Sunday, September 14, 2008
Dot Dot Dot Smash
In July I covered Dot Rotten’s mixtape for Pitchfork but the full interview that went with it, remained on tape. Finally I found a spare (literally) seven consecutive hours in my life to transcribe it.
To me, Dot Rotten is one of the most interesting, developed and underrated artists in grime. In interview he’s intense and fiercely passionate: qualities I enjoy a lot. You can still download the amazing “This is the Begginning” mixtape for free here. But here’s what Dot had to say about his new mix CD and a whole bunch more…
Blackdown: So, you’ve recently released “RIP Youngdot” but to me, it was the free mixtape “This is the Begginning” that turned heads. How did that come about?
Dot Rotten: That’s the one that everyone writes is the raw one, the straight out of the studio, just sitting in the studio, trying to get something done.
B: I still can’t believe you gave it away for free…
DR: Yeah I know that’s what everyone was making noise about but it was one of those things that there was so many people that were trying to push me and tell me and I wasn’t very clued up about what I was doing, so I just did anyting. I was basically doing anything to get heard. And that’s how that came across.
B: I guess it must have worked if people are still talking about that mixtape…
DR: Yeah, I think it did work.
B: Yeah it made my top 4 end of year grime releases but yours was free and everyone else’s’ mixtapes you had to pay for!
DR: Yeah it is crazy because with “This is the Begginning,” I wasn’t even trying like that. I wasn’t really trying to make an effect on anything I was just doing a project because I had studio time and was making instrumentals.
B: So tell me why you killed off Y.Dot?
DR: Basically it represents a time when I was reckless and ignorant and wasn’t really too too on point. Basically I didn’t have my head screwed on, I had a lot of things happen that put a tarnish on the name Y.Dot, itself. So it was to have a fresh start plus Dot Rotten stands for Dirty on Tracks, Righteous Opinions Told To Educate Nubians or Niggaz or whatever… There’s deeper meanings to it all so its all part of being a process of becoming a new artist, to market myself differently now.
B: It’s mad because grime is so much about reputation - much more so than money – and that all builds around your name. But you’ve killed your name!
DR: Yeah I had to, because you know what it is, I like a fresh start. It gives you new ideas, a new opening. It gives you a chance to change everything you’ve done before, start afresh. Like when you’ve lived in an area for so long, and you’re just trapped inside, so you move out and it opens out your head and you feel free. You’re feel a bit more confident with yourself – well this is what it’s done. When I changed my name, I wasn’t sure it was going to do the right thing. After a while everything’s paid off: it’s just a new me really. And it’s given me a chance to become more business wise and stuff. Now I’ve got my first product… my album’s basically finished. It’s coming out in October and I’ve finished literally all of it already. I’ve released “RIP YoungDot” and six instrumental CDs on digital download. My album is going to be called “Me, My Blanket and Studio.” Obviously I’m in studio 24 hours a day, every day, constantly. If I’m not at studio I’m doing something to do with music: I’ve dedicated my life to music. So it’s just constant work: I’ve just released six instrumental CDs. When my album comes out another six are coming out. So with my album and “RIP YoungDot” that’s fourteen CDs. Plus I’ve got a next set “I Don’t Know Who You’ve Been Listening To” which is 15 CDs plus “UK Yay Vol 1-3.” I’ve got constant product after product and I’m not stopping. All it takes is consistency so I’m not stopping for nobody.
B: Tell me more about instrumental CDs?
DR: They’re called “Rotten Riddims Vol 1-3,” and they’re basically for the MCs. Obviously people will buy them and so will DJs but really it’s for the MCs if they want a riddim to spit over – then go buy it on iTunes.
B: Historically. there’s not a lot of guys in grime who have managed to get on iTunes. Also not a lot of people in grime buy vinyl either. So this is a good look for you: how did you hook that up?
DR: Basically I’ve got the best manager in the world. Basically I’ve been running around looking for someone who can push my thing and the whole time it was in front of my face, but because I’ve had so many people around me, saying the same thing, it’s like you go somewhere and hear the truth. And then you take three trips somewhere else and on the three trips three people have said exactly the same thing [as each other] “this is the truth, this is the truth, this is the truth…” so by the time you get to the fourth place the first place is all mixed up with the second and the third, y’understand? So this is one of the reasons why “This is the Begginning” never came out, because I had so much people saying, reh-te-tere, so I never got the chance to do the right things with the right people around me. So yeah, Tyrone Rowe: one of the best managers.
