If drum and bass ever had a mainstream moment in America, Roni Size, British producer, DJ and leader of the Reprazent collective, was the movement’s dreadlocked herald.
It was 1997 when the Bristol-bred Ryan Williams (Size) and Reprazent – which comprised disparate talents DJ Krust, Dynamite MC, vocalist Onallee and Gang Starr raptress Bahamadia – won the Mercury Award for their seminal album, New Forms. Dynamic jungle beats combined with biting hip-hop, smooth soul, hints of house and ethereal d&b, the latter heard on their breakout single, “Brown Paper Bag,” with the album a two-disc, 23-track magnum opus. New Forms went on to be re-recorded and released on Universal as a deluxe edition in 2008. Reprazent sold out gigs from London to New York, silhouetting stages from behind their large aviator shades and black gang-style hoodies, as revelers secretly wished for an in, for Roni Size to teach them the secret sonic handshake of Reprazent.
Taking control of an entire musical zeitgeist, flipping a genre on its head and receiving accolades from the public, as well as industry comrades: this has been the jungle innovator and Breakbeat Era stalwart’s élan since the late ‘80s. So the question goes without saying, but still must be said, where has he been lately?
It’s been a decade since the world has heard so much as a whisper from Roni Size’s studio. Now, he’s shooting back into the industry’s eyes by reprising his role as a producer and DJ away from the live environment of Reprazent with a solo LP, Take Kontrol, featuring 25 new tracks and an exclusive DJ mix from Roni. Having begun this new chapter with a six-track EP entitled “Size Matters” in August, the dancefloor cuts are built strictly for “the heads,” while the full-length is more like déjà vu for old school Roni fans. Upon listening you feel you know this music, you’ve lived it before, but will have no idea where and when because, synchronously, it’s aurally unfamiliar. This is Roni Size revitalized. He’s testing new waters, still steeped in jungle, but a foreign tactility permeates each tune. Take Kontrol as a whole can best be described through the lyrics of Reprazent song, “Railing,” off New Forms: “Something you never heard before.”
“I’m fortunate to have worked with so many different people over the years,” Roni shares during a break from mixing in Metropolis Studios, his newest London-based sound lab. As the seasoned artist returns to the electronic scene, he’s armed with more new music now in one dose than he’s released in years. According to Roni collaborators still play their role, but ultimately he’s the one calling the shots this time around. “I was so dependent on other people looking after my business, my management and label managers, and other people took on a lot of the burden of everyday administration, all the kind of stuff that gets in the way of me being an artist. I have now taken that on board. I’m fully in control of everything that I do from the ground up.” Thus the title for the album, Take Kontrol, out on his Mansion Sounds imprint this month, was a no-brainer for Roni Size.
“I know how everything works inside out and it feels great to be able to know I can build my own website, access all my accounts and fully understand what’s happening here and why this is happening there. I’ve just got control of everything right now.”
As for his whereabouts over the years, Roni says he’s been biding his time watching the scene, waiting to pinpoint the exact moment and sound for his soloist rebirth. “I’ve been trying to discover exactly what it is I like about drum and bass music,” he explains, “It’s just like the [drum and bass] reinvention. It reinvents itself all the time. Take Kontrol is my take on what has happened over the last decade. It’s my interpretation on what I saw the music was like the last decade, but it’s my take on it. It still doesn’t sound like anybody else. It still sounds like Roni Size... I quite like that.”
While Take Kontrol features tracks with lyrics from Reprazent members, such as Dynamite MC, the offering is 100 percent a Roni Size production. “If you’re gonna comeback, you can’t please everyone all the time but you can have a go. I’ve tried and tested [a lot of the album] in my DJ sets for the last couple of months and the response I’ve been getting is fantastic, so I’m really happy with the body of work I’ve put together.” When plugged on the return of Reprazent, it turns out the crew “just performed their first show a couple of weeks ago,” Roni exclaims, remaining tightlipped about any actual Reprazent releases due to contractual obligations. “I’ve been instructed that we have to talk about Take Kontrol because that’s where I’m at right now. But, also Dynamite is on there, coming from a different angle, singing more than rapping, also evolving.” When the time does come for new Reprazent productions, Roni is sure to stick to his mission to usher in more jungle-spirited sounds that are “nothing like what’s out there now.”
This will be via a new label, “which is called Mansion Sounds because the studio I’m working in is a massive mansion, it’s a great environment and it’s just all coming together. I can’t wait for it to hit the shores of America because I feel like we fill a gap.” However, if the masses don’t understand or try to bring down the hate on the new sounds, the even-keeled junglist won’t be fazed. “I haven’t got the energy for it,” he says. “I just want to put all my energy into making music and performing and to put my marker down. That’s just where I’m at right now. Maybe I’m a bit wiser and older. I’m still hungry, but I’m not angry.” Roni Size maintains. “We’re doing something real. It’s like not trying to water down what I do, but at the same time I do feel like we’re trying to open up the doors for people who’ve never heard of Roni Size. And they might just discover me as a new artist.”
Having just recently toured America, he was astounded how “the EDM scene is so massive now,” ensuring this time around Roni Size is here to stay. “When I went to Miami back in the ‘90s it was still growing, but the size of it now is incredible and I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of the journey. I want to become a legend,” Roni says, ticking off the achievements he’s pitching for without jest or boastfulness. “I want to remain being a pioneer. I want to be at the top of the bill. I think I’ve been there before and I look forward to being there again.” Rest assured, the dance music community looks forward to seeing him there too, hungry for the scene’s gaps to be filled.
PHOTOS: Kevin Lake
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