Siblings JME and Julie Adenuga, from the UK’s first family of culture, talk the future of music, death, ambition, 'Agenda' on Apple Music's Beats 1 and what Julie would do if she was a white man for a day for Notion 86!
Julie Adenuga is arguing about toast. She got breakfast delivered, and is deep in a fiercely enthusiastic debate with her producer about whether it is ever acceptable to only put one slice of bread in the toaster. Julie feels very strongly that it needs to be two slices, to the point where she puts the question to her social media followers, just to prove her producer wrong.
At this point, Julie’s brother Jamie — best known as grime MC and producer JME — arrives, initially more reserved and measured than his younger sibling, but immediate in his agreement that yes, obviously you should never just put on one slice of toast.
The pair have an easy, obvious closeness, even for siblings (later, Jamie mentions one of the only things he ever marks in his calendar is when Julie is coming to do his hair) — it feels notable that they’ve retained this, given what an exceptional group of siblings they are. Looking back at the past decade, it is inarguable that the Adenuga family have been instrumental in shaping culture. There’s Joseph Junior aka Skepta, the award-winning grime don who forms part of the helm of game-changing collective Boy Better Know; there’s the youngest, Jason, who has produced for Skep, though he’s best known for his drawing and artwork — he did the cover illustration for JME’s 2010 album Blam!; and of course there’s JME himself, BBK co-founder, wordsmith and innovator who just put out his latest album Grime MC, purely in physical formats.
And then there’s Julie. She’s the sister who came through as a presenter on Rinse FM, now best known for her tastemaking show on Apple Music’s Beats 1. Come January, Julie’s show will be taking on a new life as the Agenda, with a focus on black music and youth culture, with Julie as the voice of this in London. Ahead of this, we wanted to find out more about the Adenuga sister – and who better to interview her than her own brother?
Armed with a long list of questions, JME is more than ready to take on this role. Every now and again over the course of nearly two hours, Julie will pause to laugh at his very regimented line of questioning — “you’re good at this,” she tells him, with a smile; “I’m just asking questions, stop being weird,” he replies, with very sibling energy.
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JME: Okay, question number one. Who’s your favourite brother?
Julie Adenuga: You.
JME: Good. Question number six —
JA: Wait, what!?
JME: You answered correctly — if you’d answered Jason or Junior. I would have had different questions.
JA: Can I change my answer?
JME: No. Next question: who are you?
I am… a human being on planet earth, I was born into a Nigerian family with three brothers. People like when I talk, so I keep doing it [laughs]. And one day, I want to have contributed to this world in such a positive way, that a very small percentage of humans on this planet think of me in a good light — while I’m here, but also when I leave.
JME: Growing up, I remember you had posters all over your wall of all the artists you used to like — you’d buy music magazines, you had a karaoke machine and you were singing. We used to sit down and watch music channels on TV and tape them on VHS. We all used to love music, and we grew up in a family that had a turntable sound system, vinyl — we used to consume music in loads of different ways. Music was our life. In this day and age now where music is not tangible — it’s on every device, every gadget you have — for you, growing up the way we did, how do you now consume music?
JA: I did an interview once where someone asked me how do I find new music, and I said I don’t like finding new music anymore because it’s not coming from organic places now. I remember the person that introduced me to Drake — I actually remember being in my bedroom when he showed me Drake’s mixtape So Far Gone. And then I found Comeback Season. I started my Drake journey, and I would listen to him every day and learn all the lyrics to it. I still remember those moments and now it doesn’t feel the same finding new stuff — instead someone messages me, ‘Yo, listen to this new tune’; I get a text and someone else sends me a link to a new tune; you sent me a YouTube video. I don’t like the avenue that new music comes through anymore. I miss discovering music the way I used to discover it, and I miss it having a story as well. So now I consume new music at the moment because it’s my job.
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JME: How would you like it to be?
JA: I would listen to a lot less music. I listen to too much music — I don’t think you’re actually supposed to listen to as much music, because you can’t. You can’t take it. It’s impossible to take everything in. I went to L.A. last week. And I put on my Instagram story that I’m in L.A. and everyone texted me, ‘Julie, you’re in L.A.!’ – and then I spent seven days feeling so anxious because I didn’t get to see all the people that messaged me. And I thought, actually, if I didn’t put it on my story, I would have just had a good time with the people that I was there with. And that would have been it. And I wouldn’t be worried about the fact that I didn’t link up with Courtney and I didn’t meet with Daniel — and it’s the same with music.
