Roll Deep's best early releases were distinctive and exciting, showcasing a raw, fresh sound (whether you choose to call it 'grime' or 'eski') and the talents of future stars like Dizzee Rascal and Wiley. Listening to a track like 'Bounce' and then putting on X, their latest record, is a mildly depressing experience; this is a group who have lost much of what made them interesting. They increasingly rely on rote synth crescendos and bland choruses. Whether or not this stylistic shift was the result of a straightforward desire to sell more records and make more money, it's certainly not one which has benefited the group's music, and X is not a very good album.
Like many substandard pop records, it features one or two mildly enjoyable singles and a succession of tracks which were created using exactly the same formula as those singles, but lack their panache. These are the weak, broken mutants created in Roll Deep's pop-rap laboratory, the results of failed attempts to replicate less ugly songs. They shamble about awkwardly, pitiful half-dead things. They all feature the same uninspired raps about drinking and partying, most of them delivered by a succession of undistinguishable group members who lack both charisma and the ability to come up with memorable turns of phrase. X's most noticeable contributor is singer Tania Foster, whose job it is to belt out a series of meaningless clich's in the hope that they will coalesce into a chorus ('Our words can take over the universe!/Can't stop us now, 'cos you know we believe!'). After the eighth or ninth song to feature sledgehammer-subtle synths, a Foster-sung chorus about nothing in particular, and a series of half-formed raps about sitting in Wetherspoons, your brain will begin to melt.
There are moments when the group almost get it right. The singles 'Picture Perfect' and 'Can't Wait For The Weekend' are the best examples of their stock formula, but the stand-out tracks are those which depart a little from that formula. 'Movie Screen' is a relatively stripped-back number which doesn't drown the beat in synths (and hey, they get somebody other than Foster to sing the clich's in the chorus!); the slower, more considered 'Falling' features some of the record's best verses. These are only relative highs, however; nothing here makes X worth purchasing unless you are an obsessive fan of the group. Disappointing.
Continue reading: Roll Deep - X Album Review
Meeting up with Roll Deep always sounded like an intriguing affair. So this week, contactmusic caught up with J2k, Flow Dan, Breeze, Brazen and the newest arrival, the sexy, sensuous and salacious Tania Foster, to converse about their upcoming album and tour and the current mood inside in the camp.
As I wait to be introduced to the group, their spirits sounded sky high, as there laughter could be heard from outside the room.
I walked in to find my initial thoughts were sound. Morale amongst them seems genuine and joyous. I sat down and the laughter felt contagious, as within minutes, they had me cracking up too. The atmosphere in the room was party-esque without the alcohol; excellent conditions for an interview.
Contact Music: I know you guys are all good friends and I assume you all go out a lot together. So, with that in mind, here is a quick fire round to see who is who in the group (although in the end, there was nothing quick about this quick fire round).
CM: Who is the first to the bar?
Roll Deep: Brazen (as Tania points to him, they all burst out laughing).
CM: Who's the first in the smoking area?
RD: Breeze, easily.
CM: Who's the first to be drunk?
RD: Brazen man, he's always started way before we have; normally for breakfast.
CM: Who's the person who makes a sly exit without telling anyone their leaving?
RD: Flow. He's always the one who bails out before the rest of us.
CM: Who's always late?
RD: Scratchy is always late!
CM: Who's the last to leave the bar/club?
RD: That's probably Scratchy too. Arrives late and leaves late.
CM: Whose the most likely to get into trouble on a night out?
RD: J2K and Target (from Tania's experience). J2K is always up causing some violations.
CM: Who disappears to fornicate?
RD: Ooooooo, fornicate. No one's answering that one. (Smiles around the room, everyone looks relieved)
CM: Who's the practical joker amongst the group on nights out?
RD: Brazen, well to be fair, could be anyone, but probably Brazen.
Who roll the meanest zoot?
RD: (Smiles fill the room) Scratchy man!
CM: Roll Deep currently consists of nine members, but the group's members do change pretty frequently, have there been any additions or cuts recently?
