On Reprezent Radio, DIY film-making, God, #NS10V10 and staying true to the essence of personhood.
Henrie Kwushue is busy. Really busy. Over the past few weeks, she’s become a vital cog in the meteoric rise of No Signal’s 10v10 segment, as well as continuing to run her weekly, three-hour show on Reprezent Radio, recorded live from home. It’s a mild, balmy Thursday night when we manage to catch up and as I dial in on FaceTime, she’s on the phone to her auntie. “Give me two minutes, sorry!”, she says, before finishing up her conversation, unmuting her computer microphone and smiling. “Hello, sorry about that”, she says warmly, “I’ve always got so many people that I need to talk to.”
A little over six weeks ago, facing an uncertain amount of downtime and a complete shift in how she’d need to approach her work life — “everything I do is outside, it’s people facing, I was like rah, how is this gonna work?” — Henrie was forced to reevaluate. A prolific presenter, DJ and host, her work over the last three years in particular has marked her out as a natural in her field; composed, unflappable, witty and a top-notch selector to boot, she is now at the forefront of a new generation of broadcasters with the world seemingly at their feet. For someone entirely self-taught, motivated and hungry to progress, isolation initially felt like one of the most testing periods of her career so far.
“For the first two, maybe three weeks, I was definitely playing The Sims for about seven hours on end”, she says, totally deadpan, “I was genuinely just making my own Sim family and doing the most vicariously through them. But work did start picking up eventually, I started doing voiceovers from home and odd little bits that utilised my work online with social media platforms, which was good. It has taken a while though, I had to get my head around it first you know?”
Her journey to this point started when she was just 14. While many of her friends at school were gunning for retail placements for work experience in London, Henrie was determined to get into radio. “We were in year 9 and everyone was like, ‘yeah I wanna go work in Boots’ or in a primary school and I remember thinking I don’t wanna do that, that doesn’t sound fun”, she recalls. “It must have been 2009, maybe 2010 and back then it was a lot easier to get in contact with people, because everyone had their emails available online. I’d be emailing The Metro, ITV, The BBC, anyone I could get hold of really. I remember just being like ‘I don’t know what I wanna do in your place but please, I just wanna be in the media, can I do something even if it’s just for a week?”
“We were in year 9 and everyone was like, ‘yeah I wanna go work in Boots’ or in a primary school and I remember thinking I don’t wanna do that, that doesn’t sound fun”
Henrie did receive a load of responses, but the majority of platforms turned her down because their placements were only open to those 18 years old and up. There was one exception, though. “I found a place called Reprezent Radio, it was in South London and it was a community station”, she explains. “I asked them and I got it and I was like ‘shit’ because I knew I didn’t wanna end up at Superdrug or whatever.” Her first interview during her placement? Akala. “It’s honestly crazy stuff thinking about it. I was super young so I wasn’t that clued up but I knew he was Ms. Dynamite’s brother and I knew he was important. I interviewed him when I was 14, it’s mad.”
Now, Reprezent Radio has become a vital platform for a swell of young DJs, presenters and MCs from London and beyond, even earning a visit from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle back in 2018, with Henrie becoming part of the fabric of the place alongside other talented presenters like Remi Burgz, Joe Walker, Scully and Naina. But her grounding in radio first started at university in Leeds, where Henrie studied broadcast journalism and was a regular on Leeds Student Radio, regularly voted one of the UK’s best student radio stations.
“I didn’t take it that seriously but the station always wanted me to go to The Student Radio Awards back then”, she says sheepishly. “A lot of the people there thought they were just gonna go straight off to work for BBC News like, tomorrow, and I was like, ‘nah, this is not me’. Whenever they’d push me to go to the SRAs, I never thought I’d win anything because I was the only person like me, the only person who had a show like mine, spoke like me, looked like me. Every year, I said no to going but they still let me win. I’ve actually got an award here for Best Female, so things like that were really cool.”
Armed with the experience she gained in Leeds, Henrie not only maintained friendships with staff at Reprezent Radio but struck up new relationships during the summers she spent back at home in London too, meaning she was perfectly positioned to segway into radio once she returned to the city after graduating. “I covered a few shows when I wasn’t at university anyway, so when I finished for good, I went straight to Reprezent”, she says proudly.
