The Master of Ceremonies, the DJ, the dancer, the vibe. Since the beginning of our culture in the late 80s the MC/DJ/Dancer tripod has held firm as the creators of the overall vibe of any event, rave, club night. The debate has also raged since day one about the MC’s importance in the culture. Today we here at the vault will try and scratch the surface of that debate. We spoke to more than 12 MC’s representing North American DNB about their personal history, their beginnings, influences and the future of the culture. The following is a part of a greater ongoing conversation about the MC.
In the original days of Hip Hop Culture, the MC was there to control the crowd, introduce the DJ’s and rep their hood right. The job was a coveted one; if you couldn’t rock a party you got taken right off the decks. This came from the tradition of dancehall mc’s toasting over their newest riddims in the dancehalls and yards. Fast forward to the birth of Jungle/DnB and we find many of the British youth with family from the islands and states adapting the same crowd control, toasting and rhyming to the new underground sounds.
It is 20 plus years later. Don’s like Navigator, The Ragga Twins, Gq, Det, 5-0 and more still rule the roost. Meanwhile you have names like Harry Shotta breaking Guinness records, and Verse touring with one of the biggest acts to come out of the Jungle/DnB world. The M.C. has been an integral part of our culture since day one.
Born out of the dancehall culture the DJ as they were called in Jamaica was the leader of the dance. Just as important as the selector and operator. Toasting over the newest dubs, lyrically killing sounds, providing a call to the yards that the time was now and the place was here. As the culture moved across the water to the UK, the forefathers of rave kept that same ethos.
In the states however, a new element was added to the mix. Conscious lyrical content, word play and a healthy dose of attitude. We sent a questionnaire to T.R.A.C., M.C. Posi D, Collaborator, Zezo one, Dino, Armanni Reign, Astro, MC JD, Josiah Scribes, MC Duh, M.C. Zee, Elijah Divine, Digga Bruck Shot, Kemst and had an open conversation to build the history and story of the North American MC, their struggles, high points, and most of all the unspoken rules of the MC culture.
When talking about his beginnings in the music Armanni Reign said “I started back in South Jersey/Philly area with a crew called the Illskillz. They were a dope group of turntablists I met through a mutual friend while I was doing Hip Hop MC battles. One of them (Kid Digital) had a spot on a college radio station and while in a freestyle session he threw on some DnB. I wanna say the first one was he threw on was MAKAI “Beneath the Mask” which is still one of my favorite records ever. They started taking me to parties and had me study the DJ SS “Supten’s Jungle” live mixtape with Foxy and Skibadee on mic duty. I knew there and then that’s how I wanted to in some way add to this complex sound and culture.”
Collaborator, coming from a different angle adds, “I fronted numerous bands growing up via New York & Florida. A vocalist for many years, it seemed a natural progression for me to front djs, become a DJ, and hone the craft after stumbling onto a party in NYC whilst visiting from Florida known as Batacuda w/ Soul Slinger & TC Islam backed by 30 Brazilian drummers onstage rocking Jungle back in ’97. What a life changing moment that was for me and my girl Melissa. It was the first time we heard Jungle/DNB. That night we went back to my pops cribbo and as it turns out he was listening to Jungle already and hooked me up w/ Grooverider, LTJ Bukem’s Progression Sessions, John B, + other early DNB CD’s. Mind blown. Thanks Dad.”
Each story is unique, where many of the US Mc’s site hip hop culture or dancehall, in Toronto M.C. JD had a different experience, “I was subjected to a plethora of music including a lot of old reggae, acid house and bhangra. My cousins were avid fans of Black Uhru, Steep Pulse, Brinksi Beat, English Beat, Specials and UB40. This is pretty much what I listened to every night from the age of 0 to about 10. This slowly mixed in with music from my parents and other Punjabi family, which included Bhangra. At a young age (grade 4) I was influenced by hip-hop and reggae. I used to recite Run DMC, slick rick and fat boys rhymes. As my musical tastes progressed I was introduced to classic house and break beats which in turn progressed to ragga influenced break beats which later became jungle.”
