Meet the philanthropic musician and media mogul from Greenwich
When we think of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, we think of its rich cultural heritage, birthplace of the Tudors. The royal observatory, host for the Paralympics 2012 and the O2 Arena. Yet Woolwich, a district within the Royal borough, is often referenced regarding gang violence, terrorists, and turf wars.
We hear many tragedies and success stories about the few that overcome hardship, but often not the tools and support provided to do so.
John Shownmi, better known as Shojon; sound engineer, director, producer, and entrepreneur has a history filled with passion for the arts and a compelling sense of community pride, which helped his peers’ success and built the legacy of That SP Studios and its philanthropic founder.
John’s story starts in his Woolwich family home, his mother Jamaican and his father Nigerian (Yoruba). He is the eldest of three siblings, attended St. Margaret’s Church of England Primary School and Blackheath Bluecoats Church of England School. In the afternoons, when he wasn’t attending weekly meetings for The 49th Greenwich Scout Group, he’d spend his free time at Plumstead Adventure Play Centre. It was there that Shownmi taught himself the chords to the classic song by The Tokens “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” on the publicly shared electronic keyboard.
In an era only beginning to embrace the internet, dial-up was being phased out with faster internet technology, and peer-to-peer services like ‘Imesh’ and ‘Limewire’ becoming more popular. John saw an opportunity to start his music entrepreneurship on the school playground selling custom compilation CDs to classmates, which often included tracks of an early Shojon rapping and taking lyrical swipes at rival bootleggers. John said he mimicked the marketing technique from 50 Cent song “How to Rob” in which the rapper dissed known music acts to get attention and market himself.
John tells us how 50 Cent’s slogan and debut album title “Get Rich or Die Trying” was the motto and how the Grammy award-winning rapper, producer and entrepreneur was the inspiration for his work ethos. 50’s earlier street dealings later leading to a better life through music which sparked similarities with John's teens. At the time Woolwich, gangs and turf war were a hot topic in local News Shopper publication with the “Woolwich Boys” given particular spotlight in newspapers.
Growing up in Greenwich
John recalls living 10 minutes from Woolwich town centre on Elmdene Road, that going to and from school passing through Woolwich on a bus could cause a problem any day of the week because he wasn't a member of a gang. He further explained
“You were usually swayed into a gang based on the location you live, and a lot of us felt pressured to pick a side. But there's always been gangs and violence of sorts in the borough “National Front” in Thamesmead or Bexley gang Red Alert (RA) who had more numbers but didn’t get the media attention.”
John refers to a News Shopper article on 3rd March 2008 stating a £3m unit set up by the police to tackle crime in Greenwich contrasts methods taken in others. On the 30th July 2008 in the same publication. The media at the time posted videos and songs of rappers and MCs talking about violence in the area, calling for the band of the “Street Selected” music DVD and closure of “Channel U” an urban music channel. Newspapers were painting the “Woolwich Boys” as a huge “organised crime syndicate” which he believes only fuelled egos and gave opposing gangs’ more reasons to challenge.
“They made every effort to shut off our ways out. Not everyone was rapping about gang violence.”
John refers to music collective Nu Brand Flexxx who had success with “Gash By The Hour” in 2006 and Tinie Tempah’s “Wifey Riddim” 2007 frequently played on the music TV station “Channel U”. But these artists didn't propel their careers in Greenwich but with engineer Richie Montana in East London and with Tinie joining East London collective “Aftershock.” John began noticing the trend of people leaving the borough to access the tools and platforms to succeed.
Creating a music hub
It was 2006 when John began talking with school friend Craig Campbell about building a home recording studio and Craig informed of local studios, of which John toured and studied business models and layouts, planning to create his own recording studio. And as word began to travel about recording services, people began to ask if they could use the space. John realized there was untapped potential for a new studio. His observations of urban studios at the time he found were caught up in the politics of the turf war and only accessibility to artists within their respective zones.
“It made no sense every other borough was getting funding to help youth offending while Greenwich got funding for more police.”
John explained how funding initiatives in the borough failed to recognise the urban music scene and ignored the successes of Independent artists like Afrikan Boy’s “One Day I Went To Lidl” which went viral in 2007 with over one million views. YouTube had just logged their first million view video at the end of 2005 with a Nike advert featuring Ronaldinho, for the unsigned Woolwich rapper recording in John’s bedroom; this was a big deal but he didn’t see financial gain.
“We didn’t know how or where to even begin obtaining licenses in order to monetize, the million views accumulated was a picture of the Lidl logo on a fan’s YouTube. We hadn't the means of recording videos then.”
