Junior Disprol of Dead Rez - who claims to have seen a trade ad for the second album in the early 90s - the second album was going to be called "Ladies Love Roughnecks".
Dobie: "The plan was to do a London Posse second album. They were recording with all kinds of people. they did stuff with Richard Russell who was the guy that runs XL... they were doing stuff with different people. They did stuff with Billy Biznizz, the PD3 stuff."
Devastate also confirms the second album as a reality, as he was also recording with the duo at the time: "I did quite a few joints with them that didn't come out. I think they may have been intended for the second LP."
Rodney: “There is a follow up album that we made ourselves. There's excessive amounts of London Posse tunes that have never been heard. They need to be weeded through and the gems picked out.”
Dobie: “There's a tune called 'Black Skinned Boys' (aka 'Roughnecks') which we were meant to do. I think I've got that sitting on a DAT somewhere. We was doing that track at Monroe's, but that was when things were getting a bit.... well, there were mad arguments in the studio and stuff like that."
Rodney: "We recorded 'Roughnecks' in Soul II Soul's studio in Camden."
Dobie: "That was one thing I did with them that never got released, but it never got finished! ...Actually, I should dig that DAT out.” (Note: Dobie did indeed dig the DAT out - this has been released on the 2013 version of Gangster Chronicle as 'Roughnecks'.)
Devastate: “Brian B and Steve G, the Twilight Firm, had a recording studio in Edmonton, North London. The studio was called Head Top House. We recorded quite a few joints with London Posse. One track that stands out was a track called 'Gangster Yoots'. I chopped up the Donald Byrd track 'Dominoes', that track was ill! Rodney loved it. I swear it would have blown up if it had come out. There was another track where I used Loose Ends, 'Hangin On A String', that was also bad. I did quite a few joints with them that didn't come out. I think they may have been intended for the second LP.”

For whatever reason, internally the London Posse didn't manage to make what they felt were enough completed tracks for a full second album. Maybe it was the constant strive for perfection (as seen in their previous habits of repeatedly re-recording vocals in the studio); certainly the constant day to day running of Bullet Records prevented them from focusing the same way they did on “Gangster Chronicle”.
Rodney: “We stepped out from being kids signed to a label to running a label. We don't really know what we're doing. We'd never had a video. It wasn't until we set up our label that we had a video. We'd never been out on MTV, all kinda things that we didn't get to do until we started doing it for ourselves, but it got really hard. So we was getting money in, and we were going out, and we were making an album but then we got to get the records out, we've got to promote them, we've got to find more money to make another video. It just got ridiculous and it didn't really stop, (so the second album) just kinda petered out.”
At the time, the duo kept positive.

Bionic: “True the majors ain't backing us, is like we say we just have to do it ourself... If they want to pick us up after that then they can pick us up. If them nah pick us up we just a big up ourselves, and make more money and more money til we run tings, y'understand? Ya have to start from scratch, and just do way we are do, just do the work.”
Rodney: "A lot of it I’m glad didn’t come out because it wasn’t up to the standard we set for ourselves. Them days were different days, different tings was gwarnin. Life was overtaking the music ting. I mean, UK rap ain’t always pay and we gotta eat so man was more concerned with eating than rapping. There’s a lot of quality tunes that didn’t come out. And part of it was because of the music industry struggle."

Some of these tracks have now seen the light of day - the 2013 Tru Thoughts reissue of Gangster Chronicle features five previously unreleased tracks - “Future No. 1” and “London Massive” (credited as 'produced by London Posse'), “Diamonds Are Forever” (produced by Billy Biznizz), “Roughnecks” (aka 'Black-Skinned Boys', produced by Dobie) and “London Stylee” (re-rpdocued by Hint, taken from an older acapella track). They all seem slightly raw, and were “found on master tapes and DATs and remastered” for the reissue. They are great to listen to; 17 years after the group's final release, it is fascinating to hear the tracks that could have made up part of a second album, unfinished or not.

Future No. 1 (edit)

'Future No. 1' is an interesting recording – instead of the fluid interplay between Rodney and Bionic, the verses are individual, 8 bars each and separated by a long chorus each time – six 8 bar verses instead of three 16 bar verses. (You can hear a re-edited version of this track in the video above.) The origins of the track aren't too clear - it's easy to guess that it dates from 1993-4 or thereabouts, as the use of time-stretching and the style of beat would fit that era, but even Rodney doesn't know much about it.
Rodney: "Believe it or not, we don't know who produced Future No. 1, we found it on a two-inch reel."

'London Massive' is a double time track over a lush Isaac Hayes interpolation / sample that sounds as if it was from the later years, with Bionic chatting in a flow that sounds similar to the flows used on the material he recorded with Tricky in the late 90s.
Rodney: "Bionic shows off his Jungle MC style... and smashes it."
Billy Biznizz's track 'Diamonds Are Forever', utilising a heavy hitting Buddy Miles Express sample, features one of the verses from the infamous Westwood freestyle from 92 (more on that in a while) and has much more conscious subject matter. Bionic's first verse outlines a summarised version of black history, and the track takes its name from Bionic's final verse (heard on Westwood) “so have a heart, join the club, cos spades are like diamonds, and diamonds are forever, G”.
Dobie's track ''Roughnecks' aka "Black-Skinned Boys" features Bionic chatting reggae-style for the chorus with a melodic female vocal.
Dobie: "It was a cool track. I looped up "Friends" by Whodini, the first part, and we had "Mysterious Vibes" running over the top by The Blackbyrds."
Dobie's lush, sample-based production style gives a warm and full feel to the track, recorded in 93 at Monroe's. Rodney's verse is an updated version of one of the Westwood freestyle verses from 92.
Rodney: "We tested out them lyrics on the Capital Rap Show with Westwood."

