BUSINESS EMPIRE: Musician turned entrepreneur, J2K
A MAN'S most-prized accessory is undoubtedly his footwear. It can make an otherwise ordinary outfit look like a million dollars and give its wearer a confidence (more commonly known as 'swag') he failed to unearth barefoot.
So it seems like the obvious place to start as far as business ideas go - and former Roll Deep member, J2K, was more than happy to exploit his fellow brethren's love of footwear with his latest business venture.
In 2012, the rapper turned entrepreneur launched Crep Protect, a spray-on protector for suede, leather, Nubuck and canvas shoes, which has taken the footwear industry by storm.
The product, its name derived from the slang word for trainers, is now stocked at all high street footwear stores including Footlocker and JD Sports plus fashion outlets such as Urban Outfitters and independent stores.
“I still have to pinch myself from time to time because I never thought [the product] would turn around to this extent in this amount of time,” says J2K, real name Jason Black. “Crep Protect has already become a general term for protecting your footwear, it's a bit crazy!”
“I was confident in the product, but as with anything that is new to the market, you can never be totally sure how it will be received and how it will perform once it's out there.”
Black and business partner, Imran Ahmed, came up with the concept for Crep Protect through their “shared passion for kicks and innovation” two years ago.
“Protecting those assets just seemed like the logical thing to do,” he explains.
“We went to Germany to work on developing the product - a hydrophobic solution, which creates a protective barrier that prevents rain and stains from damaging footwear.”
Though the 30-year-old studied business at college, he admits he was a bit out of his comfort zone when forced to market his new product, even though he's been praised for his fruitful efforts on social media.
“I would say it's more of a natural instinct, although I did study business at college, but a lot has changed since then. Things move faster now and you've got to be able to react quicker and be on the pulse.”
And he has seamlessly settled into his new role as an entrepreneur from a successful career as an applauded east London rapper just as quickly.
“I would say the transition has been pretty smooth. I mean, working in music for so long you tend to pick up certain skills if you pay attention, so I apply a lot of what I've learned to this really.”
Black, who “like most kids” had ambitions of being a professional footballer, rose to fame as a member of east London grime collective Roll Deep, headed by fellow east Londoner Wiley and comprised of members Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder - who have each gone on to have successful solo careers, in the early Noughties.
The group's hits included Good Times and Green Light, which both topped the UK charts in 2010.
Though he's spent the latter years concentrating on building his entrepreneurial empire, Black, whose dad and uncles were also heavily involved in music, “particularly sound systems” throughout their youth, hasn't ruled out a return to the studio in the future.
“Hopefully soon I'm about to get back in the studio and put together a project with [UK singer] Roses Gabor to drop over the next couple of months. Just a nice little warning,” he laughs.
And on the subject of Wiley, he adds: “Actually, Wiley's been sending me some ideas he's had recently, but as far as a Roll Deep project, I'm not sure about that at this moment in time, but who knows.”
The musician, who cites Little Simz, Fekky, Wretch 32 and Angel amongst some of his favourite UK artists, says he’s happy with the state of music in his hometown.
“The UK scene is making some nice noise right now and I like that the powers have no choice but to take notice and stop fronting on it.
“I think changes are being made slowly. I would just like to speed that process up and make sure the right people get the right recognition,” he continues.
But as for his own immediate future, he is focusing squarely on the success of Crep Protect “and the latest product in our line, a cleaner kit called The Cure.”
“I have lots of ideas for the company, but it's still early days despite how quickly we've grown. I want to focus on what's in front of me for the time being and give that my full attention. I don't want to get complacent.”
On the growing number of music artists moving into business while balancing successful careers, does he believe entrepreneurship offers more stability than music?
“It can do if you're successful with it, but otherwise, it's almost the same as being an artist where you have to come up with the ideas, you resource it and you become responsible for the outcome. It's all a risk at the end of the day.
“With everything, you have your good days and your bad days, high points and low points. It's just a blessing to be able to have your thoughts and your ideas received positively. But I will say that music has allowed me to do all of this in the first place and that's something I will always do regardless,” he says.