Exclusives Interviews 17 February 2021
Author: Oli Knight

GRM Exclusive: ProdByWalkz discusses his position in UK Drill, almost losing his channel & more

17 February 2021

Walkz is the definitive UK Drill reactor, as his self dubbed moniker “The Drill Simon Cowell” implies. His most viewed video, a reaction to Zone 2’s controversial hit “No Censor” has well over a million views on Youtube, and his reaction to Australian Drill group One Four’s “The Message” reaching over half a million views demonstrates how many people value his opinion. Despite his success in the world of reactions however, Walkz is by no means limited to only doing reactions. His youtube channel also hosts his own freestyle series “Who’s Got Bars”, which has seen the emergence of gifted upcoming rappers such as Fizzler, Teezandos, and his own brother Jacko. In addition, as the name implies, Walkz is a respected producer in the UK Drill scene, with credits on songs with superstars such as Headie One and Rv, Digga D, and KO. I caught up with Walkz over Zoom to get the breakdown on his unique position within the scene.

Walkz never made a conscious decision to immerse himself in the North London music scene. Instead, as a result of growing up in a community regarded as one of the epicentres of grime music, Walkz had a distinctly musical childhood, surrounded by rappers in his local community and learning to produce from a young age.

“I’ve been producing since I was ten. Obviously in the area I grew up, there were a lot of Grime MCs, Shoddy Crew was around, which turned into Marvell, Double S, those kinds of people. Being the kid in the area, watching them and trying to emulate what they do, they were doing grime at the time, it was all I could have done”.

This offers insight into how the Walkz we know today gained the exhaustive knowledge of production and rapping which so effectively informs his reaction videos. For Walkz, music, and particularly music which was local to him, was always part of his life, and something that he sought to further understand and embrace. This was the inspiration for the initial birth of his youtube channel; not a desire to simply make reaction videos but to showcase the musical community he was engulfed in.

Asking him about the original content he was uploading, there is no mention at all of anything resembling the reaction videos he is so known for today. “At that time, it was obviously beat making videos, vlogs, studio sessions. I was just figuring out what I wanted to do and what I wanted to showcase”. ProdByWalkz knew that he wanted his channel to represent and support the music and artists he had been surrounded with throughout his life, but there was not an immediate lightbulb moment to do reactions. However, Walkz stumbled across DeepSpeaks, the formative UK reactor who reacted to UK Grime, Rap and Drill, and realised that this was the sort of content he could also provide.

“My first influence was DeepSpeaks, he was the first one i saw from the UK who was like me, that kinda did it, the whole reason I started was to help promote the rappers I was around in North London. Rather than writing out blogs on a website, let me do video reactions. From then, just me promoting my friends, you catch a couple eyes from people, and then they want you to delve into other music”.

Walkz is resolute that the purpose of the channel has never been primarily to promote his own profile, but instead to offer real value to his artistic friends in creating a platform which genuinely celebrates their work: “I don’t feel like it’s about me”, he says. Walkz’s selfless attitude to the purpose of his channel marks the “ProdByWalkz” channel as an altruistic project, dedicated to providing a platform to support the music scene he is so passionate about.

Walkz would go on to establish himself as one of the most respected reactors and commentators on the UK drill Scene, but what many people don’t know is that Walkz almost lost his channel forever before he even started hitting his stride. After receiving two copyright strikes for reacting to a Stormzy music video and then a Casisdead music video, Walkz stopped posting reactions for two months, genuinely fearing that his channel could be deleted if he didn’t get to the root of the issue. Considering his immense success to date, it is almost unfathomable to think that the “Drill Simon Cowell” nearly fell at the first hurdle. Speaking about it with me now, Walkz laughs about it, before stressing just how worried he was that all of his hard work was about to be undone:

“Yeah, my channel was almost gone. I was shook, I can’t lie to you, I was so scared. I don’t think i had hit 1,000 subscribers then, but it was at a point where around my community I’m seeing people recognise me and show appreciation for what I was doing. Then boom, the channels about to be taken down…very scary”.

Thankfully, for both the drill scene and Walkz personally, the channel survived, with Walkz returning to posting reaction videos after a two month hiatus.

Whilst Walkz had stumbled across the potential of releasing consistent reaction videos, his channel was still operating as a showcase of music throughout the wider UK rap scene, ranging from early Drill songs such as “The Last Whip” by K-Trap to the new wave of grime pushed by AJ Tracey with tracks such as “Luke Cage”. Asking him if there was a moment in which he realised that Drill was going to become the focus of his channel, he lights up, recounting a particular “Next Up” which ensured the genre became the centre of his attention.

