Essentials are the crew that disprove any claims that Grime was a purely East London phenomenon. The South London collective are one of those grime collectives that had numerous street level hits, and were all over the pirates (in their case DeJa Vu FM,) but never had a break out signing. As a result they have remained slightly under appreciated by the current generation of kids getting to grips with the 2004-2007 golden age. This is partially down to the piss poor state of music journalism- with a few notable exceptions (Hattie Collins, Chantelle Fiddy and Joseph Patterson immediately spring to mind), most people currently in senior writing and editorial positions spent the early noughties either misunderstanding grime or ignoring it completely- at best, it was devolved to whatever XL supported, or the handful of tracks that made the Run the Road compilations. Now the grime scene is blagging Mercury nominations once more, I've seen quite a few people who emphatically weren't buying the 12"s back when it mattered scramble over themselves to show how they'd always been loving it. Hey ho. ANYWAY. All this means is that a crew like Essentials, who churned out some serious hits, has stayed unsung for too long. This is as good a place as any to rectify that.
It's always tricky to put a definitive line up on any grime outfit, as memberships were always pretty loose, but I'm gonna agree with the line up Discogs offers, of MCs 2 Face, Jendor, Kidman (aka K. Dot), N Dot E, Remerdee and Snipekeedo along with producers DaVinche and Bossman. These last two were the Essentials secret - they were both head and shoulders above most of the kids churning out Pulse X knock offs - DaVinche in particular had a vicious way with a string sample, creating beats that were riven with tension. You can hear it on the classic Essentials debut 12" Doin It Now - this track also featured a chorus built from calling out South London place names, a trick that Nikki S would go on to copy on Southside Allstars a few years down the line to great effect - to be fair, both K.Dot and Remerdee from Essentials were part of the Southside Allstar supergroup, so the lift feels more like a homage than a straight steal.I've got no idea how much one of the Doin It Now 12"s is going to go for when it/ if it should ever appear on Discogs again, but I'm willing to bet it'll be a fuck sight more than the £20 it went for last time it sold...
Coming out in 2003, Doin It Now has fair claim to be among grime's very first wave. As with most classic grime, it was instantly recognisably as a DaVinche beat, in the same way that Wiley's or Terror Danjah's were instantly recognisable - at this stage no one was entirely sure what the sound was - or even what it was called (note that the 2003 Sidewinder awards had a category for "Best Grimey/Sublow Producer" - for the record, Wiley won it, Jon E Cash came second).
Doin It Now came out on Paperchase. Discogs has this as DaVinche's label, I believe wrongly - I'm pretty sure that Bossman started Paperchase up (in fact DaVinche suggested such a thing in an interview earlier this year, shouting out Bossman as being the business brains behind the label). Paperchase as a label was remarkably consistent, and deserves a column all of it's own - once I've tracked down Bossman that's gonna happen. Listen to another DaVinche production on the label from 2004 - this is a serious oriental banger- the Timbaland influences are plain to see, but it all comes with that nasty, rough edge that keeps it UK rave ready. Also, how has this track only got under 1000 plays?
And talking of rough edges.. I don't think Essentials themselves made a single tune that wasn't a total aggy tear out. Jenny, which is a story of love South London style ( for real, "linked her Brockley - took her to Catford" has got to be the least romantic line ever written) is a stone cold killer, Essentials dropping lines about getting caught up with the same girl over a creeping, paranoid beat that constantly threatens to drop into a proper rolling 2 step rhythm.
The closest Essentials came to a full scale hit was with State Your Name - the obviously knew they had a hit on their hands because someone forked out to create a video that went into high rotation on Channel U. With military style CGI laid over the shits of the crew, and a song structure that's taken influence from the army training scenes in Full Metal Jacket as much as anything else, State Your Name is unashamedly relentless from the top. K.Dot's opening bars are fucking incredible, and, for my money, amongst grime's greatest opening verses. The "North de-dot-de-dot..." roll is just pure fire - it's the sound of the consonant battering flow that was created by bashment MCs and appropriated by jungle MCs, being definitively claimed by the new young kings. The tune was big enough to score a remix featuring grime royalty Kano, D Double, Crazy Titch, Storming and Bruza - but I'm still gonna prefer the original - here they are side by side.
Somewhere around this time Essentials got caught in a beef with Lethal Bizzle's Fire Camp. I've been trying to search through the internet mists for a decent version of events, but I'm coming up with nada and it's late. As far as I remember, parts of Essentials felt that the Fire Camp chorus on the track No was a straight rip of one of their own. This was complicated by the fact that Bossman and 2 Face were involved in Firecamp (2 Face appears on the Fire Camp track and Bossman remixed it for Fire Camp Records) Essentials responded with their own version of No, released through Bossman's Bossman Dubz label, where they go in on Fire Camp. I have no real idea what on Earth was going on here, and if any readers want to fill me then I'm all ears. What I can promise is that both cuts are absolute tear outs, and as fine an example of on-record grime beefing as the mid 00s could provide:
Essentials finally ran out of steam around 2006. Jendor went on to form Lewisham crew OGs, who have remained active to this day, and can often be seen appearing with P Money and Blacks. Meanwhile DaVinche (who had his biggest hit away from Essentials when he wrote Ps & Qs for Kano) went on to produce for grime a-listers before teaming up with Bossman once more under the name of Perempey & Dee, the duo dropping the UK Funky banger Buss It in 2008, as grimey a take on the house sound as you could hope for. They followed it with In The Air, a smash by UK Funky standards (which, to be brutally honest, means it was played on pirates in London - the wider country never really got Funky), In The Air is memorable for having one of the strangest videos in Funky:
Until Bigshot decides to reissue the Paperchase catalogue (or at the very least make it available on digital...) Essentials are best remembered in their element; tearing it out on radio. Thankfully the internet provides, and there's at least a couple of sick sets from 2004-05 that can be enjoyed in all their rawness. Check this set on DeJa Vu - apparently their last - for maximum grime joy...