MC Scorcher, Grime & Me...

Words: Robert Kazandjian
Photography: Adam Horton

As grime music developed into a defined sound and scene across London in the early 2000s, nothing would hype me up more as a listener than mic-men from my ends in Tottenham, North London; young, war-ready emcees who peppered their 16s with local references in homage to the manor that raised us. And it wasn’t just relatability that made that era so exhilarating—it was the apparent accessibility, too. If your friend could spit, you felt like your friend could make it.

For me, Scorcher (or Tayo Jarrett, as he was known in school) was that friend.

We spent many of our school days hotting up teachers, arguably too clever for our own good. But even back then, while some of us clumsily played with lyrics over tabletop drumbeats at the back of Mr. Grant’s maths lessons, Scorcher’s confidence and skill set him apart from the rest.

When Skepta’s iconic posse cut, “Private Caller”, dropped in 2004, Scorcher’s distinctive, non-rhyming bars shone bright amongst the cream of North London emcees. The screwface, super-villain energy and razor-sharp delivery of his PHTV freestyle had the streets buzzing and, as he sat on the wing, the release of Simply The Best, Vol.1 cemented his place as a pioneer in the scene. But if you were to compare the landscape of grime at the time to that of professional wrestling, then Scorcher and the rest of his brethren in The Movement (Ghetts, Wretch, Devlin and Mercston) were like The NWO: confrontational, supremely confident and unconventional. He was just as cosy at 140BPM, clashing grime stalwarts like Wiley and Jammer, as he was spraying over Dipset and Rick Ross instrumentals. This versatility meant he couldn’t be categorised neatly as rap or grime—he unapologetically did both.

The quality of Scorcher’s underground releases landed him a major label deal, yet the stuttering realities of that deal left him frustrated. He needed to forget industry formulas and strategy, and take time to rediscover himself. The simplicity of recording and releasing bangers like “99 Riddim” and “Paranoid” re-energised him. But another period of incarceration lurked in the near-distance, the transition from road to music a complex one for him. Scorcher bared his soul with us on “Down”, and then there was more silence. We perceive time as this straight line, and maybe sometimes we need to go round in circles before we get to where we’re supposed to be. Perhaps we even need to go backwards to move forwards.

I sat down with Scorch in Totty, not long free but already with three streamlined, straight fire releases and an ice-cold Hardest Bars freestyle in the bag. Our conversation was 22 years in the making. I wanted to find out how my friend got his aim back.

“One good thing about jail is that it really made me at peace with who I am...”

I legit remember us sitting at the back of Mr. Grant’s class and misbehaving [laughs]. Do you remember Mr. Grant?

Yeah, course! He used to sweat [laughs].

Everyone had their headphones in, Pay As U Go sets on cassetteWiley, God’s Gift, all of that. Back then, did you see those guys as potential peers and rivals? Did you see a path towards music? Because you were already barring at the time.

Do you know what? Not really. They were, like, in some sort of distant universe... It’s weird how things happen but them times there, nah, not at all you know. I couldn’t even see a direct pathway.

So music then was just a play-around thing?

It was just because I liked it, that’s it. There was nothing complex, nothing deeper than I just liked it. I’ve always been drawn towards that urban style of music for as long as I can remember. Even before that, like Iceberg Slim... I’ll be honest: I never used to really rate Iceberg Slim because I used to think he was trying to be too American, but I kinda did at the same time.

The music still had a pull.


We can’t simplify you as a grime artist, although you’re a significant part of that heritage. I’m thinking about your “Private Caller” verse, the PHTV freestyle, F*CK Radio, The Movement, War Report. What was the energy of the scene like in those days?

It was weird because I crossed a generation where there was grime, and I was obviously a part of that, but then with myself and certain other people that were around me was when the gap between grime and rap started to get bridged. Before, rap people wouldn’t fuck with grime people and there wasn’t a mutual respect. I think they used to look at us like, ‘Rah, they’re not talented. They’re crap! They’re just making noise.’ Then we came along and, in some cases, were better than them at their own thing.

