— Scully —

On Croydon, Southampton, God, divine timing, making ends meet, commentating, curating, Reprezent Radio, Noisey, No Signal, Copa 90 and learning to trust in himself.

(All photos submitted by Scully)

“Do you mind if I do a few things while we talk?”, asks Jason Kavuma, better known as Scully, early on Saturday morning, “I’ve got quite a lot on today”. Adorned in a No Signal jumper simply bearing the words Black Radio, he begins hanging his washing out to dry as we start our conversation. There’s a marked calmness about Scully from the outset, a quiet confidence that hangs on every word — an almost unshakeable belief in what he’s saying and what he stands for. His isn’t a story of overnight success, either, but more one of tireless, grinding resolve and a refusal to give up on his dreams. It may sound cliché, but for Scully — now one of the UK’s most prominent young media voices — hard work really does pay off.

“I feel like I’ve lived 2020 with survivor’s remorse”, he says pensively as we begin to chat, “because I’ve had a great year, but some people are really struggling. I know it’s not my fault …  maybe guilt isn’t the right word, it’s probably more somewhere in between guilt and empathy … but I do have to remember how blessed I am and how lucky I’ve been. There’s also been a lot of going on, a lot of black trauma … things going on in this life that nobody could have predicted … so there has been a lot of ebb and flow in some ways. Today, right now, I’m good, I’m quite happy. On Tuesday, I remember waking up feeling mad low but most other days this week, I’ve woken up and felt great, so I think it’s just a case of knowing yourself. I know who and why I am and I get a stronger sense of purpose about who and why I am each and every day … and that’s a great feeling.”

“I know who and why I am and I get a stronger sense of purpose about who and why I am each and every day … and that’s a great feeling.”

Born and raised to Ugandan parents in Croydon, South London via a stint in Southampton as a teenager, Scully has spent much of 2020 split between three places; first, a flat share in South London, followed by a spell back at his family home in Southampton before recently moving into his own flat in Norwood Junction. “From Mitcham up to West Norwood, that’s my family”, he says. “Basically this greater Croydon area, it’s just home. It’s funny, like, a lot of my friends and people in the industry are always asking me about moving here or there, but I never will. People don’t understand like, Croydon is home … it’s got a different energy, I feel. I always tell my mates, wherever they’re from … North London, West London, Birmingham … there’s a different vibe to Croydon. You know when you’re just on your strip? That’s Croydon to me. I know whenever I’m there, I’m comfortable, I’m about, I’m home.”

“Ah that KFC is my local spot”, he continues, after we trade stories about coming out of West Croydon station late at night. “I used to go to church along that road, and that KFC there, that was my Friday night treat with mum. We’d go there, get a bucket because my cousin would come over … they used to do Vienetta as well, I think it was called Vienetta? That was my treat, every Friday night.”

Scully spent his early years in Croydon — between Jasper Road in Crystal Palace and the Eastney Road estate in West Croydon — and recalls primary school was “alright”, before the family moved to Southampton once he reached high school age. It was a decision he initially lamented, but now credits with being integral to shaping his world view. “I was raised in a matriarchal household … I was a mummy’s boy first and foremost”, he says bluntly. “I also had a lot of older cousins but managed to strike a balance between being around both my male and female cousins. My female cousins put me onto quite a lot … RnB especially … but also I remember one of them putting me onto Dipset really early on, I must have been eight or nine. I was a Dipset fan from that point forward, to the point that I went to go and see Cam’Ron for my 21st birthday … it was that big of a deal for me. I was surrounded by family growing up really, so like, if my mum had to go to work or was away for a night, I’d end up with my cousins or at my aunts who weren’t really my aunts … just people on my road who were lovely.”