“Rodney P, yeah I love it like that /
I like punash when it's fat and hitting skins from the back /
Honeys hold me but they know they ain't having me /
I love to hurt a flirt with the work and the agony /
When I come I bring niceness /
I'm telling sexy young slimmies 'Hey, your titties look nice miss /
I like a honey I can step to /
So black girls biggup becau' nuff respect due...”

Bionic comes with some hard reggae chatting on the chorus, going back to his fluid hip hop MCing style in the verse.
“When I kick a few wise words and that /
I'm fly like a bird in the sky like Virgin At- /
Lantic, making fly girls frantic, clocking /
Big-batty Ann cos I like them gyal thick /
And when they want it Bionic'll jump on it /
Cos I hafta make her puff and pant like she's got chronic /
Asthma like Pat, I jacked her in a Mazda /
But she was a slapper so I dashed her for Sasha...”

It's a classic, and it's a great shame it was never finished or officially released back in the Posse's heyday. It would have been the title track for the second LP, had it ever been released.
Rodney: "'Roughnecks' was originally called 'Ladies Love Roughnecks', because they do!"
'London Stylee' dates from earlier than the others – stylistically it seems closer to their Gangster Chronicle style than an early 90s flow. Their interactions are constant and there are punch-ins of samples from “Money Mad”, much like the album's “Money Mad Remix”.
Rodney: "Biggup Hint. We sent him the 'London Stylee' acapella and he sent us back a wicked tune!"
Hint's production sounds reminiscent of "Money Mad" AND "How's Life In London", which is an intriguing mix bearing in mind the difference in time between the two tracks. It would be interesting to see what the original track sounded like for comparison.

There are other tracks from the various London Posse recording sessions that took place post-Mango deal, such as the safe-sex track produced by Billy Biznizz called 'Ruffneck Tip', apparently released on a promo cassette in the early 90s, and the tracks recorded with Devastate as mentioned above, but so far these haven't surfaced officially.

However, as time passed, the funds ran dry, and any money Bionic and Rodney received for their previous work was ploughed back into Bullett Records. Rodney clarifies: "We got money from a publishing deal, but we didn't get to use any of it ourselves! It was all straight back in to the label. We'd got an album but we couldn't afford to put it out."
Whatever the reason for the second album not emerging, the quality of singles released over the period 93-96 showed what a massively high standard it could have reached. The main producers earmarked for production for the album – aside from the Posse themselves – would have been Billy Biznizz and Dobie, and according to Rodney there weren't going to be many guest vocal spots, although there were rumours of a planned posse cut (this never emerged).
The style of beats used for these tracks differs quite greatly from the London Posse that we know from the period 87-91, with much heavier sounding, fuller beats, less sparse than the dancehall / reggae inspired tone of tracks like "Money Mad" or the open sample-based "Original London Style". It's interesting to wonder whether how much of this style would have made up the second album.

The 1992 Tim Westwood Freestyle

The London Posse's output in 1992 can't be discussed without mentioning one of their most famous appearances. In between “Jump Around”, their last single on Mango Records and their first release on Bullett, Rodney and Bionic appeared on Westwood's Capital Rap Show in 92 with Billy Biznizz DJing for the session. This was one of their best performances, and still echoes in the memories of those who heard it, both from the UK and abroad.
The lyrical content of the freestyles is phenomenal, and endlessly quotable. Rodney and Bionic are both on top form, dropping verses over the instrumentals for Large Professor's remix of Slick Rick's "It's A Boy", Pete Rock's remix of PE's "Shut Em Down" and A Tribe Called Quest's "Check The Rhime".
The duo trade verses that would have torn up an official release at the time, ranging from street lyrics about smoking herbs to conscious raps about black unity. A couple of the routines are early versions of verses that made it to wax, but hearing them in embryonic, unedited form shows just how much crafting and refining the duo did with the rhymes.

In Rodney's second verse over the Shut Em Down remix you can hear the basis for what would become "Pass The Rizla", released the following year:
“I like big fat stinking buddha blunts /
and the flavour for this month is California skunk /
I smoke Phillies with Phyllis from Bed-Stuy /
and weed with Wanda as we travel on the red-eye /
At first I couldn't get into her /
until the brandy, the babycham and the fat spliff were in the cut /
And I was in like Flynn /
she knew my name weren't Humpty but she liked the way I swing /
When I want Buddha, I got to Cypress Hills /
For Acapulco Gold I go to Acapulco and kill /
10 green bottles and an ounce /
If you watch me when I walk you can see it in the way I bounce /
If you ain't ready G then let it be /
Cos weed'll make your head go boing like Zebedee /
At least it will if it's good /
I like weed, pure weed, no seed and no wood”

Bionic kicks some particularly scathing battle raps, taking shots at other unnamed MCs
“If it's wick wick wack most blacks are sick of that /
and most British rappers couldn't hit with a cricket bat /
if you underarm bowl slow, you can ask Pogo /
you no flow hobos, keep it low-pro, bro /
your rhymes are bullshit, ain't it time this fool quit? /
trying to use stush words, you're dry like bush herbs /
I'm more like thai sess, getting you high /
So you'd best to call me your highness, you jester /
Try and test, I'll distress ya /
Telling about how your girl ain't yet grown breasts, child molester /
So cease to believe you're hard, you chief /
Or I'mma burn your arse like shish-kebab, capisce? /
Don't front, silly c*nt, punk, I'll smoke you /
like a philly blunt of skunk cos you're bunk, believe....”

