Benga (Beni Uthman) from Croydon was one of the early progenitors of the genre as it coalesced around DJ Hatcha, Rinse FM and club Forward>> in the early 2000s. His dark, clipped releases on South London's UK garage/dubstep label Big Apple Records dark were credited with fusing South London’s dubstep sound with the newer East London born grime. Benga and Coki’s 2007 single Night
has been one of the most successful dubstep crossover tunes to date, and set the stage for his long awaited Diary of an Afro Warrior
that finally arrived in 2008.
Uthman was precocious. His older brothers were MCs in the garage scene, offering early exposure and started frequenting the Big Apple store in Croydon as a kid. By the time he was twelve, Uthman was challenging the Big Apple record store’s dubplate specialist DJ Hatcha to turntable duels. Hatcha and then owner, John Kennedy, began to watch the young Uthman – playing clubs when barely able to reach the decks – when he appeared at local venues such as the Blue Anchor.
They pair mentored Uthman, helping him find heavy sub-bass and
broken beat tracks that existed mostly on the b-sides of garage and grime records. Uthman taught himself to use the software Fruity Loops and then hooked up with Skream
to start producing, initially releasing tunes on the Big Apple Records
label at just sixteen, with the blessing of Hatcha. Benga and Skream’s Skank/Dose
appeared on transparent blue vinyl as Big Apple label's second release in 2002, pioneering a dark sound that combined heavy influence of Wookie's early, dark, melodic tunes such as Down on Me
and early Oris Jay or El-B cuts. Big Apple 003 was another Benga/Skream collaboration called The Judgement
. Throughout 2003, DJ Hatcha pushed dubstep in a dark direction on Rinse FM and through his sets at Forward>> drawing almost exclusively from young South London producers like Benga and Skream. Benga launched his own label, Benga Beats
, in 2004 and released the three-track 12” Benga Beats, Vol. 1
. He then went into a two year hiatus and reappeared in 2006 with 12”a on Planet Mu and an album of fifteen previously unreleased tracks on CD, Newstep
, on Benga Beats.
When Benga released the crossover anthem Night/Fly
with DMZ's Coki in autumn 2007 as a single there were plans to release the full-length LP shortly thereafter. The album’s release date was changed from autumn 2007 to March 2008 and in the meantime, Night
became the biggest dance tune of 2007 in the UK (and possibly the most successful and widely recognized dubstep tune to date). Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson named it his record of 2007. The by then hugely anticipated album, Diary of an Afro Warrior
, Benga’s debut proper, finally appeared on Tempa in early 2008.
Benga has recorded slots with a host of Radio One presenters including Gilles Peterson and Mary Ann Hobbs and has appeared on Pete Tong’s Essential Mix. He is a regular Coki collaborator, and is also a member of Magnetic Man
– a live performance dubstep supergroup with Skream and Artwork. Benga has also produced under the alias B. Adejumo. In 2007, Benga, Skream, and other dubstep producers provided the soundtrack to much of the second series of Dubplate Drama, which aired on Channel 4 with a soundtrack CD later released on Rinse Recordings.
photo credit Shaun Bloodworth
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