The Oxford Dictionary categorises the term ‘urban’ as, “a type of music, especially street music, that originates from the city and specifically reflects, or is characteristic of urban life”. What does the term urban, in the context of the UMAs, mean to you?
Jordan Kensington: (Rolls eyes at played out question!) If I had a Pound for every time someone asked me that question… I’m a millionaire now, I’d be a billionaire! Let me tell you something, with urban… What I’m trying to say is that Ice Cream to Pharrell [Williams] isn’t the ice cream that you’re eating - he has created a new meaning for the word. Urban Music Awards and urban music to us - we have defined the scene, and we have fought for that name and that brand for close to nine years now, from when we started this, pre the actual awards ceremony and to us it means a music genre that brings every single person together. White, black, Asian, everyone, from different parts of the world together to do good music that everyone likes, and it can be from the streets, the music can be from urban areas, but the whole point of it is bringing a lot of people together and we have defined it to that and I think that’s more important to us than anything else, to have a multicultural awards ceremony that everyone feels they can be part of.
Because I don’t think music should be defined according to race, music should be defined on whether it is good music or not. Good music is good music, and as a brand that is what we call urban music. Now for other people, they sit down and have big debates about this, but you’ve got to understand it’s not a brand to them, that is unique to us. For example, a lot of people may have your first name, but it isn’t your name that defines you as a person. The UMAs are multicultural awards which get everyone involved. Literally, if you make good music from the streets, whether its break beat, hip hop, r n b, garage, drum and bass, I call that urban music. Urban music for me is a multicultural platform where all sorts of music genres, broadly defined as urban, can come together. Genres that stand alone, hip hop as hip hop, jazz as jazz, but when you put them together that’s urban music for us. I don’t define music by race, and urban music to me is something that brings together various genres and the UMAs are a platform to just that.
I’ll give you... It’s never good to define anything by race, what’s more important is to create something that everyone can get involved in, and feels they can get involved in, and I think what we’ve created with the music awards, with the magazine, with the radio, the TV station, we’ve created a kind of open brand that everyone can take part in and I think that’s where the music industry is going now. Why should someone like Lethal B not collaborate with a rock artist, why should Jay Z not perform at Glastonbury and vice versa...? Some of his stuff I agree with, some of it I don’t. There are definitely some songs by Jay Z that I definitely think are hot, the other songs he’s just boasting about and I’m not really into that kind of stuff, I’m into stuff that really inspires you people. Black Thought, and in the UK, people like Black Twang, you’ve got Roots Manuva, Common in the US, Dead Prez; people who have really come up with something to say that really inspire a lot of people. While at the same time Dead Prez is not representing the whole of hip hop. If Dead Prez gets up in the morning and shouts at a kid in the street you can’t say that is a representation of hip hop.
I saw Dead Prez years ago at a charity gig in London.
Jordan Kensington: I remember that, it was with a sponsor called… they glassed the sponsor. They said ‘we don’t know why we are on stage with this sponsor’.
They were really good; I have seen them on TV before. They have a good message, a relevant message for America. In Shepherds Bush they were aiming at the wrong demographic. Britain does not have the same level of racial tension… they said they were not going to stop until [black] people receive reparations, I thought it was out of place.
Jordan Kensington: In another way it is a cosmopolitan way. Every human being that believes in the world, no matter what you do, you need to push forward a multicultural or community attitude, you need to be accepted. And I don’t mean accepted in a way that we are neighbours, I mean to truly accept, if you don’t have love then you don’t have a community. And not just music wise, but politically, every single community and especially in music, music has the biggest way of inspiring and changing people. If people don’t feel that the industry or industries aren’t united or that the genres aren’t working together then you are creating a lot of separation. We are about unity that is why everything we do is inclusive and not exclusive.
In 2005, after Joss Stone won the Brit Awards for best Urban act, you were quoted as saying music should be inclusive and not exclusive, and if Joss Stone can be accepted within the urban community, I think acts from other ethnicities like from rock and classical music should be accepted too” by that statement are you insinuating that rock and classical music become urban music when played by ethnic groups other than white Europeans?
