Reprazent is a collective. Roni Size is the force that drives it, but it's the combination of distinct personalities, eccentricities and musical approaches that make it work. Each member is a creator in their own right. The producers: Roni, Krust, Suv and Die. The emcee: Dynamite. The vocalist: Onallee. And musicians: bassist Si John and drummer Rob Merrill.
The visionary and primary energy source, Roni is utterly focused on his mission to spread the gospel of new music. Krust is the rottweiler (self-proclaimed) - bigger, louder and possibly more dangerous. Die is the joker, the games and tricks man, and he plays with sounds the same way. Suv is shadowy, a quiet storm. And Dynamite is the original soldier - rocking the mic for days, hyping crowds, holding his team-mates sets together, and now holding his own on full vocal tracks. Onallee is balance - she articulates soul and brings a female essence into the mix.
Based in Bristol, Reprazent represents - amongst other things, the black, primarily West Indian communities of their home town; the uniquely British festival tradition of free love, fields and fuck-ups; a dad's Studio One collection; a mum's Pink Floyd records; rave culture; pop culture; sound systems; oppressive systems; ghetto life... Add to that the irrepressible funk, rare groove then hip hop that poured into the UK from black America. And the fact that Bristol is a fairly grey, post-industrial corner of England's West Country, offering very little to do - some rebellious experiments in sound begin to take shape.
Krust and Roni have been making music together since '92, and as part of the Fresh Four, Krust and Suv had a hit in 1990 with their hip hop version of "Wishing on a Star". In 1993 Roni and Krust set up their own independent operation - Full Cycle Records. Since then, through that label and through Bryan G and Jumping jack Frost's V Recordings, the Bristol team have fired a stream of consistently floor-smashing releases at the jungle/drum'n'bass dancefloor.
Countless club classics under their belt and heroes in their own world, at the time Reprazent signed to Talkin' Loud, no-one outside of that world had heard of them. A major label deal was a calculated move to take their music to a wider audience. And having continued to maintain their presence on the underground with prolific releases on Full Cycle and V, Reprazent have managed to negotiate an essential freedom to create in whatever arena they chose - consequently getting rewinds at the rave and played on radio one at the same time.
The first album, New Forms, was released in 1997. It captured a moment in British dance history as eloquently as any seminal piece of work has epitomised its context. As if to confirm that, the virtual unknowns - 16-1 outsiders up against the likes of Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and the Spice Girls - won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for New Forms a couple of months after its release, and have sold 600,000 units since. The prize was a signal to the world that drum and bass was a music to be taken seriously, and that breakbeat innovations taking place on the fringes - in bedroom studios, on pirate radio, on independent labels - were worthy of wider attention and respect.
Reprazent were achieving their goal of exposing drum'n'bass. The live show was step two. On sell-out tours Reprazent created on stage the sonic power of the club experience and combined it with the energy of live performance - harder than it sounds. The group won several awards for their live performances.
It's 2000 now. Another moment, and a second album â€“ In The Mode expresses all that Reprazent has learnt and absorbed in the last few years. As the sound of the British urban underground has escaped the UK's shores and been embraced via nascent scenes across America, Europe and Japan, so the influence of a whole world of urban music is more explicit in the new album than it was in New Forms. As uniquely British as it is, In The Mode is also a record that reaches beyond any one scene or space, connecting more dots and communicating all that is exciting in different strands of urban music. As Roni puts it: "You can hear the hip hop but it's not hip hop, you can hear the r'n'b but it's not, you can hear the pop but it's not, you can hear the rock but it's not... You can hear all the elements but it's none of those things."
In The Mode is also a piece of work that is very much about exploring the potential of vocals. Dynamite is a powerful presence throughout the album, emceeing on 5 tracks. Onallee graces two. Featured collaborators are Method Man, Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine and Rahzel of The Roots. Lyrics, rhymes and words are clearly discernible, deliberately high in the mix: "I want the vocals to be as loud as the kick and the snare," says Roni, "I want you to be able to hear the bass in Onallee's voice." But musically, the points at which vocals stop and the rhythm and sound of the track begin, become blurred. Take Center Of The Storm, featuring Zack de la Rocha, a production that takes you exactly where its title suggests: furious but articulate, Zack's delivery matches the driving, emotional chaos of the track, each element in the mix rising to the challenge of the other.
Still very much about drums and forward motion, Reprazent remain the dons of the tear-out bass-line and that steppa bounce. But this record is deeper and more textured than what's come before, layered with sounds and rhythms that rise, circle and disappear - only to regroup and return to the fray. This is the work of a team that has immersed itself in the technology of production - constantly refining and developing the sonic art. Punky thrash attitude, funk and dancehall posturing - it's all represented, but broken down and reconstructed with energy and confidence that moves the music beyond any one of it's influences, into a totally new realm.
Ultimately Reprazent have created a personal record that listeners should not be afraid to get up close and intimate with. It has been designed for the stage, for people to join in, feel part of, sing along... It has been designed for your car, for you to bounce to, rewind and rewind again if necessary, till you know it. Reprazent have managed to create some unity out of the diverse influences of a generation, and in doing so, usher in a future generation.