Around 55% of Instagram’s 24 million monthly users in the UK fall into the 18-34 age bracket. That’s around 13.4m people. Establishing who your audience is: relatively simple—it’s the ‘how’ that businesses struggle with. How do you reach these young people with content they actually care about? IMJUSTBAIT, launched by 22-year-old Anthony Robb (aka ‘Antz’) in 2014, certainly has an answer for that. With over 3.8m followers, IMJUSTBAIT has become the go-to Instagram account for young people—in six years, Antz’s page has accumulated more Instagram followers than 13 Premier League clubs, and twice as many followers than the four major record labels combined.
Antz understands this principle and has since begun to trailblaze a path to show how other Insta pages can convert some of their large follower counts into serious money. Those ventures include launching and selling out his own vodka, creating a Spotify playlist with over 200,000 followers, and putting together a mailing list which has more than 50,000 sign-ups. However, it’s his record label, WEAREBLK.—co-owned by 23-year-old Abdi (better known as Abdi TV)—that appears to be the crown jewel in his growing arsenal of businesses.
While IMJUSTBAIT was helping artists like Dave and Deno grow their fanbase years ago, Abdi TV was doing something similar on Twitter. Having built a following off the back of pushing acts like B Young and Abra Cadabra to get their music heard early on in their careers, Abdi decided to take things a step further—he found and signed two tracks, “Fortnite” and “Lyca”, from two relatively unknown artists at the time, Boogz and Swarmz. “Fortnite” went on to accumulate a few million streams, and “Lyca” ended up getting licensed to Virgin EMI for £85,000. Pooling Abdi and Antz’s resources together gives WEAREBLK. a huge marketing advantage over their rivals: the ability to connect with a network of over four million engaged followers.
Complex caught up with the young execs to discuss their individual and collective growth.
“Every new song that you see come out that’s relevant, we get an email about it.”—Abdi
COMPLEX: How did both of your social media accounts get to become so big?
Antz: I was in school, in Maths class, and everyone was talking about Instagram. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but everyone was talking about how they’re trying to get 10,000 followers, so I made an account and was trying to get to 10,000 followers first. I made it on my bredrin’s phone because I didn’t have a phone, and I used to do loads of ‘shoutouts for shoutouts’. At first, it was just literally pictures of me and then I started coming across funny videos, so I started posting more and more of them. In the beginning, I was losing a lot of followers, but when I stuck at it, I started gaining followers and it became a hobby for me.
Abdi: I made a Twitter page and started posting music videos, funny videos as well, and it started growing from there. The more music videos I posted, the faster it grew. That’s really how I built my Twitter page, to be honest: by posting videos. I post about more than music, but I feel like music is where a lot of my followers came from. I liked the music I was posting and other people liked it as well, so I kept on posting underground music and just built from there. There wasn’t a mad reason for me doing it; I just did it because I liked it.
Talk me through some of the times you helped artists get traction earlier on in their careers.
Antz: I got a lot of followers from a video of Deno I posted, but it wasn’t really about me capitalising—it was all about him. I tagged him in the video and then I saw his Insta following blow up and saw the video in news pieces. It’s crazy how someone’s life can change just like that, from one post. Stormzy wanted to put him on the album as well.
Abdi: Abra Cadabra’s Blackbox freestyle... I say that purely because he said that.
Antz: We kind of established this method: Abdi could promote stuff on Twitter, I could promote stuff on Insta. We used Abdi’s Twitter to test videos. If I saw a video do well on his Twitter page, I’d promote it on my Instagram. With Abra Cadabra, he posted it on Twitter, I posted it on Instagram. Hardy Caprio’s “Best Life” is another one, Young T & Bugsey, and I posted some early Dave music from way back as well. I got a DM from Dave at the time saying, “Thanks for the support. It goes a long way.”
Antz, you used to work with Uber and promoted their services in your posts. How did that deal come about?
