Common Sense: J Hus is ready to take his crown

His demeanour somewhat reserved, J Hus’ body language communicates so much more than his words. Wearing a tracksuit, he calmly relaxes on a bench where we’re sat at the City of London Gymnastics Club, West London. The mood in the air is evident - his nature isn’t down to any shyness of some sort, it’s a calm and collected confidence in a future he knows is on the immediate horizon.

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It’s only been a relatively short time since British rapper J Hus appeared on the scene with 2014’s ‘Dem Boi Paigon’, the rumbustious street anthem. The rapper’s breakout song immediately placed him in a class of his own with his hybrid – and now signature – style of fusing road rap with afrobeats. Like anything in its infancy and early stages, J Hus is in a rare and unique position where he essentially has the ability to influence the burgeoning of a new black British sound.

To be fortunate enough to hear ‘Dem Boi Paigon’ being spun in a club is an exhilarating feeling. The song’s confident, assertive and road-ready style give revellers all the incentive they need to screw their faces and vibe to one of road rap’s most authentic songs. In August last year, the extent of ‘Dem Boi Paigon’s’ influence was realised when police shut down a party in Stamford Hill while being repeatedly heckled by the crowd with ‘you musta lost your mind’ – one of the song’s lyrics. As with many road rap and grime events in the UK, the party was labelled as a ‘large-scale disorder’, no doubt completely erroneous. The sobering reality is despite the growing appeal and attraction of road rap; the heightened visibility has brought about increased and unwarranted police attention. Particularly in an ever-increasingly gentrified London where much of the music that derives from black communities continues to be the antithesis to the growing Foxtons, Honest Burgers and more artisan coffee shops in the area.

Brixton Splash, an annual street festival held since 2006, was cancelled this year due to public safety fears and complaints about noise from residents. The same fears could be brought to one’s attention with any one of the thousands of music festivals that take place in the UK. However, the intersection of race has a role to play, and London’s African and Caribbean communities are finding themselves being displaced to make room for aforementioned hipster food joints. There’s an irony as these areas were once known for the culture that flourished within them but, it appears this culture is only appealing from a distance. It’s an example of the new climate in which black British music now finds itself; the constant struggle with an attitude that seeks to remove existing cultures from their origins. In spite of that, however, it continues to surge, and J Hus remains a necessary, unapologetic presence.

J Hus wears: Jacket and Trousers FILA

The young MC remains in a class of his own. Navigating his own path with little guidance from mentors has been an approach that has paid off considerably for him. “There’s no one really that’s mentored me but watching the TV, I’ve been inspired by people like Skepta, Krept and Konan. There’s also people like 50 Cent and Michael Jackson, and they’ve each inspired me in different ways,” he says. Still, in an industry that can often be as cutthroat as the roads Hus raps about, going it solo, without mentors may prove to be a blessing in disguise. The rapper takes advantage of having positioned himself as a pioneer of sorts, of the afro-grime sound he purveys.

This year alone, afrobeats has influenced the direction in which some music’s biggest artists have found themselves. Drake acquired the services of Wizkid on his up-cycled funky anthem, ‘One Dance’, featuring a sample from Kyla’s ‘Do You Mind?’ which topped the UK charts for fifteen weeks. Similarly, the afrobeats-grime relationship was strengthened through the Ojuelegba Remix by Wizkid, featuring Skepta and Drake. D’Banj’s ‘Oliver Twist’ remains one of the most popular afrobeats songs of recent years, in part thanks to Kanye West’s co-sign. However, its success signalled the arrival of the genre into pop. To say afrobeats has only just achieved global appeal and success would be false and dismissive of the genius of trailblazing artists such as Fela Kuti, whom many artists such as D’Banj and Wizkid owe their careers.

Sonically, road rap has seldom taken inspiration from afrobeats, but through J Hus new waters appear to be chartered. “Yeah, it is a unique sound, but it exists in places like Nigeria; mine’s just coming from a UK perspective,” he states. It’s a fusion that has special importance to third generation descendants of African immigrants who take on dual identities. “My parents are African, and I grew up listening to a lot of afrobeats and jazz. Where I’m from, in E15, there’s a big West African community, and that had a hand in my growth.” It’s his strong West African identity blended with his British upbringing that has won him fans all over, and already, he’s aware of just what he wishes to achieve. “I want it to go global, man. I want everyone to hear me, and I want everyone to hear this sound,” he affirms.

Hus’ ascent was halted prematurely late in 2015 when he was hospitalised following a knife attack. It’s an ordeal that’s sure to leave its mark upon you, and with the negative media attention that comes with it, he’d be forgiven for wanting to venture into something else. Yet he’s still here and rising. Since the attack, J Hus has since performed at this year’s Culture Clash alongside Big Narstie and Mixpak. To come back into the scene after some months off to a 30,000 strong audience is enough to give Hus the confidence boost needed to pick up where he left off. “It was a good way to tell people that J Hus was back, after taking some time off,” he says.

Earlier this year, American rapper and Twitter beef instigator Azaelia Banks made disparaging comments about grime and UK rap. Although Banks’ is often linked with controversy, her comments came at a time when there’s a bright spotlight on black British music. Globally, black people have developed a somewhat silent solidarity in spite of the never-ending tide of racism and inequality; therefore this criticism seemed to repeal this solidarity. It hasn’t fazed Hus though, in fact, it’s made him more determined; “I heard Azealia Banks’ comments, and I feel like I’ve got something to prove” he says. “I feel like there’s good artists in the UK but we need to show our talent.”

In the short period J Hus has spent making music, he’s had to learn on the job, taking cues from his influencers such as Michael Jackson, an artist with his own crucibles to battle within music. “When I first started, I was rushing, and I wanted to do a lot, but I’ve learned to take my time with things more. Mostly though, I’m just taking things as they come,” he says. It’s an important lesson J Hus has taught himself at a time where it took Frank Ocean’s endless loop of watching paint dry to relearn the art of patience and no doubt the young rapper’s approach will do him favours in regards to career longevity.

As J Hus moves his pieces forward on the board, strategising his next move and preparing his album, only one thing is on the twenty-year-old’s mind – making sure his voice is heard. “I want everyone to hear me, and I want everyone to hear this sound,” he confidently affirms.

J Hus’ new album Common Sense is out today (12th May).

Follow Jesse Bernard on Twitter
Photographer Jack Bridgland
Styling Kiera Liberati
Grooming Bella Kaye using MAC

This interview and photoshoot originally appeared in Notion 74, available here. 

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