Latest article by Henry Joseph-Grant, to see more click here
UK Grime music, whether you love it or hate it, it’s not only a culture… it is an unstoppable movement, which has not only crossed over to appeal to the UK mainstream audience, it has become a truly global genre, inspiring and influencing people all over the world!
It wasn’t always like this, in order to really explain and give context about what changed and the best practice that startups can learn, let’s go right back in time and rewind many moons ago to my child hood. So bare with me…
My family is very diverse, with an eclectic mix of Irish, Trinidadian, Bajan and Jamaican heritage. I was born Ireland and moved as a child to England, So I grew in a melting pot these cultures and an eclectic mix of music genres being a big part of my every day life. Be it my Bajan Step Father listening to smooth lovers rock by the likes of Sanchez, Beres Hamilton and Gregory Issacs, My Irish mother listening to pretty much all genres of the 80’s and 90’s and my Mother’s Trinidadian/Irish brothers and sisters listening to Soul, New Jack Swing, Trinidadian Soca and what is now classic hip hop. Caribbean Carnival’s were a big part of our life and we just all pretty much lived and breathed music, so my musical foundation and knowledge was eclectic and vast.
In my experience growing up in a very different family, for most of my childhood society was still very much openly racist and discriminatory, but with pockets of hope and integration, such as the Windrush era’s complex legacy of racial and housing inequality, throwing together communities such as those from an Irish and Caribbean background etc and those communities who have many mutual synergies such as discrimination, colonialisms legacy, living side by side and assimilating into one and the same, viewing each other with respect and as equals! My family was a prime example. Music was in my opinion one of the glues that further solidified the diverse solidarity.
In 1993, aged 10 years old, I got a very cheap hifi separates system, which became my joint most prized possession, with me putting toilet roll into the gaps at the top of my little sisters nursery rhymes cassette tapes, to record over them with Pirate radio and also me pretending to be a DJ and scratching vinyl on the terrible turntable, I spent nearly every penny on Cassettes, then CD’s which were ridiculously priced in those days and made Spotify’s price point seem like an absolute steal and when I wasn’t spending on music I was spending money on tech, as I was obsessed with computers, the internet and any new technology, buying myself a 486 PC and being a very early adopter of the internet, all paid for by my skating around on Bauer roller skates on various paper rounds, I viewed myself as a very cool geek, not much has changed in that respect 😉
My favourite music genre’s were Hip Hop, Soul, Reggae Dancehall and Jungle.
Now Jungle specifically was the basis of the beginning of grime, by combing aspects of Reggae Dancehall, Hip Hop and Soul and fusing them together at a high BPM, with aggressive, sexualised and macho lyrics at one end of the spectrum but also perfectly fusing soulful vocals speeded up at the other. This was the UK’s creation, made possible my immigration and a second generation, proud of their heritage but badly desiring their own defining identity and culture, with Jungle music creating an MC culture with artists such as Bassman, Trigga etc.
But, Jungle was raw, too raw for the mainstream, it was dirty, it was underground and for me as a young boy, like the other genres that led to its creation. I liked it. The raves and tape packs such as those from Telepathy and Hysteria made me wish i wasn’t a teenager and that I could be there, skanking and submerged in the scene, the stories from those who were that I heard created an image that was simply amazing.
Jungle quickly morphed into Drum and Base which was in some ways a watered down version, but don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing, perhaps more technically complex genre, creating magical musical architects such as Goldie, LTJ Bukem, Roni Size etc, but for me it lacked the “Reality” of my environment and it just wasn’t a genre that I could completely love unconditionally, but one none the less I respected as an art.
Jungle also created another child, UK Garage, which also had influence from US House AND Garage and initially was known as Speed Garage, before a rebrand into UK Garage. This was MY scene. I loved it from the very first time I heard it. Over the following years as I come of age and the genre reached new heights, It was the genre that I wanted to go and party to, but like Jungle garage had a bad reputation, you literally wouldn’t hear it in mainstream clubs, other than the minority of tracks that broke through into the charts and if you did the DJ would change to trance within a few songs, I had a friend who DJ’d in a mainstream club and he was told by the club’s management they had an ethic cleansing policy and he was forbidden from playing more than 3 tracks of any genre by black or as they called it “urban artists” Did this stem the scene, absolutely, but it didn’t stop it and the benefit was it had underground authenticity and if you wanted to party all night to it, you had to travel, be it Camden Palace, Colosseum or any club whose management could be convinced to agreeing to allow a garage night, branded as the likes of Sidewinder, Sun City, La Costra Nostra and Garage Nation.
