Love Them Or Hate Them, N-Dubz Left An Undeniable Mark On British Music

There are so many reasons to appreciate what Tula ‘Tulisa’ Contostavlos, Costadinos ‘Dappy’ Contostavlos and Richard ‘Fazer’ Rawson brought to British music from early 2000 until late 2011. From the star-studded collabs to the iconic Na-Na-Naaaaaiii and Ha-Ha! Ha-Ha! catchphrases, N-Dubz cemented their position as one of the most successful supergroups to ever rise up from the UK. The Camden natives kept a consistent discography for 11 years, churning out hits like “Girls”, “I Need You”, “Strong Again” and countless other songs that may have seemed cheesy back then but most definitely bang when you listen back today. From the Adidas tracksuits to the famous ‘Dappy hats’, N-Dubz represented what it meant to be young, wild, and unapologetically yourself.

If you were a teenager from the years of 2003 to 2009, then you will be very familiar with Channel U. The pioneering black music TV channel helped launch the careers of several grime and rap artists, and even played a major role in the evolution of N-Dubz’s career. Addressing violence, death, gang culture, love and everyday life issues that affect young people, the band from North-West London soon became of interest to millions across the country. But their use of “urban” British slang, brattish and loutish behaviour and informal clothing became something of a gimmick for the group. Hating on N-Dubz became a pastime for many, but they used this as a way to continue to push their way to the top and build their brand even further.

The N-Dubz hate train by British mass media saw them become targets via classism. Often being stereotyped as ‘chavs’ or ‘ghetto’, all three members received constant backlash for ultimately being themselves. Their rags-to-riches story may have made for an entertaining headline, but it put them at the centre of scrutiny. Their brand mirrored blackness and black culture which mainly red-top publications used as an excuse to attack them. Whilst it’s fair to admit their close proximity to black people was visible through their music, it was also an easy invitation for critics to target not just the group but their younger, disenfranchised supporters. Although society has conditioned many to believe we all like the rags-to-riches story, in N-Dubz’s case, it was looked down upon.

Surpassing everyone’s expectations and even cleverly using the classism attacks to benefit them, N-Dubz successfully took over the genre “urban pop”. Their version of combining both rapping and singing was purely sublime and despite the sudden ending of N-Dubz, their sound was left in the open for many to copy—or at least try. Originally called the Lickle Rinsers Crew before switching to NW1 and finally settling on N-Dubz, at the time of their original release, there weren’t any acts that delivered anything close to what they were doing. Made up of two rappers/producers and a vocalist (well, two, if you include Dappy’s R&B crooner outburts), they challenged critics with their cheeky bars and catchy melodies—and whether you considered them to be ‘cheesy’ or not, the impact of N-Dubz was undeniable.

August 2006 saw a rebirth of the group, accompanied by the re-release of “You Better Not Waste My Time”. With a more polished and refined look, N-Dubz started to gain mainstream attention and appeared on the UK charts for the first time, at No. 57, with “Feva Las Vegas”. From writing to producing to engineering, mastering and mixing their music, every aspect of the N-Dubz brand was personally marked with their signature scent. From their sound to their usage of slang to their homegrown imagery—culturally, their significance in the contemporary British pop space rightfully earned them five top 10 singles, 1 number one, 1.2 million copies sold of their debut album, Uncle B, and even a documentary series on Channel 4.

Despite the many media criticisms, feuds, and even a leaked sex tape, the trio continued to excel beyond the expectations of many. It wasn’t just the charts they had an impact on though—they shut it down on the small screen, too. All three members appeared on the second series of Channel 4’s Dubplate Drama, a star-studded series about music, love, and the issues young people from a struggling community face on a daily basis. Tulisa later went on to become a judge on series eight and nine of The X Factor—bagging herself a first-time win as a judge with Little Mix—and Dappy found himself in the Celebrity Big Brother house.

During her stint on the hit reality TV show between 2011 and 2012, both Tulisa and Dappy’s career had taken centre stage, with them also individually scoring number one singles (“Young” and “No Regrets”, respectively). Whilst Dappy and Tulisa were fronting the limelight, Fazer opted to work behind the curtain, producing music and directing videos. Sure, they had become household names as the unapologetic rebels of N-Dubz, but individually, they were holding their own.

Once dubbed “the second coming of Brit-pop” by one Guardian writer, the popular rising of homegrown, UK black music had skyrocketed thanks to N-Dubz and many of the Channel U alumni. Storming the charts is one thing, but gaining respect from your peers is another. After being co-signed by legends in the game like NAA, Wiley and Skepta, it wasn’t long before the collaborations came pouring in; from YG to Mr Hudson, the trio kept their fans—known as ‘The N-Dubletts’—eager with anticipation, ready to see what they had up their sleeves.

N-Dubz were an early example of what it means to ‘hustle and grind your way to the top’, and despite being out of the limelight for the last 8 years as a group, their impact can be seen all over the charts via the sonic make-up of artists such as Mabel, Ramz, and Yungen (Dappy’s also had a great run more recently as a solo artist). Whilst it’s clear they weren’t overnight sensations, their hard work and determination truly paid off. Could we be looking at a possible reunion in 2020? A future album? Who knows. The future for N-Dubz is unknown.

Posted on April 23, 2019