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Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B: ‘By 16, I had already been stopped by the police 10 times’

Soul II Soul star Jazzie B told The Big Issue his teenage years in North London were spent dodging the ‘dirty Old Bill’

Jazzie B has revealed that he was regularly targeted by police throughout his childhood. The Soul II Soul founder spoke out as he prepares for new UK dates more than 30 years after Back to Life topped the charts and won the group a Grammy.

“By the age of 16, I had already been stopped by the police more than 10 times,” he said in an exclusive interview for The Big Issue’s Letter to My Younger Self. “That’s a very conservative estimate.”

In a wide-ranging interview, which also takes in Soul II Soul’s cultural legacy, his early days building up a following for his Sound System and his friendship with one of his musical heroes, James Brown, the DJ, producer and Sound System supremo recalled incidents of racial profiling by police.

“I went to Holloway Boys’ School. Even the short distance between the school and where I lived was a minefield coming through the dirty Old Bill,” he says. “There were a few rogue policeman.

“And I remember leaving the Holloway Odeon late on a Friday night and getting stopped by police who said the plugboard I had in a Safeway bag was an offensive weapon.

“It was what I was going to plug my sound system into the next day! I could have gone super rebellious because of the level of nonsense we had to go through. But for some reason a bit of maturity kicked in.

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“I didn’t argue or kick and scream and freak out, which probably pissed them off. I didn’t realise that until a lot later… It’s easy to be misunderstood when you are a bit animated. That was really important to learn as a young Black kid.”

In the new interview, Jazzie B also spoke of his lifelong bond to Finsbury Park in north London.

“Maggie Thatcher was elected in the year I turned 16. That was a definitive time,” he said. “We had the riots in Ladbroke Grove, and everything was going on in north London.

“But I had great people around me like the late, great Bernie Grant, who was a heavy point of inspiration. And back then we had community centres, The Black House [a youth project for Black teenagers on Holloway Road], and as negative as they were painted at the time, they were very positive for young people like myself. I was shaped by all those things in our community.”

And now, thanks to his influence on music, fashion and culture, Jazzie B is memorialised in his home neighbourhood.

“As a kid, I was always in Finsbury Park. And now I’ve got a statue there. Mental, isn’t it?” he said.

“That’s my manor. I’m a Gooner for life. As a little kid, I went to football coaching sessions in Finsbury Park. I went fishing in Finsbury Park. I played my sound system in Finsbury Park, played football with the Boys Brigade on the cinder pitches in Finsbury Park. Who would have imagined that I was going to end up with a statue in Finsbury Park opposite Rowans bowling alley? What a great landmark. How about that!”

Soul II Soul ‘Feel Free’ UK tour runs throughout October and November. Buy tickets here

Read Jazzie B’s full Letter to My Younger Self in The Big Issue, on sale until 22 October.

The Big Issue magazine exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work, buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today. Or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available from the App Store or Google Play.

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