It was Reprezent that’d give her a first taste of overnight success back in 2017, too. She’d been trialling a series called ‘Lyrics For Lyrics, CALM!’ on her show when a young, soon-to-blow Hardy Caprio strolled in and took up the challenge. “He’s such a lovely human being first and foremost”, she says fondly. “The basic idea was that he cusses me and then I cuss him in 16 bars. I didn’t even know what 16 bars was at the time so I just said ‘whatever bars suit you sir’ kinda thing. I ended up going first and he went second and absolutely finished me. Everyone picked it up. Drake, GRM Daily, SBTV, everyone was talking about it. That was the first moment where it felt like everybody was like, ‘have you seen this?”
“The basic idea was that he cusses me and then I cuss him in 16 bars. I didn’t even know what 16 bars was at the time so I just said ‘whatever bars suit you sir’ kinda thing”
Among her other highlights on Reprezent so far, Henrie recalls a show with The Compozers — Koffee’s touring band in the UK — who played a mini-set (including ‘Toast’) with toy-sized instruments, Mo Gilligan aka Mo The Comedian joining her – “it was incredible having him on, incredible human being” — and face in the news, a comedian and all-round personality, jumping on the show. “She’s just the best”, Henrie beams. “She came on the show and smacked it, like I knew she would.” Without probing too much, it’s clear to see that Henrie was already mastering the art of making original broadcasting not only accessible, but engaging — and on quite a scale.
As of just over a year ago, she DJs now too, a crucial weapon in the arsenal of the modern-day presenter where it pays to be good at just about everything. Such is her standing, she’s already played at fabric, galleries including Tate Britain and The V&A, and sets for world-leading brands like Nike and Adidas. She’s also a regular at DAMNSHAQ’s club night, DAMNSHAQ’S House — “I fell in love with everything there, the music, the staging, everything” — which has honed her skills as a selector.
If radio wasn’t enough, Henrie has now taken documentary film-making into her own hands, too. Clearly a natural on and off-screen, she decided to put together a filmed series (‘Is Your Area Changing?’) exploring the social changes affecting different areas in London, inspired by a bus ride through Peckham at the back end of 2018. The first episode, launched in January, focused on Brixton, with the second focusing on Peckham — a third episode centred around Dalston is due to drop in the coming weeks. Filmed completely independently and lasting between 13-17 minutes an episode, the first two films have already racked up over 110,000 views on YouTube between them.
“I remember being on a bus going to my friends house and I had to go through Peckham about a year after I graduated. I remember looking out the window and thinking, this feels different, like nobody wears dungarees and Converse in Peckham, what’s going on?”, she asks before bursting into laughter. “I then had to get on the bus back home later that night at about 1AM and it was so different. I can’t even explain how different it was, it was a side to Peckham I’d never seen before. Obviously travelling through Peckham at night you’d be scared anyway, but this was a different type of scared. Why must there be two extremes? People were everywhere, it was like party ’til you die, totally crazy.”
“I remember looking out the window and thinking, this feels different, like nobody wears dungarees and Converse in Peckham, what’s going on?”
After chatting with her peers about content ideas a few months later, that journey remained etched in her mind. “I was thinking about things I could do, content ideas and that. I spoke to a few people about it and was like ‘ah yeah guys, I’ve got this idea about something I wanna document, I’m not sure if it’ll make sense to you’ and everyone I told was like, ‘that sounds incredible’. I remember saying, ‘shit, are you sure?’, she laughs, “I just didn’t think it’d go anywhere.”
Despite her degree experience and having “loads of runner jobs”, Henrie and a small crew headed out with just a camera — “I know how production works, but we didn’t do a single thing, no storyboarding, not a ting” — and got to work. “We’d come up with the script as we filmed, so looking back I don’t really know how we managed to pull it off”, she says with a smile. “It was so DIY and made right at that moment, so I couldn’t even go back and film it again even if I wanted to.” The response to the series has been enormous, not only taking Henrie herself by surprise, but also re-sparking local debate about the need to protect and preserve existing cultures amidst the backdrop of London’s seemingly never-ending boom.
It’s perhaps no wonder then that Henrie has become one of the faces of the Internet’s breakout lockdown sensations, No Signal, and specifically, its 10v10 segment over the last four weeks. Powered by RECESS — a London party embracing and celebrating black music and black culture — No Signal was launched as an online radio station about 12 months ago, operating as a sister company and boasting little more than 50 followers on social media.