“Life was bless and then I remember when I was about 11 years old, my mum saying to me one day, ‘you’re not gonna get into the same trouble as your older cousins’”, he continues. “She told me she wanted to study for another degree and that she was enrolling in Southampton and I had to go with her. I remember hating it … like why? It moves me away from my friends, from the area …. I really loved ends. It’s weird because I didn’t ever see things being any bigger than my ends. You see in The Lion King where Mufasa, Simba’s dad, says ‘everything you see that the light touches, that’s our kingdom’? That’s what Croydon felt like to me. I remember going to Catford once to see my uncle and thinking, ‘oh my God, this is so far, what is this strange land?’. The minute I moved to Southampton, suddenly my world felt huge. Seeing a different place, a different makeup of people, to me it felt like the other side of the world. Seeing different lived experiences too was important. I went to a Catholic boys school because my mum thought that’s where I needed to go to stay out of trouble and it turned out to be really rough. I remember on my first day, someone tried to nank someone but the other guy had a set of knuckle dusters anyway, so he beat the shit out of this other kid. I remember going home and laughing at my mum like, ‘you moved me to get out of trouble and now look’. The kids on the school bus were like, ‘yeah, this is the worst school in this area’. I think she felt as long as I wasn’t in a gang, things were alright.”

“You see in The Lion King where Mufasa, Simba’s dad, says ‘everything you see that the light touches, that’s our kingdom’? That’s what Croydon felt like to me.”

“It did expand my world view though”, Scully continues. “There were kids in my class with six or seven bedroom houses out near the coast, whose grandparents had enough money to buy the house next door … like palaces, or that’s what it felt like. But then I had friends who lived in flats on the estate with me and it just felt like life in Croydon. We’d go out on our BMXs, play one-touch against the wall … basically I was seeing so many different levels of class for the first time. I’ll always be thankful for that experience because now I feel like I know how to speak to people without worrying about a communication gap or getting on people’s levels. Going to such a mixed school … I mean I had Polish friends, East and South Asian friends, black friends … both African and Caribbean … white friends, there was a big Irish contingency because it was a port city too, it was just such a big mix. Suddenly, I felt like I knew the world. Croydon is incredibly diverse too of course but I think if I’d stayed there for my high school years, it would have been easier to become quite insulated by cultural boundaries.  Going to a new city proper opened up my eyes.”

Music wise, Scully never felt bound by genres at home. His parents would play a whole mix of records; from gospel to country music, played by his dad, to reggae and an eclectic mix of pop and soul — from ABBA to Luther Vandross. “I guess they never wanted me to do anything in music”, he explains, “they just wanted me to appreciate it. It led them to encouraging me to pick up an instrument. They thought me playing something would make me a well-rounded person, and they’re the same with my little brothers now, but I don’t think they realised how enamoured with music I’d end up. I picked up the double bass when I was about seven … I’m not really sure why, it was just quite big and even at my young age, I realised that the double bass could lead me to the bass guitar and then hopefully jazz. I remember my first live performance in year 5 and my parents turning up really late in traditional attire in front of the entire school. At the time, I was really embarrassed but looking back, it was actually sick. They arrived just in time to see me perform and they stood out, which in turn, probably made me stand out. In essence, they indoctrinated me to love music without realising.”

“I remember my first live performance in year 5 and my parents turning up really late in traditional attire in front of the entire school. At the time, I was really embarrassed but looking back, it was actually sick. They arrived just in time to see me perform and they stood out, which in turn, probably made me stand out.

As a kid, his own music tastes mirrored the diversity of his parents’. He may not have bought classic records on vinyl, but genres were never an obstacle. “I liked everything”, he says with a shrug. “Good music was good music, that was it. I remember one birthday, I got a Busted CD but I also got a Jay Z CD … I wanna say it was ‘Reasonable Doubt’ and it wasn’t new, it was hand-me-down from my cousin … I had a Spice Girls cassette as well. It was the most random mix of stuff, but it just made sense in my immediate family home. It’s not that I didn’t know what genres were but it was never segregated, I just listened to music and enjoyed it. If I found something and I liked it, I’d become obsessed, that’s just how I am … I had to learn everything. I remember once we got dial-up internet, it was like ‘cool, now I’ve got AOL, I’m gonna watch everything’. Me and my cousins would spend hours watching MTV Base and MTV2, Kerrang! … everything. For me, there’s no point learning without learning enough to be the best and I’m lucky to have parents who reinforced that in different ways. My mum was always like ‘you can do whatever you want, I believe in you’, where as my dad’s view was ‘if you’re gonna do something, you better do it well’. Those two approaches levelled me out.”

