When talking about UK mcs, the name Navigator definitely will come up at some time. He is one of the most prolific jungle/ d&b mcs, he toured the world with the Freestylers and he speaks almost perfect German. These are a few facts I know about Navigator but there are even more things I don’t know. That’s why I sat down with him for a little history lesson.
Please tell me about who influenced you to get into music as a career.
Lone Ranger, for me, that M16 album, that was definitely one of those cornerstone albums in the history of Navigator and my music knowledge. M16! And before that, my most memorable album ever is Tighten Up Vol.1 (on Trojan), ’cause my dad had that album – the tune with the Uniques on there, Children watch this sound, that was the tune on there! “There is sumthing happnin’ here which isn’t exactly clear, there’s a man over there, tellin’ me I’ve got to beware…” That fucking tune is sick, blud! Sick!
For me, reggae music is the ultimate! When I was a kid, there was no reggae. Can you believe that? That’s how old your boy Navi is! I’ve seen reggae creeping in, I’ve watched Bob Marley blow up. I watched people like the Beatles blow up, I watched all of those things that happened in the 60s, the Kinks, Rolling Stones… I watched it go down. And then the reggae came in! For me, the reggae music and the dub, that was it, it was peak! That’s the ‘ting! And then, when the mcs started, when the whole ‘ting changed from the U-Roy ‘ting – you had people like Lone Ranger, Kingston Hot dropped with Josey Wales, King Stereograph, U-Roy, Charlie Chaplin, all them old school riddims, all the Studio 1 stuff, all a dem classic 80s riddims. Yellowman came, Yellowman and Fathead… I used to like Peter Metro, I used to like Welton Irie, Johnny Ringo, Supercat, Early B., John Wayne, Jim Kelly, ’nuff man don’t even know about Jim Kelly, he used to kill it!
My favourite period is, I’d say, from 1980 down to ’87. Because of all the different sound systems like Killamanjaro, Gemini, Jah Love, Socialist Roots, Black Star, Black Scorpio, Youthman Promotion, Volcano, Metromedia – these were the sounds that I was listening to. Then it progressed and Jammy’s came in at about ’85 and the digital era started. When that started, it refreshed dancehall. It was a new sound again. Sleng Teng came out and then it just changed to that electronic sound. Sleng Teng just revolutionized the music ‘ting. It revolutionized reggae music, it revolutionized dancehall.
People like me have been fortunate enough to have been there and watched that whole process, the whole development of music and to see the turning points, to witness them actually happen, take place, see the music go into a different direction. So, yes, I’d say from ’80 to ’87, ’88 was the best time. I wasn’t earning more money then but that was the sweetest times I ever had ’cause every party was a boom. The music was killer.
You’re from North London, right?
I was born and raised in Walthamstow, right across the road from the college, 2nd of August 1963. As soon as I got to 16, I left school and moved to Tottenham. That was the beginning of Navi. When I left school I started the whole ‘ting with sound systems. My name back then was Specky Ranks. Every’ting was live, it was never in the studio. I didn’t go into the studio for the first ten years of my career, because I was just running around with sound systems. That was the direct access to your fanbase. Making fans, getting people that like to hear you, other sound systems hearing you and liking you… I started on Faze 1 and eventually I build my own sound called Virgo and then I made another sound called Unlimited Music with another guy and later I joined a sound called First Choice who used to be Black Star Liner back in the day. I didn’t get along with the other mc and so I left there and then I joined Fatman. At the time Unity had already started. Basically, Fatman had trained Ribs as a selector, and then Ribs went off and did his own ‘ting (with Unity).
Around ’81, ’82 I started working with Fatman. Then Charjan and Jack Reuben fell out with Ribs, left Unity and came to Fatman as well. When I saw them come on the mic, I was like “I’m not working with them man deah”, because me and them man had beef. Them man dem never used to like me even though we were from the same area. So I told Fatman that I couldn’t work with that and he said “Nah, man, everyting bless. Specky, just come man, just go up on di mic, every’ting bless man” and me say “nah, man, mi nah go up on di mic cah dem man deah nuh like mi and mi nuh like dem neither.” It made no sense. Mi just left.
I was friendly with Deman and Flinty (the Ragga Twins) who were already on Unity and Deman somehow got a message to me that they wanted to recruit me for this sound. So I went down to a club, did a little ‘ting on the mic, Ribs heard me and he was like “yeah man, he’s alright.” That was it, I was in. That was around Christmas 1985.
