Sheffield-born DJ and producer Toddla T shares the records that have shaped him, from Biggie Smalls to some homegrown heroes.
"Gimme the Loot" by The Notorious B.I.G
This is the first track on the Biggie album Ready to Die, which I heard through my cousin when I was nine or ten.
I can't really describe the feeling I got when I first heard that record, but from that moment I’d found the music I was completely in love with. It's still my favourite album of all time.
What Biggie's doing on the track is playing various characters in a robbery scene, and it took me a few years to realise that it was the same artist doing both voices. I really believed the tale he was telling.
There’s not a bad moment on the whole record. Even though the song is about a robbery, which is kind of a dark context, I’ve got such keen memories of that moment, and that album, and that artist that it fills me with joy. It was my springboard to hip hop music and spawned everything I’m into today.
From an artistic point of view, it’s genius. Hearing it was a big moment in my life.
"Limb by Limb" by Cutty Ranks
After being a complete hip hop nerd for about five years, I then discovered reggae and dancehall music.
"Limb by Limb" used to play in parties in Sheffield a lot. There’s a synth sound on it that reminded me of the electronic music that was being made in Sheffield at the time. Even though stylistically it was very different, sonically it sounded similar to a lot of the music being made in my town.
Whether it be the roots and foundations of Cabaret Voltaire or as far as Human League, we all had this electronic sound running through the music and I could hear that in that tune.
The DJs who used to play it in Sheffield when I was a little raver—DJ Pipes is one, Winston Hazel was another—are still my favourite DJs on the planet. To this day I can still hear and see where I was and what was going on [when I first heard it]. It was one of the records that made me understand Caribbean music and completely fall in love with the sound of Jamacia.
"Jomsong" by Supafix
When I was raving in Sheffield, listening to tracks like Cutty Ranks’s "Limb by Limb", Winston [Hazel] was often DJing. He would play everything from that record, all the way through to Chicago house, through to soul, through to boogie, rap and music from Sheffield at the time, which was a blend of all the above.
This Supafix record sonically captured what they called the “clang” of the Steel city with the roughness of the Jamaican sound that was coming out then. The sound was really heavy and rough and ready, and completely brilliant.
It also had the big vocal of a house record. It was programmed in a faster way, but it sounded like all the records that Winston was playing through the night in one tune. Whenever I play it, it's still the moment of the night for me, but it’s not really known outside of the underground club scene in Sheffield. I still get the same goosebumps feeling I got when Winston played it the first time when I hear it now.
[In the Sheffield scene], we always had our own thing going on and it was very insular and heads down—we wouldn’t really care what was happening elsewhere. But when I came to London [to DJ], it was so hype-led and about what was hot rather than what was being generated in their back yard.
I think it’s because the industry’s based in London, so trends come and go so fast, whereas back home, there isn’t a trend, it’s just us. Adapting to that was quite tricky at first. It was exciting to me too though.
"Why" by Carly Simon
After I discovered the music of the time, I got super obsessed with looking back. A good friend of mine, Raf Rundell, who’s an amazing DJ, played it a lot when I started coming to London to DJ and make music. It always used to blow my mind. I knew the melody because it’s been sampled so many times by other artists, but when I went back to that record and got into it, I realised that it blended so much of the music I loved into one record.
It had a massive reggae influence, it had jazz, soul, funk, a pop element—and Carly Simon delivered it to perfection. It’s a Nile Rodgers produced track and when I was learning piano I tried to learn the chords, and my piano teacher was breaking it down for me. The way it’s written is very unconventional and I think that’s what gives it its character.
It’s got the mix down, I love the way it’s programmed, the performance, the writing—I cannot find a single fault with it. To me, it’s the perfect record. I will never get bored of it.
"Take it Back" by Toddla T ft Shola Ama
I’d been making music for a long time before I made this record. I made it with Shola Ama in the spot where I’m speaking to you right now [his studio in Notting Hill].
I’d never met Shola before, but we connected via social media and the song just flew out of her mouth. It took a while to get my production right on the other end, but it was the first record that tipped remotely into the mainstream for me and it was really exciting. Just being able to play the record, whether it be at Notting Hill Carnival, a club in Scotland or abroad and have people sing along and cheer when it dropped was just something I’ll never forget.
Shola’s become one of my best friends and I’ve got such fond memories of making the record, of it going on the radio on playlists, playing it at Carnival. People still tweet me about it today. It fills me with pleasure whenever it’s mentioned and I’m so happy that it happened. It was a moment in my life I will never forget, and I’m so happy that I got to share it with Shola.
Notting Hill Carnival is my favourite party of any party, so it’s my favourite place to play the tune. It feels right. Where I’m sat right now, where my studio is, where it was written and produced, is right in the thick of Carnival. It feels like it was born out of this area, and made for this area.