You could do both.

Yeah. I didn’t realise it was happening at the time, but what’s weird is I think that we were some of the few people from either side that openly used to like people from the other side. I didn’t understand why you couldn’t like rap and grime. Why can’t I like S.A.S? Or my cousin Sincere? Why can’t I like these people, and at the same time like Wiley or Tempa T?

Would you say the energy of the scene was segregated almost?

Very. That was almost like the motivation behind some of the differences man had with certain other artists. Our ting was mad, because we might dress like rappers and then spit like grime MCs. And at the same time, there was this stigma behind being an MC. Like, there was more street credibility behind being a rapper, and man weren’t with that stuff. Man was kinda functioning, active, you get me?

There was a big moral panic about black British music, grime and road rap especially, around the time Form 696 came about and the articles talking about how the music was supposedly influencing the youth to do badness. Can you see parallels between that time and the attitude towards UK drill now?

It’s exactly the same thing. When I’m hearing people talk about ‘ban drill’, for the life of me I can’t understand that mindset. This is a route out, and rather than letting the youts dem have a route out and working with them... It’s so mad to me, I can’t even put it into words.

Even some people from our generation who came up listening to grime are quite anti-drill, and that baffles me.

It’s mad! Man came up talking about certain things because man was doing some of them. I’m not saying that’s a good thing—it just is what it is. So where do we draw the line? Are we gonna say if you’re 50 Cent, don’t make Power now? The scariest part of it, for me, is it’s different when there’s people from outside the culture and demographic that don’t understand something so they want it to stop, but when it comes from within, that scares me. And I understand the problems in the streets are serious problems, but come on man: are we really gonna talk about music here? Blame music? It’s convenient for people to say these things; that’s the reality. The truth of it is that art reflects life, not vice versa. It’s never been that.

The criticisms of drill are so shallow, even if you don’t enjoy the genre musically.

It’s social responsibility with your creativity, and you’re trying to thrust that upon 14-year-olds. Are we serious here?

They would never thrust that towards someone like Scorsese.

This is what I’m saying! Tarantino is celebrated for his gore, his realism, for his extreme graphic violence. ‘Let’s give him an award. He’s a talented man.’ And we don’t start blaming him for random shootings. I watched a film, The Kingsman, and in the film there’s a scene where one of the guys goes into a church and kills everyone. So when man are going into churches and shooting everyone, this is ok? I’m not saying that the film’s wrong, but I’m saying if that’s ok, can we please leave these young black boys, young boys from urban areas, alone! They’re trying to get out. And what’s mad for me is I fully understand it’s like a knee-jerk reaction to the social problems we have, and that’s cool, I totally get that. But let’s do everything in order. Let’s talk about the problems and then let’s look at things that might drive the problems. Let’s not pretend that this is the driving force for the problems. Please don’t do that. Otherwise, let’s not stop there. Let’s ban North Face. Let’s not sell these clothes in JD sports and pick and choose where we put people that dress like this in adverts with Anthony Joshua. Let’s not pick and choose what parts of the culture you want. It doesn’t work like that.

Bro, you’re absolutely right.

Oi, you know what I just realised? They want JD Sports to monetise the culture. They monetise man’s culture and man’s struggles, and issues that impact us as a culture and demographic, but they don’t want us—the same victims—to benefit from it.

They don’t want young people to plot a way out.

Real talk.

“The truth of it is that art reflects life, not vice versa.”

Versatility and being a ‘tempo specialist’ is celebrated now, when you think of artists who are part of the mainstream. Would you say you were ahead of your time back then? Say if “Skinny Sort” were to drop now, I think it would go off.

Fuckin’ hell! You know what? Maybe. It’s just foundations, I guess. Maybe, maybe not. Like, there’s ahead of your time, and then there’s just doing stuff before. It’s not for me to say which one I am, you know what I’m saying? Like, was Johann Cruyff ahead of his time, or was he just doing stuff that was sick but before other people? I don’t know. I’m just going off on a tangent here but Maradona was ahead of his time because he played in the exact same way Messi plays now. I feel like Maradona could do the exact same stuff today. I don’t feel like Cruyff could do the exact same stuff today, and that’s the difference. But I don’t know where I fit in. I just feel like I spit the same.