Who where the main artists on Unity?
There were Kenny Knotts, Richie Davis, Selah Collins, General Boogie, Mikey Murka, there were quite a few people that used to come to the sound but the main men used to be me, Deman and Flinty… Richie Davis was like fam because he used to go out with Deman and Flinty’s sister… Kenny Knotts… Selah Collins, I brought him in, so we had three singers and three mcs. We used to smash it man, we used to smash it, we used to kill every’ting!
Did you put out any records around that time?
When I was in Unity, I went to the studio on several occasions and I never got to record. Me bring singer deah and singer get fi record. Mi nuh get fi record. It was peak for me, man. I started getting pissed off. I was feeling like I was getting pushed to the back of the pack. But every time I got on the mic in the parties, I was smashing it…
In 1987 we won best UK sound system award in Black Echoes (a music paper). We killed it so hard, it was big! Then in 1988 I went to Jamaica for like six months and when I came back, I left Unity ’cause I realised there was a fraud business going on. I wanted to make money and I wasn’t making no money. I left because I couldn’t hack the way I was being treated. I felt like there was money being made and I wasn’t getting my fair share of it. We definitely had fans, me, Flinty and Deman, they used to come just to hear us. We used to play pretty much four nights a week: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On a Sunday afternoon, before we’d go play wherever we were going to play, we got like 30 pounds. 30 pounds each! For four days work, not no hour performance, you know! It was peak man, I was pissed! I already had kids. My first son was born in 1985. I can’t go running around like a fucking punk and then go home and I ain’t got nothing to eat for my kids them. I was trying to explain that to Ribs and then his wife came and she told me “I’ll make him listen to you.” But I was already gone. In my mind I had already left. I had to make a decision. It was hard, ’cause, obviously, that was all I knew. I only knew sound systems and reggae and nothing else. That’s how I left the sounds and I stepped off at the top.
I was just fortunate to have been there right from the beginning, because I joined Faze 1 in 1980. I left school in 1979 and in 1980 I was already in Faze 1. So for those 8 years of running up and down with sound systems it was beautiful – clash dance, youth centre, community centre, house parties, birthday parties, christenings, every weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Every weekend! There was always a christening on a Sunday. Always! Somebody had a kid and so there was a christening. Bare liquor drinking, bare weed bunnin’ – from when I was around 16 until I was 26.
Obviously, leaving the sound system wasn’t the end of the Navigator story. What was your next move?
The Ragga Twins left Unity about 1990, something like that, and got signed straight away by Shut Up & Dance. They did the Reggae owes me Money album and then they drew for me. I used to go around with them and come on and introduce them. They’d go and do the show and I’d go up there with them and be in the background and just back them up.
That’s how the whole rave thing started for you?
That’s how I got into the rave ‘ting. Exactly. And then we started going to parties. I used to go to all the parties they used to do. We toured Europe all over, I was doing PAs with them and in them times Rebel was there, Tenor Fly was there, Screechy Banton (Jah Screechy) was there, all them guys that had the big tunes. Them times them was big. The Prodigy was killing it. They was like the newest ting. The Prodigy, Shades of Rhythm, SL2…
We were just going from party to party to party to party to party… The Ragga Twins would do their PA, they’d collect their money and they’d be like “there’s a next dance going on down deah”, you know”. So we used to roll… It was just raves, loads of them, there was raves everywhere, man. Loads of people, like thousands of people. When the Roast parties started, we started going to Roast. Those parties were smaller, more intimate. I liked that. There was a reggae influences in the music. Before that it was just bleeps and I wasn’t really feeling the bleeps. When I went to Roast, I heard b-line for the first time, like We are I E (by Lenny de Ice), 28 Gun Bad Boy (by A Guy called Gerald), dem tunes dere. When I heard them tunes I was like “that’s what I’m talking about!” That style of music started to get played more and more and more. The Roast promoters were booking djs that were playing that style of music and when they moved from Turnmills down to Linford Studios it was a wrap, that was the start of jungle.