After finishing school in Southampton, Scully went to college in the area, but dropped out after the first year; after almost eight years away, he had his heart set on a move back home to Croydon. “I told my mum I was going back and that was it”, he recalls. “I moved in with my aunt who was still living on the Eastleigh Road estate … big up my aunt Kate and my little cousin Jojo because they essentially put me up for a while. Big up God as well … I’m a Christian right and I think he’s definitely had a plan for my life because there’s certain things I’ve done that I shouldn’t have been able to do. For example, going to university … I didn’t even finish college, so I should never have gone. When I went to Southampton, I did this CAT test … a cognitive ability test basically … and when I got my results back, I got an abnormally high score and my teachers said it didn’t make sense, but confirmed that there was no way I could have cheated or had any sort of unfair advantage. I mean, there was definitely a few times I could have been expelled from that school, but they gave me the benefit of the doubt because they saw something in me. My entire school life ran off my potential and I think they were hoping I’d realise it one day.”

A special letter of recommendation from one of his teachers in Southampton would subsequently get him into Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford, where he would go on to study journalism; at this point, he was fixated on becoming a political correspondent. It was an ambition leveraged by the success of a blog he’d helped co-run with friend, Pete Simmons, while he was in college. “Pete had setup a blog called Push and brought me on board to share the work with him. Pete is from, I wanna say …. Winchester? Somewhere near Southampton anyway and I think someone had told him about me and how obsessed I was with new music. We were introduced, we got along and he ended up asking me to help run this blog with him. I mean, I was mad political and wanted to write about politics, but no one would give me the time of day. I was like 15, 16 and I had some good SATs results but you can’t email CNN and be like, ‘yo, I should be your political correspondent’. I took it as a sign that I should write about music until I’m 21 and then I’d be an adult and people would take me seriously. In my head as well by the way, I was sure I’d be a millionaire by the time I was 21 and I’d then be able to pivot. I genuinely believed that. I’m so lucky to have been surrounded by people in my life who helped me believe in myself. That’s another big part of success as well … not being afraid of failure. I was never scared to try my hand at anything.”

“I mean, I was mad political and wanted to write about politics, but no one would give me the time of day. I was like 15, 16 and I had some good SATs results but you can’t email CNN and be like, ‘yo, I should be your political correspondent’. I took it as a sign that I should write about music until I’m 21 and then I’d be an adult and people would take me seriously.”

With Push going from strength-to-strength, Scully had his first tase of recognition. He was creating, curating, influencing — and people were paying attention. It was at this point that Pete headed to London for university — “I’ve no idea which one because our relationship was just solely based on talking about music” — and was soon approached by the BBC. “He went to the BBC to work with Charlie Sloth I believe, but he was only there a year. Straight afterwards, he went to do publishing at Universal Music, mainly off the back of the work we were doing with Push. He’s still doing bits now, so I’ve got to big him up. I’ve got a lot of love for Pete because when we met, I was just any yout but he never treated me like that. We connected early on and it’s been love ever since.”

Scully’s time at university was chequered by his other ambitions — admittedly, he was never fully invested — but now based in East London, his world view continued to expand. “You see when you step off a plane in a new country? That’s genuinely what it felt like for me seeing new parts of London”, he says. Pete’s success opened his eyes too, if only to the existence of white privilege — “he deserved it fully, but there was probably a benefit to him walking into an office as a white kid as opposed to me as a black kid” — but also to his own detractions. “If I’m honest, I wasn’t ready for that type of responsibility then”, he admits. “I’d turn up to meetings smelling of weed, I’d turn up late. Basically I thought because I was good at what I did, that was it … like, who cares? I was very much of the mind set that people needed to accept me how I was, purely based on the fact I was good, which I think rings true to a point, but not as a 19 year old kid. But even then, I knew I was still funny … especially on Twitter.”

It was Scully’s exploits on Twitter that’d pique the interest of Alex Hoffman — former VICE / Noisey lead and acclaimed video director — who decided to offer Scully his first, fully-fledged music internship. “I came to his attention one day after tweeting VICE a bit recklessly in the early quote Tweet days”, Scully recalls. “It was something like, ‘you n****s hiring?’ in response to a Tweet they put out and loads of people started replying. Alex obviously saw it and reached out to me to say, ‘this shouldn’t be how it works but I’ve seen your tweets and you’re funny, you should come in and we can talk about an internship’. I went and met them and Alex reassured me that if I did the right things and was willing to work, I’d excel there because I had a lot of potential.”

