Interview: Dabbla

The revered London MC and Dead Players member chats about their recent Freshly Skeletal LP and his collaborations with Problem Child and LDZ

Posted on Nov 20th, 2015 in Features and Interviews, Dabbla, High Focus / By Sam Bennett
Interview: Dabbla Dabbla is a familiar name in British hip-hop. He broke out with LDZ (or London Zoo), who released their debut album Living Long Ting in 2007, along with three other quality projects in later years. More recently Dabbla has been continuing his energetic musical output with Dead Players (along with Jam Baxter and Ghosttown); their Freshly Skeletal album was released in October, and Bearded caught up with Dabbla mid video-shoot to talk about the project.

I ask how the shoot is going. 'Yeah man, it's been good' says Dabbla. 'We're shooting the video for Drenching, the last track on Freshly Skeletal. We're in a swanky hotel in Shoreditch, we're doing this video with Broken Antennae. We've got dollies and trollies, two rooms full of equipment. We're slowly getting into our roles; Baxter's drinking hard liquor, I'm drinking some beers. It's some Fear & Loathing shit; basically having a bad trip, which I've never had before so there's a lot of acting involved. We've got make-up artists to make us look sweaty, which I'm not sure is absolutely necessary. We're gonna be sweaty anyway in about an hour (laughs)'.

I ask about the origins of LDZ. 'It's a weird one that. I met Pierre Green when I was in Manchester. He's actually from North West London and I'm from deepest, darkest Barnet. He was a Garage DJ, and I was a Jungle MC, and I kind of grabbed the mic and impressed him. We did the whole Aiya Napa thing. I've always been a writer to music; whatever's popping at the time. If people were playing Gabba I'd be rapping over that. We were always into breakbeats and making songs though.

'We set up our first studio in Manchester, then we realized maybe London Zoo wasn't gonna pop there, maybe we should go home. Pierre Green had a thing going with Sumgii and a couple of MCs, one of whom was Pringle. We got together; me, Pringle, Pierre Green, Sumgii, Tango and Johnny K. We started off as a sound system. We'd go fuck up parties; literally clear dance floors. We were always into writing all sorts of music. There's only two types of music really; good music and shit music. We're that subgenre you can't really place. I think that's why we've been able to survive'.

'My first feature was on Dubbledge's Fists Of Jah mixtape. He used to pull me up on stage. I'm a massive Dubbledge fan, I'm in a group with him, Illaman and Sumgii called Problem Child. He's one of my favourite rappers. That gave me the confidence to do this properly. We started working on the live show, did Living Long Ting, which was out on Dented Records with the help of Foreign Beggars, and yeah, that's how it became a ting'.

London Zoo's versatility has always been impressive, so that background makes sense. Their projects include a mixture of uptempo, electronic based tracks, as well as including hip-hop orientated jams. Dabbla agrees. 'Between Living Long Ting and the London Zoo EP, that's when we started jamming with Cobes and Harry The Bastard, who's actually probably one of my favourite producers; he's working on a project with Formula. They've all got like jungle, grime and drum and bass histories so that adds to that mish mash flavour'.

With a number of years since a full LDZ project, I ask if we can expect anything soon. 'Absolutely. We've never taken ourselves seriously, London Zoo has always been that place where we can go and make fun music. London Zoo was always that escape, but we're actually making a serious album. Not to say serious as in it's not going to be fun. We're like 80% complete with it. It's still got lots of fucks, cunts and shits in it, with bare innuendos, but it just sounds maturer. We've grown as artists, and we've mastered ourselves as people too'.

Having been a fan of LDZ and Dabbla for years, that humour has always been one of the main draws to the music. 'If you can't have a laugh with yourself, at yourself, at your own expense then I don't really want to hang around with you' Dabbla says about the importance of not taking yourself too seriously. 'I wouldn't be making music with people who are strictly hip-hop or strictly grime or any of that political bullshit that ruins music. We've got the confidence in ourselves that if we enjoy the music we make, then the people who know us and have followed us will enjoy it too'.

