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Date

June 21, 2020

Resident Advisor Resident Advisor Rewind: Skeng by The Bug featuring Killa P and Flow Dan

Published in partnership with Resident Advisor, our Rewind series dips into electronic music’s archives to dust off albums from decades past.

The first sound you hear on “Skeng,” the 2007 anthem by The Bug featuring Killa P and Flowdan, is a man cackling uncontrollably. This tells you everything you need to know about the energy in the studio that night: raw, silly, spontaneous.

Sometime in the summer of 2006, the MCs Flowdan and Killa P, both members of the legendary grime crew Roll Deep, turned up in Bethnal Green for a late-night session. As they entered the studio, The Bug, who had never met Killa P before, was playing the “Skeng” instrumental. He shut it off and the three of them got to work on a different track called “Ganja.” When they were done, Killa P, who was feeling in the zone, asked The Bug to fire up some other beats. One of them was “Skeng.”

“I was like, ‘What the fuck? Yo, headphones,’” Killa P said. “You get me? Flowdan’s like, ‘Nah my friend’s downstairs, I gotta go.’ I’m like, ‘Bruv, you can’t go, bruv, are you an idiot?’ The Bug’s just put the beat on, the beat’s sick, I’ve got the headphones in my hand. ‘We gotta do this tune right now.’”

“Without Killa being there it wouldn’t have happened,” The Bug said.

Killa P and Flowdan work in different ways: Killa P thrives off the energy of the moment, while Flowdan is more regimented — he likes to make a plan and stick to it. That night, “Skeng” wasn’t part of the plan, plus it was late and Flowdan was tired. But Killa P and The Bug weren’t having it, and they eventually persuaded him to stay. Killa P grabbed the mic first: “Phenomenomenon one, Phenomenomenon one, Phenomenomenon one…”

“It was a ting that [the Jamaican dancehall artist] Ninjaman used to always say,” Killa P explained. “So as a lickle yout growing up — I’m talking like six, seven, eight, nine, ten — this was our style of lyrics from them. ‘Phenomenon one, no boy can’t diss me mi name ah Ninja.’ You gotta remember we grew up with jungle and everything else. There were jungle MCs that said, ‘Phenomenon on one.’ It’s just a style.”

Killa P fired off his opening verse, freestyled in a heavy Jamaican patois, at machine-gun pace. Flowdan, who also usually raps fast, did something similar for the chorus, but it wasn’t working. Someone — Flowdan and The Bug each claim it was their idea — suggested trying the vocal at half-speed. Both agree on one thing: Flowdan had never done this before.

“I was definitely the one that said to him, ‘Do a half-speed vocal on it,’” The Bug said. “Put it down to single words so it would punch through more. Give space to your voice and let your voice resonate because he’s got an incredible tone anyway. Also to give the rhythm more space to achieve impact. We were all laughing our nuts off about the tune and the lyrics because they’re so fucking intense. The blackest humor possible. Gutter-level intensity.”

“Very sparse and very sporadic,” Flowdan said. “Not even sporadic but random because I’m normally more fluent. And that’s because 1) the energy and the motivation wasn’t there because it was the end of the session and 2) me and Skepta were talking about changing up things and slowing down the style to be more understood for an international audience.”

The chemistry in the studio that night was off the chain and “Skeng” was all but finished in record time. After adding a few touches to the production, The Bug cut the track to dubplate and gave it to his “foot soldiers”: Loefah, who had a studio in the same rundown building, and Hyperdub boss Kode9. It was a hit pretty much instantly.

“I can distinctly remember the first time it was ever played out, which was by Loefah at FWD>>,” The Bug said. “And everyone was going mad — me too, I was jumping up and down like a nutter. It just sounded ridiculous on the Plastic People system.”

“Skeng” is one of the first, if not the first, fusions of dubstep, grime, and dancehall, marrying the intensity of grime and dancehall vocals with dubstep’s half-step rhythms and violent bass. It sounds so original because The Bug was a musical outsider with a love for all three genres and allegiances to none. This might also explain why it’s permeated so many scenes and enjoyed such a long shelf life.

“For me, ‘Skeng’ was absolutely manufactured to destroy rigs and audiences,” The Bug said. “I wanted to make a new form of dub. That’s what that sort of rhythm came out of. Somehow in my mind, the axis of “Skeng” was formulated from wanting to have the impact of the heaviest dub on the heaviest soundsystem but with the analog resonance of Dillinja‘s early basslines for Metalheadz.”

The success of “Skeng” did a lot for The Bug and Flowdan. They still tour together, performing it and other collaborations, live at clubs and festivals all over the world. Killa P wasn’t so lucky. “Skeng” was released on Hyperdub in September 2007, but it wasn’t until several years later that he even realized the track was a smash. One day, during a random studio session in East London, Skepta mentioned that Flowdan had been performing his verses.

“Just finding out that way, for me, that’s what made me kind of angry, because it was something to celebrate in my eyes,” Killa P said. “I had not achieved any success like that on my own with a song that I know I created from scratch. All of the light had gone to Flowdan. So I’m thinking, ‘Hold on, that’s actually not fair.’”

“A lot of ignorant white dubstep fans couldn’t tell that there were two MCs on that track, even though it was credited and obvious in the delivery,” The Bug said.

For a while, the mood between the two rappers, who are cousins, was “a bit edgy,” according to Flowdan. But that was a long time ago and the beef is now squashed. Plus, in 2016, Killa P released “Leng,” a rehashing of “Skeng” with new verses and a tweaked beat. It includes the line, “None of them can ever deny the fact that I Killa for rilla created ‘Skeng.’”