“It was Oboy’s Next up, and the beat on that…I think it was produced by MK and M1, that’s what drew me in, the beats, I was like these 808 slides are wild, what’s going on here? Obviously being a producer, this fascinated me, I wanted to learn more, hear more stuff like that. I go back to that song now, and it isn’t the greatest song, but something about that song, at that time, it drew me in.”

It’s interesting that what captivated Walkz originally with drill music had nothing to do with the actual rappers; instead it was purely the sonical innovation of MKThePlug and M1onthebeat which drew him in.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that Walkz was initially drawn to the production of drill, as his heritage of producing music from a young age has blessed him with a distinct awareness of the intricacies of music production. Walkz, growing up in Tottenham, grew up producing grime, as that was all that was around him. But was he still producing grime up until he saw that Oboy “Next up” which changed everything? His answer is surprising: “I was doing sample hip hop before drill, to be totally real with you. Even while I was doing the Drill reactions, I was still doing it for a while, and then I switched it up”.

Clearly then, Walkz is a skilled producer who finds inspiration in a diverse range of sounds and styles, an attribute which has served his reactions well, as he is able to provide an insider perspective on the world of production that other reaction channels cannot. It makes even more sense when you consider the elements that grime beats and drill beats respectively share, with 808 slides, fast hi hats and booming kicks being staples of both genres, albeit being used for different sonical effects.

Since reacting to this song and becoming engrossed with drill music, Walkz has made it his mission to champion the genre of drill music, becoming the voice for a brand of music so often disregarded by mainstream media. However, this has come at the expense of reacting to other genres, with Walkz’s channel strictly only doing drill reactions since the turn of 2018. I asked him why he felt it was necessary to make this change:

“For me, it’s more about learning the culture of drill and speaking to these kids and stuff like that. I grew a passion for helping the genre become legitimised, helping these kids out of their situations. For every other genre, we already have people in place to do that. With drill, you’ve got everyone against you, there’s no in your corner, fighting for you. If i were to do other genres, it would just take time away from the drill thing”.

Therefore, Walkz’s decision to focus on drill is not down to pure laziness, or because he only likes drill; instead he has analysed the genre, and seen that there is a lack of genuine spokespeople for it. Providing a genuine, accurate representation of a genre so susceptible to misinterpretation by outsiders is extremely important to drill music as a genre reaching its potential, and thus the work of Walkz, as well as certain other reactors, can be seen as a noble, selfless endeavour.

Indeed, despite being a gifted producer who has had credits on tracks by Digga D, KO, and Headie One and RV, Walkz still sees his youtube channel as more important than his beats, even going as far to say that producing him for is simply a “hobby”.

“When it comes to music, even the rap stuff, I’ve never been consistent, or fully on it. Last year I made 30 beats, the year before 80 something, whereas Ghosty makes 300 in a month. It’s more like a passion and a hobby than it is a career for me”.

The fact that his beat output is decreasing, and not increasing, demonstrates how despite his now monolithic network of artists throughout the scene, he is not intent on capitalsing and taking his production career to the next level. As a result of this, Walkz’s dedication to uplifting the Drill scene over his own profile is reasserted even further.

Walkz is clearly not just a reactor; his production credits alone demonstrate this. But another area in which Walkz has further reiterated his own selfless mentality to his content is the creation of the Who’s Got Bars series hosted on his own channel, which offers upcoming rappers the opportunity to flex their lyrical prowess to a larger audience than they would be able to otherwise. Walkz summarises his inspiration for the platform:

“To push artists I believe in. It’s an invite only platform, artists I believe in, who do what I want. The bars are on point, deliveries are on point, their energies right, and they need that extra push, that stamp/cosign. That’s what Who’s Got Bars is for me. Also to help them make money, you wanna make money from your career, and early ages you don’t really get the bread from music”.

Whilst there has only been one series of Who’s Got Bars so far, we have already seen the emergence of several bona fide future stars, with Fizzler and Teezandos particularly standing out and ranking as some of Walkz’s all time most popular videos on his channel, sitting at 924k and 333k respectively at the time of writing. Both of these artists have gone from strength to strength with their releases since bursting onto the scene with their individual episodes of Who’s Got Bars, and thus it appears clear just how influential Walkz can be on the careers of upcoming rappers.

When I ask Walkz about this affinity he appears to have for helping build up the DIY scene that is the UK drill scene, he illustrates further just how committed he is to playing a selfless role in the industry:

“Everybody I interact with, whether it’s Who’s Got Bars or I just believe in your ting, what’s mine is yours, anything I can do to help I will, cause it doesn’t cost me anything to build the platform, it’s not gonna hurt anyone”.

