Grime was always about so much more than music. Sure, those impeccable bars and probing flows helped define the sound, but the sonic architecture of the production was matched to a DIY visual appeal that recalled the creativity of punk, while tethering itself to deep roots within Black British communities.
Roony ‘RiskyRoadz’ Keefe was a key part of this. His camera shot some of the most vital videos during the first wave of grime, capturing some iconic artists in action. No one could escape his lens – The Movement, Skepta, Wiley, Jammer, all the defining artists of that era owe a debt to RiskyRoadz.
Emerging from hiatus to tackle some of his most ambitious projects yet, RiskyRoadz walks it like he talks it – he’s out there, on the front line, taking risks and reaping the rewards.
RiskyRoadz archive footage forms a core part of new exhibition Grime Stories: From the corner to the mainstream, which closes on December 4th. Situated at the Museum of London, it’s a fantastic, absorbing glimpse into the history of a sound, and a community, that completely transformed British music.
Tell us about the moment you picked up a camera for the first time. Did you envision yourself becoming a scene-defining filmmaker and photographer?
It was basically from an idea of creating a DVD of my own, after watching the likes of Smack DVD from the states or A+’s filmed set from Deja Vu (Jammer’s Birthday Bash) I wanted to put faces to the names on radio and the only way I could make that happen was by going out filming. Thankfully working in Rhythm Division alongside Sparkie, he knew artists and we were able to get the in front of our camera. I’ve always loved film and always had a great imagination and Ideas. Becoming a film maker was just a bonus and I owe my career in media to RiskyRoadz and that first camcorder.
What were the initial motivations behind documenting grime music and its emerging figures?
The initial motivations were from my love of the music being a fan, wanting to meet the artists and also find new artists to show others. I’ve always had a great ear for talent and probably would have made a great A&R too. I want our sound to spread and grow, and visuals helped that.
In retrospect, how do you think your DVD series helped push the genre forwards, eventually breaking into the mainstream?
I feel like the DVD series’, mine and the likes of A+’s and Ratty, Capo and Jammer’s, played a major part. It was essentially putting faces to names and allowing the music to spread further than a radio antenna. The DVDs were also in a way the first media training and set the artists up for having cameras in their faces.
Now, filmed content seems like a crucial element to freestyles and live rap performances. From your point of view, how and what has caused this shift in the listener’s focus?
It’s always been crucial from other genres too, seeing your favourite artists brings them closer to you and makes them feel familiar, brings a sense of knowing them and that will always make it a crucial element.
Last year, after a 15 year hiatus, you marked your return with a documentary on Birmingham’s grime scene. How important do you feel it is to spotlight musicians from outside of London’s tight-knit scene?
It’s very important and something we did from the beginning of the RiskyRoadz journey. It brings new life, new styles, new energy and spreads the scene – it also shows you’re doing something good if others are doing it too. Everybody with a talent deserve a spotlight regardless of where they are from.
I’m very proud of the fact I got to tell a part of Birmingham and the Midlands’ story. To have it find a home on Amazon Prime and be nominated for a Royal TV Society Award, as well as have it as Rolling Stone and NME’s top music docs of all time is an amazing feat and one me and my Pal Toby (who directed it) are very proud of.
Grime Stories is currently being displayed at the Museum of London. When co-curating the exhibition, what key aspects of grime music’s journey did you want to showcase?
Another amazing chapter in the RiskyRoadz Journey. To have an exhibition is a really special honour, one I’m very proud of.
When the museum approached me they wanted the story of grime, East London, and family, as well touching on the effects of gentrification. They also wanted to show and highlight key places in the genre too, hence getting Jammer involved as his home is a special location to the scene and his work and family life have also paved a way for the genre, so to have the basement recreated was something very special.
If you could document any one genre or artist outside of grime, which or who would it be?
As a genre it would have to be reggae dancehall, that’s what I grew up on before garage and grime. Artist wise I would love to document the Arctic Monkeys – I’m a massive fan and their chemistry and creative process would be something that would fascinate me.
…Also while thinking, if Oasis did a reunion tour I’d love to do that too!
As a fan and close observer of the genre’s formative years, how do you feel the landscape has changed and evolved over time?
Technology. The rate and ease that music is created, accessed and digested. That goes for both visual and audio – it’s an exciting and fascinating time and one that’s made the world a far smaller place.
Interview: Ana Lamond
All Photography: © Roony ‘RiskyRoadz’ Keefe
The Museum of London’s London Wall site closes on 4 December ahead of moving to its new West Smithfield site. A final celebration of the museum’s 45 years at the site will be held this weekend, including DJ sets, late-night cinema and a 24-hour opening between Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 December.
Grime Stories: from the corner to the mainstream is free to visit and will close on 4 December.