Bionic's last verse, over the "Check The Rhyme” instrumental, only made it out as part of an official release in 2013 – over 20 years after it as first recorded – on 'Diamonds Are Forever.' (see above). It is often quoted by fans as one of his best lyrics. As well as attacking France's far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, he looks at how society is changing for the worse, but how it could and should be changing for the better.
“Crack for the fool, your desire for that light ting /
Is adding more fuel to the fire of the right wing /
Tu con pre mon frere, how can you be the banner /
With battyman voting Klan in Louisiana /
We kill each other helping motherfuckers easily plan and /
enter the nubian man helping Afrikaaners use our manor /
like a playground, kick a nigger, stay down /
and party for the day they say AIDS'll make brown /
people extinct, and not all pinks'll be gone /
but in a new white world, they think they'll live on /
so get bright and start tightening your buckles /
Cos it's that time to stop fighting over fuck all, buster /
Save your knuckledusters for the system that makes Aryans into racist barbarians /
Or makes a house nigger out of a black with ease /
what we need to do is rebuild like the Japanese /
and if blacks who made cash held some back for the community, I'm sure there'd be more unity /
I ain't a Muslim cos I smoke marijuana but I listen to Farrakhan cos he speaks cleverly /
So have a heart, join the club, cos spades are like diamonds, and diamonds are forever, G”

The live shows kept coming (and would do for the rest of the group's career). In an interview with Westwood on Radio One in 96, Rodney says "That's how man really make a living out of this hip hop ting, is on the road, doing shows... (we're) putting out records twice a year."
"Where do you rate most?" asks Westwood.
"All over, different day, different time" says Rodney.
"Japan and New York," says Bionic.
Japan was a particular high point for the Posse. Namechecked in "How's Life In London" (not to mention Bionic's Japanese line in the later "Funky Rhyme Funky Style"), both Bionic and Rodney showed love for the country.
Bionic: "Japan's safe."
Rodney: "Nuff the black youts want pick themselves up and go Japan and take a look man, ca' you'll see something different f'real."
Bionic: "People respect black man. Respect black man, what black man's been through."i
Sparkii: “In Japan, London Posse are considered the godfathers of hip hop reggae. They went with the original Soul II Soul tour, with the other half of our crew, the Bristol half, who were the Wild Bunch. A lot of English acts and English looking models used to go out there back in the day. They were the first to go - Jonzi D went next, with the Young Disciples. I went out on tour with Courtney Pine. They went first and kicked it off.”


The singles started emerging on Bullett Records in 1993 (Rodney: "We ain't never been a group that puts out nuff music... but when we come, we come good, that's us"). London Posse weren't the first group to release something on the label – Bullett had released one 12" already. This was "Midnight Train" / "Platform" (#BULT 1), credited to P.E.G. featuring BJ Nelson. Nelson was an established R+B singer who was most active in the 80s, recording for CBS and Warner Brothers, amongst others, and appearing on the "9 1/2 Weeks" soundtrack, as well as singing backing for Power Station and Duran Duran. However, all subsequent releases on the label would be from the London Posse, and it would eventually be their last.


The first of the Posse's powerhouse 90s releases was "How's Life In London" (#BULT 2), a 3-track EP that featured two tracks produced by Dobie: the anthemic title track (with its upbeat sampling of Babe Ruth's The Mexican and the Ohio Players' Funky Worm) and the James Brown loop-driven "How I Make Papes"; and the Billy Biznizz produced 'skeezer-baiting' "Shut The Fuck Up".

The origins of "How's Life In London" go way back to the start of the London Posse's recording career.
Bionic: "Basically, how that come about is like from time. From like, day one, London Posse started we was gonna do a London tune like this, but it just happened to come out as 'Money Mad'. Like a London earning ting. But like, we was always gonna do a London ting, like... you know, from when I was a yout and I listened to them tunes 'London Town' and tune there, y'know? Nobody never really big up London and nuff black people they're Londoner, they're England, and tings a gwarn, and... you know? Have to make the rest of the world know say black people, they are ENGLAND, y'naa mean?"
Rodney and Bionic were back on the scene. The track opens with the chimes of Big Ben, an intro from the BBC's World Service and a Marvin Gaye horn stab. Then the beat drops, an urgent and upbeat instrumental with a heavy bassline.
Dobie breaks down the genesis of the beat of this classic: "The drums for "How's Life In London" were "125th St Congress" by Weather Report. There's "Funky Worm" in there, there's a bit of "Rock Creek Park", it's a mish-mash of things."
Before the MCs come in, we get to hear their manager Errol "Bull" chatting with Dobie, Rodney and Bionic (he also appears in the video). He was a regularly visible and friendly presence in the studio: "he'd come in the studio as well and he was just like one of the lads," says Dobie. "They'd be cussing Bull, and taking the piss out of each other, that's how they were. He's on the start and the end of 'How's Life In London'. Bull was cool, he was like a big kid. It was like having your older brother in the studio."
Rodney: “This was the first thing we put out (on Bullet Records). It's quite an optimistic, upful tune. It's not no doom'n'gloom thing, cos we weren't in a doom'n'gloom. It was a good time, definitely. It's about how we raved, how we dressed. We was dressing Burberry, and, you know, we always used to go to Beat Freak. And at the time everything was all so American, so we thought 'We rave! We've got a history! We've got deejays from the old school!' and we took that angle. Plus as well, we'd thought about making a tune that was accessible – we didn't want to make an angry rap tune. The patterns on the lyrics are a lot more catchy, a lot more easy to listen to, a lot more easy to learn, and that was on purpose.”
Even though the idea for the track had been around for years, the recording of the track was quick.
Dobie: "'How's Life In London' was done in a day. That's how we used to work - one day we'd record it all, the next day it'd be mixed. They might want me to move certain sections about in the arragement, they might want the drop like this at this point or whatever, but that was cool. Get the arrangement down, get it to tape, then mix the next day if the studio was empty. When you're working with people of that calibre, that's how fast it is."

Opening shot from the 'How's Life In London' video

Dobie found recording with the Posse an easy task: "They were generally on it. They'd be in the studio, and man would drinking their Guinness or dragon stout, burning their herbs, and man would be there just writing. Everyone would just be travelling on the red eye vibe and busting jokes and taking the piss out of each other."
The duo kept some old habits from the recording sessions with Sparkii - namely, writing or finishing lyrics in the studio. This was never a problem, however.
Dobie: "Most MCs don't prepare before they go in the studio. An MC would come and check me, I'd give them the beat, they'd go off and write to the beat, then I'd be "Yo, you ready to go studio?" and they'd be like "yep." We'd go studio and the MC wasn't even ready, don't know his or her lyrics or ain't written them, but you don't know that till you get to the studio. So something that should take half a day or a day would end up taking three days. I got to a point with MCs where I'd be like "look, we're not going to the studio until I know you've written your lyrics and you know them." But I never had that problem with London Posse. They were the only MCs I would go in the studio with on the day, and even if they didn't have the lyrics written, I knew they'd be written there and then and they'd get recorded in that time.
"We're going studio, have you lot written your lyrics?"
"Nah, but we'll finish in studio." And I knew they would. They were on top of their game when it came to that stuff. They were the only MCs I would go in the studio with unprepared. Other MCs I wouldn't do that with, cos... "You ain't ready, this is costing someone money..." but with London Posse it was like "Come on, let's go.""

The publicity push for “How's Life In London” was designed as a reminder of what London Posse was capable of to an audience that hadn't heard any new releases from the Posse since 91, and were fiending for a new release after the legendary 92 Westwood freestyle. This was a track that grabbed attention from its opening seconds and had a video to match: there were police, robberies, crew shots and location shots around London as well as a great opening. Despite the Cockney slang, it's a track filled with hip hop quotables - and some great interplay between the two MCs, mirroring rhyme schemes and complimenting each other perfectly, as always.

A scene from the How's Life In London video

The Posse went all out in promoting the track with radio interviews and appearances, and the video was instrumental in giving them a public face to compete with international acts. (It was played on MTV and in the US, and still gets a bunch of hits on youtube.) As Bionic pointed out at the time: "We got the video soon be playing out in New York, in America and them place there, and the video's doing alright, y'naa mean so boy, from there, people get to see our faces even more out there. Then soon as we do a little tour in England, in Europe, the usual runnings, we'll fly straight out to New York, hopefully get there for the Seminar time and see wha'gwarn, naa mean?"

Dobie also produced "How I Make Papes", one of the two b-sides (with a great Phife Dawg and Sick Rick contrasting sample for the chorus), dealing with women, general depravity and bragging, in that order.
It's crammed with quotables from both MCs, Bionic's notable lines including "me and my mates are killing it so much every time I come out with hip hop / that you have to Dial M For Murder like Alfred Hitchcock" and "Coolin in Havana smoking Cuban marijuana / playing hide the salami as I ride the punani"
Rodney comes with some cracking lines too: "Rodney P coming straight from London City / If I see a girl that's pretty I'll Bang Bang her like Chitty Chitty" and "Back in the days I used to jack man for nuggets / But nowadays it's strictly jacking beats and making ducats".

The way the two MCs ride the James Brown loop (from "The Payback") is classic, and it's an underrated track in the London Posse discography, only available on this 12".
Rodney: "It's a hip hop tune for the hip hop kids... how I make papes is how I make money, y'know that, and this is how I do that. Let off the boom lyrics on the fat hip hop beats, y'know?"

After the previous year's storming Westwood Freestyle session, Billy Biznizz reappeared with the Posse to produce the other b-side, "Shut The Fuck Up", with a cracking Tim Dog sample taken straight off "Fuck Compton". Sonically, the track was more like the vibes you'd expect from London Posse, with a sub-bass, some horn samples and a similar 'clattering' solid drum pattern to Money Mad, but the track addressed the sort of singer who'd go "in the back of the Benz for the new tune, new deal / she's getting fucked for a 48 track and a reel to reel". Over the course of the track, the duo namecheck the mysterious "Vanessa, Karen and Paula / cos none of them can sing and need to break for the border". ...or maybe, with hindsight, they aren't so mysterious. The lyrics seem more relevant now than ever, as ever delivered with the interplay that made the most of both MCs' contrasting styles:
Bionic: You got a big butt, and titties like watermelons / and see 'em as good assets so you thought you'd sell em / to any Tom, Dick
Rodney: or Julio
Bionic: so you could cut a tune quick
Rodney: in a studio...

Shut The Fuck Up had been heard before at live performances, but not released: this savage look at the "slappers, the slappers who'll do anything to get to the top" as Bionic put it was a definite crowd pleaser. But who was it about? "It could be nuff girls," said Rodney, "cos there's NUFF little hookers making records... I know who I met, (Bionic) knows who he met... if the cap fits...." "If you hear it, you know it's you!" answered Bionic.
There's a direct Madonna diss, with an unnamed female vocalist singing “Like A Virgin” out of key, backed with a chorus of booing from a group of men, but this has been edited out of the 2013 version (copyright issues maybe?).
Rodney: "I think we offended a few people with 'Shut The Fuck Up' but it's even more relevant now."

