As Andre Williams left the SOUR Records building, he was not to know that his career as the DJ, Shy FX, was about to rapidly escalate. He told DJ Target in an August 2018 interview for the BBC, “I left the gangsta track there… and they called me back and said they wanted to sign me as an artist.” That ‘Gangsta’ track was to become ‘Original Nuttah’, released in 1994, which featured the MC, UK Apache. The plan was always fairly simple, “I was making tunes just to hear a DJ play my tune on Kool FM,” he told DJ Target. The legendary pirate radio station was his aim, and ‘Original Nuttah’ was his first notable success to be aired on the illegal airwaves. The song is now a universal hit whether it’s played in clubs, at festivals, carnivals or simply in the car. But Williams’ career path had been set long before this point.
Williams was born in 1976, and he grew up in a family brimming with music. His Jamaican grandfather owned a reggae shop, where he often spent time as a child. He has said how bassline reverberated through his home, and how he would often come downstairs to see his parents dancing in perhaps a more intimate way than a small child would want to witness. In a career spanning 24 years, Williams has spawned a cosmos of hits and dipped his toes into reggae, drum and bass, jungle and mainstream chart music. This has propelled his career further than that five-year-old boy toddling around a reggae shop could ever imagine.
When the birth of TechStep came around in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a move to dark basslines. Williams lays testimony to, the atmosphere in the clubs becoming more sinister, with the male to female ratio being more heavily male dominated. Ed Rush, a TechStep artist in his prime during this period, bluntly declared “I want to hurt people with my beats”. “When dark things are happening,” Williams said, “I make the most happy tunes just to get my head out of that space.”
The ‘happy tune’ he decided to make was ‘Shake Ur Body’, released in 2001 in collaboration with T-Power. The song went number 7 in the UK Hit Singles Chart. It is not difficult to see why: the song’s Latin-style opening is audacious for what is ostensibly a drum and bass track. As the bassline kicks in, the song takes on a slightly heavier form, but not so heavy as to isolate from mainstream dance tunes. The vocals, provided by R&B vocalist Di, are not the standout feature of the song, but instead they support the beat laid down by Williams. However, the most surprising thing about the song is that it never appeared as though Williams was ‘selling out’. He said that he “just wanted to hear some good, feel good music”. The relative fame that comes with making a top 10 track never tempted him to remain in the mainstream charts, and the next epoch for Shy FX was to again be as different as the last.
T-Power and Shy FX, off the back of the success of ‘Shake Ur Body’, together released the album Set it Off in 2002. Set if Off is host to a menagerie of feature artists, including the aforementioned Di, as well as Coree Richards, Charmaine and many others. This diversity in features matches the diversity of flavours available on the album. The main hit is ‘Don’t Wanna Know’. It will be known to any football fan that was between the ages of six and fourteen between 2008-2012 as the backing track to SoccerAM’s ‘Skill Skool’. If the song were merely an instrumental, it would be a happy hardcore frenzy of salsa and bassline, however, Di’s rich vocal turns the song into a definite crowd pleaser. The superb ‘Calling You’, with vocals supplied by Sharlene Hector, could almost be a bassline Bond theme. The song ‘Nature’ takes Williams back to his dancehall past, and you can see how Shy’s grandparents’ influence pervades through the track. The album, whilst containing some individually successful songs, did not achieve outstanding reviews. It was too broad-ranging, with too many different styles and no central theme. This is perhaps one instance where Williams’ tendency to try everything let him down.
It took until 2014 for Williams to launch another album. In explaining why this was, he said that the tendency with albums is that you make the project and then tour the project. That’s not what he wants to be doing, because he enjoys how his “sets are so eclectic”. He stresses that freedom to do what he wants, and to not stick to one style, is a “blessing”.
The song ‘Who Knows’ was perhaps the moment to which the entirety of Williams’ career had been leading up; his first major single with its roots firmly entrenched in reggae. “It was something I wanted to do from a yute”, he said in 2018, but “I didn’t want to do it until I was able to do it properly.” He certainly did it properly. ‘Who Knows’ was the first official single from Protoje’s number one Reggae album, Ancient Future; a song not shy to the radio. Shy FX lay the song down and branded it with his indelible drum and bass stamp. The remix opens in almost the same manner as the original, but then the backing track is transformed from a mid-speed, reggae-style beat to a tempo more suited to the Fever rave that Shy FX first played in the 90s than to a scene like Reggae Sumfest in Jamaica. It is safe to describe the song as a ‘hit’; up there with ‘Shake Ur Body’ as one of Williams’ best works. Three million plays on YouTube and eight million plays on Spotify emphasise its popularity. It is no wonder Williams is so proud of the effort.
Williams’ newest release, ‘Badboy Business’, in classic Shy FX fashion, bridges genres and throws up the unexpected. The lush, soulful sounds of Kate Stewart are interrupted by a dancefloor madness, with lyrics provided by Mr Williams. The song went down in the same way at Notting Hill as it will when Williams comes to Oxford, at the O2 Arena on Friday 23rd of November.
Throughout his career, Williams has never been afraid to propel himself into any galaxy of genre. It has never once felt as though Williams was undertaking any task for money or for celebrity. It is perhaps down to this honesty that he has become a household name and a beloved figure in so many different regions, genres and countries. In his own words, “ultimately, the tunes [are] for me and the mandem.”