One of Dabbla's noteworthy traits is his flow; he has an incredibly on point rapid-fire delivery, and I wonder if that was something he'd always wanted to be able to do. 'I'm from a Jungle background, so it was all about Skibba when I was going out raving. I'm heavily influenced by Busta Rhymes; he's probably the best rapper I've ever seen live. I tried to develop that mad syllable shit. That's what I've jumped back on recently; that relentless double-time stuff, but trying to make sure no syllable is wasted, and there's no filler and I'm actually saying something'.

Dabbla marked joining High Focus with Dead Players by releasing a video for Meow Meow, a version of an instrumental from producer Samiyam. 'We were dropping that beat as our live show intro for years' says Dabbla when I ask why he decided to drop that. 'Rather than just spit bars to it, I did my own version of it. It's funny because Lee Scott had a version too which was floating about, and I remember when that video first dropped there were people saying 'I prefer Lee Scott's version', and I hadn't even heard it. I'm a massive fan (of Lee), and obviously now we're buddies. We just did a show in Falmouth where we did an extended version; we both did our bits on it. Hopefully that'll be a continuous thing at every show we have together'.

'I reached out (to Samiyam), but you know what the music industry is like sometimes; you don't always get through to the people you need to get through to, so I never actually got a chance to ask. I did try and ask permission, but I just thought fuck it; I'm not making any money off it and what better way to introduce myself to the High Focus brand. I have Baxter to thank for introducing me. It's nice to be part of something that's functional and works, everyone is pulling in the same direction. High Focus is a machine, a well oiled machine and it gets results, and you get to have your shit on vinyl'.

I ask how Dead Players formed. 'Jam Baxter's Rinse Out Friday/Spack Out Monday album was an inspirational piece of work. It blew me away. I saw him in an interview and he was asked who he'd like to make music with and he said me and LDZ. I was gassed. I kind of head-hunted Ghosttown; I had to track him down. I fell in love with his production from the myspace days; he had a song called Eat Your Children which I'm still bugging him to find. He was living in a squat in Arsenal, we had a meeting and I was praying he wasn't a dickhead; I'm sure he was hoping I wasn't a dickhead. We got on and started making some music. Baxter passed through the studio, he was also doing a project with Ghosttown, and it just naturally formed into a ting. Then we decided to call it Dead Players, and we made that first album'.

What did you want to bring to the table with the debut Dead Players LP? 'We wanted to bust out of that purist mindset. We don't like to be put in boxes and pigeonholed; like I said it's either good music or it's not, and it comes in all sorts of shapes and sonics'.

I ask what the writing process of the recently released second album Freshy Skeletal was like. 'Well this one was a lot better. We didn't tour the first album, and we've got to know each other a lot better. The first album was more business (laughs). We had the production there, we had the bars and a lot of it wasn't recorded at the first studio. Listening back, I can tell. This album's more solid because we wrote it together; we have a whatsapp group and we were spitting bars in the audio bit at 6 am at other ends of the country. Slurring down the phone and being like 'Yeah, that's sick' or 'No, that's gash'. We've both got a lot more experience doing what we do, and we've tried to bring all of that to the table, and make something monumental, something that's gonna make people go what the fuck'.

I wonder if there's anything majorly different sonically on the new album. 'Some bits are, some bits are what you'd expect going off the first album. Do It with Lee Scott is probably my favourite tune, but to a lot of people it'd be strange because it's very different. That's what we're all about though, just making good music and if it sounds different, get used to it (laughs)'.

Dead Players are in keeping with High Focus' dominance on YouTube screens, and I ask how the group come up with the concepts to their videos. 'With Winning (from the debut album) we just rolled down to Hackney on a nice day with a slow-mo camera. There's videos like Badman. That's the most high budget production I've ever been involved with. Luckily there was lot of love and a lot of favours. We had Britney Spears' snake in it and shit. The most fun ones are the ones like Call Us Now where we get drunk, get a cameraman to follow us around and do nutty shit'.