DJ Ron & Kenny Ken @ Roast – Christmas 1991
I joined Kool FM and then I did one Jungle Fever and that was it, it popped off! It was straight into getting 100, 150 pounds a gig. That was good. And obviously, the music blew up in ’93, ’94. In ’95 came the drum & bass and then I started working abroad a lot more, I started getting like 500, 600 pounds, 750 pounds. When it went to the Freestylers, it just went to another level. It was grands after that. I’ve been to Asia, I’ve played in Jamaica, I’ve been all over America, I’ve done Thailand, I’ve done Singapore, I’ve done Malaysia, Japan, Canada, so many places.
So things really started to change at the end of the eighties…
Those times, there was a big change. I saw all of these switches. All a dem. The sound system kind of faded out as soon as you got into the ’90s. That was the start of the raves and the ending of sound system as we knew it. RJR started off, Station FM, all them little pirate stations, they’re still going. Supreme, All them people are still going.
It was still acid house when I started going to dem parties. And then the hardcore came. After that came the jungle and this all happened in the space of two years. The change from acid house to hardcore to jungle happened in the space of two years. From 1990 to 1992. The beginning of jungle was in ’92, that was when you really started hearing the jungle sound coming through properly. And in ’93 that was when it blew up big. In ’94 we was everywhere, bruv. I was everywhere. Jungle buss big time!
The first time I heard you was on a recording of One in the Jungle. How did you get on the BBC?
The Kool FM 3rd birthday bash was just ridiculous. Astoria (a venue in Soho) road block! And I’m sure the BBC must have heard about it. They must have realised the massive potential and the fanbase that the pirate stations were getting. They wanted a piece of the action. So they decided to record a series of pilot shows for BBC Radio 1. I was asked to come down to audition, they liked it and then I got involved. We did a couple of shows and then they got it together and got a regular slot. I just used to get calls all the time by Wilbur (BBC) asking if I’m about, because somebody couldn’t make it as he had a gig that night and that’s how I became one of the most regular presenters on Radio 1 between ’96 and ’98. They tried to drop it like a pirate vibe. That was what they wanted to do, innit. They wanted to bring that fanbase to national mainstream radio. And I think they did succeed to a certain extent.
What’s so special about London?
London, it’s just a different vibe in London, it’s not the same. You can’t even compare it. Rave culture in Germany is different from the Rave culture in England. Even if you go to a drum & bass rave, the people who go to a drum and bass rave in England are different from the people who go to drum & bass in Germany. England is just a madness. People do what they want. If they’re on it, they’re just on it. That’s what I like about England. People are free even though the system is trying to imprison them, enslave them. But the people ain’t on that. They ain’t having that.
Jungle, drum & bass, dubstep, UK bass, breaks, dancehall, hip hop, grime, any genre you can imagine in the UK, if you’re a part of that genre, your name is big in the UK. And you can go out there and get work. That is what London is. And that is how I see the way I progressed as an mc and as an artist. Through London underground music that was made in London by London producers. The parties were a London ‘ting, The pirate radio stations, the whole ‘ting deah, that is what carried my name to the heights to where it went. That’s what nurtured my name. That’s why I stick close to the underground.
But when jungle buss in London, it wasn’t a minute before it spread. You got Birmingham, you got Manchester, you got Nottingham, you got Leicester, Coventry, Liverpool, Newcastle. You can go to any city in the UK and you can go to a jungle night and it will be bad. It’s the same thing now, you can go to a night with underground artists in any city. People know the names and they’ll turn up.
When I look at music in the UK, I don’t just look at production, I don’t just look at parties, record labels or things like that. I look at the ravers, I look at the mcs, those ravers are the next mcs, they’re gonna be on that stage in a minute. Them same ravers are the next producers and the next djs. Because they’re up there looking at you, thinking “Wow! Look at them man deah, them man is big in the game!” You give them hope! You give them inspiration to do something. They feel like they are a part of something, that they could actually be successful at something. The UK government doesn’t give that kind of potential or hope or belief that anything is gonna happen for you apart from going slaving, paying taxes, paying your rent. You can buy your little ticket so that you can travel and whatever is left over, you drink two beer out of it and put some food in the fridge and that’s it. If you’re a successful drum & bass dj, you’re going out doing five gigs every weekend for 500 pounds. That’s 2.5 grand in your pocket. That seems like a more feasible thing to be doing because you can be earning ten grand a month and you can be actually doing something that you enjoy doing.
