In Depth: Kingdem // Rodney P & Blak Twang
Step over Gods of Rap, the Kingdem are in full effect - a UK bred hip-hop trio consisting of Rodney P, Blak Twang & T.Y. Each lyricist forged their rap careers decades ago, boasting extensive discographies which led them to become regarded as legends of UK hip-hop culture. The idea to collaborate came in early 2019, after a progressive meeting at producer Nutty P’s house. From that day, Kingdem quickly recorded a four track EP and organised a nationwide tour to promote the movement. As well as this, each artist recently finished recording independent, solo releases before forming the Kingdem. So the decision to establish a collective and promote their music was little more than fate becoming aligned. Prior to interviewing Kingdem on March 7th at The Fleece in Bristol, they had received ecstatic praise from their previous Kingdem Tour performances in Leeds and Sheffield. Before setting Bristol’s stage alight, Rodney P and Blak Twang took time to speak separately on the history of Kingdem, insights into the Kingdem EP, upcoming exclusives and more.
Rodney P emerged in the mid-1980s, regarded worldwide as a pioneer of early UK hip-hop culture. Initially known as MC Rodie Rok, Rodney began collaborating frequently with reggae emcee Bionic, forming a collective in 1986 known as London Posse alongside Sipho and DJ Bizznizz. From their inception, London Posse caught the nation’s attention by rhyming with thick, British accents recorded over ragga/dancehall inspired boom-bap beats. Reaching overseas acclaim thanks to releases such as their debut, London Posse (1987) and How’s Life In London? (1993), by selling out tonight’s Bristol show Rodney’s popularity is provenly longstanding. When asked if he started the UK hip-hop wave, Rodney made it clear that he definitely did not, “I came here as a fan and found lots of artists already here doing their thing,” explained Rodney, whilst reminiscing how he became acquainted with Blak Twang.“I became a part of scene that already existed and was thriving and active. Blak Twang is someone who used to actually engineer for the London Posse, so when we were in the studio recording tracks like How’s Life In London, those guys were the engineers in the studio - that was before he started making his own music obviously. So I've known Blak Twang for years, we done shows all around the world together. We've been booked on the same bills before, for sure. Not actually working together on stage, but we've been in the same venue and done shows before. We've recorded together before as well, we've got songs together. We got a particular song, Dirty Stopout that was on one of his albums.”
“It's funny,” laughed Blak Twang, as he was reminded of being in studio with London Posse. “Because the first time Rodney ever heard me rapping was me checking the mic for them in the studio. I went in the vocal booth to test the microphone and just started spitting bars. Then they popped out like, 'Rah is that you yeah?' I was like, 'Yeah bruv,' and they were like, 'Nice, keep it up.' After that I just kind of... It was almost like I got my validation that I was going hard. Those were the guys I listened to coming up in the game, and that was it.”
Another king of UK hip-hop, Blak Twang was active in music since the early 1990’s, however recorded his debut album Dettwork Southeast in 1996. This release became notorious due to unbridled success and inadvertent controversies, from winning a MOBO award whilst unreleased to taking 18 years for the project to even be released. Undeniably, Dettwork Southeast cemented Blak Twangs status in the culture for years to come. “That was me at the beginning of my inception,” stated Twang, revealing first-hand insights into Dettwork Southeast. “My genesis, that was my life. That was my estate, that was me living on the block, that was me trying to make ends meet, trying to eat some food. That was me, Dettwork Southeast. So that was the sound of the struggle, that was the sound of the come-up. That is probably my proudest project album ever, because you could hear that hunger, you can hear that desire. That album was meant to come out in 1996, I had already won a MOBO Award for an album that wasn't even out yet.”
“Basically,” continued Twang, “I was with an independent label called Sound Of Money. We were just an independent label but signed a licensing deal with this big, major independent Japanese label called Avex. We had signed a deal agreeing a certain budget to market and promote that particular album. Right at the last minute, after we'd pressed the vinyl, pressed the singles - we shot a video and everything, some information came from somewhere saying sorry, we're going to have to slash this budget to about a third of what it was. Me being me at the time, I was like, 'Nah fuck that, that's not going to happen, I'm not going to do it' so I decided I didn't want to put it out. And yeah, that's why it never came out. For the people who were anticipating this album - and who knows where or how it would have changed the landscape of hip-hop in the UK - I would have put it out, in hindsight. It is what it is, I say this - I believe in this. Everything happens for a reason, I've done nothing before it's time.”
At the beginning of 2019, Rodney and Twang joined with T.Y. to form Kingdem, a hip-hop trio who altogether recorded the Kingdem EP and organised a nationwide tour in the space of three months. “T.Y. and Blak Twang had already been working together,” recalled Rodney, remembering how Kingdem came together. “They had the same agent and had thought about putting together a tour. They invited me to come and get involved, and it was the unified strength that it showed for the scene that really attracted me. Once we decided to do the tour, of course we're emcees and we're on job. So as soon as we decided we were going to go on the road together, automatically we knew we had to start some music. That was a quick turnaround, big up my man Nutty P who produced a large majority of the Kingdem EP. That's my dude still, so it was easy. We just went in and bashed it out on a work ting. We all got in the studio together, wrote the songs together, made the ting happen.”
