Grime heads looking for a fix, look no further.
Whether you’re an old skool DVD collector or new to the music, Roony Keefe, aka ‘Risky Roadz’, is a trusted name when it comes to documenting the grime scene’s nitty gritty. Starting his journey in the early noughties with his famed DVD series, Risky Roadz, Keefe was one of the pioneers in the DIY DVD space, way before YouTube came in and changed the order of the day.
More recently responsible for Grime Gran (his own 80-year-old grandmother, who was there pretty much since the genre’s inception) and Rap Therapy (a Channel 4 series featuring MCs and rappers discussing mental health), Risky’s also directed a slew of music videos over the years for the likes of Skepta, Chip and Kano. After a 12-year sabbatical from making documentaries, Risky Roadz is back with a new chapter: +44 Presents: Risky Roadz 0121 is an insightful new hour-long doc—available exclusively on Amazon Music & Prime Video—which looks at Birmingham’s DIY culture, entrepreneurship and community, and how to make something out of nothing.
We spoke with Risky over Zoom about his latest gig, and his journey from the DVD era to now.
“I feel there’s a gap for someone who understands the culture fully in the TV world. I want to be that person to help translate that across and use it correctly, where we can all be a part of something.”
COMPLEX: Where are you today?
Risky: I’ve got the most random thing I’m doing in London at the moment. Basically, a mate of mine is a photographer and he asked if he could borrow my cab to take some wedding photos. So I’m going to drive and there’s a wedding going on behind.
When you’re not filming, do you actually take jobs as a black taxi driver? I can’t imagine you having a cab just for show.
I get in the cab to fund stuff. But the production company side of stuff is also running, so I’ll write and then pitch to the commissioners of Channel 4, Dave, Sky—whoever. And I’ll pitch shows and look for new talent to put in place for shows. I’ve got my brother doing stuff with us now and one of my other pals, I’m building him into a platform; he’s just done something with Red Bull. I’ve got something to shoot for the Food Network, and I’ve got this other idea in the works with CBeebies, so it’s all quite random… I don’t want to be pigeonholed as just grime and music—I have ideas for all types of stuff. That’s kinda what I wanna do: build Risky Roadz into a production company and still have my roots and find the talent from the scene and put them into things. I feel there’s a gap for someone who understands the culture fully in the TV world. I want to be that person to help translate that across and use it correctly, where we can all be a part of something.
I was thinking how different Risky Roadz is in 2021 compared to the early-00s; now I click on a button and I can watch your documentary just like that. Back in the day, to get ahold of one of your DVDs was a very different experience. When I first got Risky Roadz, I remember getting the No. 8 bus from Bethnal Green down to Rhythm Division and collecting my copy. The process changes with technology.
Yes, it’s so different. We got the camera, brought the tape, recorded what we needed to record, I would go home and digitise the tape, and however long I had filmed for, I had to watch it back for that amount of time to get it into the computer. Then you would sit there and edit it—that specific interview, or whatever it was. We’d continue filming, and after that, you’d just compile all the different bits and put them into a sequence, which could take months or even a whole year to get everyone on it. From there, you’d just sit there and export and, eventually, you’ll end up with a master. I remember the first Risky Roadz, it wouldn’t burn for some reason. Over 24 hours rendering, everyone was waiting for it and it wouldn’t burn. I think there was one button I hadn’t pressed, but we got there in the end.
And once you’d got the DVD pressed up, did you do it the car boot way?
Yep! We’d just go and personally take it around to people. I think we did 5,000 on the first one. In a way, I had to reinvent myself over the years: to learn how to do music videos and now, obviously, the production side of things on a bigger scale. If you’d said to me back in the day that I’d be in front of a camera presenting something, I would’ve told you, “No way!”