From the outset, you’ve been involved in the complete creative process. It’s not just bars; you’ve produced, and you’ve been in control of your own visuals. What was the thinking behind that?

You know when you’re into something, it swallows you. I’ve always had a mind that can absorb things. From when I’ve got the idea in my head, I think I can do it. So with visuals, I kinda had it in my head like, ‘I think I can do this.’ I paid one guy to do a video for me, and I just took in what he did. It was a good video, but I just thought: ‘I can do this! You know what? Fuck it!’ It’s all a gamble anyway—no one taught me how to spit. No one taught me how to record. Man just figured it out! Like, say, with FruityLoops, I had to install that on my PC and figure it out for myself, and it’s the same mindset across the board. Even styling myself. And the more things I did, it became easier to do the other things, because you’ve got the mood of everything. The last video I did, not to say it was easy, but it flowed. The styling made sense because I know the record differently. And then on top of that, I know what the visuals are trying to get at. It’s so much easier when you’ve got an understanding of all the different things.

You put in a lot of work underground before signing your deal, in 2010, with Geffen Records. For people on the outside, especially at that time, when you’d hear an artist had signed a deal, you’d be like—boom, they’ve made it now. But what was the reality of a label situation in your experience?

Slow. I had a single deal, but it was slow. I’d gone from doing everything myself, having an idea and executing it how and when I want, to then having some person at the label giving me their opinion. But the joke is you need to educate them. And at the same time, I don’t think I fully understood that this is a part of what’s going on in the industry. I don’t think I fully comprehended that this person, or these people or whatever, would have something to say on my ideas—and forget whether they understand me or my vision, they might not understand the whole culture. It was mad.

Do you think major labels knew how to manage and market UK artists from the scene back then?

There was that. Also, I was unfortunate. When I signed, the MD of the label signed a deal to move over to Sony.

Oh shit! I read about that.

So literally, I’m on a sinking ship and I don’t know anything about it. Man was just sitting around, not able to release any music. And the MD’s just waiting for the time to pass to get to the end of his contract. He didn’t give a shit! But you live and you learn. I wouldn’t put myself in a scenario like that again. To me, I just look at it like ‘ok, ok, I understand.’ I took so much of what I learned from Geffen, but it took me a minute to re-find myself. For a while I was still trying to operate like ‘single’ and ‘release date’, all of that shit. In truth, and this was just before I went jail and that, I got back to ‘make a hard song, put it out’. And especially since I’ve come home, it’s just been like ‘make something they like, put it out’. Simple.

That energy is coming across in the music, too, bro.

And I’m feeling it in the response from the people as well.

I actually heard “It’s My Time” on Premier League Years this summer, you know. Are you seeing money from them using it?

Yeah, yeah, bits trickle in.

You carved a lane for yourself in the acting world too, taking on unforgettable roles in both Top Boy and The Intent. Other than the obvious glamour and revenue, what’s the appeal, creatively?

What’s sick about acting is being able to be some other person. It’s mad! Sometimes I see artists, and I watch them at their show or in their video and I think, ‘This guy or girl is such a sick performer.’ And I’m actually not. I can’t perform like that. You see me, I’m actually just being myself and turning the volume up. When you see me on stage, it’s the same guy you’re gonna see at the bar afterwards, the same guy in the back. But some people, I see them and I’m like ‘wow’ because I might know them and have spent time around them to know that this is the exact opposite of the person I know. I don’t really get a chance to feel what that’s like in my music, because my music is personal to me. But the acting is a whole next ting. Bro, man did a role the other day and it’s set in the 1970s; I’m some old-but-young guy, and it’s mad because I am not him. I do not relate. Say like The Intent, the character I play in that is nothing like me. He was a despicable person.

Back to that new acting role, though [laughs]. What was that for? It sounds interesting—are you allowed to say?