As a regular DJ at RECESS parties and early No Signal broadcasts, both of which Henrie credits with helping her establish herself as a selector, she was the first person founder Jojo called with a new idea a few weeks ago. “I can even tell you when it was”, says Henrie, scrolling frantically through her call history, “…well the first show was sometime in early April and I think he called me a week before that, so literally not even a month ago. He said he wanted to do something around clashes, but a bit like a game show, and that they’d love me to be a presenter. At the time, I didn’t have much going on and it felt like it was a good opportunity me to keep me presenting and stay focused, so I said ‘okay, cool, let’s do it!”
Having seen rappers like Tory Lanez’ and his Quarantine Radio broadcasts attract hundreds of thousands of fans on Instagram Live and the UK find itself gripped by an obsessed with competition of any sort — family quizzes, Tik Tok dance routines, running PBs et al — JoJo and the crew at No Signal developed the 10v10 format. Half game show, half clash, the show pits two diehard, well-versed fans against one another in picking 10 tracks from an artist’s back catalogue, which are then put to listeners who can vote to decide which fan, artist and track wins each round, making the fan just as important as the artist; in essence, the fan who reps harder, wins. “We did a pilot show and it was just the most DIY thing ever”, Henrie laughs. “I love Jojo so much but because none of those guys really do radio, I remember being like ‘okay we’re live!’ and having to come up with my own script in my head as I went. Genuinely, a week after that pilot show, we went straight into the first live show.”
The first ever 10v10 clash saw Kanye West vs Jay-Z’s discographies go under the microscope, which Henrie presented on April 5. Since then, No Signal and the #NS10v10 hashtag has melted the internet (and at times, the No Signal servers) to go completely global; two weeks ago, Henrie presented their Wizkid vs Vybz Kartel clash, which attracted over 600,000 listeners from over 99 countries, including Burna Boy locked in live from Nigeria. Even ex-Arsenal footballer Ian Wright tuned in for last week’s Rick Ross vs Lil Wayne show, presented by Reprezent alumni Scully, nodding to how far the base premise of the show has permeated culture already. As for Henrie, she finds itself inundated with tweets from listeners congratulating her after every broadcast, which goes to show that however popular the format gets, her ability to present on the fly under intense scrutiny is vital to the show’s success. It is a truly one of the most extraordinary UK music stories to come out of this lockdown period so far.
“We (me and Scully) both have people on Twitter tweeting about it all when we’re live, which I think helps amplify things and I definitely have seen it spread like that, but we’re at 76,000 followers now”, she says passionately. “I started following the station when there was less than 100 followers, so it’s absolutely mad to see how much it’s grown. It shows there’s a space for it.” With the eyes of the UK media and no doubt, a sea of brands, now fixed on Henrie and the No Signal crew, she hopes that the format can continue once the UK lockdown is eased. “I like the way it’s going now, I like the audience we’re bringing in and I just think it’s sick, so I hope we find a way to keep it going once we can all be around each other again”, she concludes.
There’s one common thread running through all Henrie’s pursuits to this point; faith and her relationship with God. From her radio shows to speaking to her in person to scrolling through her social media output, God is quite often front and centre, the driving force behind her passion for music and creating content. “I feel like God is a big part of who I am and a big part of my career thus far because some of the things I’ve accomplished, honestly if I told you some of the things I’d done you’re gonna be like, ‘rah, that just sounds dumb, like how?”, she says laughing, her face breaking out into a beaming smile.
“Honestly, my life before was a mess. I was genuinely working at a Kiko store (an Italian cosmetics company) and I was doing 16 hours a week and I hated life”, she continues. “I had to do people’s makeup and all the rest of it. It’s not like I don’t like makeup but I don’t wanna be drawing eyeliner all day. I walked out mid-shift one day, didn’t even wait for holiday pay. I was gone. From there, I had to reevaluate everything I wanted to do in my life but I feel like everything came with ease after finding God. People say to me now like ‘rah, how have you only been DJing for a year and you’re already playing Tate Britain?’ and I can only point to God. I genuinely believe without God, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish at all.”
As we start to wind down our conversation, my head still spinning trying to quantify just how much Henrie already does and is still yet to do, talk turns to the future. And far from reeling off a tick-box list of things to achieve, Henrie’s ambitions are pretty simple. “I’d just like to be someone that people identify with, I don’t wanna be anything too much or anything too little”, she says thoughtfully, “and I just wanna remain being Henrie. The essence of who I am I don’t ever really want to change.”
Listen to Henrie on Reprezent Radio every Thursday between 4-7pm: