Hip-hop house is the high octane musical fare of London's N-DAZE. But behind the serious grooves is an even more serious message as Tony Cummings found out.
There are two levels to N-Daze. On level one is a band pioneering British Christendom's response to the dance boom with hip hop, house and serious rhythm. On level two is a band of such passionate, all-out-for-Jesus revolutionaries that they'd 'blow' their big opportunity gig rather than compromise the Gospel and their calling as supernaturally-fired musicianaries. Their appearance at Cross Rhythms '94 before possibly 5,000 festival goers and the recent Christian underground success of their magnificent 'Kicking The Hell Out Of Music' tape is a testimony of faithfulness - the faithfulness of God and the faithfulness of a band of bedroom-studio hopefuls doing the impossible God's way and in God's timing.
The N-Daze story began in 1991 when David Beard, the programmer/arranger with N-Daze, had a vision. "I was going to Victory Church in Hampstead and I was involved in getting music together. I had a vision to reach lots of young people with dance music. I didn't tell anybody for a while until I met Rob Amponsah at church who was on a mixing desk and I told him what I wanted to do. And Rob said, 'Somebody else spoke to me about a week ago about the same thing.' So there were three of us, Tony Miller, Rob and me. That's how we started off. We had some equipment from the time before we were going to church. We pooled our resources together and brought it to Rob's house. But before the music started we met for prayer and fellowship until we got grounded in what we were believing."
In 1992 the trio of dance visionaries were ready. In Rob's bedroom-cum-studio they recorded "Change Your Mind" with Tony Miller soulfully intoning over a careering house beat. Pressing the track up on a 12-inch single on their own label Sound Doctrin', "Change Your Mind" got plays in a number of nightclubs. Said Dave, "We didn't know anything about distribution, promotion, etc. Considering that, it did really well. It got played at the Hacienda in Manchester."
But the band wanted to expand and "get into a harder type music". They began to pray that the Lord would lead them to some people with the ability to rap who had a burning vision to minister the gospel. The two God provided, Paul Sevier and Rebecca Mohammed, weren't just run-of-the-mill rappers but rhyme busting heavyweights. Paul Sevier had in fact been recognised as one of the hottest rappers in Britain. Before he became a Christian he was signed by Warner Brothers to a quarter million pound, seven-album deal with the band Hoodlum Priest. Dance maestro Trevor Home worked with Paul; he cut numerous singles and for a while enjoyed the showbiz fast lane. But a serious drug habit was decimating Paul's life. Finally, in August 1992 things suddenly and dramatically changed.
"I went out to Miami trying to escape from everything really," explained Paul. "I found myself watching all these evangelistic programmes. It didn't really click until one day I ended up on my hands and knees and said, 'God please help me'. Just cried out to him. I came back and about three weeks after coming back I was walking down Notting Hill Gate on a Saturday afternoon when I saw all these people coming out of this church. I thought, 'That's a big wedding.' There were blacks, whites, Chinese, Japanese. I got a little bit further along and this voice said to me, 'Son, you're losing yourself.' So I stopped and thought, 'What was that?!' I was just about to approach the subway and the voice said, 'I said, you're losing yourself - go to church.' So I went back. I stopped these people on the street and said, 'Excuse me, I've got to go to church right now.'" They took Paul into a Morris Cerullo evangelistic meeting and Paul made a commitment to Christ. Everything had to change in Paul's life. Not only drugs but the glitzy world of the record industry. God had new plans for Paul's rapping and singing talent. A while later a meeting with Rob led to an invitation to come down and check N-Daze out.
"I didn't really want to go to be honest with you," admitted Paul. "I thought a dingy little room where people would be doing really boring music. But I went along and I was absolutely blown away. It was a really serious set up. That very same night we started doing the word. The guys showed me a lot of humility and allowed me to come bombarding into their set up and strut my stuff to show them what I could do with this new rap that the Lord gave me."
Rebecca Mohammed soon joined N-Daze too. Her conversion to Christianity was another spectacular example of God's grace. "I was in a rap Muslim band called the SWIs - about 28 guys in it and I was the only girl. I was just about to commit my life to Allah in the Muslim faith. I prayed and I cried out to God and I said, 'God, if you've got a purpose for my life, who is the real God, who is the real one? Is it Allah? Whoever is the true God answer my prayer.' That night I cried, I really, really cried because I knew if I died there would be hereafter. I woke up in the morning and a Muslim told me, 'Come round the shop in the morning.' So I went round there. But nobody was there. I saw this store and it had "Bless you" on it and straightaway I imagined it was because it was described as the shop. So I slipped a letter through, put urgent on it, please contact me." A phone call soon followed and back Rebecca went to the shop where a group of men had gathered. "I said, 'I'd like to become a Muslim. I think it's my time now. I prayed to God last night and he's not made another way for me so this is the way. This guy turned and shook my hand and said, 'My name is Tony - I'm a born again Christian and the prayers that you've prayed have led you to me.' So that's how I got born again. I literally got birthed into the band as well because that Friday night I came into the band. I had been saying to God if I become a Christian I'm going to have to give up my music. But the Lord said, 'You're not going to because I've got a purpose for your life. So he brought me to this studio and we just free styled and we got pumping. Ever since then things have been great."
With their line up now settled at Tony Miller (singer), Paul Sevier (rapper, singer), Rebecca Mohammed (rapper), David Beard (programmer) and Rob Amponsah (engineer, producer) N-Daze assembled a tape. "Some tracks were new, some went back years," commented Rob. "Rebecca and Tony came in and did some serious rapping and when we put them with Tony's singing it sounded so great." Samples of a myriad of preachers added spiritual muscle to the dazzling rapid-fire N-Daze raps. They took six or so cassette copies of their work to Dual Edge record shop in Soho. Dual Edge's Andrew Antoniades was so impressed he agreed to play them to his dance-oriented customers. One copy found its way into the hands of Cross Rhythms dance correspondent Karl Allison who, going crazy over the tape, dubbed 'Kicking The Hell Out Of Music', gave it an enthusiastic review in the magazine. Said Rob somewhat ruefully, "When the review in Cross Rhythms came out we thought, 'Yeah, great, somebody else likes it.' Two weeks later we started getting cheques coming through the post for £7.00 because Karl Allison said it was available for £7.00. So we said, 'Hang on a second, we haven't got any product.' We'd only got one copy. That's it. So we wrote back saying, 'Very sorry but we were having problems with the duplicators,' so we asked them to wait 28 days for delivery. So in the 28 days we ran out and got a couple of hundred done. Did the front cover, we had a picture off the wall, reversed it to use the other side, typeset the whole thing on a laser printer overnight, rushed it down to the printer the next day and within the 28 days they had their product."
The 200 sold out and another run had to be ordered. Despite Tony Miller's commitments in pastoring a fast growing London church the band have been doing many memorable gigs, including a controversial one at Greenbelt where the band, appalled by the sin they encountered among Greenbelt punters, turned their set into a one-on-one ministry session. The band had another memorable concert in Croydon.
"It was so awesome," remembered Rebecca. "It was almost like the Holy Spirit himself had walked on that stage. Paul was on the floor and I turned round and I was on my knees. All the kids... At the end of that meeting they wouldn't let go of hugging me...it was serious." Added Rob, "When you finished praying in the car and you went back into the hall the anointing was so strong I couldn't stand up..."
This then is N-Daze, an anointed, revolutionary army determined to reclaim the dance beat for Christ.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.