The culture of the jungle DnB MC was pushed forward in the Uk first, however when asked how much the UK had to do with their desire to express their art, the responses were varied. San Francisco original M.C. Duh said “In 1994 I went to the UK and Ireland without my parents for the first time, and got a tiny taste of rave culture, although I was way more focused on hip-hop and reggae, etc. I came back to the States, and started at Berkeley. Kirby Dominant and I were on the mic at the first ever Students For Hip-hop thing right where Mario Savio had delivered the speeches that defined the Free Speech Movement. Once I was getting serious about jungle, I figured it out. Tape packs from raves are a serious thing! Friends taping the pirates and One In The Jungle off the radio and bringing em back to America. All that.”
Digga Bruck Shot, coming from a military family had a very different experience, “I was living the UK scene, the dnb “golden era”. My entire approach to the culture was rooted in that. I was lucky enough to get my start in the UK. I had just started high school over there around 1997 and some friends introduced me to jungle/ drum n bass via some Roast tape packs, the first one I ever listened to was a Bryan Gee tape I think. As far as deciding on going the MC route, it honestly just felt more natural to me then DJ’ing, that and…I was really bad at DJ’ing, I didn’t have the patience for it!!!”
Meanwhile in the home of Hip Hop culture T.R.A.C. writes “Not really much to be honest. I’m all NYC about my MC’ing so just knowing the know and how to finesse yourself on Dj sets were already important to me. With that said, if I ever caught a glimpse of a UK MC rocking over jungle then I may have picked up a few things along the way.”
The North American MC was not always looked at as the headliner attraction they have become today. Many of these soldiers had to work hard and cut through the attitude of dj’s who didn’t want to share the limelight, or audiences who didn’t understand what they were beginning to experience. When asked about the early days and being a trailblazer, Zezo One said “As one of the “elder statesman”, I feel a certain obligation and responsibility to this thing I helped build here in America and want to push the sound as far as it can go and then push it even further. The best part of getting older and watching this scene grow into what it has become is two-fold: I get to see my friends and family grow up and reap the rewards of decades of hard labor and I get to help pay everything forward by looking for new talent that has that fire in their bellies to keep pushing our sound long after I am dead and gone.”
New England staple Elijah Divine adds “when I was coming up you already had heads pushing it forward in America. When I was coming up the Trailblazers were Armani Reign (one of my favorite emcees of any genre to this day), Sharpness, Posi-D, Josiah Scribes. They laid out the trail and the foundation for my generation. On the flip side I do see myself as one for my city. There is a very healthy drum and bass community in Worcester at the moment. I’m here now, and I was here when it was first cultivating.”
The early days of our culture were stuck in side rooms, small sound systems, and early time slots. Way before the days of the festival stages, Function One Sound systems and all night drum and bass shows we have now. When asked about these incubators for their art many had the same things to say. Armanni Reign writes (it) “Definitely drove you harder. That’s how you earned your stripes! No smoke and mirrors there. Just the DJ, the crowd and you trying to make your voice sound cool through a pair of headphones for 6 hours. It’s funny because now we flip shit when you walk out on stage; look at thousands of people and then look around like “Wait.. There are no monitors? Dammit.” I have so much love for sound techs nowadays. Haha.” Collaborator adds, “It was Garbage lol. Glad those side room days are a goner. It’s nice that DNB got main stage biz and is a household name. Ain’t nobody got time for dat side room junk.”
M.C. JD shared one of his fondest memories, “Those were some of the dopest times. I remember playing in Cleveland in the late 90s and the promoters booked both my DJ and myself (now my producer) David Keith for a rave. They paid for hotels + transport. The night of the rave the promoters had us in a back room with no mic. They had no clue I was an MC. They strictly booked us on the fact that we were on every single Toronto flyer for jungle rooms at the time. Even though my name clearly stated MC JD! I ended up MN into an old school pair of headphones. (The kind of headphones that were in the listening corner of a grade 3 classroom in the early 90s). This was a vibe. I was always blessed to be booked whether it was 10 people in a basement or 10,000 people at a festival. Those were the event that defined me as and MC and made me hone my craft. You learn to adapt to shitty situations and equipment and make the best of it. Its also where I met some of the REALEST heads and true lovers of the music…Some of which are International Superstar DJs and Producers now!”
Many of these artists, now considered legends in their own time, took varied inroads to the culture. Kemst one of the west coast’s finest wrote, “I just loved doing it. I was rocking shows with my friends that’s all that mattered”
Digga Bruck Shot continues “I moved back to the states in late 2002 and honestly thought I would never find DnB again haha. Shout out MySpace though, that connected me with so many people, a lot of people I still know now. As far as an angle, I knew I had a lot of first hand experience with the entire culture after growing up in England, I think I definitely used that to my advantage in a variety of ways.”
