“People and music have always been my two things, ” Rob says. Indeed. I can see the passion and drive oozing through him as we speak on a chilly rooftop of BBCs New Broadcasting House, overseeing most of central London.
How does one end up as an editor for the UK’s biggest black radio station?
It all started at high school when I had a massive thirst for music.I got involved with radio and grew up on pirate radio, mixtape, and KISS FM. I started winning vinyl on competitions and won £500 from Trevor Nelson on Kiss Cash; we were both recently just talking about it as well *laughs*. With the prize money, I got myself some turntables and started DJ’ing at house parties. At Roehampton University, I studied Marketing and Social Science, and I wrote my dissertation on CHOICE FM (now Capital Xtra), and how it could go from being a local station to a national radio station.
Like most people, I didn’t get a decent job for 18 months after university. I worked a day job at Wandsworth Council, and at night I was doing radio promo; packing vinyl for the radio stations and sending out new music from the U.S. At first I was paid in vinyl and got up to 100 records a month – I loved it. I did 18 hour days and still loved it. I saw in the papers that the BBC were looking to launch a national black music station and my eyes lit up immediately. I wrote to the BBC and didn’t hear back for 18 months. I pitched loads of ideas and eventually became a broadcast assistant. I always said that if I ever got my foot in the door, I’d make the most of it. It’s been a wonderful 20-year journey!
What’s one thing you can’t leave your house without?
My iPhone, my bluetooth headphones, and my vape pen.
Does today’s music culture shed a good light on black people?
There has always been a wide range of music; from stuff that is deemed inspirational, and music that is sometimes labelled as negative. There is a whole canvas of music available; if you go back to 10 years you’ve always had your Lauryn Hill’s – we now have the Janelle Monae’s, Kwabs, and really good positive artists. Black music is diverse across any topic of music – across all genres. If we reversed this question and asked ‘do you think today’s music culture sheds a good light on white people?’ We wouldn’t ask that because we’d see the artists as individuals – people may reflect themselves in a bad light, but they don’t represent all people. We deserve to have that same range and the same level of diversity.
What you listen to in the club is different to what you listen to when cooking, to when you’re on the train, to when you just want to be inspired. The challenge is making sure you can find it. It’s easier to find than ever before especially with the help of the blogs, DJs, radio, and curators – but you shouldn’t rely on just one outlet for your music.
What’s your least favourite type of music?
Bad hip hop and techno. By bad hip hop, I mean people that just begin listening to this genre, find a random artist and immediately assume that the artist represents the entire genre. Sometimes I wish some of these artists didn’t exist. With techno, I just don’t think it’s for me. I love my beats and techno doesn’t offer that for me. No offence to techno music lovers out there!
Any funny stories with any of the artists you’ve met?
In 2007, one of my idols Mary J Blige came to perform in the 1Xtra basement when I produced the Ronnie Herel show, and while trying to sit next to her for a photo, I accidentally knocked her sunglasses off. Not my smoothest moment but she found it funny.
Have you ever been starstruck by any of the A-listers you’ve worked with?
Not so much starstruck – more inspired. By talking to people off the air and speaking to people with natural talent. Alicia Keys, for example, is super cool; I remember watching her rehearse live in Maida Vale – insanely talented. Being Trevor Nelson’s editor at first was a bit of a weird one, as I listened to him growing up, now I’m meant to tell him off for being late!
Do you ever worry that the youth may disengage from the radio?
No. I think it’s not our job to keep them in a particular format. The younger generation will adapt to whatever they want to adapt to. It’s our job to embrace the platforms that they want to use. If they’re into Snapchat for example, we’ve got to go their spaces. This includes real life spaces too – workshops, youth clubs, community centers, barber shops, etc.. If you don’t adapt, you can fall behind – and become a bit of a dinosaur.
What non-work related task do you hope to accomplish by the end of the year?
To stop smoking. I’ve started running. I recently walked Snowdonia for charity, and next year I’m determined to attempt the London marathon.
Do you feel free?
*Thinks and compares this question to a ‘red pill’ or ‘blue pill’ scenario*
Yes – I have a wonderful family, friends, and in my personal time, I’m free. London life is so engaging – but a challenge, and at some point, you have to look at whether you’d like to continue pursuing such a fast-paced career, or if you’d look at settling down with a family – at times in London it doesn’t seem like you can have both. Like at what point do you start to jump off the hamster wheel? I’m not quite there yet.