Yesterday, Apple announced a brand new 24-hour radio streaming service under the name Beats 1, fronted by three DJs, each repping a different location: ex-BBC presenter Zane Lowe in L.A., Hot 97 stalwart Ebro in New York, and Rinse FM DJ Julie Adenuga in London. That’s the three of them cuddling in the photo below, as if they’ve been pals for years.
But, in comparison to her L.A. and NY counterparts, Adenuga is a relative unknown. In London, she's recognized as the voice of beloved pirate-turned-legit station Rinse FM's afternoon show for the last two years, bringing the newest and weirdest music to the city's primetime broadcasting. But in worldwide terms, it's amazing to see Apple backing Adenuga alongside Lowe and Ebro—she's got around 5,000 Twitter followers to match their respective 655,000 and 106,000, and if she ever pops up on YouTube for a cheeky interview, the comment section gets overwhelmed with people falling over themselves to talk about how much she resembles her big brothers, grime MCs Skepta and JME. So who is this 26-year-old that Apple calls "one of London's most vital tastemakers," and how did she find her way into the company's inner circle?
Hard work runs in the Adenuga family
Julie is the younger sibling of Joseph and Jamie Adenuga, aka Skepta and JME; she was just a teenager when her brothers founded the hugely influential grime crew Boy Better Know. But from early on she knew how to make her own voice heard and how to command a stage, lending additional backing vocals to JME’s 2008 debut album Famous, and even popping up on tour with him from time to time.
She threw herself into DJing at the deep end
Adenuga’s radio career began at Rinse FM in 2010, shortly before the UK pirate station got its official FM status. Along with her BFF Sian Anderson—now a BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ—she took a gamble on asking the station managers for a show, despite having zero experience. “We didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” Adenuga remembered in her official Rinse bio a couple of years ago. The pair went in to record their first show armed with nothing but great taste in music and a willingness to chat for hours. A producer showed them how to operate a CDJ on the fly, because they couldn’t mix; “we’d just stop and start tunes. We had no DJ experience, but we just played the music and were talking rubbish. It worked. Luckily.” Bringing the rare combination of fire music selections and a banging sense of humour to the station, Adenuga and Anderson hosted a show called Mewzik Box from 2010 - 2011, taking a weekly 11am - 1pm slot.
As you can hear from the first show in the player below (find what seems to be all of them preserved here), their lack of tech-y know-how and their endearing refrain of “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” had no bearing on how good their show was. These two blazed in with a style that made you feel like you were kicking back with a best mate—the one with the most fun taste in music—while leaping effortlessly from the most “pop” to the most experimental tunes, not only within grime itself but across the spectrum of the charts and underground. In the show below, you can hear UK chart-toppers N-Dubz and Tinie Tempah slotting in alongside classic Bob Marley cuts and more off-grid acts like Marvell. Essentially, the duo made themselves into essential listening.
Rinse quickly promoted her to a daily primetime slot
In 2012, after a short break, Adenuga was asked by Rinse to come back to take over their drivetime slot. There began two years of Drive With Julie, the daily 4-7pm show that blended hip-hop, grime, house, pop, R&B, and basically anything fresh that caught Adenuga’s imagination, along with some of the chillest and most revealing interviews with rising stars to be found on British radio. Check her early interviews with electronic duo Disclosure while eating ice-cream, popstar on the rise Tinashe on Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta, and London MC Stormzy on being “the Snapchat prince,” as well as her recent chat with grime godfather Wiley on forgetting his words on tour (“I should know every word to everything...I don’t though”). Adenuga was a pillar of Rinse’s programming; in case you doubted it, at one point she had the station logo shaved onto her head.
Most of all, she's passionate about supporting local talent
Taking a step into front-of-camera presenting, Adenuga also hosted an online TV show called Play It last year. The webisodes shone a light on brand new hip-hop and grime talent from the UK, as well as young singers and spoken word artists; to prove that her taste can’t be pigeonholed, here’s an episode of Play It featuring a ukulele. Also last year, she started this landmark petition to get a statue of grime godfather Wiley erected in east London. It hasn't come through yet, but we can dream.
“My vision is to do things that bring people together,” Adenuga told Hook LDN earlier this year. “People in general, all human beings.” It might sound ambitious, but she’s evidently got a right to be—at 26, with just five years in the radio game, she’s got the UK’s biggest MCs knocking at her door for her connections, and Apple looking to her to curate the country’s freshest musical output. Listen to Mewzik Box here, her archived Drive With Julie interviews here, and make sure you get to know Julie Adenuga before she’s a bigger star than her big brothers. Watch out 2015: it’s an Adenuga family takeover.