I feel stressed, because I’m not listening. I’m not taking in everything, even though it’s around me. I’d rather have 2019: three sick albums that I love, and I just listened to them every day for the whole year and a couple of singles that I really liked as well. That’s what I would change. I would listen to less music and be more involved in it. It’s a gift and a curse, because I love my job and I love listening to music and I love playing music to people. [Laughs] So I dunno if this is me asking to get fired — stop making me listen to music please!
JME: I was gonna say, it’s your job right? So you have to. I’m in a similar position with how I listen to music now, but it’s not my job. Do you think you feel this way because you’re in an age where you’ve experienced both? Like how old people say, ‘in my day’ — do you think we’re now the people saying ‘in my day’ and the kids today don’t mind, or do you think the super fast music consumption means they’re missing out?
JA: The best example I can think of is Delilah — she’s ten years younger than me, I met her through the mentoring programme at ELAM, which is Will from Chase and Status’ music college. But now she’s like one of my best friends, and it’s weird because we get along so well but she’s from a different generation. She consumes music in that way of streaming loads of songs, and if there’s one main difference between us it’d be that she listens to tracks, I listen to albums. I wonder what that’s gonna look like in the future when you have a generation of people who love songs, not albums.
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JME: Where do you think music is going in the next 30 years?
JA: Where do you think music is going in the next 30 years? Not just in music, but in everything, I feel like there’s more and more of a focus on what has been. People have started to do this thing now where there’s less new, so let’s focus on the old. Did you see they’re gonna cast James Dean in a film? People are giving up on what’s new. I think with music that’s something that’s going to happen — that people are going to go back to what meant something to them. It happens in music now but less obviously — you sample old stuff, right? Because you want that feeling. Even though some people are still trying to move forward, a lot of it isn’t moving forward. A lot of it is just a regurgitation of history, in different ways and in different forms. I think that there will always be room for creatives, though — but creatives in that 20, 30 years from now, I would hope anyway, are gonna go so far out there, going further towards being weird and left and just like shocking.
JME: Did you know what you wanted to do when you were younger?
JA: I wanted to host Top of the Pops, and I wanted to be in the black family in Eastenders. That was the two things I wanted my whole life. And I haven’t done any of them. And there’s no more Top of the Pops!
JME: You’re close to Top of the Pops in what you do. And Eastenders is still there.
JA: Yeah I guess. I haven’t watched it in ages — is there a black family? I guess there has to be.
JME: Do you still sing?
JA: [Laughs] Um. I can sing, I don’t sing professionally.
JME: Do you ever think of something new and sing it?
JA: NO, Jamie, and I hate it! People always say ‘oh yeah, you and your brothers, all the same!’, but I don’t have the gene. No, actually, I’ve got the gene — I just didn’t put it into practice. You, Junior, and Jason, for whatever reason, found something that you love and did it every single day. I never did that. That’s one thing that always burns me — I don’t know why I didn’t do it. I don’t know what happened but with Junior it was drawing a little bit, and then it was just music forever. He did music through everything. Everything in our lives growing up, Junior was just doing music. I don’t know what it was, I don’t know what kind of tunnel vision thing he had, but it was the same with you!
You were drawing, you used to draw, draw, draw, music, music, music. Then Jason, same, drawing all the time, music, games. But with me, I was just hopping around like a flippin’ prick and I hate that about myself. I didn’t know what I wanted. Then I thought I wanted to be around everything, so I didn’t want to shut myself off from things — because if I just went with singing, in my head, I felt like I was shutting myself off from everything else. I felt like I would shut myself off from you lot as well — if I start singing and I’m going to singing school, I remember I went to Mount View in Wood Green for one term — a performing arts school. I just felt like I wasn’t with the people that I liked. I didn’t get to sit with Jamie, and I didn’t get to do this at home with Jason and Junior — I thought following the thing that I was good at which was singing was…
JME: It was making you leave.
JA: Yeah exactly. It’s not a regret, because my life is amazing, but part of me does think: ‘if I had pursued singing, where would I be now?’
JME: But you have a computer and a mic, so why don’t you make something for fun and just keep it for you?
JA: Because there’s a thing in my brain that goes, ‘That’s not good’.
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JME: Well I’m telling you to just have fun with it! You don’t have to make it perfect, it doesn’t have to be a finished piece.
JA: Yeah, you’re right, you’re absolutely right.
JME: Have you accepted death?
JA: I have accepted death, and I am scared of dying. But I’ve accepted that I’m going to die. The thing about death that I’m scared of is the actual moment is going to happen and what is that going to feel like? I will never ever know until it happens. Basically, every time I get on a plane, I feel like I’m gonna die, I’m scared of flying.
JME: That’s one of my questions as well — you’re ruining my interview.
