Back in November last year, DJ Target aka Darren Joseph announced that he would be releasing Grime Kids, his debut book. The release promised an in-depth look at the origins and birth of grime, the turbulent journey of the genre and personal stories of the man himself. In the past few months, not only has the book been published, but it has been supported by praise from fans, artists, critics alike and optioned for a TV adaptation. With such a few hectic months behind him, it’s surprising to see Target take it all in his stride as we sit down in his East London studio to discuss the process behind his book.
In 2015/6, grime was on the rise with a newly found interest in the genre and a new wave of artists coming through from AJ Tracey to Stormzy, while Skepta had once again embraced his grime roots and taken it to America. At the same time, Target was DJing on 1Xtra in his regular Friday night slot which broadcast just before DJ Semtex who was in the process of putting the final touches to his own book Hip-Hop Raised Me, and all the while encouraging Target to do the “grime one”. While the idea seemed great, Target initially had doubts; “At first, I didn’t think anyone would care or want to hear my perspective but I could see that everyone’s eyes and ears were on grime and wanted to hear about the history”.
While there were books like This Is Grime [written by renowned journalist Hattie Collins] that were chronicling the story, Target felt the inside perspective was yet to be told about where grime came from and rose to, with situations like Stormzy winning a BRIT Award in 2018. After his initial chat with Semtex, Target admits that the memories started flooding back – from everything from the old school jungle days, to garage, from Pay As U Go to Roll Deep to Channel U, pirate radios, white labels, Ayia Napa and more.
Over the next 6 months, he started to entertain the thought of actually putting a book together and started to have more conversations about actually doing it. At the same time, he posted the photo of him and Wiley [which went on to become the front cover for the book] on Instagram and had never seen such a response “people were calling me, texting me, saying this was the most legendary thing they had seen“.
It just showed there was an interest in the legacy and the journey of grime.
Knowing there was an audience, it now fell on Target to actually put the book together. After speaking to a book agent, the word was put out to publishers about a new grime book written from the inside. The response was largely positive and when Trapeze [an imprint from publishing house Orion] got involved, they were “super interested and understood it and wanted to bring it to the masses in the same way that I did”.
To get started, Target had to put together a chapter list, helping to break down the book and giving it structure, from chapter titles like Sidewinder to In At The Deep End. He initially had to get the confidence to write and the only way he’d know if he could do it was through writing those initial chapters; “I sent them to the publishers and they didn’t have anything to say apart from “keep doing what you were doing”. So after getting that confidence boost, I knew that I wanted to do the book by myself”.
One of Target’s literary influences was Roald Dahl and this is clear through his vivid depiction of characters and scenarios. While Dahl had his writing hut where he would lock himself away and write in, Target also had to have a specific space to write in;. “I had to be on the laptop, at my desk, in my house and usually at the same time – that’s where I can focus my mind and where the bulk of the book was written”. His commitment to writing the book himself was clear from the outset and this was also shown through his dedication to not using a ghost writer; “I didn’t want to use a ghost-writer because of the approach I wanted to take. I knew the experiences that I had seen or people that I had conversation with so I didn’t want to feed this to someone else for it to be edited and expanded to fit a certain structure”.
I wanted the story to represent the culture and the scene.
Writing a book is no easy feat and there were also points throughout the process that were difficult. Putting together chapters were treated like putting together music tracks, and he never wanted to force the process and push out substandard work, “it’s better to come back to the drawing board when things are really flowing”. Coming from a creative background, Target has always looked to shine a light on the grime scene, with his Aim High DVD/CD project alongside Danny Weed released back in 2004/5. The DVD was approached in the same way as the book, with people showing an interest in the scene and wanting to know more.
Target simply wanted to “showcase artists and help push their stories in the world”. Telling stories forms the base of Grime Kids, whether it is an anecdote about not getting into a club and having to draw a moustache with mascara to look older or the impact Channel U played on the rise and exposure of grime, every story is told with a personal touch. The journey grime has taken has not been easy – when the genre was born in the early 2000’s, it was misunderstood by the masses and the mainstream media. The aggressive undertones of the sound led many to believe that grime was violent and the artists within it were “hoodlums and troublemakers who weren’t going anywhere“. However as Target admits, the genre was new to them so they were unaware of their perception to the outside world. In the past 15-20 years, the genre has been recognised and praised for its achievement but there is “still a way to go and there are still people who don’t quite get it”.