B: It’s good because he sent me a version of your mixtape out of nowhere, which grime MCs don’t do. You got a give a little to get more?
DR: You give, you receive: it’s normal. As long as everyone’s happy, that’s all that matters because right now we’re dealing with basic skills. Making something out of nothing. It’s basically grafting, constant grafting. I’m basically in studio, every day. I wake up, push some weights, go downstairs straight into studio and do my work. It’s Tyrone’s studio. Me, Tyrone and Dennis Rowe – the man who runs Saxon Sound, we’re in a yard, a lot of people live there, like a camera man: it’s just a team. We’re all under one house: if I don’t eat, everyone don’t eat. If we eat today, we all eat. We’re just a family, so I’m in studio banging out product, if I want to do a video I’ll go into the next room and ask Kwame. If we want to promote it we’ll promote it on Genesisradio.co.uk or we’ll just send it to DJs and they’ll do their thing. We don’t limit ourselves, it’s just constant work and networking.
B: Saxon Sound obviously have this massive legacy, but it came about long before grime. Did they mean anything to you, as a grime producer, when you were younger?
DR: Do you know what, before I actually sat down I wasn’t really sure. I didn’t know about Saxon and I didn’t know what it was. But as I’ve been here and seen the whole history – if it wasn’t for Saxon it would have taken a long time before we would be able to perform in the Royal Albert Hall. But I’ve picked up a piece of UK music history and now I’m aware of how I must conduct my business, because I see how it was done time ago. They made hits before I was born. So if someone in my team is saying “don’t do this because it’s not right…” I don’t have to listen but it’s better I do listen because Dennis has already sorted out that stuff. He’s already gone through certain things and made that mistake. He’s not just going to tell me, he’s going to tell me so I don’t make that mistake.
B: It’s interesting because you seem to be treating them with reverence, whereas when grime came along a lot of it was of the attitude like “we’re not listening to no one and we’re doing a totally new thing…” So it’s mad to see the links back to the past, because it felt like a total severance from everything in like ‘02/’03…
DR: What I can say about grime is I am constantly trying to change the sound. So I sit in studio all day, trying to make a commercial grime tune, a radio tune – basically anything I can to make someone who’s never listened to grime, listen. I try to open the sound, because everyone’s a producer.
B: Your sound has some unique trademarks, like your choruses where you actually sing them: not a lot of guys in grime would have the balls to do that.
DR: You know what? If it makes the music sound better, then we’re gonna do it. Simple. Because it’s all about good music. And if the music ain’t good, then no-one’s happy.
B: How did your sung-choruses come about? Were they something you stumbled on or were they references to other songs?
DR: It’s all original. You know what? You listen to music. I listen to grime but I grew up listening to Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra – not your regular artists that a yout of my age to be listening to. Earth, Wind and Fire, Sting, Phil Collins – all these people I grew up listening to. So if I think a track needs something… I don’t even call it singing, I call it humming. I ain’t gonna say I sing, am I? I just hummed on the tune and there you go. Moretime it will give the tune more feeling. Sometimes tunes do need feeling because you have to be able to relate to them.
B: That’s what I like a lot about some of your tunes, is that the emotion and morose mood…
DR: You have to be able to feel the tune. If there’s no emotion, it’s an empty tune. I’m a guy that’s like, if’ I’m pissed off I’ll make a whole set of beats that sound like I’m pissed off when I made them. Or if I’m upset or in a bubbly mood. And that’s how it comes.
B: Yeah you seem to go different places on your CDs, in terms of moods.
DR: It just sets an example. If you read “RIP Youngdot” the cover says – I’ll read it to you – “I’d like to thank every artist that has done a mix CD or album in the grime scene for setting an example for letting me know what to and what not to do when I started putting together my own CD. Everyone else has done something that set an example for me.” I’m still listening to other artists and I still listen to other genres, so I still look at what people like and understand how to do that. It’s one thing being an artist but if you don’t understand how to adapt to what people like and adapt to how you’re going to bring your message across, no aint gonna like it, because you’re just doing music for yourself.
