Exclusives Interviews 21 April 2022

GRM Exclusive: Toddla T Discusses The Key To Longevity, His Forthcoming Album ‘Out:Side’ & More

21 April 2022
Toddla T

Todda T is one of UK raps most precious background figures. He is one of the most prolific DJ’s in the UK, producing, remixing and hosting while seemingly effortlessly juggling the hectic fun carnivals and festivals around the lives of his two young children. Besides parental responsibilities, Todda T has lent his soundscapes to the likes of Roots Manuva, Skepta, Burna Boy, Stormzy and Headie One. His unabashed passion for the arts, combined with a deft attention-to-detail has woven him deeply into the fabric of British rap and pop. His sights are now set the upcoming release of his new collaborative album with Grammy nominated sing-songwriter Runkus, entitled Out:Side. GRM Daily caught up with the platinum selling, Oscar nominated star producer to discuss all things music and life.

Let’s start in Sheffield, tell me about your upbringing

“Sheffield’s amazing, I think it’s got the biggest retainership of university students. So, statistically, people who move there don’t seem to leave. And I think the reason that is, is because it’s like uniquely warm and humble. 

“It was a great place to grow up really, even though it’s big in terms of population, and like scale, everyone seems to know each other. So that comes with pluses and negatives, of course, but in terms of trying to get into music, it was quite welcoming, because a lot of the people that I naturally met would give me strength. So quite a long story short, growing up as a young one, I guess I just fell in love with my own taste of music aged eight or nine, which was hip-hop and rap.

“My cousin gave me Biggie Smalls’ Ready to Die on cassette. My next door neighbour lent me a Public Enemy album. And then I discovered pirate radio and the radio unwrapped show. I just felt so in love and comfortable with those sounds. That I just remember being a kid at secondary school, ten or eleven years old, just being uniquely obsessed with listening and being comforted by music.

“A bit later, I discovered MTV Raps, which was the only way that I could see rap. Because up until then, I’d only heard it. So that was the time when I started to see it. And I saw DJs behind the  rappers, and I was like, “you know what, maybe I could be that.” So that was what kind of inspired me to start. And yeah, that kind of like progressed and started saving for turntables and out buying the odd record. And then when I finally managed to get the two turntables and a mixer, I had a little bit of a record collection. And that was the start of the quote unquote musical journey.”

I heard you live in London, and I seriously couldn’t imagine settling outside of the place I grew up. How’ve you enjoyed it? 

“Compared to Sheffield, it’s a completely different thing you know. It’s just my experience from being outside of coming in, it’s like, everyone seems to be very much on their grind. They’re very singular, and like tunnel visioned. Whereas back home, there was a bit more oneness you know. But that’s not just London. That’s just society in general a lot of the time, but I just think it’s emphasised here, because you know, it’s harder to make money and there’s less chance to slack.

“Now there’s less time to think of anything besides what you’ve got to do to survive. But I guess I’m saying in a way, being in Sheffield was a luxury in the sense that it’s an easier life, with more time and more space for expression and experimentation; not just in art, but in life.” 

It’s no mystery that you’re connected to reggae culture in a very unique way. What are your earliest memories of the genre? 

“Well, it was blasted over my next door neighbour’s wall from as young as I can remember, their Jamaican accents, and Jamaican sounds and Jamaican smells. And I remember when we used to kick the football over the wall as a kid, and we used to go and get it from the neighbour, it was an experience within itself. My neighbours were from Jamaica, first generation Wind Rush era. So, the accents were super thick. The music was loud, the charisma was and still is, you know, super colourful and beautiful. Even though there was just a wall between us, it was like a different world.

“It was only really when I was like 15/16, and started going out to raves with proper sound systems and rigs and selectors and all that, that it kind of really hit home how strong this music was, and how powerful and brilliant it was and the atmosphere that it created in the party. But sonically, it just sounded better than everything else that night too.

“But also as I grew older, and really immersed myself in other genres, I just realised it all came from that place. Like jungle, grime, house, it’s all born out of sound system culture. Everything that we consume, in my opinion, whether it be something really obvious, like a big jungle record, or a TikTok eight seconds drill record, we trace it far enough back and it goes back to the sound system ethos of reggae, dancehall culture brought to the UK by the West Indies.”

Which of your titles do you feel most connected to and why? 

“I went through my twenties going mental. DJing at every rave, playing at every radio station, producing for any artist and just going mad drinking my way through it. But I had my first child at twenty eight  and realised that wasn’t sustainable. I figured if I carried on like this, it’s going to come at a cost;  whether that be my physical or mental health or even my children.

“So I asked myself: “What do I think is beneficial to the infrastructure of my family, and what can I grow old into?” I felt like production was the one thing that would really work, I can grow old with it. Also, as you well know as someone as a young man who’s really immersed in seeing in the last five years, UK rap is at a new level. When I first started buying records, British rap was kind of a joke.” 

Tell me about how you & Runkus met? 

“Well, it was funny, because I was DJing loads and I had just released my first album, I think it was around 2009? At the time, there was this mix show on BBC Radio, the One Will Be Essential mix, and at the time, it was THE mix to do as a DJ. And as I’m promoting this album, someone in PR somewhere got me that gig, which was a massive deal to me at the time. So I put in loads and loads of work into this mix. And it went out and got like some bonkers reception.