Posi-D adds, “First of all, I always loved and respected the music. I never saw MC’ing as a way to grab fame; I just wanted to add something to the music that meant so much to me. As for my way into the music, I was lucky enough to have close friends like The Burner Brothers and Wally Pish Posh who wanted me to rock alongside them. Having their support meant that I was free to try new things each time I was on the mic and gain the experience it takes to become a solid MC.”
The dj’s had a healthy aggression and competition to see who would get the biggest tunes, the freshest dubs and rinse them hard! When asked about the pressure put on themselves and their peers to perform Boston’s champion Josiah Scribes had this to say, “My attitude towards watching my peers has always been emulation without imitation- and that was Posi D. Dave always did everything the right way, and I’ve always tried to incorporate that vibe in my sets without biting him at all. I always looked at the professionalism and cohesiveness Sharpness and Armanni have- they are incredible. As far as anything else, I’ve taken a lot away from a lot of bad MCs. I’ve learned what not to do: getting too drunk, spitting over vocals, not letting the record breathe, etc.”.
His brother in arms Elijah Divine chimes in with “In New England, there is a lot of Ragga Jungle. With that comes a clash/battle mentality. Hartford pretty much being one of the meccas for Reggae/Sound Clash in America. A lot of us were/are keeping very true to the attitude of Sound clash. Kill any sound anywhere. In the most respectful fashion. So I think in general, that attitude is what pushed/pushes a lot of us to go further with the skills and the selections. In order to truly believe you could respectfully kill any sound anywhere you would really have to be in the best musical shape you could possibly be in. That goes for DJ’s and Emcees. Just like a fighter or an athlete.”
Zezo One continues by saying “It’s the thing that powers every workout in the gym for me, especially when I am doing cardio. Breath control, lyrical flow and delivery are all key components in a MC’s toolkit, so when I hit the elliptical, I constantly challenge myself to freestyle over what I am listening to, while I am working out and making sure it at least sounds dope in my head. The reasoning in my head is that just like the workout itself is a challenge, every MC that is out there in the game, whether they are my best friends or chumps that don’t deserve to touch the mic, are all challengers. Some of us are very complementary to each other’s styles and we know each other’s flows and styles well enough to work together and make it better for all the fans. A dope MC can listen to what is going on around them and adapt to make everything work, but some cats just don’t have that gene in their body and I think that is one of the biggest things that always drives that “I hate Jungle/DnB MCs” threads that have been going on since the dawn of the genre. B-Boy Ken Swift said it best once: “You can be the best in the world, but someone out there is hungrier than you, and if you don’t bring your A-game to the battle, you can lose just like everyone else.”
At one point you know what you are doing is right, that you are reaching your audience and setting the pace for your peers and the night. When this point was reached in the conversation Texas’ own MC Astro said “I knew when I learned to freestyle on beat that dnb was for me… Big up T.R.A.C. AND I-CUE we all knew when we met in Dallas..lol… but going out to see shows in other places with other mc’s doing their thing made me work harder. What blew my mind was seeing the mc’s at the VIRAM, WODNB SHOWS IN MIAMI..SET IT OFF!!”
For T.R.A.C. it was a moment in the history of our planet that changed his view of his chosen path, “When 911 happened me and Jungle became the best of friends. I really can’t tell you the reason. Maybe it was times, maybe I wanted change in my life, and maybe I had anxiety…. lol. But some around that time triggered me to take my dreams further and make strides.”
Elijah Divine adds “As far as an Emcee. When you go from listening to someone for so long, and then you end up emceeing for them and murdering it with them is when you know it’s right. It comes full circle and puts it all into perfect perspective. That is what solidifies it, and kills any doubt you might have had in yourself or your involvement in the culture.”