B: How do you balance producing with MCing? You do both but a lot of the hype and the focus in the genre is around MCing…
DR: At first I started MCing, that was just me. But I used to listen to pirate radio stations and hear everyone, and I’d hear a whole show of MCs spiting over rubbish beats, beats I knew I could do better than. So I thought to myself, bwoy, I ain’t gonna holla at that producer for any beats because the tunes are rubbish. So I thought to myself, “you know what? I want to make beats.” Two-two’s I went around my friends house one day and he had Fruity Loops and he showed me and I got over excited because them times I was making beats on Music 2000 on Playstation, and before that I used to make beats on an Atari with an Akai sampler, because my uncle used to have one. So I said “yo I’m going to make some beats!” Two-two’s got Fruity Loops, started learning how to use it. First tune that came out when I started getting advanced with it was “Bazooka,” boom OK. “Oh Youngdot, that producer that made ‘Bazooka?’” From there everything kicked off, I couldn’t really say I was an MC as everyone was going mad for my beats. I just kept it quiet. From there, I just waited. Everyone knew after that but they didn’t take me seriously.
B: So if you had to give up one – producing or MCing – which would you give up?
DR: If I had to give up one, if I HAD to, I’d give up MCing if I’m honest. But I wouldn’t want to. I would just MC to myself. But I would never stop producing as it’s like a constant battle as I make a tune that I think is better than my lyrics. So then I have to bring the level of my lyrics up so they’re better than the level of my tune. So it’s like “that lyric’s good, but that tune’s better. OK, so you can’t stick that lyric on that tune.” It’s just constant racing after each other. They have to be compatible. People who want to get to know me would actually have to go through all of my tunes and see the progression from where I first started until now, to really understand me as an artist. I’ve gone through the step of going to pirate radio going “aaaaargh,” I’ve gone through the stages of sending for people. And now I’m at the stage OK, this is what I can do. Buy product, have a listen and tell me what you think.
B: There’s definitely a progression from “Bazooka” to “RIP Youngdot.” “Bazooka” is really different, it reminds me of eski stuff but equally, it’s pretty crazy. How did you go about making a tune like that, with the “doh” noise and the kicks...?
DR: When I made that tune I was making so much tunes I was like “OK that’s a big tune… right next one.” I did not give that tune the love it was meant to get. Then afterwards, when I played it to people, they were like “ohmygod! Blad… that tune!” And I hadn’t thought anything of that tune. But it shocked me because I didn’t know my levels, like “rah you are good you know, because eeeeeveryone likes that tune.” So I carry on and two-two’s everyone’s like “Dot, you’re big!” and I’m like “no, what you talking about?” I still don’t think I’m a big as everyone claims I am. Because it’s just normal, I’m me and not bothered about it. I’m not “I’m Dot Rotten I’ve been on Westwood” it’s like “OK, cool, don’t get carried away, you’re still Joseph Ellis.” That’s how I look at my career, I’m not going to get too big headed or anything. I’m only 19, 20 in October. I released “This is the Begginning” when I just turned 17. Now I’m a bit more wise, more mature, more adult about how I’m going to do things. See, on my album, I hit a lot of subjects that need to be hit right about now.
B: A lot of your lyrics and in grime in general, relate to guns. Can you tell me about your environment, where you grew up. How dangerous a place is it?
DR: I’m not going to highlight it the way I would if I was on saying a lot of greezy stuff, what I’m saying is within my lyrics, if you listen to what I say, the best way to take it is that it’s things that I’ve been through. Or it’s things that blatantly are going on every other day. If I stop doing music today and go back to that life… it will blatantly just go back to that. Yes. Hmm. Mind the police every time I see them. Right now on “RIP Youngdot” I’m just letting everyone know. It is blatantly a memorial for everything I was about, back in the day, before I decided to fix up my act. You’ll hear me say some reckless stuff. Only due the way I was feeling on the day I wrote the songs.
B: So what were you like, back then?
DR: The way to put it is… I don’t want to promote myself in a way that sounds too reckless, but basically let’s just say right now I’m on a legitimate path. Before, it wasn’t that. Not a legitimate path and a very reckless path. So now, I can see the light and that ain’t the way for that. So now, I’m here and I’m trying to do the right thing and inspire people to stop doing the madness and all of that stuff.
B: There are tracks on both CDs like “I Need To Get Out of the Hood” and “Got to Escape This Life”, that I hear you express sentiments that I don’t hear from other people in grime, that they need to get away from the madness, or stop it. Do you think that’s important to do? Do you think anyone cares, from the roads?
DR: No one, at the moment, no one like is trying to save the youts right now. The only MC who’s talking the way I am is Black the Ripper. But apart from that no one is talking about certain things properly now. Talking to inspire the youth. Nothing like that is going on at the moment though. So I’m going to take on that role. Obviously I can spit radio bars and greeze, but I’m going to take on a certain role and show the youth with music that it ain’t really that right now. You don’t need to be on road and there are too many youts dying. But it’s because there’s no positive role models out there, to be quite honest. No one telling no one “don’t do that.” Right now, on the streets, everyone thinks they are their own man. Everyone thinks “I do what the hell I want ‘cause, that’s how it is.” That’s what they’ve been taught.
