Born in the soundsystems of Jamaica, dancehall made its way to the UK in crates. Shipped across the Atlantic, the discs came bursting out giving the Caribbean community a flavour of what was current in the mother country.
Taking seed, Britain now has a thriving – but largely un-credited – dancehall scene. Mixing Jamaican influences with some slick R&B flavours, Lady Chann has erupted out of the insular dancehall community with a series of addictive cuts.
Released on Toddla T’s label last year, break out track ‘Sticky Situation’ was a stunning slice of dancehall that had some serious crossover properties. A massive hit far beyond the soundsystem scene, Lady Chann is still blown away at the reception afforded to the track. “I still can’t believe it. I went in and there was a loop so I took it home to see what I could come up with. Then basically after half of the first verse and a hook I phoned Sticky to see if I was on the right track. So I called him up and sang it down the phone and he went nuts. “Who was that singing? Oh my God you never said you could sing!” He never asked!” she laughs.
Lady Chann’s personality is contagious. On the phone she gives a glimmer of the charm which saw her storm the soundsystems, becoming one of Britain’s first – and undoubtedly most prominent – female MCs. The lack of role models made Lady Chann look to original Jamaican source material for inspiration, but as always she gave it a London spin. “Obviously I am born and raised in England so my influences are British. The slang I use on a day to day basis is English street slang” she explains. “I will incorporate certain words and put them in a Jamaican accent. At the end of the day the crowd that are listening to me are English so they need to be able to understand and relate to what I am saying.”
As important as English identity is to Lady Chann, being universally understood is always on her mind. “The topics I use tend to be universally understood around the world: everyone has been in a relationship, we’ve all been pissed off around the world no matter where you’re from. From Mozambique to Sweden people can relate to that. The beat speaks for itself so you’ve got to get a happy medium between a good beat, good lyrics and a good hook.”
The success of ‘Sticky Situation’ came gradually. The simple melody seemed to attract guest producers, with Toddla T notably amongst those adding their spin to the track. “He’s got good vibes. A generally nice person. There’s not a lot of people that you meet in this industry who are nice without any ulterior motive and he is just generally a nice guy. Matches my vibes as we are both kinda nuts!” the MC laughs. “We’ve done bits and pieces in the studio but nothing is finished yet. He did something for me literally a couple of days ago which I’ve been listening to today, literally just wheeling it back two, three, four times. I’m going to speak to him later as there’s definitely more stuff to do – everybody seems to want more Toddla and Chann hook ups. I’m quite excited as this could be really prolific if executed correctly.”
Toddla T is just one of many producers Lady Chann is working with. Settling into the studio environment, sessions for her debut album are well under way. New single ‘Treble To The Bass’ gives a good indication of what to expect: sweet, wholesome melody then some ferocious bite in the rap. A soundsystem figure, the MC seems at home in the studio. “In the soundsystem days people would rap off the top of their heads, people wouldn’t write lyrics down” she explained. “I think that came in more in the 90s and then into the Noughties, that’s when people realised that while you’ll always have your rave lyrics you could turn those into a song. Just add another eight bars, pin it down and you’ve got a song. People became more thoughtful about what they were saying, rather than just saying it in a rave to get a reaction”.
“It’s two different art forms. Some people are better at different ones. I’m better at penning lyrics than freestyling – any day of the week. I’ve got better at freestyling but I’m still more at home sitting down and having time to think about what I’m going to deliver.”
Continually looking to move on, Lady Chann is already building an impressive list of guest producers. Searching far beyond the narrow confines of UK dancehall, the rapper has hooked up with two of the biggest names in dubstep: Skream and Benga. “I’ve been talking to them about doing something for ages. The stuff they are known for is totally different than the stuff I do, but we’ve been trying to find some common ground. It can be tricky but it’s do-able. Definitely, they’ll be incorporated on the album.”
“Everybody expects ‘Sticky Situation’ to be replicated but that can never be done, I’ve done it and there’s more than one song to do” she continued. “As an artist you need to experiment with your sound, your vocals and more. I just hope I can rise to the occasion and give fans what they want.”
Coming of age with North London’s Suncycle crew, Lady Chann was given the freedom to play around with new influences. Rooted in dancehall and reggae, the soundsystem collective adapted to suit the MC. Finding a much wider audience as a result, the rapper has become one of the most prominent producers of the British dancehall scene. Often not given it’s dues, Lady Chann is not in two minds about why this is.
“It’s simply this: black Caribbean people in the UK are a minority. At the end of the day, I come from a generation whose parents weren’t born in this country so I’ve always had that West Indian upbringing. But a lot of parents now are actually second and third generation black British. I think that culture caters towards that. A lot of black kids from West Indian parents don’t identify with that area. Here everyone’s English and everyone appreciates the English language. But with dancehall, it’s seen as being something else, for the Caribbean lot” she says.
“I’ve tried to combine dancehall with my UK heritage so I’ve had a lot of people say to me: before you came along I didn’t really listen to much dancehall. It helps open things up. If I can get just ten people listening to dancehall then it’s been worth it.”
‘Treble To The Bass’ is out now