[Laughs] Nah, not really. But big up BBC One, though.

So with the acting, is there a sense of escapism?

Do you know what? I wouldn’t have put it in those words, but now you say it, maybe so. Like, for me, it’s more of an outlet. And it’s fun being at the start of a journey again. Music has been a long one, but with acting, man’s at the start of the road. You just wanna do it, you’re just into it. Like, you know that first time you have sex, you just wanna keep going! When you first MC, you just wanna do it because you like it.

What changes?

It just gets real. Bro, do you know how much money I’ve spent on music? I’d be up... Sometimes I think if I didn’t do this, I’d be up financially. I’m doing whatever I’m doing and my bredrins that do similar stuff, they’re going and buying cars and watches, all these nice things, and I’m spending £35 an hour in the studio, making songs that no one ain’t even hearing. Every single time you heard me on the radio, I was down. Every single time, it cost me money! Sometimes you’ve got magazines that man’s in, and man’s paying. They’re hitting me up. You’ve got a writer that wants you in but the magazine’s got… I’m not gonna say names, but they’ve got such a control over the industry that they’re saying, “Yo, it’s gonna cost you.” To get to the stage where you can say “no” is empowering. I think, for me, there was a stage where music became like some job.

On Simply The Best, Vol.1, you addressed trying to make that transition from the roads to music. But life is complicated; we’ve got responsibilities and bills to pay. And then you dropped “Down” in Feb 2018, and I reckon things clicked for a lot of listeners. What kind of headspace were you in at the time?

Oh, mate, when I wrote “Down”, I was going through so many things and just getting on with it. That’s just me as a person, as a man. And definitely as an artist. I’ve never really been that kind of artist, to make records like that. But, bro, I heard this beat and I just started writing to it. Everything just started coming out. I was touching on things I’d never normally talk about in music, because I thought it wasn’t cool. Like, look at me and my dysfunctional family; look at me no longer with my girlfriend; look at me fighting, going to jail. But it just came out, and I was in such a ‘I don’t give a fuck’ headspace. And then for people that heard it, it was clear that this was connecting, so I thought when I’m away, this will be a record to release.

Since you’ve come home, your work-rate has been like Moussa Dembele! Did your time away reinforce your energy towards music?

Not really, you know. That’s what’s weird. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t fully on music. I didn’t even know what I was on. I came home and I just wasn’t really on it. The feds got my Instagram deleted. I was going through so much shit, and was cool with it, you get me? But I was kind of over a lot of shit. I don’t even know why I made an Insta, after so many followers went down the drain from years of building my old one, but I made one after being out a week or something, and then it just went off! It went mad! And then a bruddah I know, TJ, hit me up like, “Yo! Studio?” And I hadn’t been writing, nothing. I’ll never forget, I was in my house waiting to go link a gyal, she was on her way, couple hours away. Sometimes you never know when it’s a key moment in your life. I thought, ‘just imagine I miss my moment and I’m just sitting in my yard.’ So I was like, “Where?” I still weren’t on it. He’s like, “I’m at Pepstar’s,” which is just down the road. I said, “You know what? Fuck it!” And I just went. The mandem was hitting me up everyday, just tryna’ be around, supporting man and that. I said, “I’m going studio.” They were like, “What? Boom!” Bare of my bredrins come studio. The vibe was mad, and I made “Could Be Worse”. Pep played the beat and I was like, “What. Is. This!?” But music was still daunting for me because I was asked how I wanted to sound. My manager, Matt, he asked me: “What sound do you wanna come with?” I didn’t know, but I wasn’t tryna’ sound like anybody else. So I don’t even know where I fit in. I don’t even know if I do fit in—full stop. Personally, as a man, I just wasn’t in that space. But Pep’s playing beats, and he played the “Could Be Worse” beat and it ignited something in me, and made me want to jump on the mic and spray. Liam [Francis] was there, like, “Yeah, bro, this is it!’ I put a little thing on Insta, and that was it.

That shows there’s a lot of love for you with your listeners.