“I think it’s because at the time, dance, music was a lot more linear. But because of my musical upbringing, it was just a bit of everything. And I think that resonated at the right time. Off the back of that one of the bosses at 1xtra asked me to do a 10 minute demo to see how it works on the radio, then about three weeks later they offer me a show at the BBC. I literally fell off the sofa. Strangely, it was never part of a plan to be on radio, or even like media personality.

“Fast forward years and years, and it had begun to feel a bit sparse in terms of Jamaican music on the air. When BBC 1xtra started going to Jamaica, they took me, which was incredible. To be honest, those trips to Jamaica were career highlights for me. Because as a white man from Sheffield, going to a record shop to buy these 45’s and being blown away by this music – it all felt so far away from where I was at that time in my life. I never thought I’d go to the place where it all started. So I’m literally in downtown Kingston, with the artists I grew up on, which is incredible, right? It’s hard to explain how amazing those experiences were. I went with 1xtra for four years in the past, and did loads of monster freestyle sessions.

“And then one year I did decide to roll out the new kids, because one of the things that I really liked going there to do was discover new performers. So one of the times, there were three artists: Royal Blue, Runkus, and Show Crime. As soon as Runkus touched the mic, I was like what the hell is this guy on. 

“Because to me, it was like he was fully new, I’d never really heard anyone flow like that, or juggle or anything, but he was just constantly referencing parts of his culture that were really deep. Just all these like real deep, references that I’d not heard in Dancehall in a long time. But he was fully new school, but it all had a great nostalgia about it. Anyway, he shouted me about a year into the pandemic about doing a mixtape together, and I was like 100% bro, you’re incredible.”

What was the process of creating the album like?

“Making the music actually became way more sophisticated. We spent about a year on this project, and we produced it together with some other producers involved in certain places. I tend to work on average nine to five because of my kids. He’s not really getting going till 7pm his time. So I get home and I try and do dinner and all that, sort the kids out and then he’d call all excited. So it was kind of like this juxtaposition on my life. So it was a bit challenging in terms of time. We got there in the end. And it’s been the most it’s been the most amazing experience, because he is obviously just so incredible. The way he thinks is truly unique. With the messages he’s putting out in the music, I honestly just feel so blessed to be a part of it all.”

What was the most challenging thing about creating this album

“It was just the time, or not being in the room with him certain times. Like the way I tend to work in my studio is I get people in and they spit, or they play the guitar or whatever. And I’ve got it you know, and then we can work electronically after.

“But when my kids are kicking off about their dinner not being warm. And the Wi Fi isn’t great, It’s awkward. You know, that was the challenging bit, but we made it work. And the technology is amazing. And now we’re going into the actual next phase of like trying to put it out and give it strength. It’s like the next muscle in terms of trying to do stuff remotely.”

What is the key to sticking around for so long? 

“Great question. People ask me all this all the time. For me, it’s weird because like I said, at the start of this conversation, just like being bizarrely obsessed with music and sound, from as young as I can remember, it sounds really hippy, and a bit vague, but I couldn’t do anything else. So, in a way, it’s like, no matter how much resistance or bad times there are, I just end up back here because I just need it in my life. So, I think it’s that drive of really, really caring that’s made me stick around. If I didn’t have this job, or this hobby that turned into a job, I wouldn’t really know where to go in life or I’d probably be doing something that I didn’t really care about. And that’s the type of thing you slip in and out of.

“Like, I’ve made decisions in my career that have 100% been business with a business intention. But I’ve never gone “I’m gonna make loads of hits and make loads of cash” – I’ve just done it loads and things have happened. That’s mental. Right? So I just feel like Look, even if everything dried up tomorrow in terms of people stopped wanting to work with me, I’d still have this same setup doing the same thing as much as I can. So I guess in short, the key is actually caring, you know, you can’t just phone it in like other jobs because it’s music, it’s real life.” 

Are there any other genres you’re eager to experiment with? 

“What I’m exploring right now is the Latin scene, the South American scene. I went DJing there before the pandemic and did a mini tour in Brazil. And it was mad! Because the music that the local DJs played after me, reminded me of two things: It reminded me of reggae and dancehall. The reggaeton was a no brainer, I’ve always thought reggae music and reggaeton were like cousins, stylistically.

“But then the baile funk, which is more like their version of grime or drill is programmed very differently, but it’s got the exact same energy. It’s really sparse and hard. And then the MCs, I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, but they sound HARD.

“So when I came away from that experience, again, back to the UK, I was like, I would love to try and get involved with that sound at some point when it felt right. Long story short, again, fast forward a few years I’ve been working on some productions with some producers and artists over there. And it really isn’t that dissimilar to what I do. It’s just the artist on top of it is speaking Spanish a lot of the time, so I don’t know what they’re on about but the character of them is so brilliant, so I don’t really care what they’re on about.”

Be sure to keep it locked on GRM Daily for all the latest news and features. If you missed the last edition of The Architects check out our in-depth conversation with Donae’O right here. Let us know on the socials who we should have on our next instalment of the series!