The experience of listening to Julie Adenuga is not dissimilar to catching up with your DJ mate and being brought up to speed on the records you’ve been too busy to discover yourself. Julie’s likeability and solid knowledge of music are qualities that would help any radio presenter to rise up the ranks; however, she’s not only risen up, she’s taken a katana blade to the established rank and sliced it into a bloody pile before clambering to the top, victorious.
Beats1 broadcasts live to over 100 countries 24 hours a day, and something about Julie allowed her to assume one of three hosting roles (alongside Zane Lowe and Ebro Darden), despite being relatively unknown internationally. So what is it about Julie Adenuga that allowed her to bypass her contemporaries and rise to the top?
My interest in the Julie Adenuga story began before I learned of her famous family ties (Julie’s older brothers are UK Grime stalwarts Skepta and JME). I went into our interview conscious of focusing on Julie’s story and not being distracted by her brothers’ careers, however any discussion of the Julie Adenuga story inevitably leads back to her tightknit Nigerian family. Thus my chat with the UK’s foremost Grime ambassador begins with the Adenuga clan origins. Julie is upbeat throughout our chat and her responses are peppered with a genuine and infectious laughter familiar to anyone who’s ever tuned in to her radio show.
You’ve visited Nigeria a couple of times, how has that experience been for you?
When I went at the end of last year it was quite eye-opening. To go to my Dad’s village, you know… it was the first time ever that I’d really, truly been able to understand who my parents are, where they grew up, and why they are the people that they are. And also to get an understanding of myself and my brothers. It was all in the mix of Junior [Skepta] playing a show there so it was a nice full-circle of being away for so many years and then coming back and seeing that we were welcomed as a family even though we’ve never lived there. It was honestly one of my favourite parts of 2016, as well as getting my job at Beats1.
Do you feel as though either one of your parents have been a greater influence on you in terms of your career path?
I think half and half. I think my mum always gets the credit because she’s a flamboyant character. We were the only two women in the house, and we’re really alike when it comes to how gregarious, opinionated, loud, and angry we sometimes are. I think I get my driven side and my determination from my Dad. He always just gets on with things, and he’s not really a complainer. I think that lives in all of my siblings. I credit my Dad as the calm one in the house who keeps his level head at all times even when everyone is going a bit mad.
Do either of your parents come from a musical background?
We used to listen to music all the time, from sunrise to sunset and sometimes past sunset as well. That was just a part of our house in general, always having music on the record player, Junior eventually getting turntables and learning how to DJ, everybody having a sound system in their room, we’ve just been a musical family since the beginning of the Adenugas living in England. It’s a big part of the Nigerian culture to always have the best parties and wear the best clothes and dance around to music, and just enjoy yourself and eat food. There was never silence in my house; there was always music. That was almost our silence, when there was music playing we could always be chilling out and saying nothing with music in the background. My Dad used to DJ quite a bit when we were younger. I never got to see any of his shows and I think it would have been so dope to see Dad DJing in a club!
You clearly come from a very close-knit family but I’ve read that you felt lonely as a child. Was that due to the age gap between you and your brothers?
Me and my brothers are very close because we spent our whole childhood together, up until 2005-2006 when Jamie and Junior moved away from home but even after that we’ve always remained close. But for me I think I always struggled with being the only girl in the house and getting to the stage where I felt like it wasn’t OK to be a tomboy. I used to play outside with everybody else and I wasn’t into the girly things but I think when I hit secondary school I started to wonder: would I have to be a certain way or be interested in different things to fit in with certain crowds? I could no longer hang out with Junior and Jamie because they were growing up and doing different things. I could be the little sister in the house but I couldn’t go out to clubs with them because I was so much younger. Those were my lonely years, when I was a teenager and I had to develop my own personality and become a person on my own.
Can you pinpoint a time when you really fell in love with music and decided that you wanted to make a career in music?
I think the career side came from my brothers being into music as a career. At the time it was really just a hobby but when I saw it slowly building into something that they were really passionate about and cared about. I think that has always been my stance as the middle child and the only girl in the house: to really take care of my brothers and I think that’s where the career side came in. I really wanted to do something that would benefit not just them, but the scene that they were a part of at the time.
If you weren’t given the drive time slot at Rinse FM, what do you think you’d be doing today?
