“Made in Brum not E3… B.R.U.M – I rep that” raps Slick Don on 2016 track ‘Brap’, a defiant statement which not only looked to showcase what he and his city have to offer but also differentiate himself from Londons’ sound. The Birmingham music scene has always remained true to its core, even flying the flag when major artists from the capital were experimenting with their sound for commercial profit and success. In recent years, we have seen the likes of Lady Leshurr, Jaykae, MIST and Lotto Boyzz crack the charts and raise the profile of the UK’s ‘second city’. A new documentary aims to profile the rise and infrastructure of the Birmingham scene, as well as bringing back a moniker that is synonymous with grime and its DIY culture – Risky Roadz 0121. We caught up with collaborators and creators Roony ‘Risky’ Keefe and Toby Robson to talk about the project.
The pair met each other when they worked on 2016’s Pirate Mentality, a project produced alongside Channel 4 and SB.TV exploring grime culture and highlighting key players within it. Following this, a conversation between the two in a Soho pub put the wheels in motion for this new film; “essentially, we knew that there were more stories that we could tell and together, we complimented each other” Roony reflects. It’s clear that the two each bring their own thing to the table, with Roony’s ‘black book’ of contacts and visuals alongside Toby’s eye on the wider perspective of culture and understanding the impact of stories and how they could be told. In terms of motivation and vision, while both came at it from different perspectives, the main aim was to showcase the scene in its entirety; “When it came time to start researching, I just thought where is the grime scene now where it was 20 years ago? Where does independent music culture using grime as a lens exist today without any of the commercial money?”
The answer was Birmingham, a scene which has been bubbling away throughout the decades and has been active in grime since its inception, from early stalwart artists such as Vader and Devilman through to C4, Jaykae, Scorpz and Dapz On The Map. Alongside the emphasis on artists, the documentary looks to focus and speak to those who make the fabric of the local scene, from A&R Muna Ruumi, Despa Robinson and Silk City Radio DJ Big Mikey. “I found it really fascinating – to know that there is this whole ecosystem which is self-sufficient and to have the opportunity to shine on it means so much”. This is where the stories really come to life, using the context of the wider scene to showcase the amazing and vital work each person puts in to help develop and progress the sound and vision.
Its nice to see that even with commercial interest from outside, that this hasn’t destroyed the grassroot ethos of the scene.
One element from the project that really stands out is depth of archive footage which is used, showcasing the rich history that the Birmingham scene has; utilising handheld footage from the likes of Midlandz Roadside and StayFresh, almost paralleling the early works of Risky Roadz, alongside other DVDs such as Lord of The Mic, Aim High and Practice Hours. When watching these snippets of grainy footage, it’s clear why the pair wanted to put 0121 together and especially for Roony, reminded him of his earlier years in East London; “The biggest thing for me was the hunger and drive of the scene – there is a clear willingness to succeed and not listening to people telling you no”. However, unlike the burgeoning scene which took over the pirate airwaves in the early 2000s, Birmingham had another layer of complexity, essentially building an infrastructure from scratch, something which help build character and overcome obstacles; “However how big an artist [from Birmingham] gets, there seems to be a real desire to feed into the rest of the scene – here is a real humbling quality to know that however big someone gets, they still remember where they came from and ensure that the ecosystem is still being fed”. This support in turn spread outwards with Birmingham becoming a hub for other regional MCs, a point highlighted with an organised cypher in the film, inviting artists from Derby, Bristol and Nottingham.
The project itself has had a turbulent journey, a fact that Toby references when talking about getting the film together, essentially leaving the duo to fund the project themselves and organise everything, motivated mainly by their passion to create the project and see it succeed. This meant calling in favours, setting aside time alongside other work and working on a shoestring budget over a number of years [initial filming happened in 2018] alongside completion funding which helped bring it all together. Both Toby and Roony understand the work they have put in and how it mirrors the scene they are looking to highlight, with an emphasis on perseverance and resilience.
