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Rodney P: Beats, Bars & Docs at Sheffield Doc/Fest

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Rodney P was part of the seminal British hip hop group London Posse, who are widely credited as the first to rap in London accents in the late eighties.

Later going on to be a respected solo artist, MC and broadcaster, Rodney has well over 30 years of experience in music and has recently brought this to bear in three BBC Four documentaries: The Hip Hop World News, The Last Pirates - Britain's Rebel DJs and Bass, and Beats and Bars - The Story of Grime.

Rodney comes to this year's Sheffield Doc/Fest to talk about his documentary work, as well as hosting a party at DINA with DJs Charlie Sloth (Beats 1) and Jordss (Rinse FM, Reprezent). He told us more.

What first got you involved in documentaries and what were you looking to achieve with these films?

For me, it's important that we archive these stories, and we do it authentically, because if we don't do it, them stories are going to be lost. Time's passing and it seems often that these stories that are so fundamental and important to the growth of the music scenes in the UK are often not recorded.

The technology has taken leaps and bounds, so now everyone's got a camera in their pocket. But when we were active - when the group I was in, London Posse, was active - there wasn't that much archive being made, there wasn't that much video being made. Those days people had massive video cameras and recorders on their hips. But we're in a time when thankfully a lot of those people are still here and still willing to tell their stories, and we were lucky enough to be able to capture some of them.

I think it's Jammer in your grime documentary who says pirate radio for him was Top of the Pops.

Absolutely, the same for me. Me and Jammer come from different generations, but I would say exactly the same thing. The importance of pirate radio is unquestionable and it doesn't get the light that it deserves. I would say even the pirate radio that pre-exists black music radio - Radio Caroline and all of that stuff - it played an important part too in getting other kinds of music to the public. Pirate radio, on every level, has been incredibly important to music in this country, and every kind of music in this country. Not just grime, not just hip hop and not just soul and reggae. All of it.

It's important that we connect those dots and tell those stories for future generations, so that they can look back and see how this journey has been fought and won on their behalf.

Having seen so many rises and falls across your career - particularly in the UK hip hop scene, which is having a renaissance at the minute thanks to labels like High Focus Records - do you still feel the same as you did about the genre as a means of expression?

You could almost say there is a need now for a new pirate renaissance to get some of this new underground music out to the masses. High Focus are doing so well at creating their own audience, but it's still a very niche thing, because they don't get that commercial support. Right now drill and trap are the main focus. You listen to [BBC Radio] 1Xtra and you're gonna hear drill and trap and certain kinds of hip hop, constantly all day. And that's not to take away from what these young guys on the drill scene and the trap scene are doing, but there is so much going on. Hip hop is an extremely creative space, but we have a very small window of what we see commercially and that's a shame to me.

Having strong enemies is a blessing

Obviously trap and drill are US exports, and we're putting our own stamp on them, but grime's a bit different in that it's authentically British.

I have this argument with UK hip hoppers, when I say that in my mind, grime is the purest form of UK hip hop that we've ever had. In that window of time, it was the purest UK sound of hip hop that we've ever had. The way grime uses hip hop, and UK garage, and jungle, and all of these sounds that originate from here, and uses it to make this new form - that's very hip hop.

I've always been a fan of grime and at some points that set me outside of the traditional UK hip hop scene, who can be quite stush and really quite elitist in a way. But I mean we went through that as London Posse. When we came out as London Posse using English accents and reggae samples, we were told that, 'That's not hip hop'. It still took another ten years before everyone had to rap with a UK accent. It took a while for that change to happen but it was an important change, because if we're not rapping in our own voices, what are we doing? We're just pretending. I think by the time we got to grime we were being honest with ourselves.

The establishment often sees these new musical movements as a threat to the order of things. You talk about form 696 in the grime documentary, which the Met used to shut down grime events in London. Does real music need something to push against, some kind of authority to rail against?

It definitely doesn't hinder it. Nipsey Hussle, who died recently, his last tweet was, "Having strong enemies is a blessing." And in terms of the music that makes sense. When we're being pushed against and being fought down, we really stand up and come out swinging. But I don't think that's absolutely the thing that does it. I think that level of creativity and that level of expression has to come out. People have an innate need to have their stories and their voices heard. When you're being pushed against you push back even harder, but I think it would exist anyway.

The other dimension of grime is that we saw it become a political force at the last General Election, with young people mobilising around the #Grime4Corbyn movement, which you could argue was a major factor in why the Prime Minister couldn't get a majority in parliament, which has had a huge effect on politics in the last two years.

Hip hop's always been political, indie has always been political - you've always had your Billy Braggs and your Rock Against Racisms, and all kinds of political movements within music - but I think grime becoming politicised really helped galvanise that youth vote in one place. They really had a voice and I think that can only be good. This country is going through some huge changes and the voice of young people needs to be heard, because those changes are going to affect them the most.

People have an innate need to have their stories and their voices heard

What are your plans for the near future and are there any other films you want to make?

We're looking at ideas for new documentaries now, about different styles of UK music that could do with some light being shone on them. What we actually get green-lit for remains to be seen, so I won't go too far on that. And then I've got my album coming out in September on TruThoughts. I haven't had an album out for about 15 years, so I'm looking forward to that. So yeah, look for me - Rodney P, back on the road.

Sam Walby


Rodney P talks about his music documentaries at Sheffield Doc/Fest on Saturday 8 June and hosts a party at DINA on Sunday 9 June. Tickets via

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