Music is an industry that is in constant change. The way it is distributed, produced, and the genres which are most popular changes every decade. In the U.K. one of the biggest changes we have seen is the rise in prominence of British rap with artists such as Stormzy topping the charts and UK artists’ share of Rap’s sales and streams increasing from 15.5% to 42.2% of singles over the last 5 years. However, whilst this success may seem to have happened overnight it has gone through a multi-decade evolution to get to where it is today from Garage to Grime and now the many subgenres we see today. Two industry veterans who significantly contributed to this rise of U.K. rap over the last two decades are Riki Bleau and Glyn Aikins, Co-Presidents of record label Since ’93.
Aikins grew up in London and was introduced to rap music by his cousin Skibadee, a drum and bass musician from London when he showed him the renowned Public Enemy album ‘It Will Take A Nation Of Millions’. “After listening to the album I was sold and never looked back,” he recalls. Over time he developed an “obsession” for Hip Hop & Rap music spending every spare moment at record stores which at the time were a place to hang out and discover new music. He didn’t realize a career could be forged out of this obsession but an employee at the record store noticed how frequently he would turn up and suggested he intern with a PR company, Media Village PR which later became Relentless Records. At Relentless he would go on to sign “Rewind “ by Artful Dodger featuring Craig David which topped the UK charts. This was followed by signing So Solid Crew, a group that led a breakthrough for the UK music scene. In 2003 he joined Virgin EMI in A&R where he went on to sign several artists including Krept & Konan, Naughty Boy, and award-winning singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé.
Bleau’s journey took a different path, growing up on a council estate in Hackney his earliest memories of music were genres such as Soca and Reggae influenced by the music his parents listened to “I recall my Dad playing music around the household when I was younger and having family get-togethers”. His first Black British music influence came in the form of Jungle music, a genre that developed out of the UK rave scene and reggae sound system culture in the 1990s. Further down the line he developed an interest in rap and formed a rap group with friends from school. Seeking promotion opportunities for his group in 2002 he stumbled across some of the founding members of Channel U, an iconic TV channel that broadcasted many artists that mainstream TV would not play at the time. This meeting ended up turning into a job offer when they asked him to use his network to help them find up and coming UK rap talent to broadcast. He accepted the role of becoming their Head of Music & Promotions. 2008 saw a new chapter for Bleau as he ventured into music publishing and management with his first signing being singer-songwriter Labrinth who quickly developed into a world-class talent immediately writing and producing hit songs Tinie Tempah such as ‘Pass Out’ and ‘Frisky’ which earned him and Bleau an Ivor Novelo award for the best contemporary song in 2010. He then went on to release his own songs ‘Earthquake’ & ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’ which both charted high in the UK charts. In the years that followed Bleau continued to manage many more household names.
The duo’s paths collided when Aikins was at Virgin EMI and he signed producer Naughty Boy who happened to be managed by Bleau for the single ‘Never be your woman’ which featured Wiley alongside a vocal from Emele Sande who was new at the time. Emeli was then signed as a publishing client by Bleau and Aikins signed her as an artist. Her debut album ‘Our Version of Events’ went on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide winning 3 Brit awards on the way.
Launching Since ’93
The success working with Emele Sande and Naughty Boy highlighted how well the two could work together and in 2018 they joined forces to launch Since ’93 Records, a joint venture with Sony Music. Whilst they have achieved relative success to date they know there is significantly more work to do “The overall ambition is to be the best and you can’t say that if you´re living in past glory” they say. They have a firm focus on bringing through the next generation of artists who will have more opportunities than their predecessors and the pair want to make sure they maximize this opportunity. Some of the artists they have brought on to the label include Fredo, Loski & Aitch to name a few. Additionally, they hold an exclusive Black Excellence Brit’s After Party every year, which this year saw the likes of supermodel Winnie Harlow, chart-toppers Stormzy, and D Block Europe as well as Top Boy lead Michael Ward in attendance. Whilst there are only two of 3 black presidents of record labels currently in the U.K. the work they are doing for the next generation will ensure there are more to come in the future as the U.K. rap industry continues to grow.
This article is part of a series featuring underrepresented people making a difference. You can find more articles (click here) and if you have a story to tell or want to be updated as soon as new features are released get in touch via Twitter @TommyASC91