Custom Search 1

From Battersea to the Brits: So Solid Crew, we salute you

TRENDSETTERS: So Solid at the Brit Awards in 2002

THERE HAVE been those who tried to hate, imitate and replicate them. But 12 years after the release of their chart-topping 2001 single 21 Seconds, So Solid Crew remain, without question, the UK’s best-known garage collective.

Their whirlwind career has featured success and scandal in equal measure, though it was the latter that tended to earn the south London collective the most headlines.

But amidst the drama (granted, there was a fair amount of it, but we’re not going to waste column inches rehashing the crime-related tales that can easily be found on the world wide web), is a story of a groundbreaking collective, who defied racial and social stereotypes to become trailblazers in the British music industry.

With members including Megaman, Harvey, Asher D, Romeo, Lisa Maffia, Swiss, Kaish and Oxide & Neutrino – to name just a few – So Solid amassed a huge fanbase, top 10 hits, a lot of money, and several awards – perhaps most notably the 2002 BRIT Award for best British video for 21 Seconds.


SOLID SUPPORT: Harvey (left) and Megaman at The Voice office

Now preparing for the release of their new single UK Hot Wid It and a UK tour next month – but insisting that their latest comeback, which commenced earlier this year with an epic concert at London’s IndigO2 – will be short-lived, MCs Megaman and Harvey both expressed excitement at the reunion of the much-loved collective.

“It’s nice that the boys are back together,” Harvey enthused, as we sat in The Voice boardroom, where the pair had come for the interview.

“Many of us still see each other but I think the strange thing was all of us being together in one room – all the originals together. Before that, it had been about seven years since we’d all been together.”

Surely it had to be hard to reunite a group of over 30 members. Didn’t schedules clash?

“They’ll always clash,” laughed the ever-enthusiastic MC. “We’ve all got our own businesses and our own lives. But myself and Mega had the meeting with [entertainment agency] William Morris in January of this year, and Mega was like, ‘we ain’t got time to ramp – when are we doing this concert?’ So we had the meeting in January and the concert was on March 21. And when the tickets went on sale, they sold out in a week.

Harvey continued: “To arrange a date for the concert, we were all just in a group email. We came up with a day that suited everyone and that was it. Obviously you’ve got big characters and different egos in the group, but ultimately we all respect the brand, because that brand fed people. Simple as that.”

The So Solid brand really did feed people – lots of people. A far cry from your average group, which might include five or six members, So Solid boasted an overwhelming 30-plus members, who each reaped the financial benefits of the crew’s success.

But perhaps one of the most interesting facts in the So Solid story is that founding members Megaman and G-Man, were the only members of the crew who were signed to a label – and yet, as Megaman explains, every member of the crew was funded by the label.

“Two people – me and G-Man – were signed to a record label, in order for the crew to provide an album,” recalls the crew’s head honcho, who’s laid back demeanour was like the yin to Harvey’s energetic yang.

“So the business side of So Solid was me and G-Man, and in the end, it was the label and the publishers that were looking after everyone else [in the crew] – who weren’t even signed to them. That’s unheard of! A label won’t fork out money for someone who they don’t have a contract with – crew or no crew! It just doesn’t happen. But it happened for us.”

Recalling the moment their debut album They Don’t Know was released and the time came to get paid, Harvey says it felt like Christmas.

“I remember when the album came out and Mega brought the cheques in an envelope – it was like Christmas! He had cheques for like 30 people – everyone could go on holiday and travel first class that year! And when I think about it, he could’ve just looked after himself because the first initial deal was his deal. But the So Solid deal enabled me to get signed to Polydor and have my own deal.”


THEN: (l-r) Megaman, Lisa Maffia and Romeo in 2002

The brainchild of Megaman, who had ambitions of forming a successful group, So Solid – the core of which hailed from Battersea, south west London – put in a lot of groundwork before mainstream success beckoned. From handing out flyers to appearing on pirate radio stations to promote their brand, a lot of underground work was put in.

“People came to know the faces of the members they saw on the TV screens, but before that, it was a different set of people who began the process of building the brand,” says Megaman. “It was while we were going around flyering that we’d have to call one or two artists, like Harvey or Swiss, to come and help flyer. So before there was a cheque on the table, there was a lot of groundwork.

“And at the time we were putting in that groundwork, there was no vision of, ‘I’m gonna get signed if I flyer today.’ Or ‘I’m gonna get signed if I emcee on Delight FM’. There was none of that in our minds because there was no-one before us who had set that blueprint for us.”

Both Megaman and Harvey believe that both youth – some of the crew’s members were as young as 15 when So Solid began promoting themselves – and a lack of guidance from elders in the industry, is what led them to earn the notoriety they did.

Loathed by many who feel they signaled the demise of the garage era with their money-driven mentality, Megaman says that older garage heads should have stepped in to guide them rather than fighting against them.

“When people didn’t want us on their station, we set up our own station. When they didn’t wanna put us on a feature with those who had their own label, we set up our own label. When they didn’t wanna put us on a rave, we did our own rave.

“But what those more experienced industry people should have said to us is: ‘I see where you’re going with this, but we need to guide you because we need you to understand that garage is our passion.’

“They could have given us access to what they were doing and guided us along the way, but they didn’t. So when it was time for us young Battersea boys to make a decision as to what we were gonna do, it was a case of: ‘No-one’s gonna let us in, so let’s do it ourselves.”


HIGHLIGHTS: So Solid backstage at Reading Music Festival in 2001

Still, Megaman feels that older music heads trying to curtail the success of aspiring artists – particularly those who seek to evolve a genre – is nothing new.