A lot of rave mcs never made the step from being a rave mc to being a recording artist. What do you think is the reason for this?
I think a lot of the rave mcs just listen to what Skibba, Eksman and all them guys do and they try to base their style around that. When you’re in the studio, it’s a totally different thing. Many rave mcs don’t get it. They can’t really make songs properly. They can spit good, they got good bars, the timing is incredible and they do this fast style and everything . They do sound good, yeah, but to actually make a song is hard for somebody who comes from a rave mc background. It’s hard to go into a studio and actually spit a song, ’cause they’re just on the straight bullit, bullit delivery in one tone. Their problem is that the bullit delivery is too fast. People don’t understand it and there’s no melody, there’s no hook or something that people can hook into. It’s too hard and it’s too straight. That’s the problem most people have got with that ‘ting in the music industry. I’m gonna tell you this straight, I think personally, that in the UK, drum & bass mcs are bottom of the pile. Any other genre of music is getting a lot more respect than the drum & bass mcs. The drum & bass mcs are like some likkle Mickey Mouse nursery rhyme ting.
And what a lot of them are doing is technically based on the double time reggae chatting from people like Papa Levi back in the days, right?
Yeah. They don’t even know the origination of it, trust me! They don’t know the origination of this ting. They need to know, man!
Don’t just think that one day there were these guys and they were like superstars! Don’t just think that it was these guys that came out of school and started putting mixtapes out and all of a sudden they got big record deals! There was years of breaking down this stereotypical viewpoint of what London street man was like. If you go back to the days of London Posse, Rebel MC and all dem people there that got deals back in the days, Demon Boys, Roots Manuva, Skinnyman and all dem man there, originals! Tony Rotten! These are all people that were instrumental in breaking down the barriers. It is a ragga hip hop ‘ting cause all them original mans that was doing hip hop in the UK from back in the day were all soundboys. All of them. Rebel had a sound, Rodney P and them had sound…
I would always have to side with reggae because that’s my origination and I think that reggae music is the foundation of everything. Every new music since the 60s came from reggae. That vibe… There was no hip hop! Jamaicans went over to America. Kool Herc…
… was Jamaican.
Yeah man, people have to know that shit!
Them days was different compared to what it is today but if it wasn’t for them days, what’s going on today wouldn’t be happening. My thing with the jungle ‘ting, is, they are like yeah, they are junglists, but they’re dissing the reggae side of it. They’re not giving reggae its props. That’s the reason why I side more with reggae and reggae dancehall. Jungle is good but the reason why jungle’s demise came is because a lot of people had exploited the artists in the reggae scene. They took their music, reproduced it, sampled it, made things go on and these reggae artists weren’t getting paid. When they found out what was going on – I’ve heard stories of them turning up in the distributors and saying we want 50 grand now and pulling out guns and shit like that. That’s the reason why people started to get shook and started to pull away from that whole jungle vibe because they saw it as threatening.
What would you consider your biggest achievements?
My biggest achievement would be what I did with the Freestylers. My first track I put out was Iniquity Worker and it went on the Jungle Mania 2 compilation and it sold 100.000. So I’ve got a gold disc for that. That was a big achievement for me. Even though it was some compilation. Roughneck got put on a Ministry of Sound compilation and that sold 300.000. So I got a platinum disc for that. I’d say those were my main achievements, getting a gold and a platinum disc for my work. And obviously, Iniquity Worker was my first ever release on a record label and I got a gold disc for that. What more could you want, man? And I ate food off of that.
Let’s have a quick look at the present. A simple search on Youtube shows that you are still keeping yourself busy. It looks like there is a video to every tune that you are involved with.
If you ain’t got videos, nobody is taking notice of what you’re doing unless you got your shit getting bashed on the radio. But that’s not gonna happen, because if you’re not in, you’re not in. And if you’ve got good PR, it’s gonna cost a shitload of money. Like five grand for three months and that’s sort of cheap. And if you get PR from one of these little drum & bass labels, 350, 400 pounds and they don’t do shit, they just take your money and laugh at you.
Right now, I’m just working, trying to get some new product together. The next thing is this Runaway track. I’ve got that with a video, I’ve got a hip hop tune with SMK called “It’s nothing” and then I’m gonna start on some solo stuff. I’ll do a joint release of “Nobody can judge me” with Bad Monkey Records and my own label, On Dis Ting.