Papa Levi, Peter King and Fast Style

Produced by Maxi Priest and Paul ‘Barry Boom’ Robinson, Philip Levi’s ‘Mi God Mi King’ was the first slice of vinyl from the Saxon MCs. Saxon was the biggest and baddest UK sound and the MCs pioneered ‘fast style’ on the mic’.
The choon was first on a Bad Breed in 1984 and stormed the reggae charts, hitting number one spot in February.

“…Mi God, Mi King
Him name Jah-ov-yah
Him inspire me to be a mike chatter
Mi mass wid di mike, round the amplifier
Mi fling way di slackness, cause now a culture
The conscious lyrics yuh a go hear me utter…
So if you are an adult or a teenager,
Seh every day you wake up you’ve read a chapter…”

UK Soundsystems still looked to JA for inspiration and Ranking Joe’s rapid fire delivery on yard tapes had caught on big time. But the Saxon MCs twisted the style to suit local conditions, so Levi’s debut combines righteousness and ganja smoking with couplets such as:

“…Sweetest singer a Sugar Minott
Maddest comedian is Kenny Everett
Dracula turn inna vampire bat
But when he see sun he can’t take that…”

It’s this localism, combined with skillful delivery and wicked reworkings of old riddims (“Heavenless” in this case) which set the pace for UK deejay records for the next few years, and indeed to this day. Papa Levi was at the fore and MCs like Smiley Culture and Asher Senator ruling the mic’ too. Previously in Jamaica, Brigadeer Jerry had been quick on the mic’ but the saxon MCs lifted the roof. The real originator of the style was Peter King, as he told Echoes:

“A lot of English MCs was chatting like yardies, they weren’t trying to be original. I heard a lot of MCs copying and pirating, not entire lyrics – just the style. It all became rather the same … I did the fast style in 1982. People was already coming to Saxon but they used to love the fast style … People from other sounds used to say the “fast style” was bad. They come to me and say “drop it in now”, in the dance so that they could hear it. Everybody was doing a style off a it – just said, well, cool runnings, at least they know who originated it.” (Echoes, 4 May, 1985).

The Great British MCs album came out in 1984

Les Back notes in New Ethnicities and Urban Culture:

“In Jamaica the emergence of toasting was characterized by a schism in “roots culture” between the political programmes of singers and toasters/DJs: “Jamaican DJs steered the dance-hall side of roots culture away from political and historical themes towards ‘slackness’: crude and often insulting wordplay pronouncing on sexuality and sexual antagonisms” (Gilroy 1987: 188). The ascendancy of slackness in reggae music led to the waning of political emphasis in Jamaican reggae, which shifted from the engaged politics of Rastafari to an assertive individualism. It was this turning away from politics in Jamaica that opened a space for English MCs such as Tipper Irie, Papa Levi and Leslie Lyrix to take the musical and oral practices of the sound system and change the agenda on the microphone. The result was a fusion of the assertive style of the “slackness” DJs (Yellowman and General Echo are prime examples) with a grounded dissection of the social consequences of Britain’s economic and political crisis for young black Britons.

New styles emerged that were much more than plagiarized versions of their Jamaican counterparts.”

When the Bad Breed pressing sold out, the tune was repressed on Level Vibes as a 12″. In fact this was a Maxi Priest/Papa Levi double header, with Maxi taking the first cut on each side, Levi following with a deejay version and then the dub finishing up. Maxi’s choon was ‘Sensi’, itself one of the best UK roots records, and then into ‘Mi God Mi King. Levi’s ability to cram more words into a line mean that it actually feels like the riddim is pitched up. It isn’t. His break-out into double speed vocals half way through the track provide the kind of intensity also seen in jungle with its beats going twice the speed of the bassline.

“…Living in babylon as a black man
Well all me face is racialism
When me weak they say that me strong
When me right they say that me wrong…”

The flipside of the 12″, with Maxi’s “Love in the Ghetto” coupled with Levi’s “Mi Deh Ina Mi Yard” is less well known but not bad at all. Maxi’s haunting vocals make an appearance in the background of Levi’s ominous chat about the Brixton riots…

Veteran reggae journalist Penny Reel remembers the demand for the song at the time meaning that all the available record presses in London were running full pelt, 24 hours a day to satisfy demand. “Mi God Mi King” was so successful that it was snapped up by Sly & Robbie in JA, who released it on their own Taxi label. Levi then made history once again when the tune became the first by a UK deejay to reach number one in the JA charts. This was a great moment for UK reggae which had looked to Jamaica for inspiration since the very beginning.

“…True me no check for politician
No care who win the election
Pon the mike me please everyone
Flashing down style and fashion”

British MCs


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