However, through all its ups and downs, Target remains proud of everything grime has achieved. When people doubted and turned their backs, moments like Stormzy winning Best Male and Best Album at the BRIT Awards in 2018 are still his proudest moments; even more so then his own successes and achievements, “I’ve been blessed in what I have been able to do but I’m never the person to run around and shout about my success“. It’s hard to deny as well, as Target has seen the birth of the genre, the struggle with its infant years and come out the other side, with a new found life and energy; “I take great pride in seeing artists take it to the next level – headlining festivals, owning international trainer sprays, opening restaurants, selling out merchandise and tours and directing movies”.
This seems a million miles away from printing up a few white labels and doing a few sweaty sets in the hood.
Outside of music, I wanted to know how much Target thought his East London hometown had changed over the past 20 years. With gentrification and urban development taking over the East London area, the landscape has certainly changed with the class gap becoming wider with the rise of Canary Wharf and the financial sector. Target stated that while it has led to a much needed rejuvenation in certain areas such as Shoreditch, it has affected the East London community spirit and is “washing away what East London was”. At one point in the book, Target speaks fondly of his area and says that his “surroundings were teaching us to want more from life” – I wanted to know if he thought the modern generation still had the desire to succeed and want more; “It’s definitely different now because everything is so instant so if I want to become something, I can set up a social media account and push my work. But back in the day, we would go on pirate radio every single night because we loved it and wanted to be heard, not knowing what the future was. The reality now is that if you have a hot song and get a good video, you could be on at Wireless within six months and headline a festival the year after. But this was never how we looked at it; we just loved music and loved it more than anything else. There was a different motivation to it”.
Target is also quick to respond that while motivations may have shifted, the art and creativity are still at an all-time high; “By being able to show young people viable career paths and the money they can get, it pushes that creativity and what they can actually achieve”. Passion is something that is abundantly clear to see in Target. By never setting himself an end goal, he has taken himself on a journey which has seen him consistently grow and develop. His enthusiasm when talking about new music and artists shows his love for the scene and his projects outside of the book are key examples of this. Whether it’s his weekly radio show and In Depth interviews or his Pitched Up imprint which highlights new talent, Target is still as passionate, if not even more than ever.
With the book, it was never about money but was about passion. It was about sharing my story.
While Grime Kids is one man’s perspective, it is the perspective of someone who has been there through so much of its rich history and was lucky enough to recall it all so well. The misrepresentation of grime as a scene and as a culture is nothing new so it is refreshing to hear an inside voice, speaking its truth in published form. A shift is certainly occurring with written literature, with books from Wiley and Akala propelling up the Amazon charts, and Stormzy also recently announced his own imprint with Penguin. The process of writing a book is by no means an easy one, but it has certainly given Target a new perspective;
“Since I have written the book, I have been encouraging people to believe in themselves and get their thoughts on paper. At the end of the day, I could have been sitting here still thinking if I should do it and if I could it. But I’m glad that I stopped thinking like that because I could focus and I surprised myself on this one. I believe that if you’re passionate about something, then you can achieve it”.
With news coming out since our interview that Grime Kids has been optioned for TV series, it shows that the sky really is the limit for Target. Serving as a coming of age tale and the celebration of a sound and genre he loves, the book is destined to project well on the small screen. Target’s detail to characters and his love of visualisation means chapters and paragraphs will play out perfectly in visual form.
While rounding up our conversation, I ask Target what he wants people to take away from the book and his answer is a reflection of his selflessness and humility; “I think depending on who you are or where your grime knowledge is – even if you’ve been a grime fan since 2002 and think you know it all about grime, there will still be something you can take away from the book. I was just happy that I had finished writing it and put it out there so any feedback I get is an added bonus”.
Grime Kids is out now and available at Amazon and in all good bookstores.