JA: [Laughs] I always text the family group chat when I’m about to fly, and I say ‘I love you guys, I’m going here’, just in case. Maybe I’m gonna have to know that I’m dying, that’s what upsets me about it. I don’t want to know that I’m dying. I’d like to just die. That would be my ideal, which is a weird thing to say, Well, I’m gonna die one day doesn’t bother me. I don’t have an issue with that. Probably in part thanks to you, I’ve really worked on letting go of the ego of feeling like I am here and this life is about me. I’ve let go of that — it’s not about me. The thing that I am scared of is the people that I know dying.
JME: Who would you haunt if you were a ghost?
JA: I would haunt you!
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JME: I wouldn’t be scared.
JA: It doesn’t have to be scary! I would haunt you for two reasons: one, because I know you don’t believe in people coming back from the dead; two, because you would explain it best to people who didn’t understand — you’d be like, ‘Bruv, Julie, Julie came into my room, and I was lying on my bed, my durag was on the side of my face, and I felt it move and I thought it was [JME’s wife] Sarah’ — you’d explain it in so much detail that people might actually believe I was there.
JME: It would be normal with us, but I’d have to ask bare questions about what happened — I’d have to believe you were dead. But then it’d be like, okay, cool.
JA: Yeah you’d be the person who would handle it best. You’d be the only person who would explain it right, it would be wasted on mum or on Jason.
JME: Who are you gonna be when you’re 50?
JA: I think I’ll be pretty much the same as I am now. The only thing that will have changed will be, I’ll be more of a guardian to the people around me — I think that’s my natural energy. I am the person someone confides in and asks for help or guidance from, I think that’s who I’ll be at 50.
JME: If you could be white for a day, what would you do?
JME: If you could be a white man for a day.
JA: If I could be a white man for a day?
JME: Yeah, if you just woke up in the morning, looked in the mirror and boom: there’s a white man. Hair intact, two-day growth stubble, muscles.
JA: [Cackles] Oh my God! Someone asked this question before, and the person gave a really good answer — they said, ‘I would apply for a job that I knew I was unqualified for’. But what would I do if I woke up as a white man? I would use my privilege — I assume I would have some — to get some kind of discount and buy a home for our parents.
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JME: You’ve interviewed bare people — sometimes I won’t hear about it until I see a picture and I’ll be like, rah! Is that photoshop?! But who are you scared of interviewing?
JA: I’m scared to interview T Pain, Travis Scott, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Eminem — I would be petrified if I was interviewing Eminem! There’s so much that I want to say, but normally if I’m a fan I can still put that version of me aside and do the interview.
JME: That’s like me now.
JA: [Laughs] Yeah, there’s certain people who mean so much to me that I don’t want to interview them, because I’d be scared of throwing out all my questions and just telling them what they mean to me. I can’t really throw that professionalism out the door, because I will probably see them again.
JME: Also, because you’re Julie Adenuga, instead of telling someone what they mean to you, you could just try and mean something to them. That’s what I do — like when we [BBK] did KOKO with Kanye West [in 2015].
JA: Yeah, you get to a point where you’re actually with them. So now, all those ideas that you’ve watched from afar, you’re part of them in some way, you’re part of the conversation. So not to say that, obviously, me and Beyoncé are going to become best friends, but there’ll be a bit where hopefully, fingers crossed, she would talk to me as she’s talking to all the other people that have been a part of all these things that she’s done.
JME: You’re an auntie twice to two girls, you’re the only girl in this generation on our side of the family so you’ll play an integral role in their lives. Have you thought about this already?
JA: Absolutely! Because of our culture, I am the only Nigerian auntie they have. There’s so much of our culture that we don’t experience, and I wish I could teach them the language and the beautiful traditions.
JME: Are there any traditions, rules or societal norms that you think in time will change?
JA: Something that has affected my whole life to this day is being the only girl in a family of brothers. Growing up as the only girl meant mum was always telling me to do something because — washing dishes or cooking. None of you were cooking, you were playing on the computer and I had to go down the kitchen by myself. And because of that, I’ve got to this point in my life now, where I’m so opposed to anything that is ‘for women’. I can’t wait for there to be no gender roles or expectations of any sex at all, except for, ‘Are you a human being and what do you want in your life?’.
Agenda with Julie Adenuga brings music culture to life. It’s a show that represents the authentic voices of the UK and beyond, spanning hip hop, grime, R&B, afrobeats and everything in-between. Julie will be bringing the hits you love every week, whilst checking in with her mates from within the scene and playing the music setting the Agenda in the UK. Agenda with Julie Adenuga airs Tuesdays at 7pm GMT on Apple Music’s Beats 1.