Antz: I think the first time I realised that I could make money from Instagram was when Uber emailed me. They approached me and offered me a referral scheme, a commission-based deal. Within a few weeks, I was one of their top influencers in the UK, just from people using my code.
You have a similar deal in place with Kapten now, right?
Antz: Uber actually ran out of budget. I was killing it so much that they ran out of budget. Then a couple of years later, Kapten came about and they reached out to me and I’m working with them. It’s not an exclusive deal, but we’re working!
You also released your very own IMJUSTBAIT vodka—what did you learn from that experience?
Antz: My dad always said to me, “If you have an idea to pursue something, just do it!” So I was thinking, “Rah, imagine if I had my own vodka?” So I just connected with a company, launched it and it all sold out rapidly. I kind of learnt that wasn’t my lane, I don’t really want to sell vodka, but I proved that I can do it for myself.
When I saw you release vodka, that was when I realised you were planning to make the IMJUSTBAIT brand more than just an Instagram page.
Antz: The plan has always been to branch out, and that’s what I have been doing. There’s a lot of side businesses from IMJUSTBAIT.
One of those side businesses is events. You held a ‘2 Million Followers’ party with Tory Lanez, which sold out in 24 hours. What made you want to get into events?
Antz: The ‘2 Million Followers’ party, I think that was 2,000 tickets sold in 24 hours. It was crazy! It was a banging experience—so sick! Since we’ve pushed into the event side of things, we’ve done five club events—1 Million Followers, 2 Million Followers, Easter, my birthday, and a Wireless after-party—and they all sold out. Now, we’ve branched into festivals with our first one taking place this summer. It’s called Summer Crush Festival and it’s being held in Barcelona from July 25-28. We’ve confirmed Krept & Konan, Mist, Nines, Steel Banglez, DigDat, Jay1 and a few more that we can’t wait to tell people about.
Some brands have big followings, but they’re not always able to carry that from one part of the business to another. How did you manage to sell-out five events so smoothly?
Antz: The reason I think we sold out is because we made a mailing list. Me and my business partner, T, we came up with the idea to do a mailing list, so we made some engaging content alongside a link which people can use to sign up. Then when it was launch day, we’d email everyone. I think we’re sitting on 50,000 emails right now. If you don’t sign up to the mailing list, you won’t really get your tickets. I’ve never put the link up for people to buy tickets.
What’s the difference between an Instagram page with viral clips, and a page with viral clips that makes money?
Antz: To be honest, it’s about how you structure your page and content. If your content isn’t brand-friendly, brands aren’t really going to want to work with you. I think that’s what I’ve learnt to do based on how the page used to be and how it is now. It’s a lot more brand-friendly nowadays.
What changes did you have to do to make your page brand-friendly?
Antz: Anything that you wouldn’t show your mum or dad, you can’t really post. And when you do promote brands, there’s a lot of regulations. When you’re showing something that you’ve been gifted or paid to post, you’ve got to show your followers that you’re getting gifted or paid so you’re not manipulating them. So you’ve got to include ‘#ad’ in those posts.
You have your ‘BaitList’ playlist on Spotify which has over 200,000 followers. How did this playlist become so popular?
Antz: I just made a playlist where I put all my favourite music. I think because it’s been so organic, nobody’s ever paid for a placement on the Spotify playlist. You can’t pay to get in there, it’s exclusive, so I think that’s why it kinda holds that weight. There’s a lot of playlists, especially a lot of American playlists, where people can just pay to get on there. But with this one, you can’t pay. I get a lot of email chains, always at mad times in the night, saying: “Hey, I’ve been given your playlist from a distributor, can I pay to get on there?” And I see all these American playlists reply and say: “Yeah, one thousand dollars.” I don’t think we’d ever take money for the playlist. It’s not the goal. Me, Abdi or [WEAREBLK. managing director] Aidan have to like the song for it to go on there, otherwise it just won’t work.
How often do labels reach out to ask you to promote their artists on your platforms?
