Born and raised in the suburb of St. Andrews, near Bristol, England; son of Jamaican immigrants. Addresses: Record company--A&M Records, 1416 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood, CA 90026 Phone: (213) 469-2411.
Hailing from Bristol, England (the United Kingdom's top breeding ground for musical innovators), producer, label owner, and committed drum 'n' bass pioneer Roni Size rose from the underground circuit into the mainstream in the late 1990s as one of the jungle scene's most respected names. Like other contemporary Bristol-bred artists--Massive Attack, Tricky, Soul II Soul's Nellee Hooper, and Smith & Mighty, among others--Size helped develop a style known as the Bristol sound. However, he took the genre to a more expansive level, rewriting many of jungle's common rules and thereby amassing numerous production credits for various labels and side projects. He eventually achieved greater popularity than any other drum 'n' bass producer before him. With his Reprazent collective, a musical collaboration centered around Size and comrade DJ Krust, he claimed the prestigious Mercury Music Prize in 1997 for his breakout debut New Forms. Winning the award over albums by both Radiohead and Prodigy finally confirmed his stature as one of jungle music's true leaders.
Simon Frith, the chairman of the 12-person selection jury, said that all agreed that Radiohead's OK Computer was "a classic album, but in the end, we all agreed that the winner was Roni Size & Reprazent," as quoted by Billboard magazine's Dominic Pride. Size's specialty, an intelligent new twist on the drum 'n' bass genre, represents an eclectic, uncompromising mix of sounds that includes elements of hardcore, jazz, ambient, dub, and soul. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Size himself concludes, "you can't do the Bristol sound justice by saying that it's one thing," as quoted by Hip Online. "It's many things--a party vibe, a deep vibe--it changes, and we want to represent all vibes." Nonetheless, as he told Paul Sexton of Billboard, neither Size nor Reprazent view themselves as musical missionaries. "We're not trying to pioneer anything; we're just trying to make sure that what's going on in our small unit is working," he said. "As long as we are pioneering each other and giving respect to each other, that's enough."
Although best known for leading Reprazent and his participation in and founding of the Full Cycle record label, the Roni Size endeavors that have received the widest recognition outside the jungle community, he is also responsible for a broader range of projects. Size has recorded countless records under the names Mask (for releases on the Full Cycle sister label Dope Dragon), and Firefox (for the V record label offshoot Philly Blunt). A frequent collaborator as well, he has also recorded with fellow label mates and members of Reprazent, namely Krust and DJ Die, with the group Soul Coughing for the Spawn film soundtrack, and with rap artist Redman. Additionally, Size is a much sought-after remixer who has overhauled tracks by the like of Nicolette and Nu Yorican Soul.
The son of immigrants from Jamaica, Roni Size grew up in the Bristol suburb of St. Andrews, where he learned the fundamentals of hip-hop, dub, DJing, and breakdancing by visiting the area's house parties and underground clubs, as well as by dabbling in sound systems and producing techniques. From the onset, Size regarded hip-hop as his main love, and he was inspired by the legendary film Wildstyle to become a DJ. But at the same time, reggae, soul, and funk--styles complements of his older brothers' record collections--also provided Size with ideas. In the late-1980s while in his mid-teens, Size, by now a musical obsessive, was expelled from school and started experimenting in earnest with house and reggae production.
By the early 1990s, Size had discovered a kindred spirit in DJ Krust, who had grown up on a steady diet of 1970s soul and funk before picking up on the hip-hop and electronic sounds of the early-1980s. Both young men shared a common interest in techno music, often forgoing traditional instruments in favor of sampling machines, keyboards, and turntables. Size and Krust first met years before when Krust's previous crew hired Size's sound system for a party; later, through their involvement within the Bristol club scene, a friendship developed, and the pair eventually began producing tracks together. During this time, the newest trend of the underground was breakbeat, a sparse, electronic sound built upon drumbeats, off-kilter rhythms, and unpredictable musical patterns.
As their professional relationship progressed, Size and Krust began writing music and DJing in the clubs of Bristol and London. Early on in the partnership, Krust and Size met MC Dynamite, who picked up the microphone at one show and started rapping. Subsequently, the two tracked him down and asked him to join them as a full-time member. Size then hooked up with special effects sampler DJ Suv and turntablist DJ Die at the Glastonbury Festival in 1990 and, after staying in close contact with the two afterward, he formed his longest-running musical commitment: the Full Cycle record label.
