The stranger returns...
In is his first interview in almost a decade, President T doesn't seem phased by the right-now-hype that is knocking grime's door—the scene may well be in rude health today, but his focus is firmly set on strengthening phase two of his career. The North London emcee rose to prominence via Meridian Crew in 2003 and, armed with a melodic, off-kilter and eccentric style and flow, he helped make the outfit one of the most interesting entities in the scene at that time. As a fan, you couldn't wait to hear his bizarre ad-libs on Rinse FM and Axe FM—and it was that lyrical panache that set him apart from the rest. Traipsing across London for pirate radio during his formative years, President T, who last released a project in 2007, with Back Inna Ma Face, has put in enough work on-air for his legend to last a lifetime.
However, after a short stint in prison, the self-proclaimed "stranger" returns to reclaim his spot as one of the scene's top-tier microphone riders. As President T gears up for the release of his debut album, Stranger Returns, Complex hopped on the phone with him to discuss everything from old crew members, namely BBK's Jme and Skepta, to the decline in vets lighting up the airwaves. This is one stranger that you need to know.
Your last full project was Back Inna My Face Vol. 1, which came out eight years ago. What have you been up to since that time?
Basically, I got myself into a small bit of trouble with the law, which kinda held me back from music. Also, I'm not sure if people can remember, shortly after Back Inna My Face—about 4 years after—I actually put out an EP with JS Animal called North Of The Water. That EP was only available for a limited amount of time, though. About a year. I'm still looking to do more stuff with JS Animal in the future. But apart from that, I was just perfecting my style and the President T sound.
Back Inna My Face is in my top 5 grime mixtapes of all time—hands down—but do you feel it gets the recognition and praise it deserves on a wider scale?
I never thought it did get the recognition it deserved, but I'm starting to realise it's classed by the large majority of people as a classic of its time. But I appreciate how much recognition it has got. I know that it helped to set the precedent and the levels for how grime is nowadays. So yeah, I'm happy.
When did you start out in Meridian Crew—2004?
I started in Meridian about a year after it was properly formed, so 2003.
So that's well over ten years ago. Looking back, and comparing it to now, what are the clear differences that you can see in the scene? Would you change anything about today's movement?
The clear difference I can see is that, back then, you'd have to become big in your ends before the rest of the country or the world gives you a look-in. Now, we're living in the internet era where anyone can become a star. It was a lot different back then. It was a lot harder but, to be honest, I wouldn't change anything.
You came up in the pirate radio age when it was all about proving yourself every chance you could get to touch those airwaves. Most of the old guard no longer care for radio and are all about the big shows, and live festivals. But why is that? What happened?
It's because radio's no longer at the forefront of where MCs can get heard. It's direct on the internet now. It's no longer "I got my tune played on the radio." Times have changed. So that's why I think a lot of MCs have lost interest in jumping on radio because there's nothing really in it for them.
I'll always support Skepta and jme. Whatever big things they've got going on, they HAve my full support.
Skepta and Jme. Now, obviously, they started out in Meridian Crew back in the day, and have gone on to do big things with Boy Better Know. Are you proud of their achievements?
Yeah, man. 100 percent! I'm so pleased that two other members from my old camp have been able to progress in their grime career and turn into serious leaders of this ting. Then I look on the other side of the fence and you've got like Big H, Meridian Dan, Bossman Birdie, and myself. We've covered it from all aspects. I'm pleased when I think about. It just makes me keep going myself.
Do you think having that connection with Jme and Skepta, and what they've achieved, has opened up even some doors for you?
I think that the doors are already open for most of the Meridian members coming from that era in grime. So no, I wouldn't say that they've opened any doors for me by knowing them or coming from the same town. But I'll always support Skepta and Jme. Whatever big things they've got going on, they have my full support.
You're now in Bloodline with the previously mentioned Bossman, Big H, Meridian Dan, and Milli Major. Can we expect a group project from you guys soon?
Basically, myself, I've kind of directed my views at the rest of Bloodline and said there's no point, at least for the next six months to a year, for Bloodline as a collective to do any group projects. It's best to focus on our solo projects and when every other member of the camp gets to a serious level then, obviously, it's within our best interests to do a collective project. I'm more interested in doing a Meridian reunion-type project. I've been speaking to Meridian Dan about that and we're definitely looking to make it happen soon.
That would be epic! Even like a one-off set or something. So, your style and flow, it's very original and as D Double E would say: "Never heard that from another individual." [Laughs] Where does your rhyme pattern originate from, like, who and what were you inspired by?
It came from the era way before grime was born, when I was MCing over jungle and drum & bass. I'd describe my style as a mixture of North London Meridian mixed with Manchester and Birmingham. The vast majority of my family are from Birmingham and Manchester—my mother was born in Birmingham—so I was able to adapt different styles and then bring it back to North London and make it my own. I was into hip-hop for a large part of my younger years, though. Biggie and Pac, they were the first who made me want to become something in music. Then that developed into me trying to find my own culture—you know, like, what was going on in my own country. So then it was jungle and drum & bass, with Shabba, Skibadee, Bassman and Trigga, then UK garage, and then on to grime.
Is your debut album, Stranger Returns, done and dusted and ready to go?
All I can say is that the actual release date for Stranger Returns is going to be announced within the next 14 days. I'm constantly working in the studio and I'll be dropping new music leading up to it anyway, just warming everyone up for the massive bomb that the album's going to become.
The fans, myself included, have been waiting for a full body of work from you for a very long time.
And you won't be disappointed! Trust me.
Why did you call the album Stranger Returns though? You're no stranger in the scene. People who really know grime, know exactly who you are.
The album was supposed to come out about three years ago, around the time I took a slight gap away from music, so that's why I initially called it Stranger Returns. I made myself a tiny bit of a stranger, so I just wanted to keep the name because it means a lot to me and hopefully everyone will be able appreciate what I've done with it.