Jordan Kensington: Not at all. I was saying, I remember making that comment to the BBC. Joss Stone was accepted by us, everyone who comes through we accept. If an artist from the urban community wanted to do rock music in 2005, no one would listen to them. Now we have artists like… Bloc Party, look at how successful they have been. If you went to an A and R office five years ago and said a rock band fronted by a black singer, it wouldn’t work. But to me that statement I made in 2005 is Pre Bloc party and for them to come out and become that successful is what I am saying, music has no boundaries. There is nothing wrong with Dizzee and Calvin Harris, it is number one in the charts. They mixed dance and grime, it was a hit because united you become stronger. Dizee can’t call himself a dance or rock artist, he is collaborating. Working together… why can’t a hip hop artist work with a classical artist? There is no reason. Why can’t they work together, it doesn’t matter about race, why can’t someone in an orchestra like hip hop. If you come together you can create some good music.
Joss Stone, a soul singer, under your definition is classified as urban music. You said that acts of other ethnicities doing classical and rock should be accepted.
Jordan Kensington: No, I don’t want an interview to be on the meaning of urban. Any act should be accepted to do any type of music they want to do, it doesn’t matter what banner you fly over you.
If it can be accepted under the banner urban music, then can’t classical and rock?
Jordan Kensington: Actually that quote was in reference to the Brit awards, which had just introduced a category of best Urban act, and they asked me, the quote must be in perspective, they asked me “this is the best urban artist category what do you think of the Brits introducing that?”. So my answer to that is that the Brits are a pop award ceremony if they can include that it is good, why should they exclude it. It wasn’t a quote about the urban music seen. You get misquoted all the time, I’m sure in this interview I might be misquoted.
… more on that topic, do you think that white artists are correct in their adoption and progression of music of black origin if we look at rock and roll and its heritage in black African American music, yet it was changed into a new sound. Is this justifiable in your opinion and should music by one ethnic minority stay pure of outsider ethnic influence?
Jordan Kensington: I think it goes back to what I said before; music is about inclusion and not exclusion. Your question goes on that level. If you know how we stand as a company then that question should get a simple answer. Music to us is anyone can do any music they want to do. You have a freedom of choice in life and there should be no restriction for anyone ever. If you like the music get into it, there should be no barrier between it. If it’s legal get into it and do it. If I liked rock music I would be doing the rock music awards right now. I don’t care about the colour of my skin or the way I talk. If I liked rock music you would see me at the rock music awards right now. Music has gotta be like that.
Hip hop culture… easier question… what are your future goals? Try to focus on one…
Jordan Kensington: Where can I start? Urban Music Awards launching in France, Japan and Dubai. America’s Next Urban Superstar launching in America next year, I think that is going to be amazing. We are going to 23 states in America, auditioning thousands of people, that is going to be very successful, it will be shown in the UK sponsored by Footlocker.
How would you describe the essence of success, how successful have you been so far by your own definition?
Jordan Kensington: I think success is when you create a brand that is successful internationally, when people know the brand internationally and financially you turn over what you actually want to do in the first place. We have been in the industry for nine years and we have seen a lot of brands come and ago, across the whole music industry. If you know about … as a brand, we are not about one specific genre; we have the British Music Week too which has nothing to do with urban music. There are magazines and newspapers too, as a brand it has been successful and I think that I define success as the length of time as a company, turnover and how you diversify your brand. We have launched a college, a primary school, educational, we are launching an academy in London next year. Now we are giving back to the community, launching TV shows, and that’s success.
What else can you define success. I don’t sit down at night, making lists of what to do; I think I have done a lot of things. We were the first company in the UK to be featured in CNN for 30 minutes. Music based company I should say. They said to me that I was the first to be featured for a 30 minute interview on CNN. I used to watch CNN when I was little, it was a big achievement.
Don’t you think that a lot of the brands that sponsor your event are trying to buy themselves street credibility, without giving back to the community or spreading cosmopolitan ideas?
Jordan Kensington: As a company we have turned away an amazing amount of money from sponsors who will do that, we will never partner a company who is not part of the community. Footlocker is our sponsor, they have been doing things with communities internationally for years. What we are doing with footlocker is an opportunity to give one artist a major recording contract, get touring across footlocker stores, and get them a lot of exposure. I think that is an investment more then what any other sponsor will do; you have to see what kind of sponsor we will work with. We have turned down companies, rather than anyone who wants to work with us. There has to be something for the scene.
