Still Can’t Come 2 Da Roadside: A Conversation With Roadside G’s

Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography: Hyperfrank

It’s on a sunny Tuesday afternoon when I approach Red Bull Studios in London Bridge, a fortress that has undoubtedly captured some magical musical moments in its time. As I’m led into a large studio, I sense a tension upon entry as all the eyes of a 10 man-plus crew are placed on me, swarming like bees around a flower. But they soon turn to the main attraction: Roadside G’s, who are fully in their element as they record new music. It’s quite hard to believe that before their comeback this year, the Brixton-based collective hadn’t been together in one place for almost a decade. You wouldn’t know that by looking at them; the chemistry is electric in the studio, as they affirm each other’s bars by repeating them with thumping head bumps and squeals of excitement. Roadside G’s carry a certain aura around them. As the blueprint of grime in the South of London, when the movement was making waves in East in the early-to-mid 2000s, RS built a fortress for themselves, bringing certified grittiness and road tales to the urban music scene way before Giggs brought it further to light. Going to Brixton in the mid-to-late 2000s wasn’t an option, and they made sure you knew on their classic track, “Can’t Come 2 Da Roadside”, and throughout their debut mixtape, Gangsta Grime. It’s a formula you can see crystal clear in disciples like Section Boyz and 67 today, who have injected a modern touch to, but haven’t strayed too far away from, the Roadside imprint. Success has not come without adversity however, and the group’s activity has been severely hampered by run-ins with the law in the decade since their apex. The silence was broken in March when present members Alan B, Dan Diggerz, Smiley, Elmz and Den Den shelled down Radar Radio in a moment that took grime’s old heads back and brought new heads in. Now revitalised in a scene that hasn’t seen the best of them yet — recent singles “It’s Kinda Mad” and “None Of Them” are a taster of things to come — the self-titled kings of ‘gangsta grime’ are out to reclaim the crown of south London’s gulliest crew, and on their own terms. After producing a madness in the booth, TRENCH sat down with Roadside G’s to discuss their origins, the new generation, and their place in the current scene.

“The public demand is kind of why we’re back again.”

How does it feel being back in the studio after so many years apart?

Elmz: It’s a good feeling.

Smiley: It’s definitely a breath of fresh air because we haven’t done it for so long. The second time round, you’re older and wiser and know what you’re doing and you hit the mark quicker. 

What made you want to come back together in such a big way?

Dan Diggerz: The scene is going more towards the direction that we kind of took it 10 years ago, but people are still doing the things we talked about today.

Smiley: Everything is not so frowned upon; you can actually talk about real life. We basically talk about life experiences and the things we partook in so, for us, it’s just our journey. We’re telling our story.

Den Den: The things that we were doing 10 years ago is kind of being allowed now. When we were doing it, it was all getting shut down.

Alan B: It was too raw for the time, and now street culture is perfectly acceptable in the mainstream. 

What do you want the new generation of grime fans to know about you guys?

Den Den: We’re the hardest to ever to do it — bar none. There may be a few artists on our level but they don’t come harder. We’re not sugar-coating what we’re saying; we’re not gonna say food if we mean drugs — we’ll just say drugs [laughs]. We’re going all in and giving you that real picture.

Alan B: I feel like we were the first crew to make street music on grime and break boundaries. We’re products of our environment, but we’re telling you the story in a positive way.

Smiley: What we’re spitting is authentic, and it’s not like we’re glorifying our lives — we have pain from our lives and we’re trying to diagnose that pain through music... It’s almost therapeutic.

Dan Diggerz: Man might talk about what we talk about, but the way they do it doesn’t sound the same.

Elmz: These new groups don’t have the chemistry that we have.

I feel you guys definitely created the blueprint for street grime.

Den Den: We’re definitely the godfathers of street culture and music in this country. We’re on the borderline between grime, rap and drill, and we’re not necessarily one or the other.

Alan B: Yeah, it’s gangster grime. We need our own lane on iTunes under the term ‘gangsta grime’ [laughs].