That is such a good question! Every time I didn’t know what I was doing, something happened. That’s always been my life. That must just be stars aligning and karma and nature and the universe all working together as one. From working at IKEA on checkouts and feeling like I want to do something that I’m more interested in and then I get the Apple [retail] job. I really liked it but then I start thinking, “I can’t work at Apple forever, I should start doing something that I’m more passionate about.” Then the Rinse Drive Time show comes along and then I’m there with my producer (whom I now work with at Beats1) and we’re thinking we could be doing more and representing the stuff that we care about on a bigger platform and then Beats1 comes along! And literally, that’s how everything has happened. To be honest if I didn’t do the Rinse FM Drive Time I’d probably still be at the Regent Street Apple store.
Which qualities of yours do you think helped you become successful?
I remember my really good friend and I decided one day that we were going to stop saying, “yes” to things that we don’t want to actually do. I try to not cross the line and go into stopping myself from experiencing new things. I do take myself out of my comfort zone but when I have a gut feeling I like to stick with it. That’s an important part of who I am. I think it has helped people to understand me more and I think when people understand who I am, it makes me being myself easier. I’m like, “this is me and this is what I care about and this is what I love and am interested in”, you either like that or you don’t. And it’s fine, you don’t feel confused, you don’t feel like I’ve lead you on in anyway. You tune into the show and I’m very open about what it is that I’m doing. I think that’s a very respectable trait in anyone: pure honesty. I try to be that as much as possible and be really honest about things whether they’re good or bad.
Are there any artists that you feel you’ve personally helped by endorsing their music?
I don’t like to put my stamp on things, I feel like people work really hard. All I do is support but there are some people that I definitely always wanted it to be known that I think they’re great. Stormzy is definitely one of those people, anytime that I can converse with Stormzy is a good day for me because he’s just a young mind of great ideas and spirit. He just is a really cool guy.
It was amazing to see the whole of Beats1 get behind Stormzy as a station and say, “this guy’s great, let’s give him a show” and then for him to actually deliver and bring things like Stiff Chocolate, who’s this weird alter ego character DJ who plays R&B music, and then switch it up and start MCing, spraying bars telling people to ‘Shut Up” and stuff like that. Him being able to be himself has been really cool.
Are you surprised by the Grime resurgence in recent years?
I wouldn’t say I’m surprised. I’m more happy than anything that everyone has managed to really put their heart and their soul into it as a genre of music and a culture and a lifestyle and just be proud of it and continue to showcase it. Grime has taken for everyone within the scene to care about it to be a part of it for people to start listening. That’s what it always needed.
Now there’s two generations of Grime, you can see now what it really is and what effect it has had. From talking to people like AJ Tracey and Novelist who actually grew up listening to Skepta, there was a difference to when Skepta started making music and Wiley started making music they grew up listening to Ninjaman or Tupac or Biggie, whereas now there are people who’ve grown up listening to these [Grime] artists. I think again, that’s what the genre needed, this extensive catalogue of people that exist that live on it.
You’ve already interviewed so many amazing people in a relatively short amount of time at Beats. Do any stand out to you?
It goes without saying: Pharrell Williams. He’s just a hero in my eyes as a producer and an artist. And one that was just random and strange but amazing was Robbie Williams. That was a really surreal experience of me being able to sit down with someone who is in my head a super star, just the complete super star. Your whole life these people just exist in digital form, whether it’s on television or you watched them on the box back in the day. You’ve never seen this person in real life and in my head I never thought that day would come and he walks into the room. I was just staring at him like, “you’re actually here!” Up until this point I could have bet that he was just a hologram or a made up person that they keep placing into magazines like the Truman Show. Then it turned out that he was just the coolest guy and he watches Don’t Flop, the battle series which I’m a huge fan of and was like, “yeah I was writing bars to battle on Don’t Flop” and I was like ‘What!?” It was just amazing.
Your career must keep you very busy. Do you have much time for yourself?
I have no time. I have none at all. I spend my days listening to music and being on Beats1, which makes me very happy — luckily.
This feature originally appeared in Acclaim Magazine Issue 36 ‘Versus’. It can be purchased in the UK via Mag Culture and other good magazine stockists.
- By: Andrew Montell