Meet Glyn Aikins, a man responsible for a majority of your childhood cult classics. And we can almost bet you don’t even know it.
From Craig David to Artful Dodger, So Solid Crew, Lethal Bizzle’s infamous hit “Pow”, Roll Deep, Emeli Sande, Naughty Boy and whole load more, Glyn’s fine tuned ear has platformed many of our finest British staples into Global stars.
Although he hit it big time within the garage era, don’t think Mr Aikins spends his days staring at plaques in reminiscence. Oh no, the A&R extraordinaire has another serious weapon under his belt; Krept & Konan.
On Friday the pair broke yet ANOTHER record, with their brand new debut ‘The Long Way Home’ charting number 2 in the album charts – making it the highest charting UK rap album in history (12k+ copies on first week sales). Not only this but their Jeremih assisted lead single “Freak of the Week” touched number 9 in the singles chart the week before. With stars aligning for London’s leading rap pioneers we can place our bets that Glyn will have a new plaque on his wall in the very near future. Considering all of this, and his name being brought up in pretty much every Not For The Radio interview, what better time was there to take a seat at his Kensington based office and have a chat about life?
We asked Glyn his stance on plenty of topics we either a) don’t really understand b) would like to understand some more.
What being an A&R means:
“I guess the defined way of putting it is talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of artists. This takes many roles, but mostly it can mean finding artists you think have the talent to sell loads of records and make some impact on the musical landscape, in this country, around the world.
Mainly it requires you to help the artist make their records, you kind of plug into where they need help, like finding a producer. You may need to find songs for them or put them with songwriters. Or, you may have to put them with other artists to collaborate and make the records. The general creative process of getting a record made is where you assist, wherever the artist needs help.”
Artists he wishes he could have signed:
“Is there anyone I regret not signing? (Wondering slightly). Maybe, might be, probably. I can’t think who though, I’m pretty happy with who I’ve got (laughs) you know what I mean.”
The difference from the big budget garage era and now:
“The difference is in how music is priced nowadays. At the time of The Artful Dodger and Craig David you were selling singles at £3.99… and now they’re 99p. So you see what I’m saying? I guess in certain cases the volume differs too. When you got like Artful Dodger, Daniel Beddingfield or So Solid, when you got exceptional records, they sell a lot. You know, um, that’s kind of a gross simplification. But then you have to look at the margins of what people were making then, to what they make now. It’s less. So therefore, the goal is to try to find even more exceptional records, you know, keep the business going.”
On negative media attention towards UK Rap and Grime:
“When there’s negative press, it can, depending on what it is, have an effect on the amount of support you get from the media. In the case of So Solid, the debate that raged was one more of a moral issue than anything else. They were accused of glorifying violence, and gun violence and stuff. I remember Trevor Phillips had a TV show debate about it. But then, blaming them is such an easy thing to do, it’s like well just blame them! You know? Maybe they’re a product of environment? Or maybe they’re talking about seeing their environment; surely that’s [the environment] the problem. Picking out lyrics and going “Oh! Look, they said it, they’re doing this” doesn’t tell us enough about the problem, it doesn’t tell us the source of the problem. And, you know, when people do that, it’s like, how much violence is in movies, like the Avengers? But nobody is complaining about that.”
On “Pow” and the single being banned in clubs due to its aggressiveness:
“(Laughs) 50%, or well, 30% of it was quiet amusing. Like really? People were saying this? And you know, I guess, you don’t want to be completely irresponsible by ignoring these sort of things. But at the same time you have to accept that it is a record that just evokes such an emotional response. That is pretty much what you want music to do. If that’s not the purpose then it’s at least part of the purpose… All it did was tell me how popular the tune was.”
How he resigned Lethal Bizzle in 2015:
“His career will go wherever he takes it, the way we done it is, we done the deal where the stuff comes out on his label, which is Dench Records. He’s been around long enough, you know, and he’s learned enough, and experienced enough and is hard working enough to know what he is doing. So he will put out the music as and when he chooses, with the full backing of this label.”
Who Dench Records should sign:
“(Laughs) That’s completely up to him.”