The reason for releasing this classic 3-track EP? In an interview in February 1993 on Kiss FM with Max and Dave, Bionic said "the reason it was an EP is cos we haven't a tune out for so long, and we wanna give the people dem their money's worth. The youts they're waiting for a new tune, but like... the single, is like... a SINGLE. Like the hip hop tune now, a little bit more hardcore, then the real London Posse tune, there y'are, hip hop reggae, y'naa mean? That's how it's dropping."
Rodney: "What we done, when we was putting together the EP we were like, well, gwarn, mix and blend the flavours a bit, y'know?"

A limited 12" remix of "How's Life In London" (credited as the 'Ragga Mix' - #BUL R2, but now known as the 'Bogle Mix') appeared a couple of months later with alternate lyrics. The 12'' came with an A4 black and white pullout of Rodney and Bionic standing with two 'policemen', smoking. (Note: the "policemen" are actually the actors who were the policemen in the original “How's Life In London” video.)
Produced by Dobie and Aswad's Tony Gad, it was a change in pace from the hip-hop-heavy original version, and closer to the older style of track that London Posse had put out, almost like a tip of the cap to their 80s sound.
Bull: “The 'How's Life In London Remix' and all that, that was through people that I knew.”
Dobie: "The remix of "How's Life In London" came about because Bull and the guys are like "Yeah, we wanna do like a bogle rub." I'm like "Cool." Bull was down with Aswad. He was road manager for Aswad back in the day so he got me together with Tony Gadd from Aswad, the keyboard player. He was like "I'm going to link you with Tony." I already had the riddim, the beat, and he says "Go up to Tony". I went up to Tony's house, I had the MPC up there, hooked into Tony's system, and Tony did the other little keyboard bits, the bits over the top and took it to the studio to lay it to tape. Then mans come in and re-voice, do what they need to do, done."

In classic London Posse style, Rodney and Bionic re-wrote the lyrics, adapting them to suit the more skeletal beat as they used to do in the Gangster Chronicle sessions. The re-recorded lyrics are darker and more aggressive than the original version, but also more cartoonish - "we used to playfight in the sunshine, and laugh at the suckers getting stung on the frontline" from the original has turned to "we keep the stanley blades in our Adidas, and get in raves on a rampage with tear gas". Similarly, Bionic's line “As a yout I was a raider, used to rob the chiefs in London / now we chat I've got more flavour than a pack of cheese and onion” has moved to “As a yout I was a raider, used to rob the chiefs in London / and I still do, ask Bad Boy Blue from the Brixton Hill Crew”. The sunny, colourful video (shot in the summer of 93) features extended London Posse crew and girls dancing in the street, big crowd scenes and Bionic and Rodney riding around London streets. Rodney recently stated on Twitter that the convertible Saab they were riding in for the video belonged to British soul legend Omar, of "There's Nothing Like This" fame. The video was directed by Blake Bedford, who went on to direct over 70 music promos for acts such as Jamiroquai and Sindecut.

About this time, Rodney and Bionic gave a another memorable radio performance: this time on KISS FM with Max and Dave (as already mentioned), which you can check on DJ Stepone's Blogspot. Well worth a listen. As well as an extensive interview, the pair drop some sick verses over "Funky Child" by Lords Of The Underground. (Note: one of Rodney's verses may sound familiar... it's from Pass Me The Rizla.)


The next 12" to be released, again in 93, was the superb head-nodding street banger "Here Comes The Rugged One", a double A side with the more commercial "Supermodel" (#BULT 3). “Here Comes The Rugged One” is Rodney's “favourite London Posse tune”, and “Supermodel” is a girl friendly tour-de-force with an uptempo R+B style lady-sung hook.
Both tracks were recorded and mixed at Monroe's Studio on Holloway Road, North London, and although the production is credited to "3 BASSHIGH N DA FUNK", the man behind the boards was their old collaborator DJ Devastate from Demon Boyz and Twilight Firm.

Devastate: “When I recorded “Here Comes The Rugged One”, I felt I had turned a corner production-wise. My beats were sounding more mature and I was excited about the new batch of beats I was coming with. Rodney selected it from one of my beat tapes. It was recorded and mixed at Monroe's Studio on Holloway Road in North London. It was straight up boom-bap, it was funky but hard, lyrics and beat. I guess both London Posse and me wanted to remind people who the masters were! If you listen to the clean version, I used sound effects to edit the swearing. I did that live on tape using the MC pads... I always wanted to do that.”
The track is hard-hitting and full of quotables, with a speaker bursting sub-bass that drops in and out of the track with varying degrees of rumble.
Devastate: "I still love this track!"
Rodney opens the track with
“I'mma pimp this track, you get that? /
My black axe attacks honeys with the booming bap...”

The rhyme patterns are strong, the delivery is fierce – it's one of the purest hip hop tracks the Posse recorded.
Bionic's first verse starts off with the darker side of life on the street:
"Check it.... I've got flavours like Kia-Ora /
Last week I saw a teef bore a Police informer on a street corner /
He left the grass with a slit neck /
And as he run past us, in the car I heard his spar go 'respec'....”

Then moves onto police harassment, a recurring theme in his tracks.
"When you're black with gold teeth you gets no peace from the Police /
Especially when they seen ya in Mercs and /
They hate to see blacks in Beamers it fuckin hurts em /
So I hate em down the station /
Always used to say to em 'Today's pigs, tomorrow's bacon'..."

By contrast, "Supermodel" is much more girl friendly with a faster tempo, but still has outrageous lyrics from both MCs: Rodney P's last verse starts
"The girl excites me like Aphrodite, in a nightie /
A little black number, short with nothing under /
I clocked her pose and froze cos I was thinking /
She looks exposed in those clothes, there's nothing blinking..."

