'The best is yet to come': Complex UK's Joseph 'JP' Patterson on Black music's future

'The best is yet to come': Complex UK's Joseph 'JP' Patterson on Black music's future

According to Joseph 'JP' Patterson, for Black music in the UK, “the best is yet to come”.

In a new interview with Music Week to mark the launch of the On A Level video interview series on Complex UK, Patterson has reflected on the standout campaigns of 2023, including Nines, Cleo Sol, Digga D, Potter Payper and more.

Patterson is editor-in-chief at Complex UK and also runs Trench. So far in On A Level, he has interviewed rising dancehall star Byron Messia and former Music Week cover star M Huncho.

“The reason I decided to launch a video interview series is simple: everyone’s been on me to do it for years!” Patterson said. “I used to do on-camera interviews when I worked at MTV UK in 2010 and, ever since then, people who just generally rate what I do for the culture have said that they wanna see me do more on-camera stuff, so I did.”

He stressed the importance of the ethos behind the On A Level series. 

“I’m not a ‘content creator’ by any means,” he said. “I’m a seasoned journalist who sits in front of the camera sometimes to do what I do best: interview talented people. That and running two publications, of course, plus all the other work I do behind the scenes.”

Here, we dig a little deeper into the series and picks Patterson’s brain on Black music, new Black executive talent and the small matter of an upcoming book…

When it’s all said and done, the written word will always have its place in the world

Joseph 'JP' Patterson

You recently launched the On A Level video series. What prompted a move towards video?

“Firstly, let me just say that the written word can never die. I’ve been seeing a lot of conversation online about music and culture journalism slowly dying out because certain publications are closing and brands want more TikTok and video content as opposed to written editorial. But when it’s all said and done, the written word will always have its place in the world. Who wants to be 70 years old, looking back on a time that once was by just watching old TikTok videos? No; you’ll want to read thoughtful, written pieces about a certain moment in time, something a bit deeper than a 30-second clip.”

What have you learned from the interviews you’ve done so far?

“The more comfortable your subject is, the more they’re likely to share. Not everyone’s used to, or even likes doing press, so the best way to make them feel at home is to come across like you’re someone they’ve known for years. I think that’s a strength I’ve had since I started interviewing people in 2008 – there’s a relatability that I’m able to form off the bat because I’m so close to the music and the culture. I do want to shout out the young creators coming up in this music space, though, talents like Flashy Sillah, Cee Valentina, FDFromTheFuture, Rambo Is Talking, Mimi The Music Blogger. While a lot of what they do might not be “journalism” in the traditional sense, they do bring an energy and perspective to our industry that I think is needed. I’m also rating the work of writers like Naz Hamdi, Emmanuel Onapa and Rahel Aklilu at the moment – these guys are the future of music journalism.”

Which acts are on your wishlist for On A Level?

“I’ve pretty much interviewed the entire scene at this point, but not all on camera. I think me and Skepta in conversation would be dope. I’ve known him for years, he was one of the first people I booked as a promoter back in ‘07, but we haven’t had the chance to properly chop it up about the highs and lows of this music thing. I saw him recently after his set at Ushuaia in Ibiza, for their Vortex closing party, and he said to me: “Look at the journey, J! We’ve come far, man.” It was a real moment – a proud moment.”

In terms of Complex UK and TRENCH, what strides forward have you made in 2023? 

When I became editor-in-chief of Complex UK in 2021, my main aim was to hire more people that represent Black British culture because that is at the core of what we’re all about. And I think we’ve done a great job so far; we’ve added some people to our brand partnership and sales teams and we’ve ramped up our social media team in a major way. We’ve been running since 2014 and have won huge campaigns purely off the back of our written editorial output and, as a writer first and foremost, that’s something I’m extremely proud of. But, moving with the times, we’ve also been able to mirror that more recently with creative visual ideas and really getting our clients out there in new and creative ways through our various channels.

“Over at Trench this year, we teamed up with Google/YouTube and Adidas on some major projects. For Google/YouTube, we created a print magazine to highlight their Union Black series, which is all about paying homage to the legends who have paved the way in Black British music and culture. That was also rolled out with a big online campaign via Google’s Arts & Culture arm, and it’s fair to say all our hard work – those long hours! – really paid off. We also joined forces with Adidas to put on three activations at their London flagship store, one of which was a launch party for our collab T-shirt with the brand. The event we held in September was, by far, our biggest yet – we literally had hundreds of people queuing up who couldn’t get in! But we tried to do what we could on the night. We brought Ruff Sqwad back together for one night only, and had the likes of Jme, Sherelle, Slimzee and Joce Wavy come through to shut it down as well. I want to give a massive shout-out to the team – Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan, Chantelle Fiddy and Elijah Telfar, as well as Travis from Adidas – because we put on some legendary nights that will be talked about for a long time to come.”

You’ve been documenting UK Black music for a while now. How would you sum up the state of the scene as we come to the end of 2023?

