Which MC Recorded the Greatest 'Fire in the Booth'?
We caught up with Charlie Sloth, the prince of 1Xtra, to find out.
Charlie Sloth is a man who needs no introduction, although if he were to be introduced, he’d probably prefer it to be done with sirens, shattering glass and the sound effect of a fire extinguisher going off.
As a DJ at BBC Radio 1Xtra, Sloth has developed a reputation as one of the UK’s most passionate and knowledgeable DJs. Like a rap game toddler that’s eaten several bowls of icing sugar, he’s ridiculously enthusiastic and hyper about everything. Each time an artist on his show does something he perceives to be impressive, he hollers into the microphone, excitedly screaming and beating his chest until red in the face. He's the hypeman we all need during bathroom mirror pep talks.
Since taking over from Tim Westwood on the Saturday Night Rap Show, almost every British artist of note has passed through the hallowed Charlie Sloth studio. And when an MC does roll through, they usually get involved in Sloth's famous 'Fire in the Booth' segment. Regarded as a real mark of prestige in the scene, especially for newcomers, 'Fire in the Booth' sees MCs shelling down over a selection of different beats, often preparing something extra special to cook over the burning blaze of Sloth's destructive soundboard. Throughout the segment, Sloth gets gassed in the background, banging on the glass and reloading instrumentals – which is part of what makes 'Fire in the Booth' so great, helping to turn a sick 16 into something even more memorable and undeniably live.
So far there are over 400 episodes with literally hundreds of MCs and rappers from all over the world, so as you’d expect choosing a favourite is a borderline-impossible task. So who better to ask than the Prince of 1Xtra himself? He couldn't bear to rank them in order of preference, so I just caught up with Sloth to talk through the most memorable sessions from the now legendary series. Thankfully he didn’t shout his responses back to me, but feel free to read the below quotes in his voice, intercepting them with the odd “JHEEZ!” “THIS KID IS AN ANIMAL!” “WOAH HO HO – WOI HAHAHAHA PWHO I THINK I NEED THAT EXTINGUISHER FAM. THAT RIGHT THERE IS FIRE”.
This one was actually quite sad. The video was actually twice as long as the version that’s out there but we had to cut it down because of the language he used. I’ve fought and fought for us to be able to put 'Fire in the Booth' out unedited and it’s been a process of 6 years now and it wasn’t until they saw the impact that it was having that they agreed. Unfortunately, the Nines one happened about 3-4 months before [that agreement was reached] and half of his 'Fire in the Booth' didn’t make it. I think this would have been even bigger than it is if we’d been able to put the whole thing out unedited. His flow is so clean and so laid-back but so effective, you take in everything that he says.
There’s a 'Fire in the Booth' for every single emotion, for every time of the day, and there’s so many memorable ones. K Koke was the first that really exploded, though. It’s done over 7 mllion views. There was a moment in that studio where I knew I was witnessing something special and I was just like, wow. I couldn’t believe it.
Giggs is one of my favourite rappers ever, period. Not just from the UK, either. He’s so consistent, you never hear a Giggs verse that’s weak, there’s always something about it that’s just… fucking hell. In the Part 2 [to his Fire in the Booth] he goes in over ASAP’s “Fucking Problems”. He’d just come home [from jail], he hadn’t been around for a while, and it was just a moment. All of it stuck out from start to finish - I still listen to it now. I’ve got it in my car!
Just like Giggs, Narstie is one of those guys who stays true to himself. A lot of people looked down on these guys because they were off making money while they stayed true to themselves but look at him now. His 'Fire in the Booth' Part 2 is ridiculous, ridiculous, ri-dic-u-lous. He’s got such a unique style so whenever you hear him you instantly know who it is, and that’s the same with all of the best MCs.
Lowkey’s was at a time when 'Fire in the Booth' were done live. I think he was the second person to ever do a one and it was insane. They’re all pre-recorded now and artists get a lot more time and if they mess up they get to go again, but this was live and that was a moment. I can’t help the way I react, people get annoyed by it, but that’s just how passionate I am about the music. I can’t contain myself; I’m like a little kid smashing away at the screen. I just get blown away by it all.
Devlin’s was great. He’s one of the greatest wordsmiths in the country and I know he spent a lot of time preparing for that one. He’s so articulate and the way he delivered those bars was ferocious and venomous, but there was so much content. I even wheeled him up, which I don’t always do.
When I got the Saturday night rap show I felt that I’d reached my peak in terms of what I wanted to achieve. I’m very ambitious though, and I wanted to set myself a new goal. I wanted to find an artist from outside the M25, from as far North as possible, who I could help.
I’m a student of the game and when I came across Bugzy’s "P110" I thought, “This guy is absolutely nuts!” When he came down I knew what time it was. Before he even came in I said to him, “Bro you don’t even understand what you’re about to do, in 6 months’ time we’ll have a chat and you’ll see what I mean, you’re about to change the game.” Bugzy has opened that door for artists to believe that it’s possible, and they’re putting more effort in now because they know they’ll be rewarded. The reason for me that this was important was the way that it has inspired people from outside the M25 to stick to their music and believe in themselves, and for the scene that’s vital.
THE MOVEMENT / SLAUGHTERHOUSE
The Movement came through on the first night that I took over from Tim Westwood on the Saturday Night Rap show. I’ve been a massive fan of Slaughterhouse for years – Royce and Joe Budden are in my top 5 – so to have them come through and do a 'Fire in the Booth' was amazing. But I wanted to do something to show that the UK is on par in today’s climate in terms of lyricism. So I had The Movement and Slaughterhouse doing it on the same night. There’s not many artists in the world that can go bar-for-bar with Slaughterhouse but this was a special moment. When it comes to the wordsmith game, The Movement are unparalleled and they came and raised the bar.
To pick one of Akala’s performances is hard enough, let alone from the 400 others I’ve done. They all have their moments of brilliance. His ['Fire in the Booth'] Part 2 has got to be in there, though. He balances technical ability with lyricism so well, it’s insane. You know what I love about Akala? He doesn’t wait on nobody and he does what he needs to do. He’s not a materialistic, self-indulgent person; he has a message and he lives up to his message. Whenever I see him, I leave re-evaluating my life. He doesn’t just talk about it, he lives it, and that’s priceless. Coming from a hip-hop background, I’ve grown up with Rodney P and Skinnyman and seeing someone in today’s climate staying true to the essence of hip hop is real, even though it sounds corny. He’s a model for hip-hop for me, he’s the sort of artist that KRS-One would bow down to.
WRETCH 32 AND AVELINO
If I’m being honest, Wretch’s recent 'Fire in the Booth' with Avelino contains the best verse ever on the show. He got pissed off when I wheeled him up but I couldn’t help it. That one verse is the best ever and it’s the fastest 'Fire in the Booth' to get to a million views. Despite being uploaded to 2 channels at the same time, it hit a million views in 8 days. Wretch is an incredible and strategic artist and I think he had a point to prove to all these young bucks coming through who think they’re the guy. He just had to let them know, “You guys are cool, yeah, but you’re not Wretch.” I think that’s what he achieved. The amount of artists who’ve asked me afterwards if it was one take, and I’ve had to say, “Yeah, it actually was”.
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Charlie Sloth will perform at Ibiza Rocks Hotel in June as part of our summer long Stormzy residency ‘We Are Rockstars and Noisey Present #Merky.’ With Stormzy leading a line up that includes Charlie Sloth, Toddla T, MistaJam, Big Narstie, WSTRN, J Hus and Coco, find out how to get yourself to Ibiza for all the parties right here.