Striking real-life friendships with the people you critique or interview as a journalist can be seen as dangerous territory, and for many reasons. In the music industry, especially, you’re supposed to draw an ethical line between business and personal but, sometimes, energies align and genuine bonds are formed.
This much is true of my brotherhood with T2, the Leeds-born producer behind “Heartbroken”, which is arguably one of the UK’s most beloved dance tunes of all time and a national treasure. I met T2 back in ‘07, the year “Heartbroken” was released, through some good friends of mine from Leicester who had introduced me to the bassline/4x4 scene, a scene which T had been laying solid foundations in before “Heartbroken” officially dropped on November 12, 16 years ago. All piercing synth-lines, wobbly bass and chopped-and-screwed vox, this off-shoot of speed garage gripped the entire North of England in the mid-to-late 2000s, with clubs like Niche in Sheffield becoming so much of a hub that the actual sound was labelled ‘Niche’ by its fans at one point. It was there I got to immerse myself in this rich scene, journeying from either London or Northampton to witness both the club and T2’s rapid ascensions (a time was definitely had).
Featuring the pitched-up vocals of fellow Leeds native Jodie Aysha, “Heartbroken” initially started out life as an R&B song; however, on one fateful night in 2006, sitting in his room in production-genius mode, T2 decided to switch up its entire flow. “By the end of 2006, things started to bubble with the bassline stuff,” he explains. “My name was getting about because I was putting out a lot of music, but I was also getting into trouble for the things I was carrying on with before the music started bubbling. I was on trial and I needed to make a song before I went to court the next day because I thought, ‘I’m gonna get put away for a while, so let me feed the streets before I go.’
“Then I randomly remembered the vocals I had from the song me and Jodie half-finished. I said to myself, ‘Why don’t I just take those vocals and flip it into a bassline tune?’ And because no one really heard it besides a few of my friends that came round to my house, I just went for it. So, it’s just after midnight and I’m at my computer… I had this thing about chopping vocals at the time, so I chopped the vocals first—the vocal chops everyone fell in love with, that was the first thing I did. And the way the record starts, especially if you have the extended version, just that little cool melody in the beginning, that’s all I had: a kick, kick-clack, that little—I call it pizzicato—string, and the vocal chops. I knew it was a madness from that very moment.”
16 years later, and the track is known and adored by millions across the globe—a song which speaks to a moment in time that saw young, Black UK creatives rise up out of their respective ends to show the world what they had been cultivating locally for many years. I caught up with T2 to get the full story behind “Heartbroken”, and to find out why a collab with Brit-R&B star Jorja Smith would make a whole lot of sense.
“We’ve sold more records in the last 5 years than we sold in the first 10 years of ‘Heartbroken’. When you’ve got a song that people really love and can always go to, you get repeat plays when it comes to streaming. So that’s worked a lot in our favour.”
COMPLEX: In all the years we’ve been real-life mates, since our Leicester crew connected us back in ‘07—shouts to Deadeye and Ebz—we’ve never thought to do an interview like this, but “Heartbroken” turning 16 definitely calls for it. How does it feel knowing your breakout hit has reached this milestone and is still having an impact all these years later?
T2: I mean, it’s amazing, but I have to go back because I think you might have forgotten our history, bro. Our first interview was for Dazed & Confused, probably 16 years ago as well. I’ve got a cut-out of the article somewhere on one of my computers. But, yeah, it’s just amazing. The way that people deal with that song makes me forget how old it is, because if we’re really talking about the age of the song, it’s like 18 years old.
Firstly, I forgot about that interview we did—you’ve got a good memory [laughs]. And I actually had a question later on about the track doing the rounds underground before it blew up overground. I can vividly remember hearing it being played, and wheeled-up, in Niche up in Sheffield before it came out commercially.
Yeah, it did the rounds underground almost the whole of 2007. I gave it to Sean ‘Banger’ Scott earlier that year, the finished version, for him to put in his mix CD. I think it came out on January 3rd on his promo CD, and off the back of that, it was just a snowball effect.
The song is pretty much a British national treasure at this point—you’ve got different generations of people who know it word for word. What do you think it is about “Heartbroken” that’s gripped the hearts of the nation?
