Last year, revered broadcaster Julie Adenuga announced she was stepping down from her role at Beats 1 and Apple Music. This year, she’ll be focussing on Don’t Trust The Internet, her new venture which encompasses live, online, music, social media and more. Here, Music Week joins one of the most influential tastemakers in the UK to find out about her vision for the future…
WORDS: Colleen Harris PHOTOS: Armand De Silva
After spending a decade on Rinse FM and Apple Music’s Beats 1, Julie Adenuga has long since nailed the art of conversation – a quality that’s helped her win a loyal following throughout her career. Yet her victories are never really about her, she explains. Her personal goals always have a collective purpose.
“I really want everybody to see that we’re already a community,” she tells Music Week. “We just need to do more to build on it.”
And so the self-described presenter, producer and curator currently has her sights set on a venture she hopes will push UK talent into spaces yet to be conquered, with her creative media platform Don’t Trust The Internet. She will tell you “my whole life has been about service”, and her credentials back up the impact and influence she has. As a Beats 1 host, Adenuga is credited for helping to bring international attention to the UK’s finest talent – from Slowthai and Jorja Smith to Stormzy and more – securing her spot as a truly global tastemaker.
“I grew up looking up to people, and loving pirate radio and loving music – it’s a weird thing when you have a realisation that you are now the curator of that,” she says, reflecting on the artists she helped to break and where her journey’s heading to next, post-pandemic. “I’ve seen that the world can stop in the blink of an eye. I’ve seen that life is short and that I’m blessed, I’m constantly showing myself that I’m capable of doing things. There is really no reason for me not to do this. If I don’t do it, then I can’t complain when I don’t think that things are as good as they could be and should be. It was a heavy conversation to have with myself.”
In the year since leaving Apple Music, she’s become the co-host of MTV’s Catfish UK and filmed a takeover season of Pass The Mic – a community platform showcasing creatives, founded by one of her mentors Reggie Yates. But it’s her inner circle she credits for supporting her vision and ideas – not least her siblings, grime icons Skepta and JME, and younger brother Jason.
“From all of my brothers, I took wanting to be the best and not being afraid,” she says.
Don’t Trust The Internet is her response to that – offering everything from #Julie’sTop5, a series of fun and fiery debates ranking the top five songs of an artist or group with celebrity friends and guests, to Don’t @ Me, an intimate live event hosting artists she rates such as Mahalia and Kojey Radical. Here, she sits down with Music Week to hold court on the state of the industry, and explain how her new business is positioning itself to elevate the next generation of creatives...
How has life been since you left Apple Music?
“Life is amazing. I feel very privileged, and very blessed. I know loads of people went through the, ‘I quit my job in a pandemic thing,’ or, ‘I lost my job in a pandemic’ so I tried to steer clear of worry the whole time. I’d been working in radio for 10 years straight up to that point, so I took the time to just relax, and to be in my house for the first time. I bought a flat in 2017 and I hadn’t spent a proper solid week in my house ever. So I took the time to sit in the garden and learn how to cook and use the oven properly – rather than just heating up meals in the oven. And yeah, I just tried to find my blessings, the ones that I’ve been ignoring, and really focus on them and just be happy with what I had and where I was at in my life – and it worked out really well.”
Had you been thinking about leaving for some time?
“I remember when I got the job it felt like the Master P skit on Solange’s album when he says, ‘If they offered me a million I must be worth 40 or 50’. I’ve tried to empower my career with these thoughts that I have of myself, but it’s always a moment when someone else sees that – when Apple not only sees it but believes in it and gives me a job next to Zane Lowe and Ebro Darden who, combined, had two decades more radio experience than I had at the time. I went in there super un-comfy because it was like, ‘Am I supposed to be here? Is this gonna go well?’ Luckily Sam Skitt, who I’ve been working with at Rinse FM for two years, came with me. He was an integral part of me being able to get my head down and do the work. But then there was a moment where I was comfortable, and I hate being comfortable. I felt like my listeners knew what I was about. I felt like they understood my culture, where I was from – I had ticked the boxes of why they asked me to do the job. So my brain just said, ‘You know what you’re worth, you knew before you came here, they showed you that they also understood – you could stay here and be comfy but you’re not fulfilling your full potential. You know that what you are capable of doing, you can’t do here.’ And that was it. I was just like, ‘If I stay here any longer I’m lying to myself, and I’m doing myself a disservice.’”
Where do you sit on the ongoing radio versus streaming debate?
“I think radio is one of the greatest mediums of entertainment that will ever exist. Being able to turn on a radio station and hear someone playing your music and talking about stuff, I don’t think streaming will ever take over that. When I first joined Apple Music I thought, ‘What the hell is streaming?’ There’s a group of us in my family circle and close friends where we’re just adamant that we still want to keep our iTunes libraries in order of date added so you can go back and see when you were listening to Loophole by Etta Bond. There’s still a group of us that love that. But I’ve seen streaming find its place in social settings. I remember my birthday party in 2019, everybody just grabbed a phone and had access to all the songs in the world and we were dancing in the kitchen; Tom Moutchi was playing his favourite Burna Boy song, then my brother Jamie came through and played one tune that he loves. That to me is the joy of streaming. I think we should definitely allow people to enjoy [music] in the way that they want to enjoy it.”
Your new venture, Don’t Trust The Internet, encompasses live, online, music, social media. Why are you hitting all those disciplines?