Founded in 1993 with Krust simply as an outlet for their interest in the drum 'n' bass scene, Full Cycle and its crew began releasing tracks for Bryan Gee and "Jumping" Jack Frost's influential V Recordings. Afterward, a long list of early jungle classics appeared, including "Music Box," which in turn opened the door for Size to show his jazzier side with his own "Jazz Thing" and partner Krust's "Jazz Note." Since then, Full Cycle has grown into a label supergroup of sorts, releasing a stream of 12-inch singles on both Full Cycle and Dope Dragon, including the Krust dancefloor hits "Set Speed," "Angles," and "Genetic Manipulation," as well as a label compilation, Music Box, in 1995. Toward the end of the year, Size secured a flexible, non-exclusive deal with the Talkin' Loud label which allowed the Full Cycle crew the freedom to record elsewhere and placed Size as the leader of the collective.
In 1996 in Bristol, Size formed Reprazent from the core members of the Full Cycle collective. The lineup consisted of Size himself, Krust, Die, Suv, Dynamite, and female vocalist Onallee. For touring, he also enlisted double bass-player Simon John and drummers Clive Deemer and Robert Merrill to give the group a live presence, an extra element other drum 'n' bass outfits lacked. The group's first recording for Talkin' Loud, a limited-edition EP entitled Reasons for Sharing, was released that same year, selling out its 12,500-unit pressing in just a few days. One of the tracks, "Share the Fall," became an instant club classic. Then finally, after several years of individual and collaborative experimentation, Size arrived with the acclaimed Reprazent album New Forms in June of 1997. Chris Gill, a contributor for Audio magazine, described the album "as funky as classic James Brown and destined to be a cornerstone of the next decade's music," while Rolling Stone remarked that Size and his Reprazent collective "engineer their collision of style with stealth, imagination and a careful attention to groove," calling New Forms "an impressive testament to the sheer beauty of motion."
That summer, Size and Reprazent performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival and at Glastonbury. The commercial and critical success of New Forms led to a nomination for the coveted Mercury Music Prize. Despite the fact that the group members were outsiders in comparison to more popular acts, Reprazent's amazing live sets, coupled with the achievement of their debut, ensured that they would beat off esteemed competitors such as Radiohead, Prodigy, and the Spice Girls. "We didn't want to win [the prize]; it wasn't one of our goals," Size admitted, as quoted by Sexton, "but we're happy we did. It's good that [the judges] could see the potential. It's not the best album of the year, but, no disrespect to Radiohead or the Prodigy, there's a million people doing that sort of stuff." Despite such an achievement, the future of Reprazent remained uncertain, as the core members of the crew--Size, Krust, Die, and Suv--all followed the success of New Forms with individual pursuits.
Following a relatively quiet year in 1998, Size returned in 1999 with a new project called Breakbeat Era. The trio, comprised of Size, DJ Die, and vocalist Leonie Laws, released an album entitled Ultra-Obscene that fall. With the album, Size and his partners "serve up an entire meal of melodic sophistication that suggests European art songs' timeless drama mixed with rock's restlessness," according to Rolling Stone writer Barry Walter. "Ultra-Obscene dodges convention." Size and Reprazent released In The Mode in 2000. The album featured cameos by rapper Method Man and Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha.
by Laura Hightower
Roni Size's Career
Founded Full Cycle, 1993; formed Reprazent, 1996; released New Forms, 1997; released Ultra-Obscene, 1999; released In The Mode, 2000.
Roni Size's Awards
Mercury Music Prize for New Forms, 1997.
- Selected discography
- (Reprazent) Reasons for Sharing (EP), Talkin' Loud, 1996.
- (Reprazent) New Forms , Talkin' Loud, 1997.
- (Breakbeat Era) Ultra-Obscene , XL/1500/A&M, 1999.
- (Reprazent) In The Mode , Island, 2000.
- Audio, April 1998.
- Billboard, September 13, 1997; October 4, 1997.
- Rolling Stone, December 11, 1997; May 13, 1999; November 11, 1999.
- Reprazent Profile, http://www2.prestel.co.uk/1wtcdi/era/1p-1rep.htm (October 22, 2000).
- Roni Size Reprazent Official Website, http://www.ronisize.com (October 22, 2000).
- Yahoo! Music, http://musicfinder.yahoo.com (October 22, 2000).