The structure of the song is quite unusual by London Posse standards – as opposed to the normal 16 bar (or longer!) verses they usually came out with, “Supermodel” uses 8 bar verses, and the MCs don't rhyme alongside each other, but separately. (A similar structure was used on 'Future No. 1'.)


The classic "Pass Me The Rizla" emerged in the same year on the XL Records compilation EP "Ruffness - The British Underground" (#XLT 42), and it was in great company alongside contributions from The Brotherhood, Lords Of Rap and Twilight Firm. (The track also made it out on the Wordplay reissue of the "Gangster Chronicle" album in 2001.) With an eerie opening loop that cuts into a fierce crisp drum break, then into a reggae sample which then cuts straight into an urgent funk loop, Bionic opens the track up with
"When I was a kid I used to love Marcelle /
She was the daughter of a nutter from a drug cartel..."

Classic storytelling, and great beat from production team Kicks Like A Mule (Nick Halkes and Richard Russell) that gets a namecheck from Rodney at the end of his first verse.
Rodney doesn't shirk either, with lines like
"Feel the effect of the Thai and the blunt /
The flavour for this month is California Skunk /
A red-eyed punk known for the narcotics /
I'm the sensimillia king, no big ting, I got it"


The last officially released track from this era is "Funky Rhyme, Funky Style", a ridiculously brilliant sex rhyme that came out in 1994 on the "Pass The Mic" EP (#PD002), produced by Billy Biznizz (credited as "Bizness") and Mysterious K, and credited to “PD3 featuring London Posse”. (The other tracks on the EP didn't feature Bionic or Rodney, and were "Noisy Music Pt II" and "Pass The Mic" - the latter of which was produced by Dego McFarlane who went on to produce with Mark Clair as 4-Hero.)
You know you're onto something when the opening line (by Bionic) is
"I creep up on cheap sluts like cellulite /
Grind her like dynamite, hoes blow me like gelignite /
Ten a night, if and when I like, sure bloody /
I pull down more whore's drawers than Dudley Moore, buddy...”

This has an incredibly layered production, with a variation on the same loop that Gang Starr used for "Words I Manifest", and some great horn chops. This may be a sign of the times, with the group moving further and further away from the reggae soundscapes that they started with.
On an MC tip, Rodney steps up hard alongside Bionic; his best lines include
"Now I'm grown, and honeys they run come /
Cos they know that Billy The Kid ain't the only Young Gun /
I do tours, make papes and after shows /
Girls wait for me in my hotel wardrobe /
Young and restless? No, young and ravenous /
You wanna test this? I'm coming with the bad-a-ness /
Think you're bad miss? I'll bone you with the bonafied back strength /
Stroke you with my English accent...”

Promo shot used on the back of the "Ruffness: The London Underground EP"


The inertia of not having an album released, and sporadic tracks appearing on the odd 12" meant that the duo were starting to go off in separate directions.
Bull: “The second album didn't come out because it didn't really get finished – some of the tracks were done but after a while, them two needed to do their own thing.”
Rodney: "We were independent, we were out there doing it by ourselves, and it felt good. But it's hard to maintain it without support. We were seeing minimal success, but the times were changing, and the focus was shifting from hip hop... Everything was strained: the relationship was strained, money was tight, times were hard."
Dobie: “They were best mates, they were like brothers. That's how it was. But after "How's Life In London”, you have to take a lot of things into account. There's them trying to deal with the music thing. They were out of the Island situation, trying to do the music thing, but as we all know the music thing is all peaks and troughs. Then they're dealing with whatever's going on in their personal lives. So they're young, broke, they were going through tough times, they were angry.”

In 1994, Bionic hooked up with Stevie Hyper D, who was on his way up as one of the best drum + bass MCs in the game. "My bredrin took we to one rave, there were bare gals, and every girl was like 'Stevie Hyper D! Stevie Hyper D!' I heard the name but didn’t know who he was. Girls were all over him. Stevie was like ‘Yo, Bionic man I used to listen to your music’ and all the girls were like 'who’s Bionic?’"

Bionic: "I thought this new music was mad! It was like how Miami bass hit me in America... I saw him (Stevie) chat rave after rave and thought mans bad! I’ve replayed that moment back in my head the most. The meeting was the beginning of a new stage of my life. I was an angry bad person and that’s what a lot of people remember me for. He brought me to the enjoyment stage of life where I needed to be."i
Bionic and Stevie used to cypher together at each other's homes, with Bionic linking immediately with Stevie's positive aura and subject matter, and verbal dexterity on the mic, which led to Bionic getting bitten by the drum and bass bug.

This influence started to bleed through to the tracks they were recording as a duo. “London Massive” (probably dating from 1995 and available on the 2013 'Gangster Chronicle' re-release) is one such track. It showcases Bionic's double time flows over a London Posse self-produced half-speed beat.
“I gotta big up the jungle heads / To the slowed down jungle drums and bass /
This one for the hip hop kids / Faster, can you stand the pace?”
He fluctuates between frantic, urgent junglist flows and laid back, strikingly jazzy patterns. You can plainly hear Bionic's love of D+B coming through, even on a mellow track like this one, whereas by contrast Rodney's flow stays at half speed throughout.

It was about this time where the cracks started widening. First of all, the duo temporarily parted ways. Apart from a brief reconciliation, it was nearly the end for the mighty London Posse. Bionic wanted out, and Rodney was demoralised with the inertia of the music game.
Dobie: “They weren't in a deal anymore, they were trying to do their own label with Bull, and things were just up in the air. At this time the guys were just out there, doing shows and stuff like that. We'd still see each other and that, and then I found out they had split up.”
Bionic: "From about '95 I was trying to leave London Posse while other people were trying to keep me in. After all those years I had just had enough of it, and that's when I was moving in the jungle scene." i
Rodney: “The London Posse died down and I didn't really envisage a career in hip hop... I was always going to be a fan, I was always going to have lyrics, I was always going to write lyrics but I never envisaged making no more records. London Posse finished. I never knew there was an audience for Rodney P.”

