Founder & CEO
Few documentarians are as much a part of the world they’re recording, as they are a part of documenting it. Standing on both sides of the lens.
Roony Keefe, however, is just that. His legendary DVD series Risky Roadz helped kickstart the careers of countless MCs in the early days of grime and galvanised the budding scene’s visual aesthetic, in a time before YouTube and Instagram.
This didn’t come out of a business plan; Risky Roadz came out of Roony’s genuine love for the music and a fan-boy like enthusiasm for what people around him were creating.
The series of films – which at first were shot on a camera Roony’s nan (Grime Gran) lent him the money to buy – showcased grime's main players, spitting bars and answering questions that hungry fans were desperate to get answers to.
The MCs Roony caught on film in the scene’s heyday now read like a who’s who of grime, including Skepta, D Double E, Kano, Lethal B, Ghetts, Wiley, Chipmunk and JME, and crews like Pay As U Go Cartel and Nasty Crew.
He was able to get these big names because he was living and working at the centre of grime: Rhythm Division in London's Bow. DJing old school garage while he was still at school, Roony was a regular at his local record store, and while crate digging he’d hear Slimzee and Marcus Nasty drop tunes, igniting his love of the new sound – grime.
A work experience stint there quickly turned into a Saturday job at Rhythm, where Roony met manager Sparky - his Risky Roadz cofounder - and MCs like Wiley selling early pressings through the store.
The store's walls lined with garage and grime white labels were soon to become familiar to a whole new audience of people, as the backdrop to Risky Roadz freestyles. Roony came up with the idea of filming the new scene for RR when they realised there were still certain MCs that – visually – remained a mystery.
In a pre smartphone and social media world, real life connections and a genuine network were essential for finding MCs to film, and in those days – also pre Spotify – record stores were a hub of musical, creative activity.
As grime bloomed out of its East London home and MCs cropped up in all different postcodes, Roony would travel all over town for shoots.
The low-tech nature of the mid Noughties not only effected the way Roony had to set up and conduct shoots, but it also had an impact on the other end of the process. News of the new films travelled word of mouth, rather than though a formal distribution network, and sharing came from real-life connections rather than clicks.
First the DVDs were at Rhythm Division, then other record stores got interested and would get in touch to get copies themselves.
For fans too, the format meant getting out in the real world
This lack of YouTube also meant Roony had to use books to teach himself how to edit video, and in 2004 you weren’t just uploading digital files to share with viewers – you were pressing films onto discs.
Working on Risky Roadz in such close proximity to the then-rising stars (and current royalty) of grime, then going on to work on videos like Skepta’s “It Ain’t Safe” – back on the now infamous Meridian Estate, home to Julie Adenuga, Skepta, JME and, naturally, the rest of Meridian Crew - and ‘Man’, Chip's ‘Scene’ and Kano's ‘3 Wheel-ups’, Among many many others Roony has been a part of the scene basically since its inception.
The videos had an impact on the very music they were depicting, too. MCs would hone their aesthetic and delivery of their bars to look the part as much as sound it. Getting on a DVD was now just as much a break as getting on radio – with a DVD at least you could guarantee people would hear you, rather than risking listeners missing your slot on pirate.
Making these early videos and being part of developing a recognisable aesthetic has proven vital in the recent opening up of America to grime. Roony recently contacted Dave Myers, for example – a director who won Grammy for his video with Kendrick, and has worked with the likes of Drake and Travis Scott – to ask about a potential meet in LA.
Risky Roadz has also earned a fan in Drake. A few years ago Roony found he’d picked up hundreds of new Instagram followers, and scrolled through to find the source: Drizzy.
The two ended up meeting in Miami, exchanging VIP access and Risky Roadz DVDs, and there’s a plan to film together in London soon.