Dan Diggerz: A lot of rap fans that hate grime would always say they listen to Roadside G’s, but it’s not that typical one-line flow, quirky type of grime.

How did the Roadside G’s story start?

Smiley: I used to spit to jungle back in the day, around 1999-2000, but the way the crew got together was very organic. Den Den was hard from day dot; I could see the potential in everyone, even if they couldn’t at the time.

Den Den: It was Smiley and Elmz first. I wasn’t even spitting back then, I was just listening to them man, and I could rhyme and someone said one day that I should some write lyrics, so I did. I was listening to this mad yout on On Top FM who turned out to be R.A, and Elmz started bringing R.A around man and he was hard with it, so he got recruited. We didn’t know we had the roads the way we had it until we stopped — it was just fun for us, but then people wanted us to start making mixtapes and shotting them. 

Dan Diggerz: I grew up in Angell Town, Brixton, and on the block, I’d be spitting Smiley’s lyrics. In 2002, it was me, Den Den, Smiley and Elmz doing a thing on Bassline FM.

 Alan B: We’re all roughly from the same area. I brought a CD to Smiley and Diggerz and they listened to it and said I should come and spit bars — and they were a crew even before this. I think I was the last to join, but I was doing sets with R.A before Roadside.

So, when did you start taking the music seriously?

Den Den: When we started taking things seriously was when a lot of people started to drop out by getting nicked. We had an album that we never released, with bare tunes from that era that no one has heard, like 2005-06. “Can’t Come 2 Da Roadside” came out in 2005 and it went No. 1 on Channel U, but then they shut it down talking about it being gang-affiliated. How, when we covered the whole of Brixton? It’s not like now, where things are more divided into areas. We ran everything in Brixton.

Dan Diggerz: In the past 10 years, we’ve put out three mixtapes and two music videos but we were still getting lots of people come to us and ask for more music. The public demand is kind of why we’re back again.

Alan B: We never knew how big the scene would get here; we thought we’d have to appeal to America, at first, because we didn’t know how our scene would turn out.

What were some of your relationships with grime crews back then? How did the scene look to you back in those days?

Den Den: We really just did everything in-house. We only really used to link Crazy Titch — he was our bredrin. But back then, you had to go East to do grime or do radio... If you didn’t know Wiley or them man, it was all long! But being on On Top FM, we thought we’d just do our own thing in South.

Dan Diggerz: Wiley, Frisco and Wretch used to link man. Wretch and Frisco are on the very first Roadside G’s project, when everybody was nobody. Titch used to bring us to East, but after On Top FM came around, we kinda just stopped going East.

What are some of the main differences you see between your generation and the new generation?

Smiley: They’re just really young and you’ve got to give them time to grow. Sometimes, people just find what works for them, and they may be a bit lax but it’s for them to realise and grow. How our generation grew is totally different, in terms of ethics and rules.

Den Den: In terms of South, I think all the new crews sound the same. Someone like a MoStack is different because he’s not doing the same thing as some of these new guys. We weren’t like that in our day; we didn’t all have the same style or lyrics, and now all of these new crews do.

Dan Diggerz: Like, Harlem Spartans sound like 67 and I can’t tell the difference. All these driller youts have capped themselves to a certain limit, and now they can’t really do anything different to what they’re doing now.

Elmz: Videos are styled the same as well — everyone’s on the exact same wave.

Alan B: There’s no authenticity and that’s why they need us, because they need more flows.

What do you think have been some of the big changes in the scene from when you were coming up?

Smiley: It’s a lot easier for artists now. One thing I like about this new generation is that no one is trying to get support from major labels, and a lot of people are doing for self. That raises the community because you’re inspiring the next generation to do something and achieve what you want.

Dan Diggerz: You can literally do something on FaceTime and share it on the internet.

Elmz: You don’t even have to do many radio sets now, and you can reach a wider audience now. We couldn’t reach our fans outside of Manchester, for example — and they used to kill man because they wanted it — but now you can stream and you’re right next to your fans, so we’ve got to adapt.