In the meantime, Dobie reconnected with Howie B just as Howie had started Pussyfoot Records, and started work on the Luv N Hate EP, which would eventually be the first solo spot from Rodney.
Dobie: “I had the "Luv 'N' Hate" beat, I'd had that from time. I'm thinking of people for it, and I think ah, I'll give Rodney a call. So I say "Yo man, I've got this situation going on with Howie, he's got this label called Pussyfoot and I want you to come and voice out this tune for me." Now at this point Rodney's kinda like "I'm not in it. Fuck this music thing, I'm not in it." So I'm like "Look man, come check me," so he came round and heard the beat. That kind of got him vibed up again, cos he was about to like "Fuck it,I'm not doing music anymore."
Rodney: “It was because Dobie called me to say, come make this tune.”
Dobie: “I remember when we did the "Love and Hate" session, me and Rodney, we laid his lead vocals, backing vocals and whatever else like half an hour. The lead vocal was done in two takes. First take - that was on. Second take - that was on. I said "We got it. We got the lead vocal." The fastest vocal session I've done, amazing.”

As “Luv N Hate” was emerging in 1995, Bionic released his own solo track on Bullett Records, a drum and bass double A-side consisting of the new track "Feds” (another Police critique), and a remix of "Live Like The Other Half Do", both produced by Peter Parsons (aka Voyager) (#BULT4).
Although these are occasionally classed as London Posse tracks, they aren't: they were Bionic's solo recordings, released on Bullitt with the label "Jungle".

“Feds” is a dark soundscape with chords stabs and skittering drum patterns, and Bionic chatting in a heavy reggae / D+B MC style. The remix of “Live Like The Other Half Do” has almost nothing to do with the original other than a brief sample of the chorus, and the title. Again, Bionic takes the role of reggae / D+B MC on this track – it's categorically not a London Posse track.
Bionic: "A lot of my bredrins had been trying to get me into jungle for a while but after I met Stevie it all just clicked and I came over from the Ragga sound system thing... We started talking and it turned out he had listened to London Posse from time, then he basically laid out the whole jungle scene for me - who was who and how it all worked with the MCs... He was telling me about bare girls and he started to bring me to all the raves, Telepathy, Jungle Fever and all them. He just got me on the list for everything and from that I was deep into jungle."

Meanwhile, Dobie and Rodney were making more moves, this time on a remix of an artist not primarily known for her hip hop roots: Bjork.

Dobie: “'I Miss You', the Bjork remix, came in for me and I just said to Rodney "Look, I got this Bjork remix, come in and kick a 16 on it. There's fuck all money in it cos I got paid fuck all to do it, but it's good exposure for you." So he came down and jumped on it. Cos that's one of my things, you know, bringing people in where I can and just "yo come and jump on that".

Things were quiet for the London Posse at this point. Although some live performances kept a bit of cash coming in, the duo were moving in very separate circles. They appeared on Westwood's Radio 1 show in 96 with a memorable couple of freestyles, spitting verses over a low-in-the-mix, blunted-sounding instrumental. Despite being at the end of the road, they still come across sounding pretty nice as a duo on the surface, if a little bit darker in tone than usual.
Bionic's first verse in particular is hard-hitting:
"(I'm) one of them clever mighty London thugs /
they can plant bugs under rugs, they'll never find the guns and drugs /
in a raid I'm getting paid like you wish pig /
I won't stop til I grown up to be a rich nigga /
mad posing in my mad old Lexus can't test me spa /
you'll think I was Pablo Escobar /
the way I cold-blooded murder ya..."

But things soon go back to the more bragging-based style when he spits
"I reckon I'm a better rhymer, so does your grind /
the second time I met her me got a shiner /
the first time I blanked her /
even though she begged for the bang and said her man was a (wanker)...."

(note: these lyrics are partially recycled from the unreleased "Roughneck Tip" track.)

Rodney is more concerned with dope-smoking and bragging:
"we're never passive, we're rowdy indeed /
when we come we come with excess girls and weed /
ya know fat buds, plus the girl I need is bad breed /
she can (fuck) but the girl can't read"

Check out a recording at DJ Step One's blogspot.

Bionic, again, has trouble spitting with no curses (just like the classic Westwood freestyle from four years before)... at least one 'fuck' gets through, to Rodney's amusement ("Oh my God it's the swearing what's flipping me up rudeboy!").
After their trademark back and forth routines, they talk about touring and recording, with Westwood inevitably mentioning Money Mad.
"Your records last a long time", says Westwood, "look at Money Mad."
"That's all about the quality control," says Rodney.


The last official and original London Posse 12" was released the same year: this was the classic "Style" (#BULT 6). Produced by Bionic (although credited to Bionic and Rodney on the label), it had a definite drum and bass feel to it which is unsurprising, as it had originally started life as a Bionic solo track.
Bionic: “It's easy. All you do is programme the drums and then put the bass on top.”
Rodney: "Style was produced by Bionic, and was before its time if you ask me."
Bull: “Bionic made the beat. It was Bionic's track, then Rodney did a couple of verses on it. That was after they'd had a first parting of ways, and just before they decided to call it a day for good.”
Rodney: "At That time we were working at Monroe's Studio, Holloway Road, where Blak Twang was an engineer."

"Style" was to be the group's swansong, although you wouldn't know it. To the fans who bought it and the DJs who played it (John Peel being one champion of the tune), Bionic and Rodney went out with a bang on this one.