With the TV show the amount of opportunity we have been given to find the next Urban Superstar, thanks to Footlocker, for artists is unbelievable. It is priceless, all the TV shows that get launched, like X Factor sponsored by Dominoes Pizza [actually it is the car phone warehouse - ed.], what are Dominoes Pizza ever gonna do for the artist, make them fat? No disrespect. What you are talking about that’s what that is, we pre-select and make sure… we worked with Kickers, we created clinic shops where every week we had artists come into the radio station, in the space of the month we had 300 artists come in here all sponsored by Kickers. They asked what can we do, that’s who you want to work with, what can they do for the community and what can they add, and that is the stuff that no one hears about. Not everyone has made it big and what about the people who are trying to get there? The companies will get 100 or 200 tickets given away free for people to attend the ceremony who otherwise might not afford it and I think that is important.
So you have a degree of ethical checkboxes to go through?
Jordan Kensington: Big time, every sponsor you see the UMAs work with its gotta be something to do with giving back to the community. It 100% has to be, that is the whole ethos of the company.
Is the worry for the hip hop market, a lot of brands want to get into it for the credibility? Did you create the UMAs where there wasn’t an award before, is that the essence of the project?
Jordan Kensington: You can never lose the essence if it is clear from day one. When you start with the right intentions. I say that I got into it; I am a success because I didn’t think about money. I never came out thinking about how to make money that is where you fail.
Why do you think the major labels are going down while others are coming through? The reason is that they are all about money, signing contracts with artists, they treated them like crap, it was all about money and there was no passion in there. And now passion has prevailed. Now artists are not signing to these labels anymore it has become an industry where the artists are doing it for themselves. It wouldn’t have become like that without the passion behind it, so I think in any business your intensions must be clear.
So you think that the music channels, myspace are good for the scene?
Jordan Kensington: It is extremely good for the scene, it is not a losing of credibility, and it gives people access. You want to be able to do… this interview to be honest with you, honest award ceremonies have closed doors, you don’t get to see the people who run the award ceremonies. You don’t get interviews with them, because if your intensions aren’t clear and transparent then you don’t want to talk about what you are doing. We are very open, it is very real, there is no faffing around, and this is real. That is the reason we can’t lose perspective in the future. Everything else that makes us successful, financially as well, is a bonus to what we have done. Its not the be all and end all, it’s not why we started, we want to promote the scene and it is not going to stop ever, because in every single country people know our UK artists.
I have sat here looking at this, it is an agency we have known from seven years ago. All the artists here, the booking agency is getting artists gigs, they have a list of every UK artists’ phone numbers, we will book them gigs, in Italy, Germany, we call them up and sell the artist down there. And people weren’t used to that. Now that everyone is used to that it’s easier. In those days we had to sell and sell, why would you book 50 Cent when you have Kano, why would you get Dizzee, he will cost more, he is cheaper, he doesn’t have to fly seven hours from America. He will sell… we managed to get there and for us that is taking the scene further.
Our work is not done. We are launching a UMA academy, a school like the Brit academy. But that is a non-profit college not to make any money but to give back to the scene. Give these young kids who don’t know about PR and marketing, they walk in off the streets and act in a certain way because that is what they are used to, so this academy will give people the way to properly talk and sales are about selling yourself. I always say that there is a guy called…. Record companies don’t want to sign killers, if you are an executive and you are 90 years or 60 years old you don’t want to sign someone saying I will kill you. Think about it, so when you say on your CD that I will kill you, they won’t sign you because then they won’t sleep at night.
A lot of urban music including the rap element, can veer towards romanticising the gangster lifestyle, this is a relatively recent phenomenon, we are seeing its rise correlate with the rise of gun and knife crime in Britain. Are these gangster rap elements interconnected or would you say that it is the breakdown of the family unit due to parents being forced to work longer hours to afford living costs, limiting time spent at home where the young peoples values and self esteem begin. Would you say this is the root cause or do you have other opinions?
Jordan Kensington: I think both. I think both. People need to have a stable family to become a success, and the media is perpetrating violence, not just in music. There are loads of games where people actually shoot people. This makes you violent. I remember when I was a young guy seven or eight when I watched Bruce Lee films, the first thing I would do was come out and practice the moves, and it spurned me on. When you watch something that’s violent it will spur you on. When you said it was only the music that was out there now, I think there is a lot of conscious and good music out there, but it is not out there. And why it is not out there is because music and TV stations do not want to promote conscious music, it is as simple as that. In the pop industry people need to stop blaming the urban genre. I am talking about the whole media and TV promotion. In the pop industry I saw a music video saying “I kissed a girl and I liked it”, and on TV it is a single. Its number three or four. Now what does that say to little girls in the school now, it is OK. That is the morals gone out of the window.