It’s been nearly 15 years since that special night in Bethnal Green. Despite the odd bump in the road, all three artists are proud and thankful for the evergreen anthem that, sooner or later, helped define their careers.

“No matter how it came about, it’s still great,” Killa P said. “It’s a great song. It exists. And a lot of people love it and for that I’m grateful. Because a lot of our work goes unrecognized.”

“Alongside my Roll Deep contribution, starting Roll Deep, it’s one of the really important things that makes Flowdan who he is today,” said Flowdan.

“I still drop it in virtually every Bug show and if I don’t, people scream for it and get pissed off,” The Bug said. “It’s a beautiful thing that people dig it. It never ceases to humble me that anyone gives a fuck.”

Tracklist:

  1. Skeng feat. Killa P + Flow Dan
  2. Skeng (Kode9 Remix)



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Kat Bein We’re Not Over The Roots’ How I Got Over Even After 10 Years

Of all the albums to turn 10 years old this in 2020, The Roots’ How I Got Over might be the heaviest. The legendary Philly band’s moody homage to triumph over tragedy is a light at the end of the tunnel, but as featured MC Phonte said in his verse on “Now or Never,” there’s inevitably another tunnel at the end of the light.

It’s a hard album to listen to because we find ourselves today in an even darker, more dangerous and divided United States than exists in living memory, but the hip-hop heroes’ ninth studio album is essential listening precisely because it stares these horrors in the face and refuses to fall before them. We must study the hard truths of Black Thought’s words and those of his many collaborators. There is salvation and consult in these rhymes, while in Questlove and the band’s steadily-rising compositions there is an uplifting rhythm by which we can push ourselves to keep marching.

In 2008, The Roots released its politically-charged eighth LP, Rising Down. Its 14 tracks were a collection of righteous rhymes and synth-tinged beats colored by the ails of George W. Bush’s America. Already in their mid-30s, The Roots watched in disgust as a new generation of Philadelphians and Americans lived within a system of old struggles.

Of course, 2008 was also an election year, one that would go on to be monumental and historic. About six months after Rising Down‘s release, Barack Obama became the United States’ first Black President. He was elected with a message of “hope” and “change” that gave progressives the daring feeling of a new dawn.

How I Got Over captures the emotionally-fraught journey of accepting optimism after so many moments of lost faith. It starts with the beautiful, building acapella of “A Peace of Light.” Feminine voices dance in harmony, rising to meet a blast of instrumentation and Questlove’s jazzy drums. It’s soothing, but it’s not outright joyful, and it’s followed by a trio of songs that make no attempt to conceal life’s hardships.

“Walk Alone” is a trudging tune with true blues soul. Questlove creates a beat with the lumbered pace of tired footsteps. Staccato piano and cinematic strings lend melancholy melody as Truck North, Greg Porn, Dice Raw, and Black Thought wrestle with the weight of outcasts.

The plot thickens on “Dear God 2.0,” another slow and somber song that sees Black Thought drop the most intense laundry list of social ills. With hindsight, this list reads like a warning of dangers for the decade ahead, touching everything from prescription pill addictions to climate change, economical collapse, technology’s divisive capabilities, Chinese dependency, natural disasters, and police brutality. “Radio Daze,” too, seems prophetic in the era of “fake news,” Russian bots, and “alternative facts,” but this album’s age serves to remind us that these weapons aren’t new.

This June, as the album turns 10, we find ourselves staring down a depression as a result of forced quarantine to mitigate a global pandemic. While local governments grapple with how quickly to “reopen,” streets flood with tens of thousands of protestors demanding institutional change and an end to harrowing police violence. We are so far deep into the darkest parts of these verses, but it feels like we’re also just reaching the point of the fifth track, “Now or Never.”

This is the track where we start to change. Our circumstances are still dire, but as Black Thought pronounces, we realize that true evolution begins with ourselves. “I’m sick, sick of waiting in vain / tired of playing the game,” he says, “Thinking of making a change, finally breaking the chains.”



We are all Black Thought, trying to pick ourselves up while still in the mud, telling ourselves it’ll get better knowing there are power and truth inside the mantra. The energetic thrust continues on the titular track. The rhythm is bouncier, the melodies brighter, and while we still don’t see a resolution to the issues at hand, we continue to hear Black Thought’s approach to life grow. Even his voice has changed because here, the rapper begins to sing.

The sweet and tender beauty of “The Day” reminds us that, though we may falter, each morning is a chance to do more. By “Right On,” (which samples “The Book of Right-On” by Joanna Newsom) we find ourselves cool in the groove of self-empowerment. With the John Legend suite of “Doin’ It Again” and “The Fire,” we’ve become fully reinvigorated and ready for action. The crescendo climaxes as it finishes with the downright boastful verses of “Web 20/20” and “Hustla,” a song that also looks ahead with advice to the next generation.

In June 2010, no one could have seen what America has become. How I Got Over doesn’t have powerful answers to our forever problems, but it does offer strength in times of weakness and resilience in the face of constant oppression. It dares us to be courageous and confident in spite of all the evil we know exists, because we won’t win the war by giving up. Our fight for what’s right must outlast those who would have us fold into frustration and fear.

How I Got Over is not the celebratory sound of a battle won but a soft and stirring beacon that inspires us to continue on. It’s a musical promise that one day we will look back and explain how we did get over this moment and any moment left to come.

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