“It’s safe to say that, in 2023, the Black British music scene is its own, thriving industry. Ten years ago, you’d be lucky if you saw UK rappers or R&B artists charting on home soil but, today, this has become a regular occurrence. These guys are on magazine covers, high fashion publications and they’re selling out the Royal Albert Hall like it’s The Old Blue Last! Shout out Vice! And that’s not including what Central Cee and Dave did with their joint project Split Decision and its massive lead single Sprinter. The scene is very healthy right now and it’s taken a lot of hits and misses to get to this point. As I always like to remind people: a lot of this success wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the mid-2010s grime resurgence. The reason I say this is because that moment made the commercial world interested in what we had to say again. All eyes were on us, especially after Kanye brought out the whole scene on stage at the 2015 BRIT Awards for his All Day performance. Skepta was a big part of this whole renaissance, and that’s why he’s so revered in the game; he was travelling around the world putting our music, our style, our culture firmly on the map. And look where we’re at now.”

It should never have been a ‘thing’ where we needed to campaign for more Black faces and voices to be represented

Joseph 'JP' Patterson

What are your thoughts on how the industry is progressing in terms of Black executives getting into and rising up the ranks?

“I’d say over the past five years we’ve seen a major shift in representation across the board. It should never have been a ‘thing’ where we needed to campaign for more Black faces and voices to be represented in certain parts of the music business, but that’s a different conversation. As always, salute the execs who have made it their business to change the landscape; Glyn and Riki at Since ‘93; the 0207 Def Jam crew; the Black Music Coalition; the MOBO Awards; Sheniece Charway at YouTube. These guys have been instrumental in the shift, and look: the industry at large is all the better for it. One name I’m hearing a lot in the A&R space of late is Olivia Taylar — she’s got her finger on the pulse, at home and abroad, and it’ll be interesting to see what else she brings to the table.”

What artist stories have stood out most for you this year? 

“Cleo Sol is an artist whose rise has been super-dope to watch. She released two albums back-to-back recently in Heaven and Gold, sold-out the Royal Albert Hall in the space of a few minutes, and is constantly getting co-signs from major artists across the pond. From singing on Channel U bangers back in the day to now being one of the UK’s most treasured R&B-soul acts, it’s been a real joy to witness and I’m looking forward to her continued takeover. I have to give Flowdan a shout-out as well – he’s definitely keeping the grime flame alive, all whilst working with acts like Skrillex and Lil Baby.”

Which artist success stories do you feel particularly close to from this year? 

Nines had a strong year with the drops of Crop Circle 2 and Crop Circle 3. Mixmag hit me up to do a cover story around the first one and it was cool working with Nines’ PR, Ebi Sampson at August Agency, on making that a solid piece for the people. That was Nines’ last album on Warner and he seemed excited to go the independent route, which was interesting. So then, when Crop Circle 3 came around, it all clicked into place and made sense. Nines is easily one of the most creative rappers out there right now; he’s hands-on with every minor detail, and the movies he does with every project release have become must-sees. He said he wants to get into movie-making next and I think he’ll be very successful at it.”

Could you pick out a campaign you’ve admired most and why?

“It’s hard to pick just one, but what Wired PR have done with Digga D and Potter Payper deserves high praise. These are both hardcore street rappers but they’re in mainstream spaces comfortably; it never feels forced, and there’s a real art to positioning these types of artists in that type of way.”

A lot is being made of the emergence of other European Black music scenes, France in particular. Do you think other countries are taking their cues from the UK in terms of how to grow domestically?

“Definitely. People are getting back to the grassroots of marketing and getting their names out there and it’s proving successful. If there’s one thing we know how to do well in the UK, it’s doing things yourself and winning off the back of it.”

We hear you’re writing a book – what can you tell us about that?

“I’ve been working on this book for about a year now, and it’s due to drop at some point next year. I can’t really go into too much detail because there’s gonna be a big announcement soon, but I will say that it’s on/with/for a UK-based record label that has had a great run so far. This book will show the ups and downs of running a successful record label, most of it told through those working behind the scenes to make it all happen. I think it’ll end up becoming an essential guide for aspiring A&Rs and music industry heads the world over  the gems are endless. Keep it locked for more on that.”

What trends do you foresee for 2024? Where is the scene headed next?

“This might sound random, but I wanna see the return of on-the-block freestyles. UK rap is in a great position right now, but it’s become a bit too shiny for me on certain levels. We need some of that early grit back. Bring back F64s; RIP. Jamal Edwards. Bring back Behind Barz on Link Up TV. UK R&B will no doubt have another strong year, especially with acts like Elmiene and Ama Lou at the forefront and impressing on the global stage. The alternative British rap scene is bubbling over, too, with acts like Ashbeck, SamRecks, Zino Vinci, BXKS, Bib Sama, Len and more. Exciting times are ahead, but the best is still yet to come.”

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