Antz: Every new song that you see come out that’s relevant, we get an email about it.
Abdi: They’re already realising that it’s a good way to build hype for the song.
Antz: Social media has definitely taken over radio’s influence. Social media is better than radio now—it’s better now, 100%.
Abdi: I don’t think they need to, but it does help if different pages post your music before it comes out... You can still blow up and do everything you need to do without pages posting your music, though.
If ImJUSTBAIT or Abdi TV posts a video and it gets 250,000 views, for someone to get those same views using paid social media promotion, it would be quite costly. With that in mind, do you ever use paid social media ads?
Antz: I don’t really see the point in using those ads. Even when we’ve done ads with our label and our artists’ songs, and we compared the stats from paid ads to the stats from IMJUSTBAIT or Abdi TV, ours are always higher. If you have a product or you’re trying to physically sell something, that’s when paid ads would kill it for you. But in terms of actually getting a listener and getting someone to be interested in a song, it’s a whole different thing.
Do you think Instagram news outlets like yours get enough credit?
Antz: In terms of the urban scene, yeah, they do. When it comes to corporations, they don’t.
Abdi: A lot of people still don’t see the power of Instagram pages. They don’t realise how powerful they are or what you can do with them.
What made you want to set up your label, WEAREBLK.?
Abdi: Me and Antz have known each other for years now and we’ve always wanted to set up a label, but we just didn’t know how to and didn’t know where to start. Then I met Aidan, and that’s when we did [Boogz’s] “Fortnite” and [Swarmz’s] “Lyca” together and then we joined forces with IMJUSTBAIT and built WEAREBLK. from it. We didn’t know how to do it, then Aidan kinda showed us the way about how to run a label: you’ve got to sign the song, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that, you have to upload it to distributors. All that stuff we didn’t know about—we just knew how to create hype for a song. It came together for me and Aidan when Antz joined.
How did you use these two singles to build your record label?
Abdi: We saw “Fortnite” on Instagram and then I messaged Aidan about it, like: “How do we sign this song? How do we make this a song?” It was a freestyle, at first. Then we spoke to the artist, Boogz, he made it into a song and then we signed it. Before we had a label, everything we did was 50/50, no advance. So we’d give the artist nothing upfront but we’d give them 50% of what we make together, which is high for labels. At that time, Boogz rated us and said he’s down to do it. And “Fortnite” went on to do really well. It’s on a couple million streams now, and we spent no money on that song—like, nothing at all. Austin [Daboh] put it on Spotify’s ‘Rap UK’ playlist, which was crazy—we didn’t expect that. Then from there, we did “Lyca”, which was the most random thing ever. I met Swarmz at a club event and he said he had a song for me. He sent it to me the next day, I sent it to Aidan and we said we’re gonna sign him. That song blew up, and from there, it paved the way for us to grow the label.
Antz: It helped us gain trust from other artists as well because they saw and thought, “Rah, you helped these two artists out, what could you do for us?”
You licensed “Lyca” for £85,000 to Virgin EMI after first signing it on a 50/50, no advance deal. How was that whole experience for you?
Abdi: When we signed the song, we didn’t have any idea about ‘upstreaming it’—that’s what they call it, licensing it to another label. We just wanted to put the song out and see how it goes. Because it was getting so much hype, just off the preview Swarmz did that we pushed, the labels wanted it. As soon as the song came about, every label emailed us and wanted the song. The song charted in the first week at #67 and spent 12 weeks in the charts, peaking at #55, which was quite good for us. We gave it to Virgin because they came to us early on, and because the relationship we had with the person at Virgin was really good.
Is WEAREBLK. an independent label or is it part of a bigger record label?
Aidan: WEAREBLK. is a fully independent, 100%-owned company, and we have a 50/50 joint venture deal with Sony Music. So they invest in our company so that we can sign people using a structure that traditional record labels would use to sign people. Previously, we couldn’t fund that or sign artists to five or six-figure deals because we didn’t have that capital so we chose to do no advance, 50/50 shares, which was the highest that we could give. Whereas now, our structure has changed, but we are still a 100%-owned, independent business.