If you’ve got a passing interest in how sort of independent music culture exists on the internet today, this is a film you should seek out.
The Risky Roadz tagline only helps to legitimise the project, marking a return in the series since The Movement Documentary and the Fuck Radio DVD in 2006. While the film maintains the raw and engaging DNA of what we have come to expect from Risky Roadz, Toby’s input utilizes cinematic techniques and after effects to give it a “4K facelift”, ensuring its relevance within current output. While reflecting on nostalgia and the return to Risky Roadz, Roony explains why it meant so much to him; “To know where you’re going, you have to know where you come from. You have to touch on the nostalgic facts without being dependent on it because Risky Roadz has evolved since then. Toby was keen to use the old logo to showcase the heritage while at the same using the film as a gateway into what comes next”. From Toby’s perspective, it was all about progression; “We wanted to ensure that the stories we told were contemporary and look forward because at the end of the day, we wanted to push things forward”.
Risky Roadz was and will always be an encapsulation of the culture at its rawest and by using this lens, it showed the Birmingham scene at its rawest, from pirate radio sets to impromptu car freestyles. The impact that Risky Roadz has had as a concept is also a focal point of the project, from artists appreciation of his work [Tempa proudly proclaiming that he “grew up on this f**king s**t”] to his influence on the video creators of today such as P110 and JDZ Media, who have taken the DIY culture of content creation to the next level, amassing nearly 700,000,000 millions between them.
The film was picked up by Amazon Music at “the 11th hour”, making it the first grime-centric documentary of its kind to be available on a major streaming network. The move will also mean over a million users will have access to the documentary, meaning an increased interest in the regional scenes and Risky Roadz as a product. Knowing the journey the pair have been on, what does this release mean to them; “Personally for me, to go from shooting DVDs on the roadside to having my work on a streaming network is amazing and myself and Toby deserve a pat on the back for that. It’s also a brave move from Amazon and I salute them as they had the foresight to see how powerful and inspirational this film can be and what it can do culturally outside of the music scene” says Roony.
If they’re gonna do a film related to the grime scene or grime culture, you’d be an idiot not to have Risky involved – the authenticity is guaranteed.
Looking forward, the pair have potential plans to work together again, completing the trilogy after their first two projects. While remaining tight-lipped on what it could be, they are both keen to say that it would have a different perspective on the scene and would essentially “cement what the scene has become” while referencing its worldwide reach and impact on other artists and scenes. Also, the last few years have been a learning curve for each individually, each taking important lessons into upcoming projects. As for the Birmingham scene, the sky is simply the limit; “They can literally do whatever they want – there is so much new talent from M1llionz and Miss Lafamilia who are experimenting with their sound. Birmingham has always been a musically cultural city and there are so many genres which are popping off. Also, as our film highlights, you don’t have to be a musician to be in the music scene, you can be a Adam P110, you can be a Yaseen Rosay, you can be a Tom Fitch – there is no ceiling on what they can do”.
Risky Roadz 0121 will be accompanied by a series of Amazon Originals tracks. All Original tracks will be available alongside songs from Birmingham’s best-known grime artists, on the +44: 0121 Birmingham playlist from 25th June. Original tracks include:
Hitman – ‘Bad Man Ting’
Mya Remi – ‘Animated’
AdotWiz feat T.Roadz, Vader & Sox – ‘0121′
Papez Musix ft Mr Manage & Hitman – ‘Get Down Mad Win It’
Tana – ‘Real or Fake’
Dapz on the Map feat Blay Vision – ‘Alive’
Screama feat Trilla & Creezon – ‘Back2Bak’
Sox – ‘Bikes and Planes’
Mayhem NODB – ‘Bad Boy Stuff’
Tempa – ‘Go In (Freestyle)’
M1llionz x Tugz – ‘Trap Lovin K2 – ‘More Money’
Watch the full documentary on Amazon Music here