Never the less word of mouth began to travel about “SP’s” as it was colloquially called at the time with an ingenious way of marketing, by adding vocal tag “SP on buttons” to recorded works. John knew that adding the vocal tag and recording the different collectives in the borough would demonstrate his studio was available and safe for all. Which was a huge success having a significant impact on the brand – “SP Studios” had become an unofficial embassy of sorts, an unspoken peace treaty between the rival gangs existed in the space as the artists respected the engineer and what he was trying to achieve.
The studio’s client base grew quickly, and was constantly buzzing with creatives. Music artists, songwriters, and producers throughout the borough had opportunities to collaborate in a friendly environment. John was still recording for drinks and snacks he didn't feel his quality was up to par just yet.
Shownmi searched Greenwich for opportunities to excel in engineering and joined an arts programme hosted by the borough’s Youth Offending Service. He took part in a weekly one-hour session workshop “At Risk of Offending,” a course run by Louie Silcot, and describes the sessions as “almost impossible” due to the eight attendees sharing one laptop. Each person only had minutes to ask questions and practice their skills before making space for the next person. Although he made best the time he had with Louie, he knew he would have to venture out of the borough for help.
After studying Business and Religious theology at Christ The King Sixth Form College, John was introduced to Patrick Osei at Hot Money Studios located in Bermondsey by Voice UK contestant Cassius Henry. Patrick allowed John to sit in on sessions to gain a better understanding of professional sound engineering.
With the new business acumen, he stepped in to help some of the studio’s most promising artists and took the “I Double L” collective under his wing. The group was composed of more than ten artists, mostly from Greenwich. Once they released their debut mixtape “Age of Apocalypse'', they became synonymous with “SP Studios.” The release became an independent success, selling 2,000 physical copies in the late ‘noughties.
John refers to a time when the Woolwich nightclub N-Tyce was closed for years only to become another theatre. Local radio station “Meridian” didn’t support or have an urban audience which saw the teenaged crew I Double L traveling to North London’s Axe FM to push out their music. Despite this Shownmi, who also managed Luke B The Rapper (previously known as “Luke B”) helped secure the artist an under eighteen UK tour in conjunction with ClubD TV, one of the biggest teen lifestyle sites and event organizers in the country at the time. After a performance at “Amadeus” Rochester, event promoter Jeremy Nargi asked if Luke wanted to open for Skepta the following month.
Although the negative depiction of Woolwich youth in the 2011 Riots was seen all over the news, Greenwich music artists saw success. Early users of the studio singer-songwriter Bluey Robinson on tour with Justin Bieber and J Warner’s feature with Tom Boxer & Morena’s – “Deep In love” which has over 73 million views on YouTube to date.
After his achievements with I Double L Collective and Luke B the Rapper, Shownmi noticed how the landscape of music was changing. The proliferation of smartphones and other rapidly developing technology meant music lovers discovered artists in new ways like Soundcloud, YouTube, and other media platforms. Myspace, which had been an important means of discovery for years, was over YouTube was exploding. It was no longer enough to have a great recording; artists needed the whole package – music, videos, branding, and accessibility to fans. John knew he needed to take his knowledge and skillset to the next level.
Expansion into media
John spent hours googling information about constructing a studio from scratch and purchased materials from auction sites to fulfil his recording studio vision.
“The studio was basically built using Google and eBay.”
When done, John was pleased as it looked and sounded like the professional studio environment he set out for. In 2011, local filmmaker Sammy Black approached John with an idea for a YouTube platform, “KNWME.” John helped enlist artists, with many of the channel’s early videos filmed at the new studios or by the garages just down the road as a widely known and safe locale. Shortly after the platform’s rise, Sammy took a temporary leave from the channel, and the borough was left thirsty for visuals. The same year Jamal Edward’s Google Chrome advert had dropped, and SBTV skyrocketed, making the UK urban music scene wild for freestyle visuals. The borough had also just seen the success of Tinie Tempah’s “Discovery” album with up-and-coming artists now ready for their chance in the spotlight; the borough needed a platform.
What Shownmi envisioned was a one-stop shop where artists could access all the services needed to become professionals. John researched production, and with the help from friend, Nathan Lamont created the initial concept for the platform, which then became known as “Aftersessions,” British music - entertainment platform focused on culture from various aspects of the music industry. John curated a number of series and shows for the platform with the free net video series “AF18” for his clients - learning as he filmed.
Despite the person-hours filming and editing, Shownmi noticed there was no traction. Views were minimal and had little interest from blogs. Ever the student, he set out to amass more knowledge, aware that it will help to observe proven successes to acquire the skills to make Aftersessions triumphant.
