Interview: Dread D Is Back And He's Bringing The Black Ops Crew With Him

Grime heads rejoice!

Image via Vicky Grout

Back in November, T. Williams made every grime head's year by reviving his Dread D alias after just over a decade. For those who don't know, Dread D, along with Jon E Cash, was an integral member of the now-legendary Black Ops crew. Known for flying the West London flag in a grime scene dominated by East and South London crews like N.A.S.T.Y Crew and Essentials, Black Ops were one of the tightest crews around, owing in no small part to the innate understanding between Dread D and his aforementioned partner-in-crime.

Now, ten years on, grime is bigger than ever. The scene's biggest stars are touring the world, from New York to Tokyo, but something's been missing. And that something is Dread D. This year has seen renewed interest in the crew and in West London's grime scene in general. It wasn't that long ago that Novelist spat over Jon E Cash's infamous "War" instrumental. And, as Williams explained, younger grime fans from all over the world are digging deeper into grime's history for those early, raw radio sets on stations like Freeze FM.

Complex caught up with Tesfa Williams to discuss his plans as Dread D, what this now means for house alias, President T, and new material from the Black Ops crew.

Why have you only now decided to revive the Dread D moniker?
To be honest, a lot of things aligned in the right place but the main thing was after touring T. Williams and playing house music in a general sense, I came back from three months of touring between Australia and America and I just let loose on the Dread D sound bank and the results are what you're seeing now. It's a good time for it to come back because grime has had a resurgence and it's more prevalent right now. It was just a time in the studio where I made some grime tracks and it sounded good.

Is there a long-term plan for Dread D?
Yeah, for the last three years, I'd been chipping away at making grime stuff. Now I've made a lot of tracks because I've got the sound right, and have everything how I want it. Maybe not next year, but definitely in the future, there could be an EP or an album. I'm actually releasing a Jon E Cash EP on my own label: Today, Tomorrow Records. There should be a lot of Black Ops stuff coming soon, not just from myself. Next year there will be much bigger projects.

On "Siege 2", we even heard a sample shouting "Black Ops, Black Ops, Black Ops" and then you did a Rinse set with Jon E Cash. So something substantial is coming?
Definitely. Me and Jon E have always kept doing musical endeavors together. It was only when I started T. Williams that we didn't connect on a musical level. Obviously, we were still good friends, but it was always about selling vinyls so it got hard for us at times. Traveling the world, there were loads of times where someone would come up to me and they'd be like, "Yo Dread D! We're crazy about that!" So I had to show him there's loads of people who appreciate what we did in 2002/2003. Now we have that, there's going to be a lot more to come. We're back in the studio so it should be a solid 2016 for us with releases and just doing really cool stuff. Even shows-wise, there's a lot of cool stuff coming.

You mentioned people are going crazy all over the world. Do you think with the younger kids getting into it that they're going deeper and discovering stuff from that early grime era?
Yeah, like if they're 20/21 or even a teenager, they'll come to the show and know that I was Dread D. They've done their research online. Those people usually have a deeper understanding of the house music I was playing. Everyone's doing their research more and more and more, which is cool, because that means people understand what I'm doing.

We've spoken a bit about the Rinse session you did with Jon E Cash, AJ Tracey and Jammz. Apart from those guys, which other MCs and producers are you into right now?
If I could say one MC that I really, really like the sound of, it's President T. I really like his vibe. He's very original. As soon as he comes on the mic, I can understand he's a different guy. So I really enjoy him and what he's doing. In terms of like a whole label, what Tom Lea's doing with Local Action is great, as well as Butterz who're connecting the dots between garage and grime. That's pretty underground UK dance music. Obviously, you have to shout out and respect what BBK have done in terms of bringing stuff forward and all the MCs that are connected to that East London faction of everything.

Speaking of Prez T, did you hear that Stranger Returns is finally coming out soon?
No way! That's what I'm saying! I can get excited about it now. Those big releases that people will wait for.

You're still doing stuff as T. Williams, right?
Yeah. I'm really looking forward to 2016 and flipping it up between the two. The last few years of my life, I've missed that other side of doing something that's just very raw and gritty. I can just let loose and that keeps me stable when I go and curate a house set with my vinyls. I really dig that stuff, but it's much more a case of me sitting down and digging through my knowledge. With grime, it's a lot more natural and I can wile out. I love that; having two sides. The last few weeks have been amazing. I've been playing loads of grime sets all over the country—which I'm loving—and I know there'll be times when I'll get booked to play both house and grime. I've got a lot of friends who'd love to be able to do that, so I'm really humble that I'm one of the few people who can really switch between the two genres and be respectful to them both.

When you were getting back on radio as Dread D, linking up with MCs, was it easy to slip back into or was there an adjustment period?
The first mix on that show, I wasn't in the zone at all. It was weird. That first mix was just me really understanding what I'm playing and really understanding those beats and getting back to it being a natural process. But within one mix, it was like "Alright, I'm back!" I was super excited going down there to do it. And it's Rinse. It's the station we were on back in the day. Having Jon E Cash and the new guys coming and doing it was great. But the first mix was a bit nerve-wracking! I never get nervous, but that was a nervous moment laughs]. I play vinyl every now and again but playing it out to the public was definitely a bit unnerving.

Now, last month you played the Siege launch party and there was a ticket bundle that got you the vinyl and an mp3 of an old Freeze FM set you did back in '03. What was it about that set that you wanted to preserve and bring to people?
Well, it was the first time I'd played "Invasion". Back in those days, I used to share a studio with a crew called Fatal Attraction. I used to switch between going in the studio with them. They were a bunch of MCs with a producer and a DJ and flitting between doing that and going and meeting Jon E, who was an older guy trying to help me come through and bringing the label and the Black Ops crew and everything. So that was the first show where we all got together. It was 2-4am, it was the show where we played "Invasion", it was the show where we all got together as the two collectives. There was another guy there called J Bevin, he was on that show as well with my friend Mark E, so it was the three of us back-to-back-to-back. It was just an iconic show for me and Jon E and West London. It was a pure West London show. That's what it was: it was my good friends, West London, and the 2003 scene all coming together. Even some of the dubs, like we played some very early Plastician. It wasn't just about being Black Ops, it was about playing good new music as part of the scene as a whole. 

Dread D's 'Siege' project is out right now on Local Action.

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