News 1 June 2018
Author: Courtney W

Why Channel U/Channel AKA was so important

1 June 2018

Today, in 2018, grime and rap are undoubtedly two of the biggest genres within the UK. From Stormzy and Dave receiving awards from the prestigious Ivor Novello Awards to grime’s top boy, Skepta, releasing his second collaboration with Nike, we are currently witnessing the meshing of the underground and the mainstream. While such achievements are cause for a celebration, the scene was recently hit with some upsetting news when Channel AKA announced that it would be shutting down after a successful fifteen years on air.

Channel AKA, formerly known as Channel U, was established in the early noughties and devoted itself to broadcasting the UK’s most talented and hard-hitting videos from the grime, rap and hip-hop worlds. When many broadcasters refused to showcase talent from the underground music scene, Channel AKA championed such acts and, in turn, became a pioneering TV channel. News of AKA’s closure is one that has shocked many, but also gives us a chance to reflect on the massive impact the channel has had on British culture over the years.

When Channel AKA was first established as Channel U in 2003, it coincided with the phenomenon that is grime music. With the emergence of the genre came a large wave of young rappers, desperate to kick-start their music careers and share their tracks with the world. However, in the pre-YouTube era, distributing music was a difficult task and many artists relied on broadcasters to get their music to a large audience. Similarly to drill music in 2018, many mainstream broadcasters were reluctant to endorse grime music back then because they deemed the genre to be too aggressive, too controversial and, quite frankly, many didn’t understand it. Channel U, on the other hand, embraced the authenticity of the raw talent which existed in the corners of British society and provided many artists with the exposure needed to excel in their careers. The channel is one of few which would regularly showcase videos such as “Pow (Forward)”, “Mainstream Money” and “Wifey” and is therefore responsible for launching the careers of household names such as Lethal Bizzle, Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah and many more.

As well as providing a service to artists, the channel also valued its young, diverse audience. At present, most of us rely on social media to connect with like-minded individuals but this wasn’t an option in the days before Twitter and Instagram. Before the internet dominated our lives, fans of rap and grime were spread out across the nation but were able to connect via Channel AKA. Whether fans wanted to send a message to their friend on national TV or simply shout out their favourite artist, fans were able to do so by sending a short text to Channel AKA’s special hotline. AKA also enabled fans to act as selectors and encouraged viewers to text in to decide what videos the channel would show. Such features enabled AKA to create a community among its audience and gave them privileges which many other broadcasters didn’t offer.

The channel’s dominant focus on British music is one which also stood out from other channels and was greatly appreciated by its viewers. Although many of us enjoyed (and still do enjoy) rap music from the USA, much of the content contains American references and is aimed at audiences in the U.S. With Channel AKA presenting videos made with handheld cameras and shot in disadvantaged areas, for the first time British viewers were provided with relatable content made by people from similar areas to them.

From 2003 to 2018, AKA supplied Britain with the UK’s most raw and original music videos from what was once an underground music scene. Without the channel, the success of the scene that we are witnessing today may have taken longer or may not have happened at all. In addition to supporting artists, the broadcaster’s impact is wide-reaching and has created a foundation for several digital platforms, including GRM Daily. Although the end of Channel AKA marks the end of an era, the channel’s legacy will live on in the future achievements of the scene.