Sean Nammock, AKA Same Old Sean, on day release
"I was at home and heard some geezer shout: 'They're coming!' at the top of his voice. I knew, instantly, that it was for me – and when 50 old bill are coming through your door, you know you're in the shit," sighed Sean over the phone. "This was three years after the incident. You don't think, years down the line, that they're coming for you. That's what I was most pissed about; I'd changed my life by then – I'd started making music, learning about production."
Sean Nammock, on day release from HMP Brixton, was describing the day he was finally picked up for his part in a series of smash and grab robberies – 33 armed heists that saw more than £3.5 million worth of jewellery stolen from stores in nearly every British region south of Nottinghamshire. Over a 16-month period between 2009 and 2010, there was a robbery almost each fortnight – rowdy and simplistic, literally just smashing into shops, grabbing whatever sparkled and making off on stolen motorbikes.
But Sean didn't grow up dreaming of a six-year jail sentence for conspiracy to commit burglary. Instead, he spent a good chunk of his youth dashing between garage raves and graveyard MC shifts on pirate radio stations.
"My brother used to play acid house, and I'd just always sing along and copy the MCs on there, basically," he told me. "Then, when I was like 15, it got to a stage where I started writing bullshit rhymes myself. I'd go out raving – you could get into nightclubs when you were 15 back then; it was mad – then go to a pirate station on some estate in north or south London and do the 4AM slot when everyone was coming in off their nut."
"Here to Confess Ft. Ellen" from the EP Her Majesty's Property (Download the full EP here)
His new mixtape, Her Majesty's Property (which you can download here), under his Same Old Sean alias, definitely isn't a wholesale throwback to the Gucci loafers and Pay As U Go pars of original UKG. It's UK hip-hop that you actually want to listen to; technical but not self-indulgent, like Klashnekoff spitting over Timbaland beats or Mike Skinner teaming up with Clams Casino. Nevertheless, it's not hard to miss where Sean started out.
"Yeah, there's, like, a percussive element to it," he said when I point out that some of the bars in one track sound like something off an early Pure Garage comp. But that apparently wasn't a conscious decision: "That nursery rhyme rap stuff everyone's doing just bores the fuck out of me," he said. "You know, in each bar there's maybe five or six words, and you just rhyme each last word and talk bollocks."
After guesting on various sunrise slots for a year or so, Sean began getting offered better sets, like the primetime show on Taste FM – one of the pirate stations that pioneered the concept of "radio raving", as in two guys MCing over the radio so your kitchen sounds like a crackly night at the Coronet. While he wasn't doing that, he usually found himself hanging around his estate and "just fucking about". That, every so often, would get him into trouble with the police.
"A lot of it was just petty bollocks, though," he explained. "But you also see the older generation getting up to a lot more, I suppose, serious stuff. That's the problem with that kind of upbringing; you've got a good side – my mum and my family are cool as fuck, and you're good at home. But, when you're going out, you're sort of desensitised to a lot of things that people might find fucked up."
A younger Sean outside Trellick Tower, Ladbroke Grove
Eventually, like the kid who's in Goodbye Charlie Bright for about five minutes, Sean swapped stop and search forms for military service. "My mum was like, 'You can either get a job or join the army,'" he told me, laughing. "At the time, I was buzzing – it's, like, boys' toys and crazy shit. It's exciting."
Unfortunately, after a couple of enjoyable years, he got in a fight with another soldier and was sent to the Glasshouse for six months. "It happens all the time," said Sean, "but the thing is, these fuckers want you to go to war. They train you up to kill people, and then you have a fight with another fella and they send you to military jail for half a year."
Understandably, Sean became a little disillusioned with the army while serving his sentence, and after he was released he packed up and went home. "I came back around the estate and everything was just manic," he said. "By the time I got back, some people had gone off down the right road – gone and got married and shit – and then some were just deeper involved in the craziness. So it was straight out the frying pan and into the fire."
Everyone around him was "making crazy money and living fast", which is generally better than making no money at all and living slowly, so Sean decided to get involved. That meant hanging out with a bunch of guys who'd taken to dressing up in overalls and balaclavas, before using sledgehammers, guns and knives to force their way into jewellery stores. He's vague about his exact involvement ("in my world, people don't ever chat about the finer details"), but it was enough for police to catch up with him three years after the robbery, and for the prosecutor to seek a six-year sentence for "conspiracy to rob".
Sean walking out of jail earlier this week
"I know it sounds a little bit fucked up, but I’d kind of moved on from what I'd been involved in by this point," Sean told me. "I’m not condoning what I did, but if I was still up to mischief and still fucking about then I would kind of think, 'Okay cool, it was coming.'" He continued: "What was kind of funny, amongst all this madness [of the arrest], though, was that that one copper says to the other, 'He don't look like an armed robber, does he?'"
During the time between the smashing and the sentencing, Sean had been producing music on some studio equipment given to him by The Prodigy's Liam Howlett. "Once I came to jail," he told me, "I asked Liam to send me as many fucking manuals and technical books about production as he could. Because I wanted to learn about the science of sound. That's what I think can make a great producer; someone who can really analyse the sonic scape of a track, rather than someone who's just banging out beats."
One of the great things about prison is that you have plenty of time to develop new skills. And Sean's spent the majority of his producing tunes on an 8-track recorder he had mailed in, sampling beats from the TV and writing bars over them. "You see so much shit in jail, and you have a lot of time to think, so I'm just getting ideas and relaying everything on the pad," he told me.
Obviously, that results in a lot of lyrics about jail. "To be honest, when you spend so much time here, your mind isn't ever outside. So I'm just talking about what I'm living," Sean said. "But that's not what I'm going to be talking about forever; I'm not proud of jail. I'm not embarrassed by it, either – it is what it is. But people who chat about that shit when they're not living it are talking bollocks. Half of them are just good boys wearing a chain and sunglasses and thinking they're some fucking nutter."
Sean was released this Monday after serving half of his six-year sentence. He's spent the past few days doing mostly as you'd expect ("basically partying, seeing the people who've been there for me most and banging"), but he's also starting to get his shit together on the music front, writing and hooking up with other artists to set the wheels in motion for a follow-up EP to Her Majesty's Property.
"I've worked with what I can work with, but now I'm out I can go and see people, I can go and meet producers – I couldn't do that before," he told me. "I just wanna start afresh."
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jamie_clifton
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