Scully began his internship at Noisey, where he was tasked with mostly writing and covering stories on the website, but on occasion, he was also asked to head to video shoots and even work on some of his own content. “Alex opened my eyes to all the different things I could do”, Scully notes. “He knew I wanted to be a writer, but I also grew up idolising Dame Dash. He used to say to me, ‘you say you wanna be an A&R and you say you wanna be a writer, but there are so many other roles available to you in music media. I mean, I ended up being the assistant director for a Charli XCX video on literally my second shoot after being a runner for this Darq E Freaker video Noisey did on my first, so I guess he was right. I love to chat, so I spent a lot of time speaking to people and asking questions on those shoots. It’s one thing to be smart, but to be curious and ask questions is just as important.”

“It’s one thing to be smart, but to be curious and ask questions is just as important.”

Still enrolled at Anglia Ruskin whilst at Noisey, Scully also got a job at a nearby Pret-A-Manger to balance the books — the latest in a long line of jobs he worked to keep things ticking over. “People used to ask me like, ‘how do you manage to do it all at once?’. What people didn’t understand was that I’d been working three jobs since I moved back to London. I’d wake up at 4.30am to get to Pret for 5am and do the breakfast shift until 10am. It was literally around the corner from the VICE offices, so I’d head straight there afterwards and work until 2pm, sometimes until 4pm if I was needed, and then I’d hit the university library. I caned it like that for time. My worst job was as a door-to-door charity fundraiser, but I also worked part-time at Ladbrokes, I worked at Greggs … I did loads of odd jobs when I had to.”

“I’d wake up at 4.30am to get to Pret for 5am and do the breakfast shift until 10am. It was literally around the corner from the VICE offices, so I’d head straight there afterwards and work until 2pm, sometimes until 4pm if I was needed, and then I’d hit the university library. I caned it like that for time.”

Despite all his hard work, however, Alex and his other superiors at Noisey felt he still wasn’t ready to embrace his newly crystallised dreams of being a presenter — much to his own displeasure. “I thought I was ready to do it, so I felt like he was just hating at first”, Scully admits, “but what I didn’t realise was that he was helping me to grow during that period. About six months in, just as my internship was coming to an end, he said to me on the off chance, ‘I can see you’ve got the passion, you should try radio’ and ironically, Pete (Simmons) had said the same to me a few months before. They both told me to check out this placed called Reprezent Radio because the studio was in Peckham, which wasn’t far from home, and they had a few things going on. Up until that point, I’d never considered radio or even thought about it.”

At the time in 2013, Reprezent’s biggest show was hosted by Jamz Supernova, while Krept & Konan’s Play Dirty show — hosted by Docta Cosmic — was also a fixture. But by his own admission, nobody at the staton was a standout star yet. “Stormzy actually had a show too”, he recalls, “but the reason it was so big for me was because all these people were from ends. It made me feel like Reprezent was the place to be. It was at this point that I think this divine sense of timing intervened as well, because I went to Reprezent for the first time on a Saturday, just to introduce myself and ask about the possibility of getting the show. I knew I had to do my training and basically learn how to broadcast, but while I was there, there was a woman on air … and I can’t remember her name God bless her … but she was struggling. She seemed really nervous on the mic and station managers Adrian and Gavin asked if I could go and help her out a bit, just on the off chance. I don’t know why they thought me of all people would be a calming influence, but I went into the studio and tried to help. I ended up doing a bit of mic work while Adrian and Gavin were looking in from the outside. I thought they were thinking I’d done a terrible job, but when I came out they told me that I sounded really natural and couldn’t understand how I’d not done any sort of radio work before. I did listen to the radio for hours as a kid, especially on a Sunday, which was the only night I did any homework. I’d listen to the Sunday Surgery with Annie Mac and Nick Grimshaw, I remember I loved Zane Lowe because he played everything and obviously Westwood on 1Xtra. I actually remember my mum buying me this big, blue JVC thing for my 10th birthday, which was really special … but I’d never considered working in it at all before that day at Reprezent.”