RD: No, no cuts or additions. Tania is the latest addition, but no cuts yet, everyone is on their best behaviour.
CM: Is there any reason why there are so many of you?
RD: Its cool, it's always been like that. It's never been a numbers thing. Roll Deep doesn't know anything different really. If someone isn't pulling their weight or helping us move forward, then that's a problem. Numbers have never been a concern.
CM: So, if two or three guys or girls came to you with raw talent, they'd be in?
RD: If you want to stay current, you would be silly not to take any talent. But we have loads of people come in and out, so that may be our formula to keep staying around, as there are new faces and new talent that always keeps it fresh.
CM: Is it ever a concern that fans may struggle to keep up with who is practising and performing in the group?
RD: We don't really change that much. Maybe one in one out per year. The fan base may find it hard to keep track of what's going on, but that might be down to being inconsistent. However, at the same time, there are many fans who didn't know who Roll Deep was in 2005, so they just like the music that is out now and they will just link on from here.
CM: How does the sound contrast to that of 2005?
RD: Nothing has drastically changed. With the first Roll Deep album, there were commercial tracks on there. It's the same thing; we have commercial tracks on this album as well as the last. They all have the same variety of music on them, so nothing has changed too much, except the climate. So, if something is commercial, it's to do with the current trend in music. So we are evolving with the music.
CM: Would you say that you have moved away from grime?
RD: We definitely haven't moved completely away from grime. For those who think we have, check out our Friday freestyles. But we may have a little, as we are in a different world now, we are different people, we're older and our sound is more mature. Obviously when we were younger, things may have sounded rougher around the edges. So we aren't necessarily moving away, just a little more refined around the edges.
CM: Your latest track, 'Picture Perfect' is more of a club tune than grime. Is that a fair comment?
RD: Yeah definitely.
CM: Are you more focused on the club scene?
RD: I wouldn't say we are more focused on club music; it's just part of what we do. We are keen to do everything and keep ourselves interested at the same time. So one week, we might be in one mood, which may result in a different type of tune. But you have to remember, when you have a record deal, we have to implement the business into our music too. The new album is a reflection of that, it has everything on it. It's not just dance, it's everything.
CM: Do you think it's unfair that people label you just hip hop artists?
RD: Well we're not even hip hop artists. We are just artists. Some of us may have started in the grime game, but we didn't want to just do grime, if we did, we would still be doing it, but we have moved away and expanded. We have moved on to all genres of music now.
CM: How will the album be tackled now Wiley has stepped back?
RD: The album is tackled.
CM: All finished?
RD: Yeah, all done! We've all been working hard on the album. All of us, writing, doing choruses, everything.
And to be honest, over the last few singles and albums, Wiley hasn't been that influential. He's been around for a few tracks and stuff, but he hasn't spearheaded anything for a long time now. So we are used to getting on with our own stuff.
CM: So his presence hasn't been around for a while then?
RD: No it's not been like that for years. Tunes will be done, and if there is a verse to be done and he wants to put one on, he'll put one on. But tunes will get done either way. It's not like he is in the studio looking over.
CM: What's the title of the album called?
CM: Any news for the album or collaborations, or is there no need?
RD: It's just of all us. It's not really necessary. It would be hard to fit them in and there is nothing we can't do ourselves. Even Scratchy is singing on this one. And he's good!
CM: Who does the producing on the album, is it all in house?
RD: No, two from Agent X, P Box Martin, Wide Boys, Swindle, Skits. It's all very random. This time we wanted to step away from what people are expecting. It's been in house for years, so we thought we would try something different and some new sound.
CM: Is it hard to get air time with so many of you in the studio?
RD: It can be if you aren't quick enough, but if it's not strong enough, then we'll change it. So we have to wait until the review session afterwards and we may ask what's happening and it may not be what we want. It might need tightening up, but there is no competition for what she does (Tania).
Tania: "But you guys will tell me if it's crap or not though. And Breeze has written one of my choruses. It was real good too."
CM: Do you ever clash over a sick beat and be like; I have to be on that track?
