Kemet and 3rd Party Records are the greatest ragga jungle labels you’ve probably never heard of. The imprints were run by two old friends; Mark Ranger (aka Mark X) and James Stephens, (better known as one third of Noise Factory, along with Kevin Mulqueen and Terry Tee). From 1993 to 1995 Mark and James shared studios and produced banger after banger, peerless tracks with Afrocentric titles that fused jungle and conscious reggae into chaotic, chest rattling explosions of bass and breaks, pioneering countless rave innovations along the way. Mixing reggae sub bass with screeching techno synths? Pulling samples from pop tunes and laying them over ultra hard breaks? Splicing half speed ragga chat with double time tempos? Writing actual songs over 160 BPM tracks? Kemet and 3rd Party were doing all of that, and often long before their peers.
Up until now the Kemet and 3rd Party back catalogues have never been officially reissued—unsurprisingly, they go for stupid money on Discogs—but that’s set to change. Mark and James have put together a new website, kemet3rdparty.com where they have resurrected both labels, and digitised and remastered their classics. THUMP met with the two men to hear the story of their music, born from resistance and love.
THUMP: So 3rd Party came into existence before Kemet, right? How did it start up?
James Stephens: 3rd Party was me breaking out to do my own thing–before the rave scene I was making reggae, I did some dubplates for Unity Soundsystem, for Quadrophonic sound. We’re originally from Tottenham but I ended up in Hackney. This was in my naughty boy days, I was around 20 and I’d just come out of prison, and part of the bail conditions were that I had to leave Tottenham. With us it was either selling drugs or making music—music was a way out.
Mark Ranger: We were the first generation of blacks that were born in the UK after our parents came from Jamaica, so we were still being accepted in society—soul boys, teddy boys, all of these people used to give us a lot of racism. We didn’t really have time to have our own thoughts, our thoughts were governed by the situation we found ourselves in. We weren’t getting much work, we weren’t getting much love, what else was there but the streets? That’s why a lot of us went down that road. It looked like trouble but really it was a survival thing.