It was in radio that Scully found the room to flourish. Reprezent offered him a chance to channel everything that came naturally — energy, humour and personality — into broadcasting. “I never really saw any of those things as skills, let alone transferable skills”, he acknowledges. Without any practical training however, it was difficult for them to offer him a show of his own. “I was just some random guy off the street at this point, so they offered me the chance to produce shows and do my training”, explains Scully, “and then fill in shows if there were any spaces. At the time, the Play Dirty show was a big one and it was often hosted by Docta Cosmic, who was Krept & Konan’s DJ. He ended up making me his producer and we’d text each other all the time, we’d line up the tunes we were gonna play … he even let me have mic time, doing the news and a run down of topical stuff that’d happened each week. To him, it was probably just a case of teaching someone a couple of years younger than him the ropes, but to me it was a big deal. Over time, because Krept & Konan were getting bigger and bigger, it meant that he could do the show less and less, which in turn meant that I ended up filling in quite a lot. I did it for long enough for Adrian & Gavin to reward me with my own slot, which was 10pm-12 midnight on a Friday.” 

What were those early shows like, I ask. “No features, just vibes”, he says, laughing. “I was literally just slapping tunes and then getting on the mic to say ‘yo, I love this one’. There were no genres, I just wanted to contextualise UK music … I thought I was the guy to do that, I felt like there was nobody better placed. I started using proper musical language to describe tracks as well, talking about arpeggios and production and shit like that. I was basically using my classical training vocabulary to describe early Naira Marley afro drill stuff. Adrian and Gavin were like, ‘this is sick, we get it and we love that you’ve got this passion for music but it doesn’t make sense for the show’. I’d play like Naira Marley, then something by Trim, into a track by Bloc Party … I dunno, I was literally playing everything. They knew I loved Zane Lowe but they were like ‘you can’t be Zane Lowe because this is a Friday night on Reprezent Radio’. That spurred me on to zone in on certain styles and bring in features to help contextualise the other stuff. My first feature was called Politically Peak, which I thought could help open up talking about politics for people my age and younger. I had another feature where I’d press play on the first three new tunes I could find in my inbox, which in essence, allowed me the chance to play a load of different genres. Over time, all those things helped me build a reputation as someone who would give time and attention to listening to new music and as a result, I ended up doing a load of first radio interviews with artists that have gone onto have a lot of success in their careers.”

“I started using proper musical language to describe tracks as well, talking about arpeggios and production and shit like that. I was basically using my classic training vocabulary to describe early Naira Marley afro drill stuff.”

Scully’s rise at Reprezent saw him become one of the station’s defining voices over the next five years, alongside the likes of Naina, Sherelle and now close friend and sparring partner, Joe Walker, as well as a host of other breakout names. The Sunday Roast, a weekly two-hour show hosted by Scully and Joe and centred around debate on any given week’s big cultural talking points, has also become a calling card for both Scully and the station as a whole, too. But in and amongst it all, he’d adjusted his sights. He now felt confident enough to approach labels, with his dream of becoming the next Dame Dash coming into the foreground of his thinking and growing seemingly more attainable by the day. A host of internships at first Secretly Canadian, followed by Island Records and a spell working with DJ Target at Pitched Up, granted him valuable experience. But he was soon faced with a familiar conundrum; was he actually ready?

“I was going to every show, every event, making the most of every opportunity that came my way”, Scully recalls, “and I felt I was good enough, I felt like I deserved it … but nobody gave me that chance. Adrian and Gavin at Reprezent knew I was desperate for a label job but I guess it was a bit like Alex at VICE … I wanna big up so many people now actually, Louis Melvin … it’s his birthday today so happy birthday to him … James Grant, Alex Hoffman, Darcus Beese, both twins, Alec and Alex Boateng … so many people saw me on my journey and all of them recognised that I had something that would one day pay off. But all of them turned me down at that stage of my career and between them, they made me realise the power of saying ‘no’. I felt like they were hating on me but looking back, I wasn’t ready. I was still smoking weed every day and just not really that interested in legitimate work … but I thought I was serious, like I really thought once I got this job, and I wasn’t really sure what that job would be at this point, I’d stop bunning all the time and become the guy. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was probably depressed. I was 23, 24 years old and I wasn’t coming to terms with not getting the roles that I wanted.”