“In genres that came before garage, there were always people who wanted to lock down a new movement – we get that. There will always be people who want to keep a genre for a selective audience, but doing things that way doesn’t allow a genre to expand or allow those involved to make money quickly enough.

“What I saw with garage music was that yeah, it was fun and you could jump on stage and DJ, but I felt that it could be bigger than that. I felt that garage could be translated to people all over the world.

“So I decided to take what I learned from genres like reggae, soul and R&B – the feel and the emotion of music – and put that into a real structured song. And now, we’re the only platinum-selling garage outfit in the world. To have the Brit Awards and every award we got nominated for, subscribe to garage music – it was a big deal.”

Harvey believes that the success of So Solid led others to try and imitate their formula.

“[Garage collective] Pay As You Go tried to use our format,” Harvey says. “Respect to them, coz they’re our friends. But they did [the video for their single] Champagne Dance and got a light-skinned guy to look like [So Solid MC] Kaish! [Garage trio] Heartless Crew had never put their voices on plastic – they were rave MCs. But then they brought out an album.

“What we did was inspiring. I think we made a lot of people think, ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’ We broke a lot of barriers. If in 1999 we’d said we were gonna achieve all that we did, people wouldn’t have believed us. It seemed unreachable. But yes, boys from an SW11 council estate can win a Brit Award.”


WINNERS: So Solid collecting their Brit Award for best British video in 2002

Considering the secret to the success of So Solid, Harvey says with a smile: “South west London is a golden area you know! I think we were just ahead of our time. A while ago, I was having a conversation with [UK MC] Chipmunk and he said, ‘You lot were streets ahead.’

“When I think back to the video for 21 Seconds…don’t forget, I didn’t know much about making videos and all that, because I’d come from the football world,” says Harvey, who had played semi-professional football before embarking on music pursuits.

“So when Mega starts telling me he’s gonna put everyone in leather and because I’m energetic, I’m gonna jump over a fence in the video, I thought to myself: ‘What’s this bredda talking about?’ I was like, ‘Bruv, are you serious?’

“I didn’t know what a record deal was or anything about making a video. So when I saw the video – and remember, we did a premiere of our video in Leicester Square!”

Megaman chipped in: “It was released like it was a movie,” before Harvey continued: “It was just like a movie! I have to admit, at the beginning, I didn’t see Mega’s vision for that video, but in the end, it was mad. When I first saw it, I said to my mum: ‘I look like a Hollywood star!’”

Reflecting on the group’s many successes, amongst them for Megaman is the fact that they showed how powerful black British music could be.

“I think one of the things we did was highlight to ignorant Americans that there are black people here in the UK. And not only are we here, but we can create brands and shut down stage shows just like American acts could. We came into this industry for the business. We signed to companies via So Solid Crew Productions and we maintained creative control over what we did.

“So looking back now, people have to acknowledge that we weren’t a bunch of reckless black kids. How could a bunch of reckless black kids set up an organisation at the ages of 14 -18, set up their own pirate station, register their own company and do their own raves at the same level as Garage Nation?”

Referring only briefly to the criminal activity that some of the members were affiliated to, Megaman feels that the positive side of the So Solid story is worthy of far more note.

“We made mistakes and you can bring up all the negative things. But if we recollect exactly what happened in our story: The success of 21 Seconds, a platinum album, we scooped up awards. Even if you forget about that, what else did we do for the culture? How many other artists were signed after us? How many other businesses were created because of the power that So Solid presented? [BBC] 1Xtra, Channel U, Flava.


NOW: Romeo, Lisa Maffia and Megaman all grown up

“When we came out, in terms of radio we only had Radio One for support. There was no 1Xtra to support our music. Alright, we had access to Choice FM and some DJs, but we didn’t know about being on station’s playlists. So Solid pinched the industry so hard that it realised how much money could be made from this type of music.”

And now, Mega says he wants his brand to continue making money – for young and upcoming artists.

“This [comeback] isn’t us saying ‘we’re back and we’re gonna create 10 albums for you.’ No, this is the end of So Solid as a collective of artists. The initial plan for So Solid was to continue to bring artists into this business. Hopefully in the next 10, 20 years, we’ll still be able to do that.

“We brought out 35 artists – in one go! We achieved a lot in doing that. Apart from the sales and the awards shows, these young teenagers generated a lot of money, and they were then able to go to record labels and negotiate their own deals. We want to continue pushing young talent.

“When you look at the communities we come from, the unemployment rates have soared even higher than they were before. We want to encourage young people who might not be academic that it is possible to fulfill their ambitions, whether in music or business.”

Harvey adds: “We’ll always continue to bring new artists through, but as for the brand itself, we’re not gonna get old like Run DMC and still be performing on stage!”

Looking at his crew’s 12-year journey, Megaman believes that it’s only with hindsight that others have come to appreciate So Solid’s legacy.

“I think over the years, people have begun to appreciate what we’ve done. Every artist that came into the music industry after So Solid thought that it was easy; that all they had to was get a top 10 then it was game on.

“But they slowly began to understand the attitude you need to have with these labels. Sometimes you have to be stern and you have to know the business side of the industry. It was at that point in their careers that a lot of artists have said to us: ‘Boy, I’ve gotta give it to you guys, coz you didn’t just do it for one man. You did it for a whole team of people.’”

And for that – as well as pushing the boundaries of black British music and bringing joy to a generation of garage-lovers – So Solid, we salute you.

UK Hot Wid It is out on September 16, available on digital download. So Solid will embark on a UK tour from October 13. For more information visit www.sosolidfamily.co.uk

Facebook Comments