Where To Start With... Toddla T
Thomas Bell got the nickname Toddla T from his fellow DJs in his home town of Sheffield as a result of the fact that, aged just 16, the young DJ was already rubbing shoulders with club scene veterans and making a name for himself on the steel city's dancefloors. By the age of 24, Bell had signed to 1965 Records, then the home of bands like The View and Holy Ghost Revival, releasing an eclectic debut album Skanky Skanky that blended house music with elements of hip-hop, dancehall and garage, and which featured a range of guest artists including Roots Manuva, Tinchy Stryder and the Birmingham-based dub poet Benjamin Zephania.
A second album Watch Me Dance followed two years later in 2011, this time released on the Ninja Tune imprint, which included appearances for a returning Roots Manuva, Roisin Murphy and Shola Ama, the latter featuring on Toddla T's biggest hit to date, 'Take It Back'.
Since then the DJ and producer has been busying himself in a variety of ways; he's been a regular at his beloved Fabric for years now, as well as DJ-ing at venues and festivals all over the world; he's remixed tracks by the likes of Hot Chip, Ladyhawke and Armand van Helden, and seen a one-ff mix for Radio 1's Essential Selection lead first to a weekly show on Radio 1Xtra, which he still hosts today. Somewhere in the middle of all this he's also found time to have two children with his partner, fellow Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac.
Despite his busy schedule – or perhaps because of it – his output over the last few years has been patchy, with the odd single here and extended play there, the most recent being 2015's Kensal Road EP. The last few months however have seen the DJ and producer releasing a series of new track under his own name and this week he finally makes a proper return with his first album in six years.
Foreign Light arrives in stores today and features the tracks 'Always', 'Beast', Blackjack 21' and recent single 'Magnet'. Most of the album's 10 new tracks feature vocal from New York-based R&B singer Andrea Martin, lending a soulful vibe to and album which feels much more grown-up than some of his earlier records. There are a handful of other guests too however, including Wiley, Stefflon Don, Addi Pablo, CaSisDEAD and Silkki Wondah.
You can find a video featuring Andrea Martin delivering a live performance of 'Beast' below, beneath that we've picked out five key tracks from Toddla T's career so far as a guide for those new to his music...
'Rice and Peas'
'Rice and Peas' was one of Toddla T's first club hits and a key point in his early career, being the song that brought him to the attention of James Endeacott, formerly of Rough Trade and head of the newly-incorporated 1965 Records, which would go on to release Toddla T's debut. Featuring Mr. Versatile on vocals, this is a great example of the influence that Jamaican music -particularly dancehall – has had on the Sheffield DJ's music.
One of the most frenetic cuts on Toddla T's debut album Skanky Skanky, 'Manabadman' is notable for being one of the first feature guest vocals from Serocee, who has gone on to become a regular collaborator with Toddla T and featured on several of the tracks from his first two albums.
'Take It Back'
If you only know one of Toddla T's tunes, it's probably this track from his second album, a timeless club track that features vocals from Shola Ama and J2K. The song has been remixed countless times by the likes of DJ Q, Dillon Francis and The 2 Bears, but the original is still our favourite.
Not featured on either of his previous albums, 'Alive' was released in 2012 as a standalone single and saw Toddla T reunite with Shola Ama to produce another hot in the vein of 'Take Me Back'
'Watch Me Dance'
Our final pick is the funky title track from Toddla T's sophomore LP Watch Me Dance, which features guest vocals from another of the DJ's regular collaborators, Roota Manuva. Highlighting the range of styles on his second album, 'Watch Me Dance' is unlike anything else on the record, but still one of the album's standout moments.