Here, came a defining, make-or-break point in Scully’s career. Faced with leaving university, low on money, living on a mattress on his cousin’s floor and struggling to break into the industry beyond his work at Reprezent, he was faced with the offer of making some quick cash through one of his older cousins. “I remember looking at him once he told me and just saying no, there and then”, Scully explains, eyes fixed sternly on the camera lens. “I told myself I had to stop doing all that dumb stuff, I had to stop smoking weed … none of it felt conducive to me working in the industry I wanted to work in. I had a couple of options … either carry on doing what I was doing, knowing that I’d be alright working part-time at Foot Asylum and staying on my cousin’s floor. I could go back to university, which I actually considered after enrolling at London Metropolitan University, one of the few places that would have me … or I could throw everything I had at music for one more year. I remember, a few months later, I’d actually started working part-time at Ladbrokes in Thornton Heath and Sleeks from Section Boyz walked in and was like, ‘Scully, what are you doing here?’. At this point, like I’d had my face about but I wasn’t really known outside of small circles to be recognised like that. For him to ask what I was doing working there, it kinda hit home. I just said I needed a job and he replied, ‘yeah, but you’re Scully’ and walked out. That was literally all he said. I remember looking at the clock from behind the counter and thinking, ‘rah’. There and then I realised I was depressed. I was working 4-8 hour shifts and I just hated it, so much … to the point where I did not care about looking after myself. I’d genuinely cross the road without looking, I just didn’t care … that was the mindset I was in.”

“I’d actually started working part-time at Ladbrokes in Thornton Heath and Sleeks from Section Boyz walked in and was like, ‘Scully, what are you doing here?’. At this point, like I’d had my face about but I wasn’t really known outside of small circles to be recognised like that. For him to ask what I was doing working there, it kinda hit home. I just said I needed a job and he replied, ‘yeah, but you’re Scully’ and walked out. That was literally all he said. I remember looking at the clock from behind the counter and thinking, ‘rah’.”

When he needed it most, divine timing would strike again for Scully. A few days before his 25th birthday in 2018, he received a call from Louis Melvin — once a former grime MC known as Loudmouth — a TV and content producer, working on everything from Channel 4’s acclaimed Four To The Floor (FTTF) docu-series to recently launched Beats By Dre content content series, Agenda. “I get a call from Louis and he’s like, ‘we’re working on this iconic program called Yo! MTV Raps, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it’ and I was like ‘I’m a rap geek, of course I have!’. He explained they were looking for someone young, well connected, passionate and who knew music inside out to help produce the show. I was like, ‘cool, do you want me to recommend some names?’. It turns out, he wanted me to come onboard and I was like, ‘what, really?’. He’d seen the work I’d done at Reprezent, especially the playlist job which Adrian had given me … I looked after what went on the station’s various lists each week basically. That in itself had brought me to Louis and James Grant’s (fellow producer) attention again, which was funny because I actually met them both as an 18 year old and they always told me one day I’d be ready. I knew they probably didn’t see me ever being a presenter myself, but the offer of helping produce the show was far better than being at Ladbrokes. I told my boss at Ladbrokes that I needed six weeks off to film this TV show, because I was gonna get paid decent money … not life changing but better than I’d get working there … and then come back. I wasn’t gonna try and take it was holiday or anything like that. My boss was like, ‘if you go, you can’t come back’ and I paused for a second, looked at him and just said, ‘it’s not much of a threat really because this job is shit, bruv … if you don’t let me come back, that’s fine but good luck to you lot because working here is shit’.”

‘So, a day before my 25th birthday, I left Ladbrokes and these times, the Yo! MTV Raps thing isn’t confirmed, it’s just an offer at this stage”, he continues. “I wake up on my birthday, get a call and Louis is like ‘Happy birthday bruv, I’ve got some good news mate … it’s happening, you’re coming on board as a producer’. Somehow, I ended up working an events production job for a company called Break Communications in Carnaby Street and producing for Yo! MTV Raps for the next six months. I felt that after all that, combined with radio productions and my playlist job at Reprezent, I’d walk into a label job the following January, no problem.”