The platform gave people like up-and-coming actor Henry Morris a chance to present interviews and build a great portfolio with some of the UK’s top acts. Bobby Sativa and Alwayne Jones received media experience working on several shows, with Alwayne currently creative director at TSS today.
The new content spurred the traction John was looking for; Aftersessions was covered by major blogs and music sites. He then added the new self-funded series NXTUP in 2015 with a handpicked selection of artists to aid their live performance skills while building their online portfolios.
Comedian and recording artist Uncle Rafool, already a recording client at SP Studios, approached John with a pilot for the interview series “Uncle Rafool’s 121,” which he produced and featured worldwide entertainment acts, Moelogo, 67 Dimzy, Ms Banks, and Tion Wayne.
Shownmi saw the value in helping others, and giving back became a major focus at “SP’s.” Sheerness artist M Dot R approached John about creating an annex called “SP Studios Sheerness” to provide youth work experience in music through the Prince’s Trust helping Scarlett Silby from Walderslade gain insight to her chosen career path, explained in Kent news article 2017.
Proof of full circle, when rapper Hacks Boogie returned to the studio who since the age of 14 has been recording songs and filming videos with John. The rapper went on to coach Eltham Town FC youth and pitching to team manager Mat Laffan for John to sponsor the team, which he did for two years providing kit and equipment brandishing the SP Studios logo as featured in SE9 Mag 2017.
Nurturing the ardent artisan
By this point, philanthropy was no longer something Shownmi happened upon, it became part of his company’s ethos.
“To stimulate the avant-garde whilst nurturing the ardent artisan”
Through a meeting with Corey Taylor of Defenders Entertainment in 2016, Shownmi learned more about how to access community funding for workshop projects. The knowledge that John acquired helped grow That SP Studios’ influence within Greenwich’s more established art scene.
John then met with Kay Oldroyd and Nadia Kassab, youth programmers at the Peabody Trust. Initially to create a music business workshop. But then saw his involvement in the creation and launch alongside Mat Jenner (TACO) and Sam Skinner of RTM FM, A local community radio station located in Thamesmead.
From there, philanthropic projects continued. Shownmi co-managed an eight-week Music business & performance youth workshop alongside Marvin Hamlet for “GLYPT” (Now called “Tramshed”) in2music programme. A further meeting with Sam Skinner, working on the Thamesmead Culture Guide, saw Shownmi’s involvement lead to a role in the Greenwich Culture Forum’s foundation, seeing That SP Studios alongside Emergency Exit Arts (EEA), Metro Charity, Eltham Arts, and more. The forum is a place for organisations, businesses, and freelancers of the arts to learn about new opportunities and offer input on various arts and culture projects throughout Greenwich.
And now in 2021, as music artist Shojon, his forthcoming EP entitled “Greenwich Views” is a mental health project that depicts a journey of a creative through his perspective. Following from a campaign with the Mind Charity “Chocolate for the Mind,” John commissioned the chocolate snack “Shojon Bar” to drive donations and awareness to the charity. As well as donating £10,000 to TSS inspired “Greenwich Foundation for Arts and Awareness” to tell the creative culture and preserve an almost lost part of the borough’s heritage.
SP Studios 2017
The engineer that saw a segregated borough and provided a space for all creatives later on helping others create their own recording spaces. He has been a part of many pivotal moments in numerous works and careers. From helping independent artist Afrikan Boy reach a million views and secure funds for a worldwide tour. Lovelle Hill, going on The Voice UK and her chart success featuring Ray Foxxx - La Musica. Kid Bookie’s journey from 1st recording session to Slipknot features and worldwide tour.
The budding videographer that saw a lack of access to platforms, so he built one, and helped others build theirsl. Through TSS productions, A/V services for Premz saw the artist feature with rap group SAS to features in GQ and Uncle Rafool’s channel growth from 15,000 subscribers in 2015 to 75,000 in 2020, accumulating millions of views.
Through his NXTUP series helped the visibility of new talent and saw Chris Cash’s success who signed with Earth Agency, Romzy signed to Parlophone, and Tay Made on billboards sponsored by Vans.
What began as a fascination with deconstructing classic songs led to creating a media studio that became a cultural cornerstone. That early success inspired a commitment to fostering creativity and paving the way for other creatives. The more successful Shownmi has become, the more gratitude he has shown to the borough that made him.
Learn more about Shojon on his website Shojon.cool
Read more about That SP Studios
Read more about GFFA
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