wax Poetics

UK Apachi with Shy FX

“Original Nuttah”

Released 1994
record label Sour
Written by Paul Terzulli

Original Nuttah
Original Nuttah

A record that could only have come out of London. UK Apachi’s distinctive vocals on the anthemic “Original Nuttah” came to represent the jungle explosion of ’94 perhaps more than any other record. As infectious as M-Beat’s “Incredible” but with more energy and a streetwise edge to it, the track caught fire and hit the national Top 40 in October 1994. The combination of the Goodfellas sample and horns on the intro leading into Shy FX’s rapid-fire breakbeats and Apachi’s infectious dancehall chat made for an undisputed classic.

UK Apache: I’m half South African, and my grandmother was Nelson Mandela’s first secretary, so from an early age I was around revolutionary people that were involved with the ANC and the anti-apartheid movement, and that influenced me in listening to certain types of music.  I was born and raised in London as an only child, and it was quite rough in the streets. There was a lot of National Front things going on, and it wasn’t the multi-cultural society we have now, it was very difficult. I was mixing with some white English people, but they didn’t really look at you as being proper English, so you’d be almost scared of your identity at that time and wouldn’t feel proud of it, so I was still finding myself.  The Black people were more accepting, though. There were Jamaicans living in my neighbourhood, and I got introduced to reggae. I would hear people like Bob Marley, Papa Michigan and General Smiley, Lone Ranger and all these reggae artists. Bob Marley was a big influence on me because reggae at that time was representing the people and singing about justice and the fight against the system. That connected to me and my South African roots, so I took to reggae, I became friends with some Jamaicans that had come to the U.K. from Kingston and Spanish Town, and we built up a sound system. We used to play a lot of parties and clash each other. I loved the Jamaican culture, and I would walk and talk like a Jamaican, but I was a Ja-fake-an!  

Back then jungle producers were mostly sampling and didn’t really make tracks with full vocals. Coming from reggae, writing whole songs was what I did. Some producers wanted to get into that and start using live artists. I was sharing a flat with a singer called David Boomah and Sam came to me with a Shy FX track called “Gangsta Kid.” I listened to it and was singing bits of “Original Nuttah” in the gaps, as I’d actually written the lyrics about six years earlier. I used to bunk school and invite my friends from the sound system around, and one day we had a video camera, and they filmed me doing a version of “Nuttah.” This was in the late ’80s. My friend Juxci, who ended up having a big record with 2Play called “So Confused,” said to me that the tune was absolutely mad. I never did a reggae version of it, but when I heard the jungle riddim, I knew it was the right time for it.

I told Sam I wanted to meet Shy and voice the riddim. We met up with Shy and Dave Stone, who ran SOUR; they wanted to do something new, but I wanted to use the “Gangsta Kid” riddim. They had no idea what I had in mind, but we booked the studio in Victoria, and I went in and did something new, which never got released in the end. Then I asked them to put on “Gangsta Kid,” and in two takes I banged out “Original Nuttah.” It was the first time I’d tried singing on a tune as before that I’d just chat or rap, so it sounds like there are two different people on there.  

The studio was booked for the whole day, but I was in and out after an hour. I didn’t even wait to hear it back because I didn’t like to hear myself singing. Sam called me later, and I thought I was in trouble for leaving the studio early. He told me to go back to the studio as they were going mad, and the tune was going to be big. They cut the tune in the next couple of days and gave the dubplate out to the DJs. I didn’t go out to the rave that weekend, but I couldn’t sleep, I was just playing the record at home and thinking no one was going to like it. I’d made tracks before and they’d never really blown up, but the next day the phone was ringing off with people telling me it had been getting rewinds everywhere.

Jungle was big by now, and we were doing PAs together. I’m not sure if Shy liked doing them that much as he was just pretending to play the keyboards. He was a very quiet person though so I don’t know. We filmed the video in Kings Cross in one day, and Kiss FM put a call out on the radio for people to come down to the shoot.  It should’ve been better really, but they made it quickly just so they had something to put out there. One TV show wouldn’t play it because we had rain on the lens. 

