Pre-dating the experimental grime movement of the mid-2010s, D Double E's Jammer-produced "Birds In The Sky" was the trip-hop-leaning, Asian-inspired masterpiece that was sonically way ahead of its time. Released in 2003, vocally, the lo-fi cut showed off the grime legend's choppy, idiosyncratic flow in a way that—in my opinion—is still yet to be matched. A classic in every sense of the word, another key element of "Birds In The Sky" is the eerie tones that weave in and out of the emcee's confrontational rhymes and otherworldly sonics—which add to the overall haunting and menacing vibe of the track.
After years of trying to find whose vocal this was, it was through a random post of the song on Brit singer Phoenix Martins' Instagram that revealed she was the one behind it all along. Currently taking on the pop sphere with her from-the-heart songwriting and soulful vibrations, Complex caught up with Phoenix Martins to discuss what it was like working with D Double E for one of the grime scene's most loved, and cherished tunes.
Which part of London are you from?
"State your name, cuz." [Laughs] I'm from the East End of London; Hackney, E9.
How did you and D Double E connect for "Birds In The Sky"?
The connection was through Hyper—big up N.A.S.T.Y Crew! I can't actually remember how we met, but I remember telling him I was a singer and that I was studying tap, ballet, street dance and other subjects at Sylvia Young Theatre School in Marylebone, Central London. He asked me to sing something over the phone, which I did, and he said he liked my voice. Hyper always used to look out for me and when the opportunity came up, he called and I went into Jammer's studio which was a very insightful experience to have at such a young age. Kano was there briefly working on something separate; he was very sweet, and said I had a good voice and wished me good luck with everything. That experience meant a lot to me, and to have all of their support was amazing as I've always looked up to them—and still do.
Were you a big fan of grime before laying down your vocals?
I most certainly was! I spent a lot of time in Bow E3 at Devon's Road youth club, and I remember watching the grime scene take shape with crews like Ruff Sqwad and artists like Tinchy Stryder, Dizzee Rascal, Prince Rapid and many other up-and-coming MCs, DJs and producers who'd be at the youth club every day perfecting their craft. I'd never seen anything like it and the dedication was always, and still is, 100 percent. I also wrote a few bars back then but thought, "I'm a girl and grime is a boys' thing", even though there was an amazing set of female MCs blossoming like Stush, Shystie, Lady Leshurr, Lisa Maffia and Ms Dynanite. I guess I was just too shy at the time.
I saw you post about this song randomly one day on Instagram and most of the comments were of shock. Did you ever imagine you'd be part of such an iconic track?
I didn't imagine or had no idea "Birds In The Sky" would have such an impact, which makes it even more special and such a blessing to be a part of it. And yeah [laughs], when I posted the track I thought: "You know what? I've been a massive supporter of the grime scene from day one, so let me show my support even further." When we were in the studio, back then I could feel it was a good track when D Double's flawless delivery mixed in with Jammer's sick, minimalistic production. It worked perfectly. I had no idea, though, what it was going to become; I just felt it was such a good tune at the time and remember hearing people play it everywhere, but I was too shy to say it was me on the track.
Have you kept in contact with D Double E since?
We did briefly, but then it was getting busy for the guys and I started touring with some other artists so we lost touch. I heard the tune on Deja Vu and other underground radio stations bare times, and I was given a vinyl, but nah, I haven't spoken since. It would be good to catch up, though, cos he's such a good guy. They all made me feel welcome and even asked for my input on the track.
Aside from "Bird In The Sky", what are your other favourite D Double E songs and why?
There are so many, but I'll give you my top 5:
1. "Bad To The Bone"
2. "Street Fighter Riddim"
3. "Bluku Bluku"
5. "Dem Tings Dere"
I feel that all of D Double E's lyrics are vastly descriptive and also touches on profound feelings which continuously dare to challenge and say things that most of us are thinking, but are not as brave as Dee is to say the words out loud. "Shocking emcees like Blanka!" "Don't make me get old school!" Classic bars right there [laughs]. It's like having a history lesson when listening to Dee's effortless play on, and with, words. He really is a genius.
I would sing on a grime track again, yes. It's funny, because I've just finished MCing on a grime-inspired track, which will be out very soon. R&G is most definitely on the cards, too, as all these genres are a part of my musical foundation, which will never not be a part of my life and the music I create.
What's next for Phoenix Martins?
What's next for Phoenix Martins? Hmm... Well, I've just started work on my first album, which is very exciting. I'm also working with a group of teens, helping them to develop their music careers as it is important for me to give back to the community that has done so much for me. A trip back to the motherland, Africa, to make some music over there, is also in the works. I just want to keep moving forward, really.