Few vocalists within drum & bass command the respect of MC Fats. His wicked reggae soundsystem toasting style has been livening up DJ sets for years and has added a freshness to tracks by Calibre, Alix Perez, A Sides and loads more. Despite some health problems he's about to release his brilliant debut album. We find out more...
A literal living legend in the drum & bass scene, MC Fats has been around since the development and conception of the genre, before it was even christened jungle. As part of the UK soundsystem culture Fats honed his skills for toasting, hosting and soulfully singing over a set. Two decades later and his harmonious vocal melodies are infamous.
With a discography as lengthy as it is brilliant, he is as well-known as a recording artist as he is a live artist for the biggest DJs.
Today the well-loved artist has sadly lost his ability to perform. We talk to Fats about how these hard times have led to the creation of his two-part collaborative album, aptly named 'We Gotcha'...
This collective project has been born from some tough times. Would you like to tell us a little more, in your own words, about how the album came about?
“This album project came about after I was admitted to hospital for a minor operation on my foot due to my diabetes, which then resulted in complications in my leg. The doctors tried various procedures on my foot and leg which finally led to my leg being amputated just below my left knee. DJ A Sides, aka Jason Cambridge, who is one of my oldest friends in this music game, decided to put an album together as a fundraiser for me as I couldn’t perform and therefore couldn’t earn any money.
I was used to working every weekend, with two to three gigs — then to zero gigs. I have been wanting to do an album for years but it never came together. Lots of people said they would do tracks but it never materialised, but thanks to A Sides and my unfortunate circumstances, it's finally happened. I am doing this interview from hospital as I have had to return for procedures on my right leg, so it’s a difficult time for me.”
How did it feel to have so many artists show their respect and support for you with their contributions?
“It’s been amazing to hear who has stepped up and contributed their time to this album. Most of the artists are people that I have worked with or wanted to work with in the past but never got the chance to, like SPY, XRS, Random Movement, Bailey, John B, Eveson, HLZ & Chef, Calibre, Quadrant and the crew, Makoto, Alix Perez, DJ SS, Break & Die — and the list goes on!”
‘Drop It Down’, ‘What You Don’t Know’, ‘All for You’, the list of stunning tracks which feature your vocals is vast. How did you decide which tracks would be remixed for the project?
“A Sides, Chef and myself looked at what previous tracks we had the parts for, and started going through old hard-drives looking for vocals which had never been used that we felt could be reworked. We then went through a list of potential producers for the remixes, and discussed who we felt could deliver the goods, plus a lot of other members of the extended family started to reach out and offer their services as the word spread about the project.”
Aside from vocals, how much influence did you have on each track? Were contributors given free reign?
“A lot of this album was done remotely, with the vocals being sent to producers, letting them put their own unique stamp on it. So they could do pretty much what they wanted to, but quite a few tunes were voiced at my home after my amputation and were then sent back and forth for approval between the producer and myself to get it right. I had the final say on every track.”
The album features creative talents from veterans such as Dom & Roland to current producers like Command Strange, are there qualities which you find constant in talented producers, regardless of era?
“There are definite qualities in those special producers who can always deliver. I find it's normally the quiet and humble ones who always deliver the goods. There is one producer who I feel has always been consistent in his output over the years and that’s Calibre, he has an ear for great musicality and simplicity, and I have been fortunate enough to have had such a massive hit with him with ‘Drop It Down’ back in the day.”
The second part of the album seems to have more of an eclectic feel, was this a conscious decision?
“The combinations were selected quite organically, but we also wanted to have a good variation on each of the EPs and LPs; we had been waiting on a few artists to finalise their mixes and send them over to us, so it was just a case of putting them onto combination two as and when they were ready.”
For many you are the voice of the drum & bass generation, you've been there from the beginning, but your MC roots go deeper, and you were part of the reggae soundsystem culture. How do you think this has affected your style as an MC?
“My musical foundations from the soundsystem days have given me the skills and knowledge that have allowed me to grow into the vocalist and MC that I have become. I have seen all the vocal styles that have come after reggae, and you pick up influences from all genres over the years and take a bit from here and there, and put your own spin on all of it.”
How would you explain the impact the soundsystem culture has had on drum & bass MCs?
“I feel that without the initial soundsystem culture the role of the MC would not have developed and existed in the way it’s been adopted by today’s culture. It’s moved from reggae and dancehall to hip-hop to jungle, then on to drum & bass, garage then grime. I think drum & bass MCs have now adopted this timeline and the influences of the past and present are reflected in the way they write and perform onstage today.”
You’re known for your jazz-infused scat ad libs. Who are your musical inspirations? How have you developed your unique toasting style over the years?
“It may sound strange but I don’t have any musical inspirations. It all starts with jazz and reggae/dancehall influences, and putting down a vibe and fitting the music, rather than overpowering it and putting yourself in front of the track. Unless you have to record a tune, but even then it’s all about placement to enhance the piece of music.”
Everybody knows Fats and A Sides are the power team. How did you start working together, why do you think this partnership creates such beautiful music?
“Our partnership has been a long road, starting around 1993 or '94, I can’t remember exactly. I remember A Sides being in and around the De Underground record shop in Forest Gate, where we had a studio in the back of the shop. A Sides was making tunes alongside Uncle 22 and Cool Hand Flex, then I used to see him down Romford at Boogie Times record shop and studios, this was where he was from.
I think the first tune we did together came about when Mike James and A Sides were making a VIP for Cool Hand Flex, and Flex called me up and asked me to sing something down the phone to put on the track, and then the connection was made. After seeing A Sides a bit more regularly, we started doing a few events and then more music, and it’s what we still do today.
“Why do we work so well? I think it’s because we can be open with each other — if I don’t like something he’s done or is doing on a beat, I will say it, and same goes for A Sides, and with us knowing each other so well as friends we can be honest and cuss each other with no hard feelings.”
What does the future hold for MC Fats?
“That is one question I ask myself all the time. My main priority is my health. But one thing the future will definitely bring is more music from my label U Understand Me Music, and hearing me on some tracks that may surprise people.
“Big up everyone who has supported me on this project — A Sides, Bailey, Denis Emery, DJ Chef, Squake, Ola and his team, and Callide and all the crew at Cygnus. Peace love and unity, U Understand Me.”
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