Life Cut Short: McCann London revives stabbed rapper through tech

The promo for The Joshua Ribera Foundation shines a light on lost potential and knife crime

By Creative Salon

Joshua Ribera, aka Depzman, returns from the dead in an emotional deepfake music video commissioned by The Joshua Ribera Foundation, the charity that combats knife crime in his name. Created by McCann London in partnership with SBTV, the campaign was supported by Jamal Edwards who was integral in the creative conception before his death earlier this year. SBTV successfully launched a new generation of stars such as Stormzy, J Hus and Ed Sheeran; Depzman was predicted to be equally as successful.

Depzman was a rising star in the grime scene when he was killed in 2013, and since then knife crime has continued to rise inexorably in the UK. The video uses deepfake and audio technology to tell Depzman’s tragic story through a new song called ‘Life Cut Short’, describing his childhood, career and the night that he died.

The campaign was devised by Creatives Elliot Lee and Rory Peyton-Jones at McCann London, who were inspired to find a new way to talk to young people about knife crime through culture. The pair also directed the music video under their directing alias BRIGHTNIGHT. For this campaign the pair wanted to find an authentic voice that young people would listen to. Depzman was the perfect choice, but to get his message across they would have to bring him back, using technology.

Midlands’ rappers ShadowCV and T-Roadz ghost-wrote the lyrics with support from Alison Cope, Depzman’s mum, and the track was produced by music company Native Music. The lyrics were inspired by Depzman’s life and music, emulating his “flow” (the cadence and style of his rapping) and even using some of his old lyrics. Birmingham producer PhazeFX produced the instrumental in the style of grime from 2013 style with a 140bmp grime beat complete with choir sounds and melancholy piano.

To bring the vocal to life a base recording was manipulated by Native Studios to recreate Depzman’s voice, combining samples, different voices and autotuning. The team researched Depzman’s recordings from around 2013 and implemented the same techniques as he was using at that time, such as double tracking parts of the vocal, and subtle reverb, to try to be as faithful as possible to his sound. They also reached out to Depzman’s old crew, Invasion, to make sure it was authentic, resulting in a sound that matched Depzman’s voice at 18, just before he died.

The video has already made an impact across social media, amassing more than 4 million views so far, having been shared by artists Jaykae, JME and Skepta. The video will also play across 65 prisons up and down the UK to send a powerful message about the consequences of carrying a knife.

Alison Cope, Depzman’s Mum & Founder of The Joshua Ribera Foundation said, “When I first saw the film it was very emotional, I wanted to continue with it even knowing the difficult emotions that the project would have. I trusted the team to bring my son’s story to life respectfully and effectively. It makes me incredibly proud of what’s been achieved and the impact that it’s already had. I hope that this campaign will inspire the government, especially the Education Secretary, to use this film as a tool effectively and make education around youth violence compulsory in the UK.”

Elliot Lee & Rory Peyton Jones, Film Directors at BRIGHTNIGHT said, “We wanted the video to have the feel of an old SBTV freestyle - a rapper simply performing to camera but with added gravitas provided by the location of the weathered church. To achieve it we needed a body double for Depzman who could lip sync the lyrics and mimic Depz’s characteristic movement, down to the movement of the head and hands. A hard but necessary job to cast. Grime music and Deepfakes are both artistic mediums that have received a lot of criticism in the press but music, including Grime, can be an incredibly powerful tool to tell stories and tap into emotion, and deepfake video is yet another filmmaking tool that can be used in many ways. In this case both have been used to make something powerful, positive and provocative. Hopefully it will save lives.”

Laurence Thomson, Chief Creative Officer and Co-President of McCann UK said, “In our business, we’re familiar with the value of a good pneumonic and ear worms for brands and their role in recall. We know and appreciate audio as a vital component. But this project stretches beyond the normal conventions of ‘campaign’. And when you have a chance to create something with a powerful message, one that can have such a profound effect on the audience it is aimed at, it’s humbling. To see how it’s been received so far – the tide of positive rallying support from the community and beyond – it’s evident it has struck a chord, starting a conversation that’s vitally needed. Well done Alison, she has been so supportive of this brave idea and it’s testament to her and her work against knife crime that it’s having such an impact.”

Fred Ashworth, Head of Production at Native Studios said, “We used formant shifting to change the tone of the voice independently to the pitch, effectively digitally altering the size and shape of the vocal tract, and pushing the character of the voice more towards Depzman’s. Crucially, we were able to do both of these things at a very detailed level, adjusting the processing from one syllable to the next. We were also able to tweak the length and speed of each individual word, allowing us to shorten certain words to match Depzman’s punchy, staccato energy.”

The full track is available on Spotify.


Creative Agency - McCann London

Client - Joshua Ribera Foundation

Media Partner - SBTV, Ocean Outdoor

Charity Partner - NSPCC

Production - Craft London, Intergalactic Studios

Post Production - BlackKite

PR Agency: Weber Shandwick

CCO - Rob Doubal

CCO - Laurence Thomson


Creative Director - James Crosby

Creative Director - William Cottam

Creative - Elliot Lee

Creative - Rory Peyton Jones

Chief Production Officer - Ben Clark

Executive Producer - Pedro Pinto

Producer - Andrei Cebotari

Executive Producer - Rhory Daniels

Executive Producer - Tom Ringsby

Songwriter - ShadowCV

Songwriter - Alison Cope

Songwriter - Joshua Ribera

Music Producer - PhazeFX

Performer - T Roadz

Director of Photography - Paddy Cartwright

Deepfake Artist - MagicofBarca

Planner - JJ Bender

Planner - Joy Molan

Business Director - Tom Oliver

Account Manager - Ro Lalli

Project Director - Hannah Graff

Project Manager - Georgia Wettenhall

Music Supervision - Native Music

Head of Production - Fred Ashworth

Music EP - Dan Neale

Editor - Paddy Cartwright

Editor - Matt Dollings

Colourist - Andi Chu


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