UK Garage exploded, It attracted women in their droves (always a recipe for a exponentially growing scene). Garage was a dance scene, like soul. You dance all night and there is no fights, no trouble. And contrary to the media spread view that what garage was like; you didn’t see people standing like statues, glued to the wall, giving you dirty looks, looking moody. And you didn’t see any trouble either, until much later on. It was escapism from the harsh struggles of everyday life.
This was not pre internet, but it was pre mainstream social media and the impactful awareness platforms of the day were Pirate radio stations, word of mouth, tape packs and unlike now in 2018, you didn’t get instant gratification, you had to work hard to be in the know, you had to spend money, if you didn’t have it you had to spend hours listening to the radio periodically recording your favourite songs. UK Garage Tapepack’s were like gold dust with legendary clashes between Heartless Crew, So Solid and Pay As U Go becoming grails.
Personalities and Garage “celebrities” were created such as DJ Spoony, DJ EZ, So Solid Crew, Pay As U go Cartel and my favourite of all (my good friends) Heartless Crew etc with them all being able to command £100’s and in many cases £1000’s for a one hour set and they would be doing several in a night up and down the country.
So where did it go wrong? Why didn’t Garage become a genre that well deservedly received the recognition that other genres received be it, Credible Awards, Mainstream cross over, Media adulation and why didn’t we gain a Stormzy who could input narrative, value and impact and inspiration on behalf of the world and scene that produced him?
Well the answer to that was simple, it became too hot to handle, as the media, the government and the police went on a demonising witch hunt, to stunt the growth and economical opportunities of the scene. None the less, So Solid Crew and Heartless Crew did groundbreaking things such as winning mainstream awards, commercial success, large record deals, their own imprints, companies, products and making much of what is done today possible.
Of course this was a time when Gun violence was high and yes there were instances of extreme violence at garage events, but this was tiny minority of people that didn’t represent the scene. UK Garage took the blame and it became obvious to garage artists that they would have to water down and commercialise to get any lucrative opportunities to capitalise on their brand or success.
But the scene didn’t die, it both continued and also pivoted a la a Bitcoin fork.
Some went the way of new pastures, Grime, artists such as Wiley aka Richard Cowie MBE, who was a garage artist and member of Pay As U Go Cartel and many other artists, all over the country helped to build grime, but this was a spawned from a London-Centric beginning with its roots and epicentre in East London.
Things were changing, DVD’s were a new platform and DVD’s such as Lord of the Mic’s, Lord of the decks and Risky Roadz were the Complex, Noisey, GRM Daily, Link Up Tv and SBTV youtube channels of their day. People would pay big money to watch low budget videos, freestyles and clashes between the likes of Kano, Dizzee Rascal, Crazy Titch, D Double E.
Much like Jungle and UK Garage before it, the negative media and institutional induced narrative caught up and began to demonise the genre and scene, so what happened many artists became Pop and watered down, some may well say this was as Twitter founder Biz Stone coined the phrase an “unpivot” away from the ethos that created grime and they swapped their authenticity, credibility and style for commercial gain, you can’t knock this economically as it created millionaires, Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah et all, the groundbreaking aspect being is the unique collaborations this made possible between them and artists from other scene.
But not everyone did this, some artists such as JME aka Jamie Adenuga never changed, he is a great example of an independent philosophy and understanding of the power of brand and entrepreneurial diversification mean you remain authentic and be able to pay the bills, he created Boy Better Know clothing, a phone network amongst other things and he is someone who also from even back then adopted and utilised emerging technology.
JME wasn’t the only artist in the family and his brother Skepta aka Joseph Junior Adenuga, was typical of a super talented artist that struggled to be himself and unlike many others he didn’t get the commercial success that several others did, he was clearly not happy that he couldn’t “be him” and win.
But Skepta is for me one of the biggest reasons that things changed, because testament to his influence, respect and authenticity, he said enough was enough and went back to who he was. A super talented Grime and an actual musician – who personified a generation.
Skepta tired of only being able to get up by selling out and of Machiavelli-esque music labels and 360 deals dictating the direction and acceptance of the style. So, now Skepta was armed with a large fanbase, a strong social media following and things like youtube. Reverted to who he was and set out determined that he could succeed without the support of labels, radio or media.
"People are going to find out about you at different times of your career & think that's your defining moment, 'cause that's when they found out about you… I used to think when massive things happened this is a defining moment, but then another ting happened" @Skepta pic.twitter.com/MVBSIpmZ8Y
— Henry Joseph-Grant (@speirin) December 13, 2017
This didn’t go unnoticed and got him on the radar of P Diddy, Kanye West and arguably the person whose attention produced the most impactive – Drake, to the extent that Drake became friends with Skepta and elevated and amplified his brilliance and cosigned him to a global audience.