To be honest with you, if I was able to replicate it, I’d have done it 100 times. The truth of the matter is, sometimes God just picks people or moments that stay near and dear to people. I can’t explain it at this point, but you know them type of songs—like Robin S’ “Show Me Love” or Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It”—I just happen to have one of them. It was the coolest thing to hear on radio at the time. Everything British at that moment was a bit leave it, you know what I’m saying? But this was a cool sound that came through the underground and actually became a pop song, so it was like the coolest thing for everyone to indulge in. And don’t forget: this was before the streaming era. It was hard copies! We sold some units back then and, 16 years later, we’re streaming like crazy. It’s a catalogue record now where it just has a life of its own, where every year you can damn near predict how many records it will sell because it keeps going.
So it’s still selling like crazy today?
Let me say this: we’ve sold more records in the last 5 years than we sold in the first 10 years of “Heartbroken”. When you’ve got a song that people really love and can always go to—it’s a go-to record for when it’s time to have a good time—you get repeat plays when it comes to streaming. So that’s worked a lot in our favour. I’m grateful, man. Very grateful.
Take us back to that fateful night when you created the track. Set the scene for us.
First of all, we’ve gotta go back to how the record actually came about: it came about when I invited the talented Jodie Aysha to my house so we could make some music. I met Jodie through my friend Gavin’s sister, Rachel. And I met Gavin in high school; he moved from another school to my school in Year 10, and me and him just clicked. That was my dawg! And he would back a lot of the nonsense I was getting into [laughs]. Long story short, me and him became tight. He had a twin called Rachel, and Rachel and Jodie were best friends. One day, Gavin said to me: “Bro, my sister sings you know.” I was making beats even back then! So I made a beat and sent it to Rachel and got her and Jodie to write to it. I have to say this on record: Jodie’s pen at that tender age was out of this world. I was like, “What the hell!? This is sick.” They both recorded versions but Jodie’s stuck out more. I loved her vocal tone more and I loved her writing. I was 16 at the time, so this was in 2005.
At that point, I wasn’t really making bassline—I was producing R&B, hip-hop and grime, just being a hybrid producer. When you’re coming up as a producer, you just do anything because you never know what’s gonna work. Especially them times there—there were no proven sonics from the inner-cities up North that worked, aside from the garage era. But the garage era kinda went away at the time, and grime wasn’t really getting love on a commercial level. So the intention was to do an R&B record. That production I made, that’s what she sung over, but she only ended up doing one verse and a chorus. She never came back round to finish the rest of it because, obviously, with R&B records, you need backing vocals, you need ad-libs, you need all types of things. So that was that; we just left it there. The beat wasn’t finished—it was just a loop and it was just her parts over the beat—and we left it as that for probably a year or so. During that year, I was putting bassline out, but I was also living life on the wild side and some things caught up with me.
By the end of 2006, things started to bubble with the bassline stuff—my name was getting about because I was putting out a lot of music, but I was also getting into trouble for the things I was carrying on with before the music started bubbling. I was on trial and I needed to make a song before I went to court the next day because I thought, ‘I’m gonna get put away for a while, so let me feed the streets before I go.” Then I randomly remembered the vocals I had from the song me and Jodie half-finished. I said to myself, ‘Why don’t I just take those vocals and flip into a bassline tune?’ And because no one really heard it besides a few of my friends that came round to my house, I just went for it. So, it’s just after midnight and I’m at my computer… I had this thing about chopping vocals at the time, so I chopped the vocals first—the vocal chops everyone fell in love with, that was the first thing I did. And the way the record starts, especially if you have the extended version, just that little cool melody in the beginning, that’s all I had: a kick, kick-clack, that little—I call it pizzicato—string, and the vocal chops. I knew it was a madness from that very moment.
But I didn’t look at it like it was gonna be a hit because we didn’t really know what that looked like with this kind of sound. Especially being Black, from the inner-city, there was no formula like there is now, so you’re not sitting there thinking, “I’ve got a hit record.” You just know you’ve got something undeniable. So yeah, I finished the record and emailed it to Sean ‘Banger’ Scott the same day. Then, the next day, I went to court—but, luckily, the case got thrown out.
“Big up Sean ‘Banger’ Scott. He played a pivotal part in my career. He embraced me and made me believe I could do it. I was 18 years old and I didn’t have any prospects; I wasn’t in higher education like that and I wasn’t behaving myself in the best way possible, but he made me feel like I could have a career in this thing.”
Then life really started!