B: So in terms of things that people could do to make a difference, what would you recommend? The music thing is a positive path and you’re leading that way but there must be other things that people could do to try help the madness…?
DR: Do you know what it is: for now, there’s stepping stones. The plans are youth clubs and whatsoever, but before you can even get there you have to take steps. Right now I have a big plan in my head about what I want to do but I have to start with the music. There’s bigger steps but there’s no point talking about them until they can come into play.
B: Are you religious? Does that play a part in your life?
DR: Yeah you could say that. I’m very religious at the moment. At the moment I’ve taken a step off the path just to sort everything but within myself I know who I am, so you could say that.
B: You mention “Allah” on the new mixtape…
DR: Yeah, “I'm a crazy chap/sitting down thinking why Allah made me black...”
B: That’s not something I’ve heard someone talk about in grime before…
DR: Do you know why? Because I’m not doing things other people do. Basically I’m me. I’m an individual, my own individual. I’m not like no other grime artist because I’m not them and I do not choose to talk about rubbish. I need to talk about something that people can take in and understand. So that’s all I’m doing right now. If it don’t make sense, you’re not going to catch me talking about it, basically. So all that “I wear my own garms stuff” it ain’t helping nobody. Everyone’s just trying to make money. Bun that because if I make a big amount of money you know it’s going back into the community. Whether it’s me actually putting money back in or me scooping up a couple of youts and saying “come on, we’re going here…”. Regardless, that’s what it’s about. So, I’m just trying my best. There’s only so much one man can do and not everyone is your friend so you have to know who’s who. But for now I’m just taking my time.
B: I know you’re involved with OG’s and Hoodstars, can you explain who they are, for people who don’t know…?
DR: It’s crews I contribute to. Right now there’s a lot of madness going on with this crews situation so I am my own artist. I contribute towards OG’s and Hoodstars but at the same time, the same contribution I give I have to see everyone else giving. So I pull my weight and that’s just how it goes. If you need my help, holla. If not called for, don’t ask me. Simple. Basic. I was on the whole of “OGs Season”, in studio the whole time. No one knows I was directing how the CD should go. “Chorus goes like that…” Half of the tunes on “OGs Season” were meant to be my own solo tracks for my own CD. That’s why I had so much time out of the game between “This is the Begginning” and now. I was doing too much stuff for other people whereas now I got to focus on myself. That’s why I’ve got so much product coming out, going “gotta get it done, gotta get it done, ten instrumentals done in a day, alright, write some verses now.” I could write a whole album in a day, 24 instrumentals in a day, easy. Maybe more.
I personally know I know every artist in the grime scene worth knowing. So I know that if I need to get in touch with anyone it’s easy: one phonecall. “Y’alright..?” I spoke to Chipmunk today, Brutal, Griminal: I speak to all of them nearly every day. I make sure everyone’s cool and everyone’s doing something for everybody. It’s just networking and keeping your work rate up so people want to work with you.
B: Who gave your first breaks?
DR: The first step was “Bazooka,” that was promoted by me and Essentials. They didn’t put me forward as an MC, they put me forward as a producer. After that it deaded so it was the only tune I was known for, really. I gave tunes to other people but I was known for “that one hit wonder banger.” But boom, forget that, because that was then. I was giving out instrumental CDs after instrumental CDs, DJs, to Logan with 20 tunes on a CD, this one, that one, until my tunes were playing. There was a station called On Top in south west London: I went away for six months and I gave all the DJs all my tunes. When I come back, in the car, haven’t listened to radio for six months, don’t know what’s going on, got into London, turned on the radio and my tune was playing. That was about two three years ago. And since them times I’ve just been getting instrumentals done. It’s the same work rate but now I’m so used to it, I can just do it. Done.
B: Sounds like you were away for while. Is that something you are keen to avoid again?
DR: Being away from the scene all that would do to me is have me unaware of what’s really going on. It’ll have me so I’m not putting in work and I hate when I don’t put in work, as I’m not viable. That’ll make me feel like I’m not putting in no work, and I’m slacking. I hate feeling like I’m not doing what I’m meant to be doing.