“I believe so much in our talent. I believe in this culture. I’ve just literally given 10 years of my life to it. I think people would be surprised if I didn’t. It’s that moment you realise that you are a key player in all of this. GRM is a key player in this, DLT [Days Like This] Brunch is a key player, No Signal are key players. Don’t Trust The Internet is me saying, ‘I want to nurture what we have already.’ It’s not about views and likes. To me it’s about business, it’s about entrepreneurship, it’s about ownership. Grace Ladoja [founder, Metallic Inc] was asking, ‘Who’s in your yearbook?’ and I said, ‘My yearbook is you Grace; it’s companies like Metallic, it’s companies like Fenty, what Issa Rae’s doing with HOORAE, pgLang’ – my goodness, I’d love to just sit in one of their meetings. It’s me looking at people and companies like that and saying, ‘This is the bar of what entertainment and media should be in 2021’. How do I contribute to that? What can I do to be a part of that?”
So what do you want it to offer artists and the wider creative industry?
“We want to make the best-looking show, we want to have the best-looking set design. We want to deliver quality and execute ideas to the highest standard. I want it to do what I thought I did when I left Apple, which is give space for someone else to come in. I want to see people like Henrie [Kwushue], who has brilliant ideas – she’s got a really cool series called Is Your Area Changing?. She goes to Peckham, Dalston and Brixton and looks at what the area was like before, compared to now. Goldie Quaker’s another person who has ideas – I want to have space for those people. I want to create formats. I grew up on Live & Kicking and Funhouse; I want us to have formats of content ideas, not just, ‘Hey, I want to interview you in my house’ – no, I want to create a thing to develop. I want to nurture, get it produced and find a way so we have something that, if Netflix do say, ‘We love this idea’, I own it and sell it or licence it. I want all of that shit for us lot. But I don’t want to impose, that’s a big thing for me.”
You tweeted recently about wanting to start a festival. Is that happening?
“Oh yeah, I’m not going to say too much on that because I think it is going to happen. But I do want to make it clear that I don’t like the idea of people feeling like, if one of us has a shit line-up, someone else should just make another one – because putting on a festival is not easy. I don’t want the event that I do to be almost like a reaction to the fact that people didn’t like Wireless. I’ve been to Wireless, I think it’s a cool festival. Do they need more women on the line-up? Abso-fucking-lutely. But I don’t know the team, I don’t know what they’ve been through over the last year, I don’t know what kind of exclusivity deals people are in. But what I do know is the types of artists that the UK has; there’s a lot of space for them in live that I don’t think exists yet.”
Do you see all of that under the Don’t Trust The Internet umbrella?
“Yeah definitely, but again it’s about collaboration. I’ve been speaking to [Musicalize co-founder] Ben Anderson, whose platform does incredible shows. We’re speaking to actual promoters in general about what kind of stuff they think we could do. I genuinely do want to deal with Whitney Boateng [former promoter at Metropolis Music, now a music agent at WME], she worked on The Ends Festival and did an amazing job on that. I want DLT there and I want GRM there. I don’t ever want anyone to overlook what GRM has done as a platform and I think they’re deserving of a stage where they can celebrate what they’ve done in music. I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t like to talk about things before they happen. But it will happen.”
How were you impacted by the Black Lives Matter movement? And how do you think the music industry is handling its problems with equality?
“I’m never shocked by the way black people are treated; I’ve seen it my whole life. In fact, I actively try to avoid internalising it [and] reading about it because it makes it harder for me to get up every day and make the change that I want to see. I know people thought the black squares were stupid, and I do think there was an element of it that got lost in translation, but just hearing white people acknowledge that racism existed meant a lot to me. Having conversations with friends about racism meant a lot to me, because it was genuinely the first time I’d ever had those conversations. I don’t really spend a lot of time looking at the music industry. My older brothers have showed me nothing but independence and self-belief. As much as I’ve spent some time in major labels, I spend more time with individual people like [0207 Def Jam co-presidents] Alex and Alec Boateng – that’s what I’m concentrating on. I think my time is better spent in those places because they eventually change the tide elsewhere. If I sit down with [them] and say, ‘Cool, I really like this artist you’ve got, I’m not really sure about this song, I think this is a great way to roll out the campaign, I think your new label 0207 Def Jam should be doing this’… the decisions that he is going to make from that is more important to me than whether or not the head of Universal is a black person or person of colour. Charity begins at home, my mum always says. You have to start at home, then the music industry will catch up somewhere down the line.”
Looking back at your career to date, how do you see your legacy? What do you want that to be?
“I normally see that the most when I speak to artists, we just talk about their journey so far and they talk about me almost like I’m not there [laughs]. I hear stories about things that happen because of me. It’s heart-warming, I love it. [An example would be] Melvillous, who’s an artist who came into Beats 1 in the early, early days with Jamal Edwards. We did an interview on air, Jamal was giving us an idea of who he was listening to for SBTV – and me and Melvillous have had a wonderful relationship ever since. I don’t look at him as an artist, I look at him as a work friend, he’s been to my house and cut my hair. When I did the family and friends screening for Catfish, he came. He’ll send me a text that says, ‘Well done, really proud of you’, and then the text goes from a generic ‘well done’ to a very deep bit after and I think, ‘Ohhh, this is what I mean to you’. It’s nice that I still have relationships with so many people like Melvillous where we might have a laugh, but they are open and honest about how I’ve affected them and how they make decisions, and what they’ve done in their career. Same thing with Ashley Verse, who’s an amazing photographer, he tells me often about the impact that I’ve had. I think it’s something that’s gonna take me a long time to look back on because I’m still in the thick of it. But I hope that it is a legacy. I think it will be something that I’m going to be super proud of.”