Drake for me is SUPER clever because he befriends and is inspired by music artists across the world, be it UK, Jamaica, Nigerian artists etc, some may call this being a culture vulture, personally I would disagree, he simultaneously creates symbiotic win/win relationships to connect with his global audience and does so with integrity, because how he helps people, is unlikely to be equally reciprocated and in my book, if you help people who can’t help you, you are a good person!
Also, great to see Skepta being supported by major brands like Selfridges and creating his own brands like Mains
— Henry Joseph-Grant (@speirin) July 10, 2017
So what was the defining factors of why things changed and what can startups learn from Grime musics journey?
Protect and believe in your Authenticity –
The Tech Startup movement is now global but in many ways watered down and commercial, it’s mainstream, founders read a few great and insightful books by a few Silicon Valley legends and morph into lemming-esque citizens of a utopian micro bubble, that in reality sometimes has no more similarities to SF than table tennis tables, extortionate office rents, ridiculously high burns and short runways. The problem is here in Europe when people screw it all up and/or the cash runs out, unlike in the US we lack the abundance of venture capital, especially at an early stage. Europe isn’t as accepting of failure nor are investors going to sit there punching the air when you explain you need to pivot.
So work out who you really are! Are you authentic? Does your idea have legs? Are you willing to see it through on a shoestring for years? Because if the answer is yes then investment is not what will make your startup, you and your team are!
In 2009/10 early Blockchain people both technical and those who “got” Bitcoin and how huge cryptocurrency were laughed at, but they weren’t losing sleep over that because they had a strategy.
It is not about where the ball is now, It is where it is going to be 2, 5 or 10 years from now! If you understand that and have a short, mid and long term strategy that reverse engineers from how you are trying to change the world or revolutionise an industry you will go far, especially if those strategies are fluid and adapt quickly to change.
The music industry has changed with Spotify and Apple creating a layer that has meant that musicians unless HUGE don’t make much money, so artists essentially don’t “need” a label, they can have a good manager and partnerships, monetising through other angles such as Merch, Endorsements and Festivals.
But this will not happen if you forget who you are and become like everyone else! Be Authentic!
By the way if any independent artists are reading this, check out Platoon http://www.platoon.ai/ who do great things for the Artists they work with.
You MUST get off your ass, get out there and collaborate –
It is a big world out there, there are kindred spirits, who are willing to help you, share best practice, connect dots and ultimately become genuine friends.
I’m not saying you need the startup worlds version of Drake, It may well help if you get a big name supporting you, but I assure you this will ONLY happen if you have substance and results, look at Entrepreneur First, Magic Pony exiting for $150m led them to Reid Hoffman becoming their Drake, but I would advise people to forget looking for a Drake, if you are at events, its cringeworthy watching founders flock around VC’s and name brands. Which is fine, but not when you do so kissing ass. They wont respect you, they wont remember you and they will think you are green. All of which defeats the object of bowing down and wasting energy. What should you do at events and in the field…. Meet real, tried and tested, fellow entrepreneurs who have relevant focus and experience that will mean you become great contacts for each other! Never overlook the value of junior people either, today’s junior people are tomorrows leaders and it helps to have friends, advocates and supporters from all walks of lives across the world.
Ah but you are too busy getting shit done to travel or network right? Wrong! You are NEVER too busy to do this, I have managed to visit 15 countries, networking with 1000+ people and build relationships and collaborate with many of these. I spoke at 30 events such as Websummit in Lisbon, Viva Tech in Paris and Macau Start up week in Asia.
I did all of this working full time on several businesses I was involved in, advising and helping many others and mentoring dozens of entrepreneurs, factor in I have a family with 3 young children, it shows that anything is possible. I’m not glorifying or promoting distracting and maximised bandwidth, but if something is important you will make sacrifice and you will somehow make the time! Just be careful not to burn out completely.
If you have challenges or missing pieces to the puzzle, make an effort to find them or solutions! Don’t lose belief or hope if it’s hard, it is supposed to be! But like Grime, things sometimes take a big dip, but bounce back bigger than ever! You and your startup need to develop the tenacity to overcome the struggles, obstacles and hold the vision and trust the process!
