Shy FX’s third release on the Sound of the Underground (SOUR) label in 1994 was Original Nuttah, a frantic jungle rinse-out featuring UK Apache. It’s one of the most popular jungle records of all time, a regular fixture on jungle compilations, mixtapes and in DJs’ record bags. It’s also a unique and highly original track with an unforgettable vocal.
It’s rare that the vocal is as important to a jungle / drum & bass tune as it is on Original Nuttah. For more than a minute of intro, all that’s on the record is an echoing siren and UK Apache’s voice. And it’s an amazingly inventive performance. He starts with a shout-out to “all the original gangster man”, his throaty, heavily-accented voice exhorting listeners to “originate” not imitate. To prove his point, he drops into mock cockney, “alright mate, know what you’re doin mate” before effortlessly switching to the signature melody, which climaxes with the memorable “bad boys inna London, rude boys inna England”.
It’s a whirlwind vocal display, and it’s unorthodox in more ways than one. For a start, UK Apache, real name Abdul Wahab Lafta, didn’t fit the stereotype of a jungle artist (the media at the time casually assumed jungle was a young, Afro-Caribbean thing). He based his stage persona on the native American Apache tribe and at the time of Original Nuttah, he sported a Mohican. Vocally, and in terms of his stage presence, he was proof that jungle was a complex and multiracial scene.
Then there’s the music. The drum samples on Original Nuttah are from the familiar Amen break, but Shy FX goes for an unusual, shuffling rhythm that gives the impression of frenzied energy, as though the drum hits are moving at great speed. It’s a bit like listening to the snare drummer from a military band, not least because Shy FX puts a snare hit on the first beat, a highly unusual choice. Critics often claim that modern drum & bass fails to live up to the inventiveness of mid-90s jungle, and listening to this track it’s tempting to believe them. Though there are drum & bass producers today making out-there music with unorthodox elements, it’s almost unthinkable to imagine that their tracks could achieve the exposure of Original Nuttah, still less get played out at clubs and raves.
There’s another aspect to Original Nuttah that’s important and that’s its ‘gangster’ image. Jungle grew out of the UK rave scene, which had been dominated by acid house. Fuelled by ecstasy, acid house fans had enjoyed the second summer of love in 1988-89. Their music was uplifting, sentimental and welcoming. But as jungle began to develop as a genre, producers increasingly retaliated against these hippie ideals and chose to embrace a macho, hard-man image and a narrative inspired by street gangs.
Shy FX was quite clear about where his allegiances lay. Right at the beginning of Original Nuttah, he uses a sample from seminal 1990 gangster movie Goodfellas – the part where Ray Liotta’s character reminisces that “one day some of the kids from the neighbourhood carried my mother’s groceries all the way home”. It’s a clear signal that this track is more interested in respect, violence and prestige than it is with peace and love.
The transition from acid house to gangster-inspired jungle is somewhat similar to the development of gangster rap in the US. However, UK Apache has said that an ‘original nuttah’ can mean more than merely a gangster.
“A ‘nuttah’ could be Bruce Lee beating five guys at once, or someone who fights for a cause just like Mandela or Malcolm X, or it could be a bad boy who robs banks. It’s just a word for someone who’s a fighter.” (quoted by Simon Reynolds in ‘Energy Flash’).