Moving into the new generation of bass/break beat culture the jungle/DnB sound took a step back to its younger brother Dub step. Many Mc’s made a crossover into that new market. When asked how they weathered this storm T.R.A.C said “ Once again as an MC you need the ability to adapt but you must still have that integrity in any scenario. Around the time jungle slowed up in NY, I got asked to do some weekly dub step nights. From there I was holding it down some of the top artist in the genre. I’m talking your Caspas, your Emalkays, your planet 12’s, some very exciting nights with Nero, etc. All on a national platform. Every Friday it was packed to rim at Webster hall so it was only right that the homie Posi-D was there. Those ruckus crowds were something I hadn’t fully experienced until then.” Posi Adds “Sometime around 2005, I took a break from MC’ing and pursued other interests. I’m still happy I made that choice; when I returned to the music a few years later, it was with renewed energy and a desire to explore all of the avenues that became available. I linked up with Hellfire Machina and began to MC over their dub step sets. T.R.A.C. and I became the resident MCs at their Bass Fueled Mischief parties and we hosted some incredible nights at Webster Hall. To respond to the second half of that question, I think experimenting with different styles of music and new venues only makes you a better lyricist and crowd controller. Sometimes being comfortable is exactly what inhibits growth.”
With this new generation of crowd controllers, the art of being an MC has changed; several core laws remain unspoken and understood among the vets. We asked the group what those were. The answers were all the same, no matter what the geographic area. M.C. JD writes, “You are not the star – Let the DJ do the work. You wanna be the center of attention put out an album, shoot some videos, get booked and do your own concert or gig! Do not MC over vocals – Let the music breathe – Watch the crowd – know when to STFU Know the music, write bars – work on stage presence.”
The same sentiment was expressed by Zezo one “If you aren’t booked and I don’t offer or ask you if you want to MC with me, fall back, it’s not your time to shine, so don’t just grab a mic off the stand uninvited. If you scare the ladies off the dance floor, you have failed at your job. Dudes will brock out to just about anything but you have to keep the ladies engaged and willing to dance while you compliment what the DJ is bringing to the table. Don’t spit over vocal tracks- many people have DEEP emotional connections to those vocals and they don’t want or need to hear you over the top unless it’s in call/response type stuff.”
Armanni Reign brought some levity to the subject, “ Stay on your side of the stage. Never look me directly in the eye. Get money. (Mic drop)
Joking… obviously. If I’m on stage performing with another MC, the very first rule we need to establish is communication. And that’s not a “You take this record, I take the next one” kind of thing. You, me and the DJ are in this together. We all look for the same symbiosis you would expect from just a DJ and one MC. Don’t go off and do your own thing!
Rule #2: See rule number one. Seriously, everything else rides on that. Breakdowns, Call and Responses, EVERYTHING… otherwise I will just walk away or very politely relay the DJ’s feelings towards the situation. Hahah.
Rule #3: Respect each other, what we bring with us and why we are there.”
With regards to the up and comers the advice was forthcoming and open. M.C. Zee said “Always write bars, market yourself properly, be humble and don’t let haters change that, work with as many people as you can, try to help the scene instead of milking it, clear up your voice and always stay fresh, brand yourself and always keep going because days can get better for the ones who want it. Never give up!!” Kemst had this to say, “Love the music first find your time where it benefits everyone’s time”
M.C. Duh ads “Listen to more 1993 Roast tapes, more super early days stuff. More 80s and 90s reggae dancehall business. Learn to do your shit from behind where the DJ’s standing and not on the stage. In the end, at a rave…. no one gives a shit what you’re saying unless it’s “make some noise for _____________” or “Last call.”
In closing, these soldiers are but a small cross section of the bigger picture of MC culture in our community. Everyone agreed with Armanni Reign’s closing statement, “Be yourself, hahah. Seriously though. If you be yourself and equally as important, respect the music you will be alright. Cut loose and enjoy the moment. The crowd can tell if you are having fun or not so, connect with them. Talk with them… just not over a mix. Also, if you are on the Internet, do yourself a favor and stay away from the comment section. I know you’re still going to do it but I had to say it. We go where the music goes. We have been a part of the culture from Day One and will continue to do our best in helping provide memorable musical moments”
Shout outs and promotion in alphabetical order:
Armanni Reign – Thanks for taking the time out, Odi! All of us really do appreciate it. Check out www.ArmanniReign.com. There is a link to all of my socials there if you would like to catch up with what I am doing or want to hear me ramble about almost anything. Hands up high and ya head held higher. Love and Blessings.
Astro – D.A.P. SPACE THUGS,TWO:TONE, B TECH, INGENIOUS MUSIC, DD415, SONAR DNB, FRENZY, TCDNB, NY-JUNGLIST, SATL, J-LOGIC, ANT LION, TOMB, E-BLUE, PHOOKA, COLAB,COBALT, E-TECH, C-14, SST, GENR8, KASPER MC + MC BRACE, TYPCAST, RICHARD SHANKS BIG THANKS TO T.R.A.C…TXDNB THE WHOLE STATE!!!