“We've got a track called 'We’re Just Sayin',” stated Twang, giving insights into the four track Kingdem EP. “I think that is kind of hard-hitting. The beat's hard, the hook's hard, the subject matter is crazy - we're all going in. To be honest with you, all of them are kinda hard. But 'We’re Just Sayin' is dealing with shit that's popping right now, shit that's quite important for the culture and community. So I think 'We’re Just Sayin' is one of them. The Conversation is good, because it's like we're having a chat. It's a four bar, four bar of everyone just... like, you know when you're in a cypher, but you make it out like it's conversation? That's really the idea of what we did.”
The careers of each Kingdem member deserve the entitlement of Kings, however the name of their collaboration was not chosen for lack of modesty. In fact, Rodney and Twang stated they plan to invite more kings and queens to get involved. “This is really the beginning of the thing,” smiled Rodney, when asked why Kingdem decided on only three members. “This is just the line-up number one. There is a lot of kings and a lot of queens who deserve the title. We recorded this Kingdem EP, which is a four track EP, and later on in the year we're going to go back into the studio and record an album. ... “At the end of the day,” answered Twang, to the same question. “Everyone is a king. Whether you claim your crown, that's up to you. It's not about thinking I'm the king of this shit, it's not even like that. It's more like, Kingdem. Your man can say mandem, we're like kings. I recognise myself, I know my worth and I know my value. That's literally what it's about, so it's not about being the king of anything, but we are kings so we're saying Kingdem. Just like we say a lot of women are queens, if these queens call themselves Queendem, that's on them. But yeah, obviously it's wordplay as well, being from the United Kingdom, we're Kingdem in the United Kingdom. So that's what it was, there's a lot of man who could have been on this project too and it might actually still get like that. When we decide to do the album, we're going to be inviting a lot of people we consider to be kings and queens. Princes and princesses. You hear what I'm trying to say? Watch this space, really.”
“Yeah I just finished my album,” said Rodney, about to give exclusive insights into his upcoming solo release. “My album is ready to go, the album will be out later in the year. It's been a long time since I put out an album, so I'm excited definitely. I've got John Holt on there - a reggae music legend. He's passed now, he's actually died. This song I've got, I actually feel it is his last song. I'm really, really honoured to have that tune. Me and Ocean Wisdom do a tune together as well. It's got a bit of this and a bit of that, but it's a straight hip-hop album with different styles in effect. I also do a bit of drum and bass, a bit of grime, a bit of party music. When I make a Rodney P album that is me doing my thing, which is basically a hip-hop reggae ting but with extra flavours.”
Kingdem were set to perform a straight two and a half hour setlist, which between Rodney, Twang and T.Y. was enough time to drop plenty of anthems from each of their discographies, providing fans with classics as well as forthcoming exclusives. “Actually,” Rodney pondered, “Two and a half hours isn't long enough to do all the stuff that we want to do and the new stuff. I always feel like, 'Ah, I didn't get to do this particular tune' so there's never enough time. But yeah man, it's going to be a vibe. We're going to keep the energy moving. We got Birmingham tomorrow, Cardiff, Nottingham, Newcastle, London obviously. I think that's it, eight dates altogether. We've got an after party in Cardiff as well, we're going to spend a minute down there. We've got crew, we've got family down there.”
“So at the first gig in Leeds,” replied Twang, relieving the most memorable story from the past two Kingdem performances in Leeds and Sheffield. “We had one of our good friends Zulu Monk - he's been about for a minute. Whilst we were performing onstage, he was doing a live clay sculpture of us three that looked amazing. He's done the Mount Rushmore and he's got all our faces on it, he's still working on it. But Zulu Monk doing that whilst we were performing, that was a good look and quite a good highlight of the whole culture and vibe. Also the show had so much energy, it was great. Sheffield was wicked because they were so up for it, the energy was electric in that room. That was a highlight, they all been pretty good for me anyway. Leeds and Sheffield show so much love, turnout was good and the energy was even better. I really expect Bristol to surpass it, I'm quietly confident it is going to be like that.”
“So far we've done Leeds and Sheffield,” continued Twang, speaking on what the future holds. “We're going to do Cardiff, Nottingham, Newcastle and London. So there is a lot of cities as you can tell, but we've missed out major cities too. So Manchester ain't been touched, not Bournemouth or Brighton. They got wicked scenes over there. We've not touched Edinburgh, Glasgow or Dublin. There's so many areas that we need to touch and everyone is asking for it, so look out for that tour as well. In the summertime, we've got a few festivals which we're gonna be doing. Also Rodney P has got an album coming out, I've got a new album coming out. We're finishing them off and then it's going to be a busy year.”
Rodney P, Blak Twang, thank you both for your time.