One thing that unites the speakers at the Industry Takeover All Dayer is they’re self-starters, hustlers who have tended to follow their passions, often creating the blueprint as they’re making their respective ways. And Raj Kapone is one of them…
A legendary music writer from the RWD Magazine era, Raj Kapone was a core member of the senior editorial team from 2005 to 2010, having joined the staff after a stint of work experience. Over the years, he interviewed and wrote about the likes of Amy Winehouse, Usher, J Cole, Kano and more, his time at RWD coinciding with grime music’s ascendancy from the underground to mainstream.
Now a full time father and part time instant noodle connoisseur, the east London resident has penned for The Guardian, i-D, The Metro and more. Now a branding and copywriting lead, Raj works for a multi-branded luxury fashion retailer.
In his own words, by way of this exclusive guest blog for UD (yes, alongside our media partners TRENCH we’ve got Raj out of retirement), we find out more about his love of grime, perseverance, working at RWD and making your dreams a reality…
“An accidental writer” is how I describe myself on my LinkedIn bio and that’s exactly what I am. Growing up, I never had any dreams or aspirations of being a writer. I didn’t think I was particularly good at it, but here I am, 15 years into a career based on my ability to string words together, all thanks to a combination of fortune and circumstance.
What I did know from a young age is that I wanted to work in the music industry. For a time, I thought that meant I was going to be a garage MC. Anyone who was unfortunate enough to hear me ‘spit’ probably knew better. A flippant choice to take Media Studies as a GCSE sparked an interest in film – enough to convince me that I was going to be the next Hype Williams. I took it on further as an A Level and when it came to picking a Uni course, all my choices were media related.
Having grown up in east London, a lot of advice I was receiving at the time was that I should go and study in a different part of the UK. “Get away as far from home as you can,” “Go and see what life is like in the rest of the country,” and so on. Except I didn’t want to do that. I was just beginning to explore the capital’s nightlife and had been put onto grime music (though not yet named as such) by my cousin. Scanning the local airwaves for pirate radio sets became a nightly obsession. Stumbling across a N.A.S.T.Y. Crew or Roll Deep set was like striking gold. I began to frequent local raves at the legendary Palace Pavilion and Stratford Rex – on my own mostly cos I struggled to find people who shared my love for this new artform. I didn’t care. I’d never experienced an energy like it. I was hooked and I wasn’t going anywhere.
Studying media in London limited my degree choices, so I ended up doing a BSc in Media & Communications at Brunel University. At the time I was naïve to the fact that there would be little practical element to the course but was swayed by the requisite work experience component. Except, no one would have me. The university set up interviews with potential ‘employers’ whilst I tried to get in touch with as many production companies as I could to make my music video director dream a reality. I got nothing. The deadline day for attaining a work placement was looming and I was in danger of having to switch my degree, so I took a different approach. I decided to try and contact any media outlets who I personally consumed as a fan. My first port of call was RWD Magazine.
Before fast broadband speeds made visual media a reality online, the internet was sparse and was predominantly a hub for chatrooms and forums. Social media wasn’t around yet either, so unless we saw them at a rave, we didn’t know what our heroes of pirate radio looked like, let alone their career ambitions within music. RWD changed all of that. No one else was documenting this seminal cultural movement in such a way. In tracking down the MCs, DJs and producers (no mean feat in itself) and providing a platform for them to tell their stories and promote their craft, RWD became ingrained within the scene. Features were coveted and even regularly became the subject of artists lyrics. Unpolished, underground and exclusively available at select record stores, RWD was the grime scene bible. For me, it was no less a publication than Vogue or i-D. The idea that I might be able to make tea and run errands for the staff was thrilling.
Cold calling the contact number I found in the front of the mag, none other than the don, the legend, Hattie Collins picked up. I was a little starstruck. Blogs had recently become a thing, and personal sites from music writers such as Hattie, Chantelle Fiddy, Danny Walker and Martin Clark were filled with an insider’s insight to the burgeoning scene. To me they were as much an important part of grime as those making the music. Luckily for me, Hattie didn’t know about RWD’s policy for only taking on work experience for a max of two weeks at a time. Without much fuss or persuasion, Hattie happily told me that I could join the team for three months. No CV, no interview, no hard sell. It was a moment that has shaped my life.
Despite having no experience of writing, by the end of my first week I had interviewed a US R&B group at a fancy Kensington hotel, had published articles on RWD’s website and attended Roll Deep’s album release party where I not only took in the performance, but was introduced to Wiley and the crew, as well as other big names in the scene. No more raving on my own and I still hadn’t been asked to make a tea. An old Hotmail account I used to submit my first articles by, still carried one of my garage MC aliases and thus became my pen name. Words by Raj Kapone. Three months turned into five years.
By the time I parted ways with RWD, I was the senior staff writer. I had honed my skills under the mentorship of Hattie and deputy editor, Danny Walker. Skills that not only set me up to continue my career as a writer, now in branding and copywriting, but also communication skills, organisation, ownership of ideas and personal growth. I owe them a lot. I fulfilled dreams of interviewing the likes of Nas, Amy Winehouse, Usher, Giggs and D Double E amongst others, as well as being invited to exclusive playback sessions for the likes of Kanye West, Common and Wretch 32. It was the happiest time of my career.
Hattie also tried to look after me beyond RWD. Hooking me up with by-lines for The Guardian and i-D – one-time experiences I never followed up or built on, because I was content with what I had at RWD. With hindsight, this was foolish. Being let go by RWD was one of the saddest moments in my life. Not only because I was losing what I believed to be a dream job, but because I had relinquished other opportunities to expand my freelance network – opportunities that I had been vouched for. I felt like I didn’t have those connections to fall back on and moved on into copywriting. I regret that I couldn’t remain in the music industry, the only industry I ever wanted to work in, but also feel lucky for the experiences I enjoyed whilst I was in it, the people I met and the scene we built together that has gone global and is dominating radio and streaming services today.
What I learnt, and what my advice to anyone who wants to work within the music industry would be is that it’s important to follow your dreams, but sometimes your initial plan isn’t necessarily the route you need to follow. Academia probably won’t land you your dream job, but it won’t hold you back either. Also, sometimes, it takes a little bit of luck to help find your way in, but once you get that break; hard work, dependability, networking, being nice and gratitude go a lot further to keeping you there than talent… though obvs, that helps a bit too. Good luck!
To read old copies of RWD visit https://issuu.com/rwdmag
Click HERE to book your ticket to Industry Takeover All Dayer and hear Raj Kapone speaking on the TRENCH x UD 20 years of grime panel
Words: Raj Kapone
Additional words: Chantelle Fiddy