Isn’t the issue as old as the media?
Jordan Kensington: It’s simple, it’s the truth. Its not…
You are blaming this rise in knife and gun crime on the media out put…
Jordan Kensington: I am not blaming anyone, if you hear what I said before, I said it is both. That’s what I said before, if you saw that you’d understand what I said, it is both. Your house needs to be stable, parents need to look after their kids, you need to know what your kids are up to. You need to install a proper discipline so your kids know what is right and what is wrong. Secondly, the media needs to sort themselves out as well, if I tune to certain music channels all I hear is violence, what do I think is normal when I grow up? That’s the kind of people that you look up to and have the posters for, lets be real.
You have got to where people get it wrong, they think that if you listen to hip hop music you don’t do anything else, you do, you play games, watch films, comb your hair, watch adverts on TV, you read the newspaper, you know what is going on in Iraq, someone has been asked to go over there and fight them and that is your own government doing that. Lets be real and understand that it is not the scene it is not the music, it is the whole reaching of society and until we change the people and understand, like I said before about love and the community, it needs the community to come together and it starts with one or two people, that’s the way we look at it, lets do something about it, and that’s where change comes from and that’s what they are doing in America, one or two people are tying to get some change.
Its like a decline in time spent together in the family, because of the drop in living standards in real terms, as people try to pay higher living costs, and them not being able to give the time to devote to their children and leading there children to be more impressionable to the media. Which has more sex, violence and materialism?
Jordan Kensington: It is a lot deeper then that, I don’t think because mums and dads work longer hours they can’t instil these values, I don’t think that because my parents worked long hours and I hardly saw my dad and it was hard but I still learnt these values. But the point is, if you instil, if you know how to instil in your kids what is right and wrong, you have gotta know when you are doing right or wrong, you have gotta instil in your kids a sense of right and wrong. The kid needs to know cause and effect.
What is happening in our society right now, because of the media and everything else is that babies are having babies; dads aren’t working and going to the job centre. What is happening now is literally a result of what has happened in the past because kids are growing up seeing the same thing and are having kids who see the same thing, and what people in general are trying to do is say, who can we blame. Blame this blame that, no. People need to look at the root of the problem, and it is not one thing, it is everything in general and we need to look for a solution and the solution now is about education on both sides, parents as well. If I was a parent at 17, I wouldn’t know how to raise a kid, the support I’d get would be financial and I would be on benefits. No. They need education, a place where they can go to and learn what not to do, because that’s where kids are looking for inspiration, that’s where they need to teach education on both sides. In school I never learnt anything about being successful in life. You learn in school about practical things, maths and history, in history what happened in Romeo and Juliet won’t help me in real life, where will we get seminars and classes in school that actually teach you about life?
What do you mean by life?
Jordan Kensington: Life in general. Not business, life in general. There is not time in school that someone came in and talked to us about morals. Morals you learn growing up.
Romeo and Juliet?
Jordan Kensington: Romeo and Juliet had no morals, because they kill each other in the end. I know what you are saying, but it is a simple thing about teaching morals. Like what do you do if someone is abusive towards you, what do you do? Do you fight back?
This is a problem with the war in Iraq at the moment, or it has been, the way that soldiers tortured prisoners, the bottom line was the soldiers had not had a proper education about the ethical debate about torture.
Jordan Kensington: If there is an ethical debate.
The convention on human rights has set points, then there is the ticking time bomb theory, if someone knows where it is, do you ask them or do you take it further, hurting one person but saving a thousand lives. You mean teaching kids philosophical…?
Jordan Kensington: No, nothing too philosophical, it is just morals. Morals are a simple thing. In life this is what you do, you treat people in a certain way, you don’t walk around and spit on the floor, you treat the elderly well, simple morals. People act the opposite on the streets, but where did they learn this lesson. Now people say at home, but at home are the parents who have kids who still are kids, they might be 17, 18 or 19 when they had them. So they are still kids, no one taught them education is the key, they need to be taught on both sides.
People need to stop blaming music and things about it, people need to go straight to the problem and find the solution, and we have been talking about this for years. It is education, people; parents don’t know what to do with their kids, the kids don’t know what to do with themselves. It is strange when you see people do certain things, you think that can’t be normal, but then that is all he knows, teach him something else and he will do that. That’s morals, it is nothing philosophical, it is a simple thing that we don’t do. We get taught every single thing except morals. We go to school and get taught these skills, but no morals. As soon as you get taught morals you know how to live. You learn that an ego is not something you should have, no matter where you are in your life. You learn that money is just a symbol of exchange; it is not the be all and end all, it does not make you happy. You learn all that, where do you learn that, its not philosophy, it is real life. That is why people get very rich and then in a few years they are poor, why because they had no education. People say they want to be rich and when you give them the money they lose it. People say they want to buy ten cars and ten houses and they end up poor again. Because there is no education. That is real life that needs to be taught on both sides, and then you can have a better society.