As it turns out, said label job didn’t materialise, but Scully was finally on the right path — things were starting to align. A few days before his 26th birthday, he was approached by the BBC to undertake some freelance work. “They were impressed with what I ended up doing for them” he recalls, “and that was it. They reached out and were basically like, ‘we should probably give you a job, we’re gonna be hiring in a few months’. They’d seen the work I’d done at Reprezent and knew I did it well, so felt like I could easily come across and be an assistant producer for them. Big up the BBC, because there’s a lot of good people there, a lot of people I’m still friends with and a lot of people I respect. I took the job and learned loads from people I knew were great presenters and who believed in me … people like MistaJam and Sian Anderson. Big up Sian especially, because she’s been putting me onto things for years. Working on Sian’s show was great because she knew me and what I was good at, so she had me on B-Mic, which led to MistaJam to promoting me to C-Mic on his show. It was sick because I was getting my voice heard on a drive-time show on the BBC … I’d have people snapping me saying ‘oh shit, I’m listening to 1Xtra and I can hear your voice’.”

It was at this point that presenting opportunities started to really take off. Scully had continued working with production company, Lemonade Money, who he’d worked with on Yo! MTV Raps, and was also working on a new show for E4 with Joe Walker and Zeze Millz, as well as influential YouTube platform, Copa 90, for whom he interviewed footballers like Mezut Ozil. Suddenly, everything was coming together. But was the BBC the place for him, I wondered? “It was funny because the BBC was quite strict”, he says. “Like, if you’re a producer at the BBC, they see you as a producer and that’s kinda it. That’s not a problem because it’s a great place to work but its hard to make that step up and be a presenter. Everybody knew I was desperate to be a presenter, not necessarily on 1Xtra, but they knew that I wanted to make radio and be heard. They spoke to me quite a bit about staying on and even just doing some work in a freelance capacity, but I think they could see my heart wasn’t in just doing the production work. I was seriously considering it for a while but I realised that I needed to take a risk to get where I wanted to be, so I decided to leave.”

It was a decision that’d place a lot of emphasis on 2020 being a defining one for Scully. He’d done his thousand hours, he’d acquired his experience — now it was about becoming the presenter he always knew he could be. “2020 was gonna be all about me focusing on my goals”, he affirms, “because I didn’t have any responsibilities and if everything failed, I could move back in with my cousin or my aunt … I could even move back in with my mum. I prepped to do all of this Euro 2020 stuff, a load of talks and documentaries with VICE … everyone was telling me I was finally ready and it was my time. Here I was, 26 years old and ready … five years late on my own deadline, but ready. Bang … COVID. It locked everything off. I was actually on my way to VICE’s offices to film part of a documentary on UK drill and I get a text to say that the offices are closed because of the new government guidelines and that they had to shut immediately. Don’t forget, back then everyone thought lockdown would last for two weeks and that’d be it, but I was monitoring the situation and I knew it was gonna be longer. In my head I was thinking maybe September, but not 2022 as it’s looking like now. I took it pretty well because I knew in my head that everything was gonna get called off already, but then I thought, ‘you fucking idiot … you’ve just left a stable, salaried job to go freelance and pursue your dreams and you can’t film or present anything for the next six months’. At that point, I felt like it was a wake up call. This was God telling me, ‘fam, this presenting thing is not for you, seckle’.”

“I took it (COVID) pretty well because I knew in my head that everything was gonna get called off already, but then I thought, ‘you fucking idiot … you’ve just left a stable, salaried job to go freelance and pursue your dreams and you can’t film or present anything for the next six months’.”

And then came No Signal. Widely considered one of the UK lockdown’s biggest success stories and with it, a powerful and much-needed celebration of global black music culture, Scully’s role in the station’s remarkable rise cannot be underestimated. Alongside fellow presenter and previous Polymer interviewee, Henrie, and station owners Jojo and David Sonubi, not to mention a host of other DJs, broadcasters and programmers, he has become a figurehead for the station’s groundbreaking output; specifically, the now iconic #NS10v10 soundclash broadcasts. “I jumped on it essentially because me and Jojo had done a few Face The Facts political broadcasts in 2019, the last one being around the general election in November”, Scully explains. “It was called Recess Radio back then, in reference to the club nights Jojo ran, but I remember thinking there was so much more we could do with the station. We used to record at GUAP Studios and I remember seeing Ibrahim (founder and editor-in-chief of GUAP Magazine) pulling up in a new plate Mercedes Benz and thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be sick if we could do something like this?’. Fast forward to COVID shutting everything down in March and we’re looking around thinking, ‘shit we’ve got nothing to do … shall we just make some radio for the sake of it, for our friends that are stuck at home?’. At this point, I’ve already decided that after this year, I’m probably not gonna work in radio anymore because I’d left the BBC and things were just looking different. Could I really go back with my tail in between my legs? I just decided that was 2021’s problem and we thought we’d have some fun making radio again.”