The track featured such lyrical gems as Rodney's first verse, with the lines
"Rodney P stepping up to spark this /
the Marquis Of Queensbury hate me cos I'm heartless /
Any time we come we coming wicked when we start this /
Dedicated to the crews smoking spliffs in the darkness"

Bionic's first verse was heavily dancehall orientated, and his second verse starts with the classic
"If I ain't mackin on the downlow, I rhyme and it's payday /
but the back of English pound notes remind me of slave days".

He also comes with a resigned social commentary for part of that verse about the state of today's black youth:
"I'm like 'wicked, rich blacks' /
But at the same time it hurts to see my niggas in crack".

There was a heavy, dub-styled and kick-drum driven remix by the Nextmen also included on the 12", which – by all accounts – they “blagged”. It was this version that was more of a traditional hip hop–reggae track, but the Nextmen look back on it with embarrassment. "We had really basic equipment and didn't really know what we were doing," says Brad Nextman. "But everyone loved it and Westwood and John Peel played it on Radio 1." i Despite the positive reaction, they're still not happy with it. "It was 75 bpm and really pedestrian," Brad says. "Fucking terrible." Make your own mind up about it here.


After this, the duo disbanded.
Rodney: "We thought, let's try it one more time to see how it would run, but it didn't run. Things fall apart, and that was kind of the end.”

Nothing more has been recorded as a duo, although some old recordings were released as part of the Gangster Chronicle reissue in mid-2013, giving us a flavour of what might have been.

The closest the group has come to a reunion so far is an unofficially circulated track from Rodney's original version of the album "The Future" from 2002, which features a short 1m 47s track called "Hip Hop Gangster", produced by Rodney himself, featuring Sipho beatboxing, a re-imagining of the Just-Ice track from the 80s. Sadly this has never officially seen the light of day, but it's worth tracking down if you get the chance, with lines like "Riddim Killa, when it comes to a rhyme / big in every style and we're bad every time... / in the place trying to bust, ingenuity's a must / dem boy they think they're ready but ain't fuckin with us" and Sipho's rock solid beats embellished with DJ Deckwrecka's scratching.

Gangster Chronicle remains the group's only long player, with three releases over the years. Other than the original release, there was the 2001 Wordplay Records reissue, which was the full album (minus the Money Mad Bonus Beats) with the bonus tracks “Jump Around (Nomad Soul remix), "How's Life in London", "Funky Rhyme, Funky Style", and "Pass The Rizla". Wordplay also put out “How's Life In London” (including the “Ragga Mix”) as a 12'' and CD single. The second reissue was through Tru Thoughts in 2013, co-ordinated by Rodney. This featured the whole album (again, minus the Money Mad Bonus Beats) and some of the other non-album tracks such as “How's Life In London” (and the “Bogle mix”), “Style” (and the Nextmen remix), “Shut The Fuck Up” and “Jump Around” (Nomad Soul remix). This also included five previously unheard tracks, and several remixes – Sparkii's unreleased Gangster Chronicle remix from 91; the “Money Mad” remix by Wrongtom and two remixes of “Money Mad” by Drumagick; and Steve Mason's “Kronk” remix of “Gangster Chronicle”, one of the high-ranking entries in the remix competition. It also features a quick London Posse history in the sleevenotes courtesy of your humble narrator, and a niftily re-designed cover that substitutes the “London Posse Bites Dentist: $40 000 Extracted In New Raid” for “London Posse Bites Politician: £40,000 Expenses Now Returned”.

So, where does that leave the members of this groundbreaking group?

Rodney P's solo career path started with cameos on tracks for artists such as US3 and the Brand New Heavies, and he continued to work with Dobie on releases like the "Tings In Time" EP. He subsequently hooked up with Daddy Skitz for recording collaborations and the 1XTRA show, then released the heavily leaked 2004 solo album ("The Future") released on his own Riddim Killa imprint. He's now signed to Tru Thoughts, and his new album is dropping soon.

Bionic moved fully into drum and bass for a while, and remained close friends with Stevie Hyper D until his untimely death in 1998 (he still remains close to Stevie's family). They were planning to form a group with Sipho before Stevie's untimely death - "we said we were gonna make a group, he knew we were gonna bang up the world and then he died. That crushed man... when he died that’s when I knew I had to come out of the music completely."
After that, Bionic went out to LA and collaborated with Tricky and Cypress Hill's DJ Muggs on Tricky's "Juxtapose" album under the name Mad Dog. He's now working with "Thank You Creator" Records (link here) with some dope new tracks and collabos in the pipeline on his new project ready to drop in the near future.

Billy Biznizz went on to carve out a more than respectable name for himself as a highly in-demand international DJ. In the first couple of years after moving away from London Posse, Biznizz went on to DJ for The Cookie Crew, touring the UK and Europe - supporting De La Soul, N.W.A, Public Enemy, House of Pain, Roy Ayres and The Jungle Brothers, amongst others - before becoming the DJ for Caveman (MCM). After becoming Westwood's DJ on the Capital Rap Show, he became a founding member of the En4cers DJ crew, with Cutmaster Swift and DJ Pogo. He's been on scratching duties for Ty, MC Mell'O', Einstein and Big Kwam, amongst others, and produced for Ty, as well as DJing sets around the world.

Sipho was ready to form part of a supergroup with Bionic and Stevie Hyper D, but tragically he is no longer with us after his untimely passing in December 2004. Rest In Peace.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

London Posse: Roughneck Chronicles Part 2: 1989-1992

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.

Key Figures:
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.

Erroll Bull

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's 909

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.



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”.)

Courtney Pine

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.