If you've seen that video, you'll have seen Ghosttown's horrific fall, and I ask Dabbla if that was as bad as it looked. 'His tooth's still suffering. We thought he was gonna have a hairlip, but Ghosttown's made of strong stardust. His lip healed, he was back to normal the next day and we're back on tour (laughs)'.

Dabbla is also part of Problem Child, and I ask how the group formed. 'Sumgii and I were doing a lot of shows. Dubbledge got stuck in at a show in Brighton. I've been a fan of Illaman and he's been a fan of mine. We went to Sumgii's and he was playing him some stuff; Illa just popped the question like 'Yo, i'm feeling this, I want in'.

Problem Child released their first album Confessions Of A Human Being last year. 'We've got this EP called 730 which is about to drop on Par Excellence' says Dabbla about a follow up. 'We've got four really cool videos. I never get involved in something unless it's different, and Problem Child is very next. That project showcases how different this shit can get. I'm happy to be taken care of by Par Excellence; I'm a massive Foreign Beggars fan. They've always been family, but it's nice to still be doing work together'.

Problem Child killed Boom Bap Festival this year. 'Big ups Buggsy, he was on stage for the most hyped intro I've ever done' says Dabbla. I ask what he enjoys about performing. 'I still get freaked out that hundreds of people have come to see me or my gang. I lose the stresses of the day, and the bullshit going on in my life and perform the stuff that I've written, which comes from real emotions, feelings and situations. That's what I'm trying to relate, that's why I think people relate. I guess I must fucking love it'.

'Everyone that says they enjoyed the show, I always say thank YOU! We don't exist unless you're here to enjoy it, and I won't enjoy it unless there's people enjoying it. We're all one; everyone from the person at the back of the crowd with his arms crossed hating to the girl at the front with her tits out screaming'.

As a member of three groups, I ask whether Dabbla prefers that environment. 'I'm still a solo artist; my first album is basically done. I'm waiting for an animated video, then I've got to pick a name and get the artwork done. Going back to your question, I love it. The Problem Child stuff is different to the Dead Players stuff, which is different to the LDZ stuff. I've got a nice tri-sector of gangs and I'm happy to be representing them'.

If you haven't heard Tits 2 Da Floor, please stop reading and listen to this. I ask what state Dabbla, Rocko and Cobes were in when recording this undeniable classic. 'I'm glad you asked that (laughs). I'll tell you the story; Pierre Green made the beat, and you know that Pixar lamp? That's the main sample. Cobes, Harry The Bastard and I did this sudden death freestyle. You've got until the rotation comes back to you to think of your line, and obviously you don't know the line the guy in front of you is about to do. It was a cool way of getting to know each other. I'm glad you asked that. It was a monumental part of solidifying LDZ, and we were all drunk and high (laughs)'.

I ask Dabbla what he's been listening to lately. 'I'm listening to classical music in my car to stop me ramming people because London's very stressy at the minute. I've got my ears to the ground; I'm listening to everything that comes along, but when it's Dabbla's downtime... Classicals all day long (laughs)'.

I ask what Dabbla's next few months look like. 'We're about to start the Australian tour. Then in three weeks time it's the second UK leg of the Freshly Skeletal tour. The High Focus birthday bash on the 19th December; that's our album launch. Ocean Wisdom's showcasing Chaos 93. It's gonna be nang. Then it's Christmas, so lots of eating and getting pissed with the family. I'm going to India in January to chill out and get out of London before I kill somebody. Then February, we'll probably be touring the Problem Child ting. Then by March hopefully the LDZ album will be out, and we'll be wall to wall with that thug life shit'.

Anything else he'd like to mention? 'Big up High Focus, big up Potent Funk, big up my London Zoo family, big up Harry The Bastard and his newborn, big up Dubbledge and his newborn, big up my Par Excellence family, big up my Foreign Beggars crew, big up yourself, big up your chest, big up your breast, big up your amber leaf, big up your bottle of Cobra that you just kicked over, yeah that's it (laughs)'.

Freshly Skeletal is out now through High Focus

Dead Players Freshly Skeletal dates:

4th Dec, The Attic, Bristol
12th Dec, Sticky Mikes, Brighton
19th Dec, Village Underground, London