“Bare in mind, I’d also just moved back in with my mum and three little brothers in Southampton at the time”, Scully continues, “and the family unit was very different to the one I grew up in on an estate in Croydon. They’ve got a four bedroom house now and I’ve got brothers who all play football and own instruments and don’t really want for anything. I’d had all these grand plans about what I was gonna do with my family … you know, just reconnecting and that … and then No Signal just blew up. Big up my oldest bro Josh … he’s 17 and he gave me his room and was just like, ‘bro, you’re a big man, you’re 26, you can’t be sleeping in the living room’. I stayed in his room, basically just holed up doing radio all day, every day. My brothers get it and my parents do kinda get it, especially when they see me getting TV credits on Yo! MTV Raps or turning up in The Guardian with No Signal, but it’s still hard sometimes. Anyway, No Signal’s just buss and finally, I get offered a label job.”

Brokered by friend George ‘Quann’ Barnett — marketing executive at Polydor Records — Scully was put in touch with Andy Knox at EMI Records about the possibility of working in the label’s commercial department as a consultant. “Andy first phoned me in May and explained that he’s heard good things and would love to get me on board”, says Scully, “but there was lots going on at the label and it was going to take a few months to get things sorted out. I’d heard this sort of stuff so many times before, so I just thought it was air to begin with, but true to his word, I eventually got an email through with a contact offer. I couldn’t believe it to be honest. He was like, ‘this is the best I could do, I hope it’s all good’ and I was like ‘I’m gonna get this much bread to work in music, are you stooooopid, this has been my dream for years, come on!’. Long story short, I started as a consultant at EMI in September and I can’t thank Andy enough. He was honest with me from the start and that’s made me want to run through brick walls for him. It’s more important to me than wanting to be an A&R. I’m also very lucky to get that job in the first place, especially in a pandemic, and to now be able to live in my own flat in the ends because of that … I feel very blessed.”

“I still think there’s a lot left for me to do though”, he continues, “but I’m finally seeing the fruits of my labour. There was a time when I thought this all might not work out, that I might have fucked it. It didn’t dishearten me, I always knew I could do things on a smaller scale, but I’ve also always felt like I was well placed to contextualise music. I have the ability to talk and communicate, the gift of the gab or whatever, so why not? With No Signal, I guess I had the chance to excel at that, it’s given people the opportunity to see me as a presenter on a bigger stage, which I’m forever grateful for. We’ve got so much more to do, it’s gonna be a dynasty, but in the meantime it’s great to be the home of black radio and of black excellence generally. I mean we’re just a group of good friends who know each other doing things together and it’s massive. People love it, people want to be a part of it. For me, I just have to continue to remind myself of that.”

On the horizon, Scully — who would describe himself as “a content creator, curator and commentator” — has big plans for 2021. Split between the label job he’s long yearned for, No Signal and his work at Reprezent Radio — not to mention a new content series and podcast with Joe Walker set to launch early next year — it feels like his time has finally arrived. “Joe was an integral part of my journey and without him being my mate, I feel like I would have given up”, Scully concedes, “to the point that at the start of the year I nearly cried when I thought about what a great set of friends I’ve got, especially Joe.”

“This year, I feel like I’ve done a load behind the scenes”, he continues, reflecting on his own ambitions, “whether it be production or my label job … but next year I want people to know me as a presenter. I was lucky enough to be on The MOBOs long-list for Media Personality Of The Year this year which was fantastic, but the year after I want to be in the running to win it. I wanna be a household name, the rap game Parkinson, the musical equivalent to Anthony Bourdain. That’s where I want to be.” On his current trajectory, I’m not sure many people could bet against him. 

“I wanna be a household name, the rap game Parkinson, the musical equivalent to Anthony Bourdain.”

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