Do you have full control over the artists you sign and music you produce?
Antz: We have a good relationship with [Sony exec and radio DJ] Semtex. He puts his trust in us and what we think, because that’s how this started: from us giving our opinion on something. So he trusts us 100% to do what we want.
What are the benefits of signing with WEAREBLK. over any other label?
Antz: When I speak to artists, I tell them, “Look, it’s as simple as this: labels come to us for us to post their stuff—that’s part of their marketing plan—so if you sign with us, you’re getting something that labels normally pay for, for free! When a label pays for marketing, it also gets deducted from the artist’s budget. With us, you’re getting this for free; we’re going to be posting you unlimited times because we want you to succeed.” We’re not traditional, corporate people—we’re just young guys trying to make a good life for ourselves and help people along the way.
Abdi: With us, you get an unlimited amount of promotion. The resources we have through other pages and other people, and the relationships we have with Spotify and Apple Music, you can’t get that anywhere else. One IMJUSTBAIT post is a lot of artists’ marketing budgets, but with us, you can get an unlimited amount. That’s a big winner when it comes to signing with us, letting them know they’ve got us for free and can get posts all day long if they wanted. Plus, they trust us in helping them to build their career from what we’ve shown already with different artists.
“We’re not trying to sign people that are stars already, we’re trying to build them.”—Antz
Some of the younger artists that have followed both of you for a while might trust your form of marketing more than they would from a corporate person they can’t relate to.
Abdi: We get everything early; people send us stuff before they send it to anyone else. Before a song blows up, we will see it. We might not always post about it or try to sign it or whatever, but we see everything.
I don’t even wanna know how many DMs you get on a daily basis [laughs].
Antz: I get around 1,000 DMs a day, in general, and probably around 500 of them are music-related. I stay up until like 4am going through everything. It’s peak! [Laughs] You know how you’ve got two sections in the DMs, the ones that you’ve answered and the ones that are requests... Even the ones that are requests, I could have an important message from you and in a day, that will go, then you’re gonna see me next week and say, “Yo! Why didn’t you reply to me?” There’s just so many DMs that come through, it’s crazy.
Which artists are currently on the WEAREBLK. roster?
Abdi: We’ve got J Fado, a rapper from Oxford. He’s smashing it right now! We signed him probably around six months ago, and he’s blowing up on the socials. Instagram-wise, he’s become a face that everyone sees. He’s now got 216,000 followers and he’s verified.
Antz: We help people build their own platforms where artists can speak to their fans themselves. A lot of other labels have one goal and that’s to get the best songs and best market share. For us, it’s to win with the artist. And if they ever leave us and we part ways, they’ll have their own platform and they won’t need to rely on anyone else.
Abdi: We’ve also got SD Muni, who we signed around a year ago. He just turned 18. When we signed him, he only had around 3,000 followers, and now he’s on 100k. So he’s got his fanbase now. If we went our separate ways, he’s got his fans, he gets streams, he gets views, so he’s built up his own ecosystem of fans where he can do whatever he wants.
Antz: We’ve got 24 Wavey as well. He’s about to take over!
Abdi: And then we’ve got Rocco and Jordae, and Tom Austin aka Niko Bellic—his song, “Mary Berry”, blew up! I think it’s currently on three million streams. We haven’t just got one genre of music: we’ve got drill, we’ve got rap, we’ve got Niko and we’ve got Jordae, who’s more of an Afrobeats singer. Our artists are very diverse—all of them make different music.
What’s the label’s goal for the next two to five years?
Abdi: Building up the artists we have. That’s another difference between our label and other labels: we’re not trying to sign superstars. We’re not trying to sign people that are stars already, we’re trying to build them.
Antz: I’d say for every artist on our label to reach the goals we have for them, and that’s for them to be successful and have their own platforms.