I’ve kinda realised that. All it is, is just releasing. And I’ve been embracing it.

Then we’ve got your Hardest Bars freestyle. That’s my favourite thing you’ve dropped since you’ve been out.

That was so funny. The way people responded to the Hardest Bars freestyle was confusing to me. Maybe I’m out of touch. I don’t know.

What’s the response you’re referring to?

It was just mad! In my brain, and not that I wasn’t trying to go hard, my thing is that I’m building. I wanna go further and further each time. So when I done my Hardest Bars, in my head I’m already thinking, ‘Yeah, trust me, when you hear my Daily Duppy, when you hear my album...’ That’s where my head was at. So with the response, it was like, rah, these people want me to proper spit.

In that freestyle, there’s a bar: “I should’ve been a star, but I ain’t.” What’s the feeling behind that? Is it a regret thing?

My sister made me realise something. My sister hit me up one day, when I signed for Select Models, and was like: I’m so happy because, for so long, it’s been a potential thing. Like you could, my brother could, and your brother’s so talented. And she’s like, Now, it’s not you could model, it’s you are modelling. Your poster is up in Footlocker in Tottenham Court Road, right now, today. You’ve just done a BBC drama. Your music is out and people are responding to it. It’s not a potential thing. Things are happening now. And the craziest thing is it’s happened in such a short space of time.

So that bar might be a point of reference for when stardom arrived?

You never know. I don’t view myself as a star, though. That’s not my thing. I don’t think I wanna be that. Like, me and my dad, as you can tell from my music, we don’t have the best relationship. But my dad’s always said to my mum, “The boy could model yanuh.” He never said it to me, but he’d say it to my mum and my mum would say it to me, and I always thought, ‘What is he on about?’ And he’s not a man who’s even on saying things to make you feel good about yourself—he’s not saying this to stroke your ego. And bro, I’m old now. It’s real shit. But, maybe he was right.

When “9” dropped, you said that it might be your best work yet. Are you totally at peace with your artistry now?

That’s the vibe I’m on. I’m so in-tune. One good thing about jail is that it really made me at peace with who I am; it let me know that I can be myself in any place, under any circumstance. And there’s no better place than my music. I’m totally comfortable and I feel like it’s coming through in my music.

Tell me about the video, which you also directed.

My idea was very simple. I felt like I needed to get back to being me; not trying to do what I was doing before, but just getting back to being myself. I just need to try and make the best video I’ve ever made. It doesn’t matter if it ain’t the best video, but that’s the aim. When I was making videos before, I was literally tryna’ make the best video I could make. So when I made “9”, I wasn’t worrying about if it’s gonna go on the TV, none of that shit. I tried to make something that for 2 minutes, 3 minutes or whatever, people would really get into and appreciate what I was trying to bring across. The concept was almost like Mad Max, being left for dead. And I felt that way as well. I felt like I was left for dead when I was locked up in jail. There’s probably a lot of people that thought I’d be gone for longer than I was, and their actions reflected that. And that’s cool, that’s their choice, but I felt like I was left for dead in certain ways, you get me? And in being left for dead, man didn’t just come back, man came back stronger! So I needed a visual that reflected that.

Is directing a lane you can see yourself moving into long-term, maybe for television or film?

There’s a few things that I’m trying to see if we can make happen at the moment. But it’s funny: since I released “9”, there’s been quite a few people hitting me up to do their videos, but I’m not on it. Unless it’s for some insane money or something, I’m not on it. I didn’t do “9” because I wanna become a director. I did it because there was no one that could bring that to life for that money, and people weren’t understanding the vision that I had in my head. So I had to do it myself.

Okay, so what’s next for you? Are you cooking up an EP? An album?

Yeah, but you know what it is? More than anything, I’ve realised from communicating with my followers, it’s crystal-clear and apparent that what they’re responding to and appreciating is me putting out music on a regular basis. So there’s definitely something to look forward to in the future, but for now, it’s just about me being consistent. Look out for releases from me every month or so.

Posted on September 18, 2019