Yeah, you could say that. I was definitely happy about it. I was off the hook! I ended up going to a club in Dewsbury on the Friday night. Mind you, Sean’s promo CD came out on the Wednesday, so as far as I was concerned, I didn’t even know if people had even clocked the song like that. Prior to that, I had a few friends calling me saying they couldn’t stop playing it. I’m like, “Yeah, whatever,” because they’re my friends so of course they’re gonna stay on top of what I’ve got going on. But on that Friday night, literally everyone was coming up to me talking about “Heartbroken”. It was weird because it was only out on that mix CD for a couple of days, literally. I had people from out of town telling me that the girls in their ends couldn’t stop banging on about it. It didn’t make sense to me.
Big up Sean ‘Banger’ Scott, though, man. He played a pivotal part in my career. He embraced me and made me believe I could do it. I was 18 years old and I didn’t have any prospects; I wasn’t in higher education like that and I wasn’t behaving myself in the best way possible, but he made me feel like I could have a career in this thing. Even before “Heartbroken”, when I used to send him tunes, he would always tell me that I had something special and that I was gonna do something big one day. His mix CD kicked it all off for me.
Big up Sean ‘Banger’ Scott. Bassline legend! It got to a point where “Heartbroken” hit London and the underground scene couldn’t get enough of it. But how did the track get signed to All Around The World/Universal? What’s the story there?
My first contact with any label-related person was a guy called Phil Sager, who happened to be Sean ‘Banger’ Scott’s friend. He worked for All Around The World. He came to meet me in Leeds, but this was fairly early in the whole buzz of the situation. Mind you, I knew nothing about the music business. I knew how to make money, but I knew nothing about the music business. So, at that point, even me meeting up with an A&R, I’m overwhelmed and a bit sceptical. This meeting with Phil was prior to the holiday season, so then everyone went to Maliga, Malia, Ayia Napa and all those other party islands, and that’s when the southern England side of things got to hear “Heartbroken” because that’s all that was getting played. Every flipping club, every night! So people took it from wherever they went on holiday back to London, or anywhere in the southern region, because anything past Northampton I had on smash.
That’s when this thing became a national thing… I keep skipping certain people—my memory, man—but I hope no one feels a way reading this interview because there’s a lot of stories around this one track. There was a guy called Lewis. Lewis was from the ends. I met him when I was young because he used to do some poetry stuff, and one of my homegirls used to do poetry so she invited me to one of the events and that’s where I met him. Anyway, he ended up working at the BBC—I don’t know what he was doing there, exactly, but he was pushing my thing up at the radio stations. So, even from ‘06, before I started popping off, he had Richie Vibe B playing my songs on radio. I think he’s the one that had DJ Q playing my songs as well—he had a big show on BBC Radio 1Xtra at one point. So I’ve already got tracks like “Why?” bubbling across the airwaves…
—wait. “Why?” was before “Heartbroken”? Oh yeah, it was! I feel old, man.
Yeah, bro! 2006. That’s 17 years ago.
“Why?” was huge in the clubs at one point as well. Bassline classic.
I’ll put it to you like this: if “Why?” would have had the same push, it would’ve been as big “Heartbroken”. As far as the resonance, it would’ve been way bigger. So going back to Lewis, he had my stuff played on radio, so when “Heartbroken” started to blow up—I think it’s probably one of the only records I know that was A-listed on BBC Radio 1Xtra for months before it was signed. Daytime radio. I’m still in the ends every day, but I was on 1Xtra every day. I’m going for a trim and I can hear myself. So Lewis played a pivotal part in that. At one point, “Heartbroken” was the most requested tune ever on 1Xtra.
People are still remixing the song—are you a fan of any of the edits that pop up online? And can you set the record straight on what happened with the DJ Jayhood Jersey Club remix debacle that blew up the ‘net in 2017?
I like some of the remixes—I’ve actually cleared quite a few myself; nothing comes out without my say-so—and some of them I don’t like. Those are the ones you might not actually hear officially. There’s nothing I hate more than a cheesy house remix of “Heartbroken”. Listen: I understand music, I’m a musician myself, and I understand the desire for a musician—especially a producer—to make it. And I understand that, sometimes, you do desperate things to get there. But lazy sample flips aren’t the way forward. I can tell it’s a poor job when it hits my desk. There’s no creativity; you’ve just made a cheesy beat behind it and you try to rename it. It doesn’t work like that. But if you actually did something cool and creative, I’m definitely down for that. And I’d like to say that the ones that I have cleared, they’re very creative and cool. The numbers don’t lie! They’ve done very well. And the Jay Hood stuff...
—didn’t he say that it was his remix of “Heartbroken” that DJ Khaled sampled for “To The Max”, and not your original? Twitter flamed him for that. I hadn’t seen anything like it at the time.