What made him think it’s time for Krept & Konan:
“The thing is, after the ‘Young Kingz’ mixtape, actually funny, it charted in the top 20 official albums chart. Which has never happened before. I said to them, “you guys are putting us all to shame, doing it all yourself.” Based on meeting them I always felt like they knew what they were doing and knew what they wanted to be doing so they should keep continuing to do that. And, I knew, on meeting them, that these guys have got drive, they got ambition (his phone rings, which he swiftly ignores) … They got worth ethic, it’s fantastic. Those are the sort of people I want to invest in. Of course the music is sensational, they had very strong and high ambitions of what they want to be doing, and my thing is, well, I don’t want to become this sort of normal corporate record company, telling you what you need to do, like you just go off and do the thing. I’ve helped them in terms of providing support at the back end of things, like with some of the features, I would of helped them with, like Emeli Sande, however, at large, they did most of it themselves.”
On Spotify and the digital age of music:
“It doesn’t affect the A&R role. People always need music, and people are always willing to consume it, or, to buy it. Where and/or how people buy music has changed. And has continued to change. But people still are interested, needing, and wanting to buy music from quality artists. And I don’t think that’s ever going to change, but I could be wrong, and would be my famous last words. But I don’t think it will change, there’s always a need for new music. With the Internet, on the one hand, it’s made it easier for people to access music, so basically the consumption of music has probably grown exponentially. Now it’s just the case of figuring out the best way of people to purchase the thing… Piracy has always existed, the Internet just made it easier. And Spotify, in terms of it’s rate of growth, seems to be the way people want to buy music at this point.”
“Integrity>” and independent successes:
“I think he’s [Jme] got the highest charting independent album now? I don’t think anybody is worried, I think it’s healthy when that happens. You know what, I think that with record companies we have to be in line with “consumer tastes” and stuff. As brilliant as we [record label] all think we are, when things like that happen, like with Krept and Konan, it is like “okay, this is a great surprise?” Things like that show you how tastes have shifted, particularly in rap music. I say “rap music” and I’m lumping everyone in there, Skepta, Professor Green, Tinie Tempah, everyone… Shoot me now. I’m lumping everyone in, but it’s all fundamentally rap music, to me. I know there’s sub sections like Grime and the rest of it, but its rap.”
Approaching UK artists from the “hood rap” scene:
“With artists you just have to let them be them. No point in trying to make them into someone they’re not. All it’s about, well, is the ambition to be heard by as many people as possible, and if I believe that ambition exists, the talent is unique and distinctive and unlike anything else, then by all means, go ahead. There are those that are fiercely independent and not into the label system, so therefore don’t pay attention to it and don’t even really entertain it. And that’s fine too.”
UK media platforms and emerging talent:
“It’s funny I was talking about it to someone the other day, and we was talking about… who is it? Bonkaz and J Hus. Those are the guys that are emerging, I was told, and are the ones we should keep eyes on. Stormzy of course. It’s those three that I often get told about a lot, I’ve had multiple conversations about those guys in the last, I dunno, two weeks.”
What is next for Grime:
“You know, I think it’s vibrant and will continue too grow. I’m not entirely sure if it’s Grime specifically is growing, but its 50% the music and 50% the artists. People like Skepta trailblazing in the way that he is and linking up with the Drake’s, the A$AP Rocky’s, the Kanye West’s and the rest of it, I think he is, or will be spreading the message far and wide, and he is in the position to spread the message the furthest at the moment. But it’s interesting, in terms of the sound, I was reading an article about three or four weeks ago and basically in America, Chicago I think, there’s like a few new rap artists coming through and their sound (Drill) is becoming, or they were comparing to it sounding a bit like Grime. And they think that culturally that is where Americans will begin to understand what we’re doing here. It takes that cultural shift. Is it all the way there yet? I don’t know. But is there potential for it to get there? If the superstars of America, being Drake and what not, are there fully embracing it then it’s going to move forward quite a bit. Then you’ve got people like Skepta coming through, he’s just doing what he’s doing, he’s not necessarily trying to change anything for anyone, which is fantastic, you know what I mean?”
To celebrate the release of “The Long Way Home” and pay homage to Glyn Aikins’ longevity in music and helping to propel the culture, we have orchestrated a playlist of just a few of the artists he has had hands in. Kick back, you’ll need a gun finger and a two step at the ready
Interviewed by/Words: Vidal Holness