Whilst Walkz is typically humble about the success of Who’s Got Bars, the weight of his achievement cannot be understated; no other reaction channel ever has even come close to creating their own platform to showcase upcoming talent, and further illustrates Walkz’s ultimate commitment to using his platform to help the UK drill grow.

The success of the Who’s Got Bars series is personal to Walkz. His younger brother, Jacko, made his musical debut on the platform, and it is most likely that without Walkz’s support he would not be receiving the level of attention he is now. Speaking to Walkz about his favourite episode of the series illustrates just how proud he is that he was able to help kickstart his younger brother’s career: “People say Fizzler, and I don’t mind that. The one which meant the most to me though was my little brother, it was good for me and to see my family’s reaction to that one”.

In an industry which has seen family relations sacrificed at times in the name of clout, Walkz’s no nonsense love and pride in his younger brother’s success is refreshingly wholesome and genuine. Walkz has gone further than just giving his brother a spot on his own platform; he has gone out of his way to help progress Jacko’s career, making his songs, the intro track which plays on every video on his channel, as well as shooting reactions with him to help increase his exposure to the scene. It has got to the point now that any fan of Walkz knows who Jacko is, and is likely to be a fan of his music, demonstrating just how powerful Walkz’s platform can be for a successful introduction of an artist.

Walkz’s desire to uplift the Drill scene also appears to be partly a result of his own tight bond with his brother, as he explains that: “especially being that I have a little brother in the industry, it’s made me want to help everyone, since all these artists are my brother’s age which gives me a warmth towards them all”. This adds colour to the reasoning behind Walkz’s desire and focus on guiding and uplifting young Drill rappers throughout the country, and illustrates further just how genuine his intentions are.

Walkz’s opinion on UK drill music has come to be respected highly across the scene, to the point at which he is undeniably an influential tastemaker and gatekeeper. Walkz is typically humble when I raise this with him, but accepts that he does hold this position of influence. “I guess so, I guess so. I definitely learnt that from Deeps as well, cause obviously when he was the biggest channel, and we were all coming up beneath him, he was doing lots of upcoming artists”. Walkz has thus followed in the footsteps of Deeps Speaks, with reactions to artists such as Teeway, Fizzler and even Australian group One Four playing an intangible role in the widespread embracing of these artists. However, Walkz is resolute that his opinion is only his opinion, and should not be put on a pedestal which is taken as objective fact by fans.

“I just give my opinion and keep it moving. When I used to read comments, people say like ‘Walkz you made me like this song more,’ or they’ll be like I came to your channel to watch the reaction, before I watched the video. It’s not supposed to be like that. I’m not supposed to form your opinion for you, that makes no sense”.

This assertion makes clear Walkz’s position on the role of the gatekeeper; their job is to stimulate conversation and spread awareness of talented music, not to tell people what is good and what isn’t.

Walkz hasn’t operated in a vacuum however, and understands the importance of working together with his peers. Fellow reactors such as LeetotheVi have played an instrumental role in helping Walkz navigate the landscape of posting reaction videos to UK drill songs, with Walkz noting the need to communicate between reactors as there is no blueprint for them to follow.

“It’s been extremely helpful. Even though there were other reactors before us, there is no actual blueprint to actually follow. Who’s done drill before in terms of reactors? In terms of reactors, there was no one who had really hit heights in the UK. It’s happening now, with Dan and Kaz and Denz and Renz and that. It’s been very helpful, and very inspiring to have these guys to help, especially Lee”.

Walkz has undeniably established himself as one of the most influential reactors in the current UK Drill scene over the past three years, and this success seems poised to continue. Speaking to Walkz about the types of content we can expect in the year ahead of us, he mentions two exciting new features on his channel: “more reactions, music videos on my own channel, and Who’s Got Bars Season 2”.

What is clear with Walkz, is that nothing will derail his burning passion to showcase the brightest talent the UK drill scene has to offer. His channel appears destined to continue growing, as more and more people throughout the world are turned onto the unique sounds coming out of the current UK drill scene.

The description in Walkz’s Youtube bio reads “ProdByWalkz is about taking Drill worldwide”. Walkz may not have achieved this yet fully, but he is clearly on the way to reaching this lofty goal. One can only imagine the impact Walkz will have had over the course of the next five years, both domestically and internationally, in raising the profile of drill music. He has successfully redefined the role of the reactor, and proven that they have a genuine part to play in the success of the genre of drill music.

Don’t ever suggest Walkz is just a guy who makes money off making funny faces to drill music; that’s only the beginning of the story of a young man trying to elevate an entire generation of British drill artists.