There was a lot of excitement, but with a hit, there are always issues. The arguments started about who had the rights to the tune and how it would come out. Jungle producers had the artist credit because it was their music, but I came from reggae where the singer was the artist that got credited for the tune, so I wanted it to come out as “Original Nuttah” by UK Apachi. It was a tune I had written about myself, and I wanted it for my album, and the follow up was going to be “Junglist Girls,” which I had done with Soundman. My manager at the time wasn’t the best person and made me sign a deal with no representation. I didn’t know about the business, and I trusted him, so he ended up acting as the manager, label, and publisher. He had the rights to the lot, where obviously he should’ve just got a percentage. 

Shy was signed to SOUR, so they wanted a piece of it too, which is why the record has both SOSL Recordings and SOUR’s logo. There were lots of problems. Major labels had seen “Incredible” and “Original Nuttah” go into the charts, so they wanted to sign me. Dave Stone wanted to keep the tune to promote his label, so he didn’t want to sign it over to anyone unless it was on his terms. My manager wanted things done on his terms, but with all this craziness going on, I became focused on my faith and decided I didn’t want anything to do with music. Shy carried on and put Nuttah on his album. I’m not saying any of this was his fault, but unfortunately, I never released an album, so it ended up looking more like it was his tune than mine, and I’d just done the vocals and vanished.

The whole track was my concept. We didn’t write it together; they didn’t even want me to use that riddim. Shy did the music first, and then the lyrics were from my ideas, based on things I’d watched growing up like Terminator and Star Wars. It’s a wicked tune to perform, and it takes a lot of energy to do it. When I first performed it at Carnival in 1994, we had to stop a few times because people were fighting in the middle. A nuttah wasn’t just someone who goes around beating up people though; a nuttah was someone who achieves their goals, that’s why there are clips of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King in the video. 

“Original Nuttah” was a very British term; you can’t get more British than that really. Jungle music was British music, even though it took samples from other styles it originated here. I was so happy to be connected to it. It was a multi-cultural thing, and when you went to the raves, you would see people of all colors from different nations jumping up and down together. That was a vibe, and I felt connected to that. It worked really well with my name too; reggae artists had nicknames: Supercat was the Wild Apache or the Don Dada. Apache Indian came out and called himself the Don Raja. I used to call myself Apache Indian, but when he blew up, I decided to call myself UK Apachi, representing the United Kingdom. 

“Original Nuttah” became an anthem; it even gets played at weddings. They did the firework display over the Thames on New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago and played a bit of it, in the middle of Oasis and all that stuff. Lethal B did a cover of it on Radio 1, and it was credited to Shy. Rudimental were on TV performing the song at Glastonbury and didn’t say my name, and I’m thinking, are these people for real? Most of the time when they play it on the radio it’s now Shy FX featuring UK Apachi. If that was the case, it would’ve been labelled that way from the beginning. I’m not blaming Shy for it though, and he’s a wicked producer. He remixed it in 2001 using his Bambaataa tune, and he got my permission and used the original vocals. That came out as UK Apachi and Shy FX.

I stopped making music again when my mum was ill about twelve years ago.  I took a different path and left the scene. I made peace with my ex-manager and the situation with the money and the rights to my music is meant to be getting sorted out, but I’m not sure if I’m too bothered about it at this point in my life. I became a speaker and mentor to Muslim youth, talking to them about living their life in a correct manner and not becoming extremists. People always wanted me to sing something, so I came up with [a new song called] “I Was A Nuttah,” about my life and where I’m at now. I’ve left music but would still do something if I felt it would be something positive.

Wax poetics

Who Say Reload: the Stories Behind the Classic Drum & Bass Records of the '90s, from which this Re:Discovery is excerpted, is out now from Velocity Press. U.K.-based readers can find copies here, while U.S.-based readers can save on postage by looking here.