Collaborator – Shouts to all UK / USA Drum ‘n Bass DJ’s Producers, Promoters, Agents, and Dancers alike. Thanks to Odi and DNB Vault for the interview biz. Check me at Florida’s longest running premier DNB weekly ‘Torque’ EST. 1999 Every Wednesday @ Native in the heart of Downtown Orlando. Also Hit up my wine bar ‘Swirlery’ for a nice glass of Vino anytime. Big ups my partners Circle K, Melissa and our affiliated Native team Justin Faze, Micro, & Glyn the Head. Respect to all Jungle/DNB Crews!!
Digga Bruck Shot – Shouts to the team at DNB Vault!!! Keep up the great work!!! Big up Odi for reaching out and putting this together and big shouts to all the fellow MC’s around the country, keep fighting the good fight!!!!
Duh – Become more involved in your local political scene. Real life stuff. Police terrorism is not a game.
Elijah Divine – Shoutout anyone pushing this culture forward. Shoutout all the crews worldwide that truly believe in Jungle music and put so much in with no expectations of a return. Shoutout all the Bigger heads out there playing unsigned tunes. Shoutout all the Emcees sharpening their sword. Most of the links for my Jungle &/or Hiphop can either be found @ elijahdivine.com or elijahdivine.bandcamp.com
Josiah Scribes – Considering half my job is shout outs and promo, I’ll keep it real simple: Maximum Boost goes out to everyone involved with Elements and Cycle, and big up all my Boston & NYC DNB heads.
M.C. JD – Shout out to all Junglists! RIP to all my fallen soldiers.
Big up Torontojungle / Destiny Events / Freshpapercut / DnBCuture / Dubplatespecial / All DJs / MCs and producers that fighting to keep the jungle alive…… Peep me at: www.mcjd.ca | soundcloud.com/emceejd | youtube.com/mcjdtv | vimeo.com/mcjd | twitter: @mcjd | IG: mcjdtv | facebook.com/emceejd, Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kemst – Folks Fam my City My graf crews any who have believed or supported in any way. RIP SKESK1, PEVROCK, ACE, COLIN, DJ TRIX, Jose from OZO, Zane Mousa
Posi D – Shouts to The Burner Brothers, Wally Pish Posh, Patrol the Skies, Direct Drive, and all of the lifelong friends I have made as a result of this music.
T.R.A.C. – http://fb.com/tracmuzik, http://twitter.com/trac_, http://soundcloud.com/t-r-a-c Thank you to the DNB Vault for having me through. Salute to all for the support. Just please spell my name right. T.R.A.C. #4letters4dots
M.C. Zee – I wanna give a shout out to the whole Solid Apparel / Solid Soldiers, Forward DNB, Last Planet, Soul in Motion, Bar Rage, UNCZ, Low Down Deep, Sound Bully, Sound Bully Radio, Junglist Worldwide, City Flow, Gun Audio, Heavyweights, the 254 crew, Future Sound, Syrous, On Point, CCDNB, Sound Elevation, Stateside Jump up, Sound Solution, The Business, Front Left, Dungeon Kru Radio, Darkside Radio, West End Productions, DNB Entertainment, Run DNB, Torontojungle, Thymeless Crew, Church Sunday’s, 89.5fm The Prophecy Radio, Cre8dnb, Rough Tempo, Kool London, Origin FM and all the people world wide who believe in what I do.
Soundcloud — https://soundcloud.com/m-c-zee
Twitter — https://twitter.com/emcee_zee
Instagram — https://instagram.com/emcee_zee/
Facebook Fan Page — https://facebook.com/McZeeFanPage
Sponsors — http://www.solidapparel.com
Zezo One – Konkrete Jungle Worldwide, World of Drum & Bass USA & Formation Records, Direct Drive NYC, Fat Beats NYC, BP2 NYC, Compression SF, Reflex SF, Still Doin It SF, Shelter SF, BADNB, Dystopia OAK, Muse LA, Respect LA, I LOVE LA, Tonz of Drumz LA, Ghetto Life LA, Splat Media LA, Timeless LA, Bassrush/Insomniac LA, Pure Filth Sound LA, DnB Tuesdays SEA, and many many more that I am sure I am forgetting here…I love every one of you guys!