The first thing that strikes you about Paul N’Jie, Xfm Scotland’s urban music specialist, is the enormous smile on his face. Which is inevitable as it turns out as he’s doing something he loves. “I’m happy with I’ve achieved, but hope that there’s more to come, including promoting and interviewing some real upcoming stars,” he offers as a summary of sorts.
More of that later, but as ever, we go back to our subject’s childhood… and for Paul, like most it’s inevitably shaped by his parents, and other family. “Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, Marvin Gaye, Kool & the Gang, Earth Wind and Fire…” is his enthusiastic list. “And jazz – Ella Fitzgerald… so, all the genres, but under the black umbrella, from disco to jazz to soul to reggae.”
And all sounds that can be heard in Paul’s Xfm Scotland show to an extent – but, perhaps currently rap music is the most prominent urban music style, and one you’re likely to hear on a Friday night. “My first rap record was (the Sugarhill Gang’s) ‘Rappers Delight’, and wow, all these guys up on stage rapping… so that was the one that got me into that! It’d have been my first year at secondary school, that’s when I fell in love with black music.”
A lot has happened since then, with rap and indeed all black music genres becoming more prominent, eventually getting to a level where Scotland was ‘ready’ for its first ever urban music radio show. “January 23rd, that date is ingrained in my mind,” he jokes. “It was a breathtaking dream come true,” he says of that time when months of demoing finally persuaded the bosses at 4 Winds Pavilion.
And that fateful day is far removed the from old days – when Paul was still at school and Glasgow’s Venue (now G2) was the only club playing black music.
“My brother used to DJ in the club,” he reveals, recalling that “in the mid 80s there was a big soul funk and jazz movement.” The family connection wasn’t enough for him to just step into the slot when his brother left, though he’d been picking up DJing skills along the way. And with one of those strokes of good fortune (well, for Paul anyway), the main DJ broke his arm and Paul was pitched in – for an 8-hour stint on Xmas eve! “It was unbelievable,” he remembers, “it was the adrenalin that kept me going!”
Despite the popularity of urban music that Paul was seeing up close when DJing and promoting, these really were the dark days – “no-one really wanted to know in clubs or radio, but I was hearing urban music coming out of bars, even restaurants, but no-one wanted to go for it.” Why? His answer is emphatic. “I heard comments at the time, like ‘there’s not enough black people in Scotland’ – but music’s for everyone, no matter what race or colour.”
An attitude that’s been borne out. “I think the catalyst for that was Eminem, he sold rap music into trailer parks which opened the door for 50 Cent, and Ja Rule.” So Paul N’Jie, Xfm, and Scotland have Eminem to thank for the seachange in urban music? “I’m not personally a big fan personally,” he admits, “but he’s done a couple of great albums and pushed it open worldwide – and yes, it’s great that he’s kept me in work!”
As someone once said, the children are the future, something that the Urban X presenter recognises, and apart from his considerable experience doing more regular clubs – including residencies at Trash, Tunnel, Blanket, and hosting 5 MTV parties – he went for a slightly different audience in launching Glasgow’s first urban under-18s night. “Again, the manager said ‘Kids don’t want to hear that’ but luckily I’d done my research!” He was able to pull another family connection out of the bag. “I’ve got nephews who were young and I asked one ‘would this work?’ and he said ‘Yeah!’”
It became obvious that black-oriented music was expanding, across the board. “I remember going into my local HMV in Sauchiehall St. – you could see the rap and R&B sections getting bigger and bigger, and there was a guy who was under 18 looking in the rap section, and I asked him how a hip-hop U18s night do. And he said ‘that’d be amazing’.”
So, somehow Paul managed to convince the Carling Academy that the nights would work. “Don’t get me wrong, it was hard, but it kicked off big time, we took 1500 kids to the Academy.”
But when school’s out, what does Paul N’Jie do in his spare time? The answer is, perhaps, inevitable: “Listening to music! I love buying music, and chilling out, relaxing…”
So, does urban-style music do the job at home as well as at work?
“I’m open-minded,” he says. “I can see a pop record is good for what it is – ok, it might not be what I’m into, but a hit’s a hit!”
The other extra-curricular activities aren’t too sedentary – swimming, buying clothes, holidays, eating out, and only “sometimes” living off M&S dinners. And anyway, the balance is restored by playing 5-a-sides – “you may have heard me heard me getting slagged on-air by Dominic!” he laughs. And watching football – though he refuses to reveal what team he supports (clue: he is from Maryhill…)
Finding time to fit in extra-curricular activities isn’t easy, but perhaps a bit easier than the old days of 8-hour stints on the decks in clubs. “The licensing laws have changed,” he explains, “these days it’s usually 3 hours max – someone warms up for you, you do your thing, then someone finishes off.”
Of course, it’s often a DJ’s job to warm up for an established performer, and Paul’s got a few big names on the list he’s worked with – from Wyclef Jean to Outkast, from D12 to Missy Elliot. And not all rappers by any means – Alicia Keys and Pussycat Dolls are also in the N’Jie address book, but as far as interviews goes, 50 Cent is his favourite.
“He’s such a big, big star,” Paul remembers, “and when the interview went out you could just tell – it was so surreal, there was this feeling that everybody was listening. I said to my producer, ‘the texts have gone dead’ and he said ‘that’s because people are listening’. All you read about him is rubbish, that guys is so professional.”
This does seem to be a ‘talent’ which some artists have, and some don’t. “The American artists know how to work it – I’m not saying UK and Scots ones don’t but these guys have doing it since time began – you can go back to the jazz days in the 40s. There was Jamie Fox too,” he remembers, “throwing in impersonations of Ray.”
Ah, yes, Ray Charles. Black music, but perhaps not one for the N’Jie show?
“No…” he pauses. “Well, if it’s someone from back in the day I respect or admire – we’ll play Marvin Gaye, Luther VD passed away and we played a few tracks, there was Bob Marley’s anniversary – so if it’s appropriate, yes. Take James Brown, he’ll appeal to anyone, even a young audience.”
Further digging reveals some more unusual choices in the N’Jie record box. “For me Stevie Wonder is the best songwriter in the world – if you play ‘Answer Me’ that’ll melt my great and put a smile on my face – if it wasn’t for Stevie Wonder the artists you’re hearing today wouldn’t be here – we played a couple of tracks from his last album, and got a text saying wow, that’s amazing, and it ended ’I am 16’.”
Roberta Flack is another one from the archive – “what a vocalist!” – and Paul reckons there’s a place for a show covering 60s and 70s soul and disco – though perhaps not on Xfm Scotland.
“Maybe Saga,” he laughs – “in 20 years time!”
For now, for the best of more modern sounds – hear Urban X on Fridays from 01.00- 03.00.