The enduring appeal of SL2’s ‘On A Ragga Tip’

Released on this day (6 April) in 1992, SL2‘s On A Ragga Tip was one of the biggest hits on the then-nascent XL Recordings, catapulting producers Matthew ‘Slipmatt’ Nelson and John ‘Lime’ Fernandez into the mainstream.

It was SL2’s second release on XL, after DJs Take Control/Way In My Brain, released in November the previous year, and like its predecessor, the duo delved into the dub reggae archives when developing On A Ragga Tip – the infectious vocal loop and reverb-laden piano riff comes from Jah Screechy’s Walk and Skank*, first released in 1984, while Kid n Play’s Gittin Funky was looted to provide the drums.

Debuting at #7 in the UK charts, it would go on to reach a high of #2, being kept off the top spot by KWS’ Please Don’t Go, while also going top ten right across Europe.

Speaking to Generator back in 1993 [read it here and here], Nelson said that On A Ragga Tip‘s success was “definitely” the duo’s biggest achievement.

“We celebrated by going up to Epping Forest Country Club on a Sunday night – because you get the charts on a Sunday,” he said. “Not a hardcore tip obviously, but I used to live down the road in Chigwell. We got out of our nuts on champagne.”

The year 1992 would go on to see countless rave tracks permeate the charts – including a few cartoon-influenced turkeys – and On A Ragga Tip rode the crest of that particular wave to sell some 200,000 copies in its first year, quite an achievement for what was originally intended to be an underground hit.

“It wasn’t made to be a commercial record, it was made to be underground,” Nelson explained. “We needed to make another record, and I’ve been into reggae for years.

“We got the main sample in place, and I was totally surprised with its success. I was hoping it would make the charts after DJs Take Control went in [hitting a peak position of #11, earning SL2 a Top of the Pops appearance – see below]. But I wasn’t expecting to sell 200,000.

“A lot of people get too wrapped up in the charts. Stuff in the charts is no good underground.”

As Nelson told Law Magazine in 2016, On A Ragga Tip wasn’t originally slated to be the group’s next single, but for an intervention from XL co-founder Nick Halkes.

“We took another US house track and tried a similar sort of thing, finished it off and it was an ok track,” he explained. “But it wasn’t an original like DJ”s Take Control. So we took it up the record label and I think it was Nick Halkes, he turned around and said…’why don’t we use this reggae one’?

“We were like ‘hmmm, it’s a bit different, but fuck it, why not?! Deep down we were much more into that track, so he was like, yeah go for it’.”

As Halkes himself recently told 909originals, “When we were sat at number one in the midweek charts, with SL2 On A Ragga Tip –  it got pipped to the post in the end of week chart, but that was a bit of a ‘f**k me’ moment!”

In another interview, with Outline Online, Nelson also noted that the track was also originally slated to be a B-side, before they realised that “it was a bit special”, as he puts it.

“I think that we captured – not by mistake, but we didn’t realise how magical it was at that time. And then we thought, ‘right, let’s not take the easy route. Let’s go for it and work on the rest’.

In the years since, On A Ragga Tip has been used in commercials for the likes of McDonald’s and Virgin Media, while it has graced any number of ‘old skool’ compilations, no doubt earning its creators a tidy sum.

“It still gets played today,” Nelson told Outline. “It’s still the biggest tune in a lot of my sets, even now. […] I get calls nearly every week from people saying, ‘Matt, Matt, your tune’s on the radio!’”

But as it approaches its 30th birthday, few rave classics capture the hedonistic abandon of the early 90s like this bona fide SL2 classic. All together now, “Ey ey ba day ba wadladie day…” 🙂

*PS: As for Walk and Skank, the track which formed the basis for On A Ragga Tip? Released in 1984 on the Black Dreader label, it soon became a UK dancehall classic, but remained fairly unknown in the mainstream before SL2’s rework catapulted it into the zeitgeist.

As Jah Screechy told Trust in Wax a few years back about the origins of the track, “I was on the mic in People’s Club and a lot of artists was there – Sugar, Dennis, Junior Reid, a lot of artists was in there!

“Blacka has got this way of walking, when he’s walking it’s like he’s dancing and I think it was Sugar who called him over and said “Blacka, how come you a walk like you a skank?” So Blacka came over to me and said “Screechy, Screechy! A new dance, walk and skank!”

“So straight out of my head I was like “Ey, ey, wadey,… Walk and skank, me say walk and skank! Gwan! One hand inna your pocket…” and the place rip up! So Blacka just came to me and said “Bwoy, studio tomorrow!”

‘We started working on it and got Professor Larry and Horsemouth Wallace and them to play the riddim and then Chemist and Blacka mixed it. That was it. History!” 🙂

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