RD: It's never got to that yet. But if the beat is that sick we will all just go on it and make it work, and if it's a 10 minute song, it's a 10 minute song. It's very rare though that everyone wants to get on a track. Generally if you don't hear someone on a track, it's because they don't want to be on that track.
CM: Do tempers ever flare in the studio?
RD: It's all cool man. I think that is one of the reasons why we have been around so long. Most groups haven't done the 10 stretch. There are a lot of egos in other groups.
CM: If someone was spitting a bad verse, you'd tell them?
RD: Na, it's not a ruthless. We know how to deal with each other, because we have known each other that long and we are like family. Specific people know how to tell specific people without hurting their feelings and so forth. It's hard not to hurt, as we are all passionate, but the truth is the truth, we want the best results for the album.
CM: With the album out in April, I assume you guys are planning a tour?
RD: Yeah definitely. We have signed deals in other countries too, so we're hitting some other territories too. Regarding the UK, you can't neglect any pocket, as they will all be potential fans who may have bought a record and may want to buy a record. It's the UK, our home, so we should travel the land thoroughly.
CM: Why do you think there aren't many successful groups around the UK like yourself?
RD: We're the only real genuine group around. The others are either fabricated or genuine but then fall apart and have too many egos. It's always an ego thing when shit starts happening. But here, as you can see and we have just explained, we're all cool together. That's definitely why we have stuck around for so long.
CM: With Dizzee Rascal, Tynchy Stryder and Wiley all pursuing their own paths in the music industry, is Roll Deep a stepping stone to the next level?
RD: It has been for some people. But we all encourage each other to do our own thing anyway. J2K is still writing and publishing his own stuff. We are Roll Deep, but Flo is doing his dub step thing too. It depends on how you look at it. A person can say that Roll Deep is a stepping stone, but you could also say that it's a platform to display your talent. You have to remember that you wouldn't be part of Roll Deep if you weren't talented anyways, so it's not a problem.
CM: With Wretch 32 leaving The Movement, and a similar case with Eminem in D12 and Method Man in Wu-Tang, do you ever worry that if the most talented guys were to ever leave the group, the rest may get left behind.
RD: You could say that, we have seen Dizzee and whoever else go do their own thing, but we still had two number ones last year. So there is still obviously a big fan base out there that people want to buy into. Roll Deep will always be Roll Deep regardless of what anyone does. If you have opportunities to go do something, go do it. With other members who have left, there were reasons why they left, but as it stands in Roll Deep, there are no problems.
CM: In many ways like Wiley has stepped back, but by no means has he said that he is leaving the group.
RD: He will always be affiliated with Roll Deep whether he likes it or not. People will always think of him as being part of Roll Deep. He might come back and put some lyrics on a track, but good luck to anyone who is doing their own thing. It's not like we draw a line under someone just because they have gone and done their own song.
CM: Thanks for your time, guys. Anything you'd like to share?
RD: The single Picture Perfect is out on the 23rd January.
CM: Yeah, I have seen the video. Looks like a lot of fun. Marbella right?
RD: Na man, it was all filmed in Hackney, under blue screens (jokes obviously).
I left the group as I found them. Laughing, joking around and having fun. What top guys.
Roll Deep's new single, Picture Perfect, will be released on January 23rd 2012 and is the lead single taken from their fifth studio album, which will be released early next year. Picture Perfect also marks a new member for the group, Tania Foster, who provided guest vocals on the group's 2010 hit, Green Light.
Continue: Roll Deep - Picture Perfect
For anyone who's been living under a rock for the last six months, the East London grime collective Roll Deep will waste no time in letting you know their story. Whilst on the surface it may have seemed like they're an overnight success, Winner Stays On's opening track - pithily entitled The Intro - sees the crew eager to let everyone know that in fact their breakthrough comes after a decade of less high profile slog in youth clubs and stages covered in old chewing gum across the country.
Continue reading: Roll Deep, Winner Stays On Album Review
Review of Roll Deep's album 'Return Of The Big Money Sound'
Continue reading: Roll Deep, Return Of The Big Money Sound Album Review