The Ragga Twins need no introduction, but we’ll give it a go anyway! This pair have been at the forefront of British sound system culture ever since the 1980s, helping to bring reggae toasting into the hardcore scene with Shut Up And Dance before watching the music mutate into what would become known as jungle and, later, drum n’ bass. You simply cannot talk about bass music’s history without referencing the Ragga Twins.
We were lucky enough to host their mad MC skills on The Viewpoint Stage this summer, and now they’ve supplied us with a characteristically weighty mix as well. We sat down with Deman Rocker and Flinty Badman to hear more about their incredible career.
Kelburn Garden Party: Hi Ragga Twins! Can you start off by introducing your mix for us?
Deman Rocker: We’re doing the mix with me and Flinty as Ragga Twins and Krucial on the decks. We’ve got a crew called RTC (Ragga Twins Crew). We’ll be doing a mix just like we do most times on the road, so you’ll get one of them exclusive RTC mixes.
How did you first get your introduction to sound system culture?
Deman Rocker: It was way back in the 80s. I got hooked on to the toasting world – it’s MCing now, but toasting back in the day. When I left school, I used to go around with my mates to different clubs. They all nudged me to get on the mic, so I’d go and chat a few words. I got a taste for it, so I joined a sound called Jah Marcus in 1983. Me and Flinty was on the same sound. Every Tuesday we’d go to a place called Lecture Hall and try out our skills on Jah Marcus. Then one day a guy from Unity, one of the MCs called Jack Rubin, asked me if I wanted to join. That’s where it took off, when I joined Unity in ‘83.
Flinty Badman: At the real beginning, I built my own sound system with a couple of my friends. We used to keep it at my uncle’s basement, and it was just around the corner from my school. At lunchtime, we’d go there and play on the sound, and I’d be toasting. That’s how I started to do MCing. We ended up on Jah Marcus Sound together and then we both ended up on Unity. A few of our mates that we grew up with on the same corner, they had a sound called Tippatone. Unity was the big sound that we would chat on up and down the country and Tippatone was a sound with all of us. We’re all friends on that sound together.
What was Unity like in those early days?
Deman Rocker: It was a great institution. We had the best selector in London. His name was Ribs. Truly, he was perfect. Number one. He was the greatest selector England ever had. There was a vibe around it. It was like a family. We all used to link up nearly every day at Regal Records Shop down Clapton. We put the sound upstairs, so we’d go up there and have practice sessions. We all linked up and travelled together. We would always have a posse when we rolled out. We had loads of singers, loads of MCs. It was a fun time.
Were there any MCs that inspired you both when you were starting out?
Flinty Badman: When we started out, it was mostly the Jamaican MCs. I was inspired by a guy called Johnny Ringo in the early days, and then later on Lieutenant Stitchie. Them guys were big inspirations for me as an MC. And then Papa Toyan and General Trees, the older generation. In the UK, D-man, my brother, was a big inspiration, because I’m younger than him. To see him doing it on a big sound, that inspired me to get there as well.
Deman Rocker: For me, I started way back with a guy called Big Youth from Jamaica. He made me want to do this. He had a flow and a style and the way he chatted, he had a melody in his voice. Then later when you get into the 80s, there was a guy called Josey Wales. He absolutely took my head over. He captivated me. To me, he was the greatest MC ever to come out of Jamaica. He had charisma, style. He could switch it up from badness to culture. After Josey Wales, nobody could compete.
How did your link up with Shut Up And Dance come about?
Deman Rocker: 1989, it’s New Year’s Eve and we was playing another roll call – loads of different sounds coming down and they’d do a half hour. We’re coming to the end of our half hour, and I turned to Flinty and I said, “I can’t do this no more.” We’re not leaving the country, we’re not making records, we’re not doing nothing. In seven years between us, we’ve got about seven or eight singles. So I said, “We’ve got to stop this, man, and find something where we can make a career of this.”
So we left the sound. I was working at the time, so I was at my job and Smiley came in. He had this cassette with him. He said, “I’ve got a sample of you. I want to put it out. I need your permission.” I said, “Yeah, of course. And what can you do for me? Furthermore, what can you do for me and my brother? Because we’ve left Unity and we’re looking to go a different direction.” He goes, “Yeah, come and see me.” So we went to his house and talked. He played us music that we’d never heard before in our life. We look at each other – what are we going to do with this? But as the weeks went on and we got comfortable with them, we went to the studio, cut the first tune, and the rest is history.
They have been the biggest influence on our career. When we went there, we were saying we were going to be single artists. He said, “No, don’t do that. Be a duo. You’re brothers anyway, so it’s not like you’re ever gonna fall out,” and he was right. So many duos fall apart because they’re not family. The only connection is a friendship. We’ve got a blood connection.
Flinty Badman: The mad thing about it with Shut Up And Dance is we actually knew them. They had a sound system called Selena and we’d invited them down to my uncle’s basement and we played together down there, so I already knew Smiley, and PJ we went to primary school with. When we got there, I was like “We know you guys!” The bond was already there. They used to come to Unity and listen to us. They knew what we was capable of, and they just told us to do our thing. They told us, “Don’t do your tunes like you’re in the studio. Do it like you’re in the dance. Make it rough and raw.”
Did you expect that you would still be performing more than 30 years later?
Deman Rocker: Funny that because when I was 30, I said to Flinty, “We’re done.” When I got to 40 I said, “We give it to 50.” I’m 57 now and I’m still up there doing it. I don’t want to do anything else. I’m going to make sure that I prolong this as long as I can, because I love my job. I have got the best job in the world. People say footballers have the best job in the world, but after 34 they don’t want you in football. I’m 57 and still doing my thing and getting appreciated. I appreciate all my fans and my ravers. They’re the ones that keep you up there.
Flinty Badman: And we’re doing different genres. We go on any genre, anything that we like, we can make it sound good. We can make it sound like we’ve been there in that genre for years. We just love doing music and putting out records. We’ve got an album coming out very shortly. It’s just giving people listening pleasure. At our age, we appreciate that.
Do you have any artists that you’re really excited about nowadays in the genres you’ve worked in?
Flinty Badman: We’ve got a track out at the moment on Liondub’s album with two guys from London and Doncaster. One’s called Parly B and one’s called Chatta.B. They’re very good artists. Doctor is a very good artist. Navigator’s a very good artist. David Boomer. General Levy. Congo Natty makes some big tunes with Top Cat.
Deman Rocker: You’ve got the crews as well, like Problem Central and SASASAS, plus your usual suspects like Jumping Jack Frost, Kenny Ken, Grooverider, Randall, Nicky Blackmarket. There’s so much.
Flinty Badman: They’re all legends. Us lot that come from the old school, we’re legendary in our way. We built something that other people took and made garage, then from garage we got grime, and from grime you’ve got drill,. That all stems from jungle. But for us, we come from reggae so we’re deep down in the roots.
Do you have any favourite moments from your time at Kelburn Garden Party this summer?
Deman Rocker: Our set was my standout. The crowd, they was wicked. They never stopped. They went from start to finish. And even when we were finished they wanted us to carry on.
Flinty Badman: It wasn’t a usual crowd to what we usually have, because in drum n’ bass the crowd is really young. We looked into the crowd and that was a really mature crowd out there. To see them wiling out like that was amazing.
Thanks for chatting with us D-man and Flinty! Any final words?
Deman Rocker: Respect to all Scottish dnb massive, because you keep it going up there, keeping it fresh, keeping it relevant. And big up all the dnb massive all over the world, because dnb is not recognised as the number one music, but to me it’s the number one music all over the world.