Roisin Murphy “You Know Me Better (Toddla T Nu RMX)
Is Toddla T the skinny white boy dancehall has been waiting for? Will it be the hip new ethnic genre to beat back Baile in America, making him a household name amongst the mavens of mash-up?
If so, it would be a triumph for Toddla—otherwise known as 22-year-old Tom Bell—whose story, on paper, sounds sort of bleak: up-and-coming DJ and producer goes from working at one of England’s best studios to flogging sneakers in a shopping mall. But not so sad, really, as Toddla persevered. Left to pick up the pieces after Sheffield’s Kenwood Studios shut down, he sold soles and contemplated what he has learned after working with the likes of DJ Cash Money and Roots Manuva.
“I’d done a year’s course at a music college, but I didn’t learn much. I got around it because of my enthusiasm to make music,” he recalls. “I got the Kenwood job when I was 19. It was stressful at times, but I learned loads and met lots of wicked people, as well as working with some of my heroes. It was real sad when the studio closed as it had been part of my life for a good three years.”
More of Toddla’s real-world experience involved a kind of DJ apprenticeship under Sheffield DJs Pipes and Chris Duckenfield—famously of SWAG—at a club called Tonic. It was the dancehall stuff they played, says Toddla, that he most responded to. But it was their overall “anything goes” approach to play that has most influenced his own career, particularly on crossover hits like the ravey ragga two-stepper “Fill Up Mi Portion,” taken from the The Do U Know EP.
“These days, genres don’t mean shit to me. The DJs around here have always played across the board way before it was in fashion to do so. Now I also love house, garage, techno, some indie stuff, soul…but think dancehall has more cultural relevance to us here in the UK, as Jamaican culture is very prominent.”
Will America go for it? Only time will tell. Until then, he’s plenty busy at home, playing big clubs like Fabric and Turnmills, collaborating with Tricky, Roots Manuva and the Metros, and working on material for 1965 Records. Besides, getting time off from the shoe store for a US tour might be tough.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” he laughs. “And it’s funny because I’m not even a shoe collector. But I want to continue working at the shop for as long as I can. Working here is just a good thing to do a few times a week, and give myself a little break from the music.”