B: You sound really driven, which is healthy…
DR: Look, I got kicked out of school in year 7. the first year I didn’t have no qualifications, I didn’t have no job, I was a yout from like seven, eight years old I always wanted my own money. “I wanna job mum, I want my own money…” Got kicked out of school. No job. Ended up hitting the roads and doing all the crazy stuff to get money, but still didn’t get no money. Then I started doing music, I was around music and my uncle used to have a studio in his room, so I was driven by it from day and two-two’s I’m an artist.
B: I’ve heard this regularly from grime artists throughout the years: that the life options were road stuff or music. Were there other options for you or was that it?
DR: For me, I don’t know why but, when I was on road, I used to say to my friends “I’m not even meant to be here.” I’ve always said “I’m not meant to be here” and they’d be like “shutup man, you’re moaning bruv.” And I’d be like “blad, I don’t need to be here!” And it came to one day and I said “you know what, I cant do dis, dis is a joke ting. What am I achieving? Bun the road ting, forget the road ting, because it ain’t going to help me.” I’m more likely to get sent to jail, to the point where I had four, five cases on me but this YoungDot thing that everyone was feeling. So what, I could go, and miss this opportunity? Forget that. And luckily enough, I got away with… murder, basically. I got away with a lot of stuff and just said “yeah, alright I’m meant to do music. This is what I’m meant to do.”
B: But did you have to do six months in jail then?
DR: Nah, when I was away for six months, that was when I was doing the road thing. I moved away and I was doing some road stuff, some stuff I’m actually proud of, but you know what: it built me as a person. You have to go through certain things to be able to say, “do you know what, that isn’t for me…” I was away, out of London for a long time, moved away didn’t see my mum, didn’t see nobody and that was my stage for becoming a man. On my own ting. Paying own rent, buying my own shopping, clothes and that was one of the hardest times of my life but it built me as a person. I came back a bit more stronger. A bit more aware but still a bit ignorant.
B: Were you in the UK or outside?
DR: I was in the UK: I moved to Reading. I was living up there by myself and doing madness. But at the same time it built me as a person. Now I’m just ready to just put in the work. I’m just on music so if I could get a job in anywhere that does music, that means BBC 1Xtra, Kiss 100, wherever – anywhere that has music I want to be there. If you know something about music I don’t know, please tell me. I would like to know. My life’s driven around music. If it’s going to benefit me and there’s progressing out of it, I’m involved. That’s all it’s about.
B: So who of MCs and producers, do you rate?
DR: I’d say look out for P Money, Icekid. But the only CD I’ve been listening to is Black the Ripper “Summer Madness” and I listen to his old one, “Holla Black.” You know when you listen to something and you can feel the emotion and pain? Like when I listen to “This is Begginning” and I feel my stuff because I know exactly what I was trying to say. He’s the only artist recently I can listen to that I can feel what he’s saying. And he know’s what he’s talking about. Producer-wise I can’t say one name because I rate every producer, they’re all doing their thing, because they’re all good and everyone’s got their own style so no-one’s really better than no-one.
B: My concern for grime is that the focus is so much on the MCs that people don’t even…
DR: … notice the producers.
B: They just don’t want to be one!
DR: Hmm. Everyone wants to be an MC. Everyone can want to be an MC. But it’s only for those that know: the smart ones will become a producer. Or become the producer and the MC. They say that phrase “it’s only for those who know.” I know why I want to be an MC and I know why I want to be a producer. Because either way I can say to a man when I get real big “yo, it’s a grand for a 16 bar, and I can say five grand for one beat.”
B: So day to day, do you get a lot of calls?
DR: Know what: I put my number on MySpace because I’m a crazy business man and I do stuff like that, trying to promote studio time and promote selling beats and so I get about a million prank calls a day and a million people pestering me going [in a chump’s voice] “hi is this Dot Rotten, hi, um, your sick man!” I get it every day from 7am until 7am the next day. I’m just used to it now, so used to it. I just pick up the phone [hype voice] “Hi is that Dot Rotten?” and I’m like ‘[sounding bored] “yeah, hello…”. I’ve even got people recording me back to play me to myself. It’s crazy. I’m not going to lie, I’m still going to put my number on MySpace as people can feel like they can get in touch with you. It’s a good thing. If people feel like they know an artist they’ll feel like they’re gonna buy you, because they feel like they know you. Cause when I was a young gun and I weren’t nobody and I was hollering the boys I thought were the top dargs, they used to par me off. They’d say “blad, stop calling my phone [beep beep beep]…” But obviously I can’t make that mistake because I know how it feels.
For more on Dot Rotten check his MySpace