Yeah, that was inaccurate on his part. Me and him straightened things out, though. We had a conversation. People do crazy things in this music business and before I sit there and bash a Black brother that did me wrong but apologised, I might as well sit there and bash what happens behind the offices in the music business that no one apologises for. He was wrong for how he approached things, but I think the damage is already done. Everyone descended on him. I’m not a fan of mob mentality, believe it or not. I might have said one or two things but, honestly, behind closed doors, there are certain things that would rock this industry if I opened my mouth, but I’m too happy in life to do all that. He tried to double down in his wrongness, so when you do that, you’re gonna end up in trouble. That was karma, to be fair. He could’ve reached out to me; he could’ve sorted things out properly and made some money out of it, but I’m sure he’s learned a few lessons from that situation.
On the flipside, was it good seeing how important that tune is to people around the world?
Yeah, I realised people will even take me to war about it [laughs]. National treasure business. The people own it now—not me. It’s not mine anymore. I’m just a custodian.
In terms of what it did for the bassline scene, do you think it helped or hindered its progress?
I think it helped and hindered the scene. The helping element, obviously, it brought a spotlight towards the North of England. I don’t think there’s been a spotlight as bright up North ever since—a sound by us for us. “You can come and join us if you want, but this is our ‘ting.” It showed that we had our own sound and scene going on and we didn’t really need anyone. But it just got complicated because there’s always more than one party involved when it’s a producer-led record. So, like, TS7, he could have got a deal, but he had some complications getting that put together. TRC was having labels looking at him as well, so there were opportunities for everyone but it didn’t always go to plan as it should. I mean, at that time, the climate in the music business wasn’t like it is now; it wasn’t open to anything “urban” flourishing like how it is today. The biggest hindrance aspect is the fact that there were raves happening every week, but I think that “Heartbroken” coming out and doing so well made the whole thing feel like it had peaked. Like, “Where do we go from here?” There was really nowhere to go past that point, a No. 2 hit record.
It’s funny: when I look at the bassline scene today—or, should I say, the “bass” scene—it looks nothing like the one we came up in. There were some real gangsters cutting shapes in the raves back then [laughs]. But it was always good vibes. Do you miss anything about the bassline scene of old?
Most incredible time in my life! That’s why I can do mature things and act like I’m 40-plus now, even though I’m not [laughs]. I’ve literally lived five or six lifetimes. We started early; very early. I’m not the guy that sits there and thinks about back in the day and desires to bring back in the day back. I love my life where it is now. I listen to loads of R&B. I like to drink wine. I like to travel. I’ve enjoyed every phase of my life, but I’m at a different point in my life now. I don’t wanna go raving like that anymore. I make music for the clubs, but I don’t need to be out like that. I’m cool. If it comes back, it comes back. But I’ve never seen a sound actually come back successfully and still retain all the elements of what it was back in the day. So it won’t be as authentic. There have been a lot of garage records out over the past five years, but it ain’t like the scene back in the day. Even though I wasn’t in the clubs in the UKG days because I was too young, I was around to hear the music out and about. The vibe was different. I’m also not trying to take up space where a young talent could be coming through and doing something different.
“I need to get in the studio with Jorja Smith; something great would definitely come from it. We’d make a banger! She gets the sound.”
Are there any up-and-coming producers whose work you’re rating right now?
I’m completely out of touch, I’ll be honest. I’ve just been focused on more of the business side of things. Shout-out Jerome Smalls, though; he’s an R&B artist from Maryland, Washington D.C., who is signed to my label. He’s gonna be doing bits real soon.
What about T2? What are you working on, musically, at the moment?
I dropped a couple things on TikTok earlier in the year and kinda just fell back. Because I’ve been focusing, like I said, on the business side of my life, I’m at a certain age now where you do this because you love it. You don’t do it because you need money. With that being said, I was actually inspired the other day when I got to sit down and decompress. I’m gonna make probably two EPs soon. I’d like to make a house EP as T2, but you and I know I’ve got some house classics already [laughs]. Lowkey ones! And I own the masters to those tracks, too. I love house music. House music is life! The other EP will be something bassline-esque, just for the fun of it. But yo, JP, you need to help me get in the stu with Jorja Smith; something great would definitely come from it. We’d make a banger! She gets the sound.
That would go hard in the paint. I’m actually gonna hit up her team for you.
I love making R&B as well, so if any R&B singers read this and want to work—shout me.