Would you say the ends justify the means, or the other way round?
Jordan Kensington: I think statements like that are the ones that have been said in the past. Its about you having a pure mind, and just working and achieving your goals, don’t follow everyone’s terms and what has been said in the past. Those terms have been used before and you can sit there and argue about it all day long. The most important thing in life is to have a dream, work hard at your dream and have a clear mind. A clear mind is one that is open and can visualise and work hard at the dream. There is no end, the end is not when you die, and there is no end.
What I mean by that is for example, a situation that could apply in business, you have an opportunity and if you go for it you will put 50 people out of a job, if you follow through in four years time 100 people will have a job.
Jordan Kensington: You have to go with what your mind is saying at the time, if your mind is clean you will make the right decision and the right thing is not to lose, you can’t say that in 100 years someone will gain from that. If you are leading that life then you are lying to yourself. Do you remember the 50 people that you lost, they are homeless on the street but you just got 100 people jobs, does that make it fair? No it doesn’t. It comes back to your intentions. Your mind must be very clean to understand everything you do, to know that it is right and it is wrong. Every encounter you have in your life you have to look at it with a clear intention, because intention and what your brain is saying are totally different. Your heart could be saying it doesn’t really care where as the brain says that we should be doing this.
So intention is the biggest thing, it will tell you what is right and what is wrong, and if you make your intention positive then every decision you make will be the right one. There is a saying, the past is history, the present is a gift and the future is a mystery. So I don’t want to know what happens in the future because that is a mystery, the present is a gift so what can I do now that can change, for example if someone needed something right now, what would you do, you can’t say I will help you in five years when I have won the lottery. I will help you right now because right now is when you need that decision made, when you can change things.
What do you think of the upcoming trends in the urban music industry?
Jordan Kensington: What, what do I think will be upcoming in the music industry? What I want to be upcoming is for the UK music industry to be accepted internationally. I’m not one for following trends; I just want UK music to be accepted internationally. That’s my goal, which will make me happy, when I see my artists who have struggled here to go to other countries and be superstars that will make me happy.
What about the progression of, Dizzee Rascal and Wiley doing crossovers?
Jordan Kensington: I think that is brilliant. We are finally getting it, that’s what I have said all along, there is nothing wrong. Why is Snoop signing on a whole album, we are not saying Snoop is a great rapper, but a great person. I don’t know why people are trying to represent nations and communities. You just represent you. If he wants to sing let him sing if he wants to rap let him rap. You don’t have to like it or buy it. I know a lot of artists I like, but I don’t buy their stuff and I don’t talk about it.
Certain acts have a tendency to promote criminal behaviour drawn from their pasts, as opposed to what is actually happening in their current life in order to create sensation and sell more. Jay Z, for example, who I think is great, plays like a Hollywood movie, with all the sex, drugs and the violence he raps about. However, when he performed at Glastonbury, despite a tongue in cheek introduction that aimed fun at Oasis’s remarks about his billing, he carried on this gangster rap charade which was not in the spirit of the festival, but the people who were there seemed to like him all the same. What is your opinion on Jay Z and him rapping about a life that is far removed from his real life?
Jordan Kensington: I didn’t like that at all, I pick the stuff I like, and other stuff I didn’t get. I’m sure you have met people who will say they like this about you but they don’t like this about you. You can’t be perfect, people always look at artists and think they are perfect, he probably made some wrong choices, picked some songs that he shouldn’t have worked on. But then I’d say there was a lot of pressure on him, and when you have pressure on you, you can make mistakes. He is just Jay Z he is not perfect or God.
If you could describe a perfect life in just three words, what would they be?
Jordan Kensington: That’s a hard one… Love, Happiness and Success. LHS that works. Not the NHS.
That was like an exam.
Hopefully that will sound good. Big up the UMAs. I wanted to have a real element about who you are as well. Better then the facts and figures. What will you do in France?
Jordan Kensington: I will be in Cannes, in the Midem festival. Biggest festival in the world!