Den Den: There’s a lot of acceptance now for what we used to talk about, where we had to be a lot more careful. You can become a star in your front room too — you don’t have to do a tune, get it on CD, get it to a DJ and shot it on the roads. We have to work backwards because we’re from a different generation, and man don’t even want to do the social side of things like Snapchat. It takes away the realness because as soon as you put the camera in your face, you’re just acting.

Smiley: None of us like showing our faces, but you have to be accessible to a certain extent. It’s more of a thing where we’ve got a message to tell.

Alan B: But we have to follow the rules now, at least to start with.

“We’re definitely the godfathers of street culture and music in this country.”

Do you think grime ever died?

Den Den: It died because of us! I think we were the last hope, and then we weren’t doing it anymore and that's when everyone started doing pop.

Dan Diggerz: Jme was the only one doing grime still, even when it died. He kept it at a standard but, by 2010, we weren’t doing any music at all.

Smiley: Some people are gonna go where the money is, some people don’t want to hear that. Grime took a natural decline, but it stayed underground and when you’re stuck together, you stay together.

Who are some of your favourite artists right now?

Alan B: Right now, just the mandem! But Ghetts and Kano, because they’re technical. Dave as well — he’s outside the box. Truth be told, I’m not really feeling the new generation; if you’re all sounding the same, I’ve only got five seconds for you.

Elmz: They’re just talking about what they know, though.

Den Den: I like J Hus and MoStack because they do the things I would never think of doing. They do the singing and stuff and don’t sound neeky, but I would feel neeky doing that.

Dan Diggerz: Stormzy’s doing bits, a couple of Harlem Spartans’ tunes bang — I can’t even lie — but I wish all the new kids well. Anything to get out the hood.

Smiley: I’m rooting for the next generation because they are the future. Right now, everything is all trap, trap, trap or shank, shank, shank, but if you give them something different to feed off, they will, and they need a chance.

What do you think separates you guys from the groups of today?

Alan B: We’re not even in the same bracket, and as individuals we couldn’t mention their names.

Den Den: They’re hard in their own right but they haven’t got the styling pattern that we do. You could put one of us in a room with them and one of us would go ham on them, but you can’t put one of them in a room with us with a mic. They can’t come to our world.

Smiley: We’re just totally different artists. Bars have declined, and it’s the sound that drives the song these days. We bring the best out of each other and we are each other’s biggest critics. Den Den brings the best out of everyone because he’ll critique you to the bone, so you’re going to do it in a way that he can’t find fault to it.

Elmz: I get individual inspiration from everyone; I always get good flows from Diggerz, powerful techniques from Den Den, performance from Smiley, crazy bars from R.A.

Alan B: We’ve got each other’s best interests and we’ve missed that feeling of hearing a lyric and wanting to match it.

Dan Diggerz: You could name a few of our big hits, whereas you might not be able to with these new crews. That’s how we feel about everyone, to be fair.

So, are you guys trying to back more of a lyrical side to the scene?

Alan B: We’re bringing you flows, lyrics, and a bag of substance.

Dan Diggerz: We’re trying to bring back the original south London road sound because a lot of them haven’t finessed it yet. We’re gonna drop some bangers, and get that money.

What are some of your best memories as a group?

Dan Diggerz: The Radar Radio set was a good day for Roadside, because it let people know that we were still alive and kicking.

Elmz: Sidewinder and Kiss FM days, for me. We had some great Monday and Thursday nights, especially on On Top FM.

Smiley: For me, it has to be recording Gangsta Grime in Derry. Just the memories where everyone’s together, because it’s all about unity with us.

Alan B: I’d say when we did the Sticky Business DVD, and even going on BBC 1Xtra way before anyone else — so much so that when I tell people, they don’t believe me. Radar Radio was black power, to me. Five grown black men uniting together in music.

Posted on September 13, 2017