Don’t forget to where you come from, how you have been helped to along the way –
This follows on from authenticity, many people get successful and their life changes, they get the fruits of their labour and by that I mean money and adulation, they change and forget to send the elevator back down to help others and share best practice. the thing about Europe is that unlike in the US where these people may be entrepreneurs who have had multi million or billion exits, there is a crazy scenario where people who get to Series A start acting like this, believe their own hype and ultimately start to plateau or fail, which further stops them helping others. We also have shitty micro Zombie VC’s who got a bit of EIF money, backed donkeys and survive off management fees but swan about like they have a Win ratio like Michael Moritz or Ben Horowitz. Our ecosystem puts many of these egotistical BTEC voices of our ecosystem on a a pedestal which further blows smoke up there ass. The thing is though it takes a community to raise a child, it is NEVER too early to help and support others, even if you are FAR from the finished article and still learning yourself, your unique experience and fortes could make a HUGE difference for others, even if you simply just be a soundboard that encourages them privately and publicly support them, we all should blow wind into sails.
Going back to Skepta, if people believe that Drake had a big contribution to his global success, the same should be said for him having a hand in various others success, be it Section Boys, Krept and Konan and most impressive for regional, less widely known artists.
He has remained humble paid homage to those who opened the door for him from the likes of So Solid Crew, to Trigga, to his own generation and peer group and fellow artists, who had similar struggles such as Giggs and many UK Rap artists…..as the old Jamaican saying goes “Each one, teach one”
Ok hype beasts, I now get to that box logo – Supreme and what can startups learn from them?
Well, those of you who are fans of the brand understand the reason why a skater brand with only 6 stores have now become a Unicorn valued business ($1Billion+) and many of those reasons are relevant to the three reasons above about grime.
For those of you who aren’t Supreme fans (Hello Cave people, Dinosaurs, Baby boomers and those who’ve been in a coma for the past few years) here are a few reasons why….
They have 6 stores, but that is nothing compared to their website which is currently the 3444th most visited site in the world. They sell out within minutes of any release and were groundbreakers in terms of limiting the number of items someone can buy via tech. To try and prevent bots and resellers as best they can.
Limit supply and ensure demand Longevity-
James Jebbia the founder of Supreme famously said “We’ve never really been supply-demand anyway. It’s not like when we’re making something, we make only six of them. But if we can sell 600, I make 400”
Can you imagine a tech company doing that… well it’s being done look at challenger bank Monzo, they created a very a lot of noise and more importantly a super engaged community who became brand advocates and captured the imagination of those unable to get on board!
Omni channel –
Look all retailers especially Plc’s love this buzzword it’s one of those phrases that is easier said than done, that largely serves as a way to story tell to analysts and shareholders.
But Supreme are the best Omni Channel brand I have seen and do so amazingly well. On launch days or “drops” (as us Supreme addicts call them) are a nightmare.
Every Thursday at 11am simultaneously the drop is done online and in their stores in keeping with timezones etc. It for want of a better word is a bloody nightmare and unless you have a constantly evolving, super smart, buying strategy, you don’t get what you want, ebay does at drastically inflated prices. That if Pablo Escobar was around he would of left the naughty products alone and would be all over, the thing is Supreme’s Pablo Escobar resellers and also consumers of product is thousands of people, from young teenagers to grown suit wearing adults. This diversity means that when you walk past any Supreme store from Soho, London to Fairfax LA on launch day, you will be like “What is going on here” So you may even get an elevator pitch of why Supreme is so valuable by a spotty teenager and you think hmmm sounds like a no brainer, the ebay capitalist comes out in you and you join the queue, but seconds later a big burly bouncer says “did you register for the queue?” and when they realise you haven’t they ask you to leave the queue, So yes, users have to even use tech to register to attend in person. They also don’t reveal specifically what item drops before very close to the Thursday itself, which means thousands and thousands of people are constantly checking the Supreme site, social media influencers, bloggers and pretty much any other way to find out what is going on, the data set and resulting ability to control how people consume is not only genius, it’s world class.
Scale at the pace that works best for you –
Supreme were founded in NYC in 1994, they have had knocks on the door from VC’s, PE companies, Family offices, Celebrities you name it, all salivating at the prospect of being able to invest, but guess what, they couldn’t. Why? Because Supreme didn’t want or need their money. They could easily of took it and scaled their stores rapidly a la other skate brands like Vans etc but guess what? They didn’t want to! They had complete control of their destiny and didn’t want to water down their X Factor appeal. They were in it for the long haul.
This is self explanatory, if you can completely control your consumers and have the likes of Gucci, Louis Vuitton and many top brands begging to collaborate, which for a brand with a very simple logo isn’t bad going 😉
Anyway, for those of you that have hung in to this 3605th word, kudos but get back to work!
Happy New Year… wishing everyone kick ass 2018! #Onwards
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