How lockdown became an opportunity for Woolwich rap video director Lukey

Lukey rushed back to Woolwich to make the video for Legit, a new single from Prem (pictured)

Student videographer Lukey, from Woolwich, saw his fledgling career in music hit a roadblock when the first lockdown was announced. But, like the rappers he works with, he turned months of inactivity into an opportunity, and now his career is healthier than ever. SAM DAVIES spoke to him.

1st January 2020. Active, the new single from Lewisham rapper Novelist, is released with a video directed by a 20-year-old student based in Woolwich. For the student, who goes by name of Lukey, this is a breakthrough moment. It’s his first major music video and a milestone for his quietly bubbling career. “Yeah, I meant to kick the year off with a bang,” he says. “And then it sort of went downhill from there.”

Lukey moved to student accommodation in Woolwich in 2018 to study editing and post-production at Ravensbourne University in Greenwich. He first started playing around with film at the age of 10, going skateboarding with his friends and taking his dad’s camera with him. From 16, he began to take it seriously when the keen rap fan began making inroads into the music industry. While studying for a degree, he was commissioned to take photos at gigs, as well as shooting for rappers like Skepta, Jme and Kasien.

Last year, he heard about a music event at a branch of Nando’s, where Novelist — a rapper he’d listened to since he was 15 — would be appearing. Lukey went along, hoping he might take some pictures. He ended up swapping numbers with the rapper, who happened to be using a music studio in Woolwich.

He was hopeful it might lead to something. Then, late that year, he was lying in bed struggling to sleep. At 3am he was scrolling through Twitter when he noticed a post from Novelist. He needed a videographer for a shoot. Lukey responded. They linked up the next day and shot the video for Active.

Meeting Novelist opened doors for Lukey. But when Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown in March, that progress looked to have been undone. “It was tough, man” he says. His landlord was about to sell his flat, so fearing being stranded when new measures were brought in, Lukey moved in with his girlfriend’s family in Leicestershire, on the same day the lockdown was announced.

“Obviously being out of London I knew I was gonna get fuck-all work,” he says. All live music events were cancelled, cutting off a large part of Lukey’s income.

“I was considering taking the year off uni and getting work. But then I thought, there’s not gonna be any work to get. So it was just a bit of a sticky one.”

Lukey feels the first lockdown helped the UK rap scene

In June, while living just outside Leicester, Lukey got a call from Prem, Novelist’s older brother and also a rapper, requesting his services for another video shoot. He drove down to London on largely deserted roads. “We just flew straight there,” he says.

He pulled up to the studio in Woolwich and they shot the video to Legit, Prem’s new single. Using a flashing blue light he’d brought from home, Lukey gave the video an eerie, clandestine feel, as though police were circling as they filmed. “It felt a bit like we were doing something wrong,” says Lukey. “But once we got to the shoot it was like fuck it, we’re doing what we do.”

Lukey says that the UK rap scene has thrived in recent months – with the lockdown helping music videos.

“I think it definitely is better if you’re going for a location that would be normally be really busy,” he says. “Things are less likely to go wrong because there’s not going to be people there telling you ‘you cant do this’ because everyone’s locked inside the house. So you have a bit more free will.”

London rappers Sneakbo and M24 have been criticised for shooting music videos with large gatherings of people. Frisco and the rest of his grime crew Boy Better Know took advantage of London’s quiet streets while shooting his single Red Card. And in April, Manchester rapper Meekz made an aesthetic out of his city’s ghost-town look when filming for Sweeping Up.

“I think we’ve got to the point now where it’s like we’re not gonna let this stop what we’re doing,” says Lukey. “At the start it felt very anti-, like we couldn’t do what we wanna do. Especially with the whole thing about the government being against creatives — it seems like we just thought, we’re just gonna carry on killing it, releasing big tracks and sick videos.”

So is Lukey in a better position now than he was at the start of the year?

“A couple of months ago I would have said no,” he says. “Because obviously Active was released and that was the biggest thing I’d done. But I feel like now I’m definitely in the best part of my career. And obviously it’s still going to carry on growing.”

This is one of a series of stories we are running on how people in SE London have responded to the coronavirus pandemic. Let us know if you have a story to tell.

SAM DAVIES is a journalist who has written for Dazed, DJ Mag, the Guardian, the i, Mixmag, Pitchfork, Readers Digest and Vice. He co-hosts the podcast Exit The 36 Chambers.

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