Poet in da Corner: From starting to Stop DatPublished on Tue 18 Feb 2020
In the final blog of our four-part series with Debris Stevenson and Jammz, we look back to the beginning and hear how Poet in da Corner began five years ago.
Tell us about the origin story of Poet in da Corner – where did it start?
Debris: Me and Jammz have known each other for 10 years, and the first track I made for the show was made with Jammz five years ago. At that time I felt there wasn’t the same avenues to grow as an artist in the earlier career stages in grime, especially financially and I felt that that was really wrong. I felt that some of it was rooted in the massive injustices of how we perceive quality and education and great art in this country. Largely that Western colonisation of what we see as ‘skilled’, and ‘educated’. So, it really started from me wanting to fuck that up. I was teaching thousands of young people creative writing, performance and event coordination as life skills back then with a company I had set up called Mouthy Poets in Nottingham. I just felt like I’d done all this good stuff but what about where I come from? What about my parents? What about my friends? What about the ends? I felt like I’d run away from a part of myself and I had a duty to come back.
And that moment is literally what bore the show?
D: Yeah, and like the scene in the show with the boy outside my house actually happened, and I also used to cover Dizzee tracks a lot at my shows. I used to do Fix Up, Look Sharp with a friend of mine, Franx Franklin, who used to play the guitar and sing. I knew all the tracks back to back and I then thought what if this was an academic exercise? The first draft of Poet in da Corner was jokes and was like 200 pages long. It had all the metre, all the rhyme schemes annotated in it, and I’d be like “this relates to this Dizzee line because of this”. Many of the tracks in Poet in da Corner have the same flow and are based metrically on the Dizzee tracks. Then, I approached Jammz with this hilarious idea. Stop Dat was the first track that we ever wrote, which isn’t the track now that it was then, but I was like let’s try it. I worked with different MCs on every track. So, loads of MCs, loads of producers worked on the show – there is a list of them all in the playtext preface! 5 years later, here we are!
Meanwhile, Jammz, what were you doing in the bit before working on Poet in da Corner and the Stop Dat track?
Jammz : In 2014, I had just got my first adult job working in a trading company and I was doing music at the same time. At this time my music stuff was picking up, so my work life and music career was mad. I didn’t tell anybody at work that I was doing music. Crazy stuff would happen, like I’d use all my annual leave by February to go and do shows. I remember when I toured with Kano and I had to tell work a mad lie, and it got to a point where physically my body couldn’t hack it anymore. I was going to work on a Wednesday morning, flying to Ireland on a Wednesday night, and while all my friends were going out partying, I’m getting the plane back at 6am to go to work again, and getting changed into a suit in the airport. It was madness. So yeah, at that time Deborah kind of came to me and said she was working on this project about Dizzee, and asked if I could come and help and write a song. I was doing a show with Kano in Nottingham, and me, Deborah, and my DJ Jack, we all wrote the first tune together and from there, it kind of developed. A couple of months later, Deborah met me on my lunch break, and I remember she said “You’re going to quit your job one day” and I was like, “Alright… maybe.”
D: It was so baffling to me that you had a full-time job like that. I know so many other artists across other art forms that are doing full time jobs that don’t put in the work that you put in, that don’t have the skills that you have, and it always baffled me. How could a grime artist with this skill, at this level, not be doing it full time? There’s something wrong, if that’s the case, I felt very strongly about that.
J: I think at the time work was a safety blanket as well, but it got to a point where I caved in one day and said to my manager “Look, I’m a musician, I do music, I’m going on tour to Australia next month.” and they looked at me like, he must be chatting shit. Then I showed them the articles written about me and my music, and they said “Oh wow. Amazing.” and that was it. At that time, Deborah was going through the process of having meetings at the Royal Court and I never had the intention of becoming an actor as I thought I’m not an actor, that’s not my trade. So I came to the Royal Court one day and by that time we’d written a couple of songs and I had actually started to contribute lines for my character, SS Vyper. We did a reading one day and Hamish Pirie and Vicky Featherstone were in the room, and we read it and Vicky was like, “Yeah, you read that so wonderfully. You might as well act in it.” and I was like “Okay. Sick!” And that’s how I ended up here.