Radio 1Xtra's 20th anniversary: 'It shows a plethora of blackness' – BBC

By Manish Pandey
Newsbeat reporter

When Radio 1Xtra launched 20 years ago today, it was a station the BBC said "will be dedicated to playing the very best in contemporary black music for a young audience".
Since then, not only has the network promoted black music – with dancehall, grime and afrobeats moving into the mainstream – but it's gone beyond the sound.
From big name artists and DJs to marking huge political and cultural moments, 1Xtra "has represented black culture and been a voice for many across the nation", says DJ Target, who has been with the station since 2007.
Its launch, in the words of Target, was "history being made, live and direct".
For Target, the birth of 1Xtra gave black contemporary music "somewhere that was legitimate and national".
"It could really bring the whole country together if you're a fan of this type of music, it was just ground-breaking and amazing," he says.
For 1Xtra presenter Reece Parkinson, being a part of the station's journey makes him "feel so privileged".
"The music we play is so culturally relevant, it has that instant connection," he tells Newsbeat.
But it's amplifying black artists and what's going on in society that Reece says is "so important".
"It's so special because it shows the plethora of blackness. I grew up as a black kid in Kent and went through my own way of figuring out my blackness and owning that.
"That's why it's so important to have people from different areas of the UK, representing to them what it means to be black."
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How 2020 took its toll on 1Xtra’s DJs
And 1Xtra Breakfast presenter Nadia Jae agrees about the positive impact the station has had on her identity.
"You really do have space as a black female to just be unapologetically you because there's not just one of us," she says.
"There's so many of us here, and we get to be our own different versions."
One of the most significant times in 1Xtra's history is what happened around the death of George Floyd in 2020, a moment that resonated around the world.
The presenters talked openly about their own experiences of racism in special conversations and programmes – including on Blackout Tuesday.
It's something Target says shows that the network is "a mirror of our audience".
"It gave all of us the chance to come together as a family, be honest and speak out to get through things together."
He says if there's "something that needs to be spoken about within the culture", the station will talk about it.
"1Xtra is not just a radio station, not just a place that plays music," he says.
Afternoon presenter Remi Burgz says being on 1Xtra for big political and cultural moments is "one of the most beautiful things" about the station.
"For Black Lives Matter, a lot of presenters got the opportunity to get everything that they wanted off their chest on a massive platform," she says.
"And I'm sure it resonated with a lot of people out there who were listening to the station and felt the same way."
Hearing presenters on the station speak so openly has also given artists the confidence to showcase music which includes political and cultural messages.
Prominent artists like Stormzy and Dave – who came up through the station – famously hit out at the government and brought up things like Grenfell Tower and racism at big performances.
And for rapper Enny, it's about "the experience we've all lived" in her own songs.
The 27-year-old London artist, who was named on the 1Xtra 'Hot For 2022' list, says all she can do "is be honest".
"I'm never going to write something political because I want to make it a political song. I'm just writing my thoughts," she tells Newsbeat.
Enny says it's all about timing and putting things out "people needed to hear, especially in the climate for the Black Lives Matter movement".
And Remi says having black music in the charts demonstrates "where black music is right now", with 1Xtra having the history "to prove it's not been an overnight journey".
From Stormzy, Dave and Ed Sheeran, to Lady Leshurr, Stefflon Don and Little Simz, these are artists who've "sown their seed and we've helped them water it by sharing their music on a massive platform", she says.
Those historic moments over the station's 20 years include Fire In The Booth – a freestyle feature where artists showcase their freestyle rap skills.
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Tays says iconic moments in 1Xtra's history are an inspiration for him as a young artist
And it's the sessions by Bugzy Malone and Aitch which stand out for Tays, a rapper from Manchester who was inspired by the pair from his home city.
"It makes you feel like it's possible, because when you're young you don't get to think you'll achieve that kind of stuff," the 19-year-old says.
For Remi, the next 20 years of 1Xtra are unpredictable but exciting.
"There is so much creativity happening at the moment, even the way music is consumed has changed and what the artists are putting out," she says.
"But we're here to bring it to you. And that's all that matters."
Additional reporting by Pria Rai, Gurvinder Gill, Sam Harris, Jonelle Awomoyi and Iqra Farooq
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How 1Xtra’s DJs got through 2020. Video, 00:05:06
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