Without question, N-Dubz are one of the most culturally significant groups in contemporary British pop music. The trio - Tula ‘Tulisa’ Contostavlos, her cousin Dino ‘Dappy’ Contostavlos, and childhood friend Richard ‘Fazer’ Rawson - have sold over 1.2 million copies of their debut album, Uncle B (2008) and its 2009 follow-up, Against All Odds. Between them, the three wrote, produced, mixed, mastered and engineered both albums in their entirety.
The antithesis of manufactured, mass-produced pop puppets, the Camden three have already left an indelible mark on the charts, while their cultural impact - from their look to their sound, slang and catchphrases - is unequivocal. Boasting an incredible amount of self-sufficiency, a fiercely independent streak, and three distinctive personalities, N-Dubz continue to exponentially increase their fanbase across the UK. With three MOBO Awards, a BRIT nomination, fans in the form of Gary Barlow and Little Wayne, the band also have an almost unmatchable online presence, with 100 million views on YouTube, 680,000 friends on Facebook and 150,000 followers on Twitter. Providing further insight into their individual characters, they released a Sunday Times Bestselling book, Against All Odds: From Street Life To Chart Life and starred in a major Channel 4 reality series, Being N-Dubz, while Tulisa presented the BBC3 documentary My Mum And Me about her mum’s struggle with mental illness. The band is currently in talks with two major networks about their next TV show, due to be screened early 2011.
This year, N-Dubz have been booked on every significant stage, with critically acclaimed performances at Glastonbury, Wireless and The Isle of Wight, a co-headline slot alongside Pendulum at The Royal Albert Hall and a headline date at Wembley Arena as part of 1Xtra Live 2010. After selling out a 21-date tour earlier this year, the band are about to announce an Arena tour for 2011, the first UK urban act to embark on such major venues.
Having achieved more than most could dream of in just two years, they are now poised to take their sound worldwide. In May 2010, N-Dubz signed a five-album deal with Island Def Jam records in the U.S. Their approach to the American market is being overseen by legendary industry executive LA. Reid, the man behind Usher, Outkast, Mary Carey and Justin Bieber.
Their third album (title tbc), will reposition N-Dubz as a British band with international appeal. Recorded in LA and Miami over three weeks, the trio spent a further month mixing and mastering the record in Oxford. Production comes from an eclectic mix of music’s heaviest hitters, including Salaam Remi (Amy Winehouse, Fugees, Ms. Dynamite), The Runners (Justin Bieber, Rihanna), Jean-Baptiste (Black Eyed Peas), Freeschool (Kid CuDi), and writer Ina Wroldsen (Pixie Lott, The Saturdays). Featured artists on the album include grime king Skepta, R&B singer Ny and N-Dubz’s own protégé, Fearless.
The first single, Best Behaviour, produced and written by Tulisa, Fazer and Dappy, received nearly 3 million views on YouTube in one month and was almost immediately A-listed on Radio 1. The next single, Girls, is produced by Jim Jonsin (Lil Wayne Lollipop, Beyoncé Sweet Dreams) and co-written by the band. Splattered with crisp 808’s and a splash of vocoder, the swaggering mid-tempo pop smash is a confident composition that places the group straight into the American mindset, while retaining a distinctly British sense of style. Packed with playful instrumentation, punchy hooks and confident couplets, the record is set to be yet smash for the Dynamite Trio on both sides of the Atlantic.
Being a musician and an entertainer means growing,” points out Tulisa of the new direction they are taking. “The times are changing and songs like Girls are relevant right now. If Madonna had kept the same sound her whole career, she wouldn’t have lasted.” Adds Fazer of their impending US invasion: “I think we’ll be a problem out there; the records that we’re doing are out of this world.”
The epically anthemic Scream My Name is another hit-in-waiting: the metaphor laden track, produced by Fuego (Jason Derulo), encapsulates their inimitable essence. Pitched perfectly at the dancefloor, the fast and furious toplines and razor-sharp rhymes are an unadulterated assault on the senses.
Writing with other people was a new experience for the group; while they were open to change, they were insistent about retaining the spirit of what makes them so special. “It’s still N-Dubz, it’s still the heart of what you know us for, but we’re totally changing it up this year,” announces Dappy. “Considering where we’ve come from, it’s unbelievable to stand here and look at all these fans, the Brit nomination, triple platinum sales, MOBO Awards.... Now we just want to go to America and mess up the world!
Starting out 10 years ago as The Likkle Rinsers crew, it’s taken immeasurable self-belief for N-Dubz to create the success they have. From topping the Channel U charts to independently selling 38,000 copies of their debut single, Better Not Waste My Time, the band came to a brief standstill when they were parted company with Polydor records shortly before losing their manager, Bryon, Dappy’s father, to a heart attack.
Label-less and having not only lost a father and uncle, but also a manager and mentor, many expected N-Dubz to fade into obscurity. But they quickly regrouped, determined to do things their own way. Using money scraped together from various sources, they self-financed a series of videos for Ouch, Wouldn’t You, Strong Again, Love For My Slums, Defeat You Ft. Chipmunk, and the song that really cemented their success, Papa Can You Hear Me, dedicated to Dappy’s dad.
Seeing the self-made buzz, Roar Global management soon snapped them up, securing the trio a deal with All Around The World records. Rather than attempting to change the group, they let N-Dubz continue with their strategy. Through online promotion, soft release videos, tirelessly touring schools and small venues, and, essentially, word-of-mouth, over half a million people bought their debut album, Uncle B.
Eventually, the mainstream caught on, with features in every broadsheet, tabloid and major music magazine, followed by career-enhancing appearances on Never Mind The Buzzcocks and GMTV. In April of 2009, the trio hit No.1 with Tinchy Stryder on the track Number One, one of the biggest-selling singles of 2009. Their second album, Against All Odds, sold over 600,000 copies, spawning the hit singles Playing With Fire Ft. Mr. Hudson and I Need You.
Their third album is yet another emphatic strike against mainstream mediocrity. Stuffed full of club bangers, powerful ballads and carefully composed pop smashes, the record will establish the group is able to translate their UK success story across the globe.
We’re nowhere near finished yet,” insists Tulisa. “Our aim has always been to be the best in the UK, and now we’re setting our sights on the rest of the world.”