Concrete Collar speaks to… Krown Media’s Leon Matthews

Concrete Collar’s Karter speaks to Leon Matthews, from Birmingham-based rap and grime platform Krown Media, about his passion for music, the scene all over the UK and Krown’s ambitions for the future…

In year 7, I needed a new Bebo skin made, so I got someone to do one for me… and it had “BBK” on it. At the time, I had no idea what it meant, so I asked my mate, and he showed me “Serious” by JME… from there, I was hooked; I found out about Skepta, Wiley, Jammer, Frisco… I kept watching all their videos, and that’s where it all started…

It doesn’t sound like the most typical introduction to the grime scene, it has to be said. But it certainly worked for Leon Matthews, one of the key figures behind up-and-coming urban music platform, Krown Media.

We’ve all heard about the SBTV success story; how Jamal Edwards went from filming rap freestyles on his camcorder to being a multi-millionaire media darling, featuring on a Google Chrome advert and scoring an MBE.
But not every rapper can get a coveted spot on the channel. Competition is fierce, and only the best of the best get their videos posted; something that pretty much guarantees major views. The provincial rappers- outside the spiritual hub of UK urban music that is London- find it even harder to make the step up.
And that’s where platforms like Krown Media come in.
Offering high-quality visuals at a fraction of the price of the more established channels, Krown provide a springboard for up-and-coming talent to make their mark on the urban music scene, and hopefully graduate to the major players.

Leon grew up in Oxford; not the first place you’d associate with grime music, it has to be said.

The scene there’s not that big, but it’s growing a bit. The big channel round there’s DeLaHaye TV, but it’s nothing compared to Birmingham..

He doesn’t really live up to the grime stereotype either. He’s probably the calmest guy I’ve ever met, and I don’t think he has an aggressive bone in his body. Yet he’s filming videos in a scene that exudes aggression, anger, bravado… How does he handle it?

When I was younger, I used to hang round and get on with older kids, and when I go out on shoots, I just be myself and be calm. If you’re good to people or you have good intentions, people will be good to you, no matter how they may appear at first.

His Bebo-inspired epiphany didn’t begin to blossom until he came to the Second City for university in 2013, 6 years after the BBK skin that started it all.

During my first year of university, I was literally watching JDZMedia- probably the biggest channel in the Midlands- every day. I don’t know what it was, but I just decided to start renting cameras and filming my own stuff. I was pretty friendly with this guy from my halls called Shakz, and he was looking to do a freestyle, so I literally went to his room with a camcorder and a microphone and filmed my first video there…

I wasn’t expecting anyone to watch it to be honest, but it got a few views, and I felt really proud that I’d created something like it! Shakz rated it as well, and he asked me to do him a proper video…

I had the bare minimum equipment- a Canon 600d, a lens and a light- and no editing experience whatsoever. I remember I only had a free trial of Final Cut Pro, so I only had 30 days to do it!

But Leon did have a bit of luck on his side;

My housemate, Luke (LukeFrsh) had some editing experience, so he showed me all the basics, and somehow, it turned out alright! I sent it around a few friends and they said it was good… I really enjoyed doing it as well, and I thought to myself, ‘I might as well keep at it!’

And a few weeks later, Krown Media was born…

One of my friends at university, Ephraim (E Blessed), was thinking of starting a channel, and things started rolling from there! He wanted to call it ‘KrownMe’ but I don’t know, I thought it was a bit childish, so I said ‘Krown Media’, and 2 and a bit years later, we’re still here…

Soon, they were joined by Leon’s housemate, Luke, and their first big video followed soon after…

We filmed 2 videos that day; we did one for Baz Nines as well, but this one was the first we uploaded. At that time, the YouTube view count froze when it went over 300, and I remember seeing that, and I’m not gonna lie… I felt really proud that we’d done something like this and helped someone out as well.

Baz Nines became Krown’s first breakout performer as well…

He did quite a bit for us… his second video really did well for him, and he moved onto the bigger channels, which showed that we had an eye for talent.

Kay P, from Leicester, was another one… everyone was saying how talented he was, but he wasn’t getting a lot of views. We did a video with him, and suddenly things just blew up for him! He’s probably our most popular artist on the channel at the moment, and it led to us collaborating with his crew ‘SDR’…

We did a few videos with one of his friends, Jafro… from that, he got a freestyle on JDZmedia, which is a massive boost for him.

As Krown’s reputation grew, they got the opportunity to travel down to the spiritual home of the UK grime and rap scene…

We’ve been down to London a couple of times, which is a massive honour to be quite honest. It’s a very different environment and vibe to the Midlands… it’s a lot more authentic, for sure… people really know their stuff! But for an up-and-coming artist or cameraman, it’s definitely harder to crack the local platforms, as they’re really established compared to here…

However, London isn’t the be-all and end-all of the scene any more. The success of regional platforms such as JDZMedia and Krown highlight the broadening of grime and UK rap’s horizons.

The scene’s really developed over the past few years, and now, people all over the country are doing music. Bugzy Malone’s really opened people’s eyes, and his beef with Chip, alongside stuff like Devilman’s beef with Skepta, has shown that there’s more to grime than just London.

We did a video in Wales… when we mentioned it to people in London, they just couldn’t believe that there was a grime scene there! If you go on JDZMedia for example, there’s stuff from all over the country, created by people from every walk of life, every ethnicity… You can’t just stereotype grime, because everyone can, and does, do it; even if you can’t rap, you can still create beats and instrumentals!

Of course, Krown Media is a business, and a business has to make money. This isn’t all an altruistic gesture on Leon’s part.

The artists don’t get any money from the videos themselves, and even for us, the YouTube money isn’t great. An artist has to think of it as an investment, because all the money in the scene comes from getting booked to play events, and all it takes is one song to do well,and you could make some serious money from it.

It’s not the easiest way to make money as well. Krown Media’s a three man team, which means that there’s a lot on each of their plates, especially when you consider the fact that they have all attended university full-time for the past 3 years, and Ephraim and Luke hold down part-time jobs as well.

Being an editor, a director, a camera operator, working on social media… in a commercial company these are normally separate roles, but when you’re running a small channel, you have to do it all yourself. It’s not always easy, especially when you’ve got university deadlines or shifts at work,a nd it’s been expensive! Say, if we do something in London or Oxford, no-one’s paying our petrol, no-one’s buying the equipment… but I’ve always felt that what you put in, you get out… and I do get a hell of a lot out of it.

The one good thing for Krown is that, despite police interference continuing to plague local shows and events, the West Midlands scene is going from strength to strength, and that investment will almost certainly pay off.

There’s a huge amount of up-and-coming talent here in the West Midlands. You’ve got people like Mist, who has blown up… he’s getting bookings all over the country, he’s been on Fire In The Booth, he’s getting close to 1million views on some of his videos… I think he’s going to be massive, and that can only be a good thing for the local scene.

So where does Leon think Krown Media will be in 12 months time? He’s certainly got high hopes…

We’ll be a bigger platform for sure, especially if we go full-time like we plan to after university. We have around 2000 subscribers at the moment, and I reckon we’ll have 10000 in a years time. I just think we’ll keep on going from strength to strength.

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