Cotti (Sum Ting New / Bass Face / London) Interview: Dubstep, Rap, Money + Music

[Photo by Megan Jolly.]

To Cotti, music is music, he’s not just interested in dubstep. But that’s his home, and he works to keep the genre versatile. The producer and rapper came up bringing a heavy reggae sound and grime element mixed in with his dubstep. Growing up in a family partial to reggae and starting his own musical journey as a grime emcee, this all comes as no surprise. As of late, he’s been heavily influenced by hip hop, and has even released a free mixtape through his Sum Ting New label featuring his own vocals on most tracks paired with a number of other emcees. The South London native came to New York last weekend to play at Bass Fueled Mischef and talked to us about the influence of money on music in the UK, pirate radio, diversity of sound in dubstep and more.

[Cotti - "Calm Down feat. Doctor" | Bass Face Records, 2008.]

What’s your setup?

I use Reason 4, Cubase, a USB keyboard, Triton sound station with Korg and that’s it. A couple of VSTs, a load of Reason plugins and I’m good to go. I use more Reason refills than VSTs to be honest. Most of the time I choose the sounds by random when working on a tune. Unless it’s a specific idea I’ve got. But I do have a load of sounds I’ve tweaked and saved them down and I use them a lot. For DJing I’ve recently been using CDJs more than turntables because it’s the way the music is going now. I’ve been using dubplate acetate vinyl since like 2000 when I cut my first one. I used them up until 2009 when I started using CDs more. I haven’t pressed dubplates lately, but that’s not to say I won’t again.

What inspired your move into the free mixtape game?

It’s just the culture. You guys do it over here, and we do a lot of it in the UK as well now. It’s a way for me to get more music out there too. Because as a dubstep producer, I probably have like two or three releases a year, so that’s not really much material getting out there. And it’s a way to get different types of material out there. Stuff I might not be known for. Like people might not really know me for hip hop. I’m not just into dubstep man. I’m into music.

How long does it take you to make a track?

I’ve been known to make a whole song in like three hours from scratch. Write the instrumental, write a chorus and verses, and the whole track is done. An instrumental can take like an hour. All that’s left is mixing.

What makes for a good vocalist?

There’s a couple key points. Number one is versatility – you’ve got to be able to handle different types of beats, different music. Creativity as well, like what you’re saying. And originality, with word play and flow.

So you’re a fan of Big Pun?

He’s just a wicked lyricist man. The way that he flowed? Like wow. And the way he put his words together?? He’s just well creative. He wasn’t just saying the same average bullshit. He was being quite creative. A bit flashy and that, but creative. He was popular in London back in my day when Capital Punishment came out. But I think Fat Joe is probably more popular because he’s more commercial.

[Cotti - "The Truth feat PMoney and Jammer)" | Sum Ting New, 2011.]

Is it still the case that being a DJ helps producers trying to come up?

Yea. Loefah from DMZ gave me the idea. Chef, too. They were really into to productions. And they said you should really DJ to get yourself out there. Then they invited us to come play their night, which was our second gig, and I never looked back.

What role did pirate radio play when you were coming up?

I think pirate radio was a very important part of it. I spent maybe four years on pirate radio. I’d test my early productions on there. Get my DJs to play them and we’d spit some bars over them and then maybe we’d take them home and tweak them. I’d take my crew up there, there’d be about six of us (four emcees, two DJs). And we’d decide based on the reaction of the DJs and the other emcees. And obviously we’re on air, and people are locked in. People would call up and text. We’d have the phone line poppin, like text, text, text. Like hundreds of texts for a two hour show.

What’s replaced that role?

I personally think the whole music industry has changed and it’s affected everything, not just pirate radio. Not just underground clubs and labels. It’s all money motivated now. Business oriented. Pirate radio has gotten pushed to the back. Mainstream radio kinda got a few DJs in, and they’re trying to cater to the underground. Somehow they’ve locked off all the good underground radios. I don’t know what’s happened. It’s gone from underground to overground. It’s a good thing and it’s not a good thing. It’s good in the sense that more people can listen to it, it’s more accessible to the masses and there’s a chance to make a living off of it. But the worst aspect of it is that anybody with money and a couple of links can just step into the music scene in the UK now, and you’re the top boy. Just because of money and who you know rather than talent, which is a real shame. There’s so much shit out there these days.

[Cotti - "Long Time Coming" | Bass Face, 2011. Photo by Megan Jolly.]

Does having a grime element help you stand out?

It did, but not anymore, because people with a lot of money came along and are doing the same thing. They put more money into it and get more exposure. Competition is fierce now. Dubstep and grime, they’re basically the same scene now. They’ve been taken over by groups of labels or people, and they’ve kind of just cornered the market. It’s all about money now. Three years ago, it wasn’t like that. 2008. You could just make a really good record and then use the internet to get people all around the world listening to it through places like dubstepforum. But now there’s a million dubstep forums. There’s a million dubstep producers. The only thing that’s really separating people is money and PR. It doesn’t seem to be about good music anymore, which is sad. You got so much shit music right now and the kids are going crazy for it, because it’s the latest thing, the new fad.

Do you think dubstep has lost it’s versatility?

No, I think it’s still versatile. I mean, what most people are listening to isn’t – that brostep, noisy kind of bullshit. But that doesn’t mean that’s all dubstep is. You got so many aspects of it. You got people like Cluekid, who I don’t really work with anymore. He’s got a jungle vibe to it. Then you’ve got people like Coki and Kromestar. They’ve got a mid range kinda thing going on with their tracks. And recently I’ve been making some hip hop influenced dubstep. And then there’s like the original reggae type of dubstep. There’s loads of influences that make it versatile. I think brostep is the biggest right now though. And it’s still another part of it. But don’t get stuck on one bit.

Do you see much of a difference between brostep and the metallic mid range sounds from London?

If you’re asking is there’s a difference between Skrillex and Coki, then yea. Hell yea. Coki’s stuff is more coherent. It’s more of a vibe rather than just hype. The brostep seems like it’s all about getting excited. Like who can make their track do the mad craziest thing. Music’s not about that. To me, music’s about what can give me the good vibes. It’s not all about the mayhem. I can’t explain it, you’ve just got to come and listen.