“I Am The Movement” : J Hus Talks
Two years ago J Hus dropped Dem Boy Paigon. A massive hit on London’s post-grime underground, the track saw Hus cut up classic bars taken from grime, RnB and dancehall, and deliver them in a melodic flow that foregrounded his Gambian roots. When next single Lean & Bop saw him once more deliver grimy lyricism in this distinctive African flow, Hus had proved he was clearly onto something. He was snapped up by Black Butter and Lean & Bop was soon heading for daytime radio play. His fusion of rap, bashment and afrobeats – created in part with regular collaborator Jae 5, and in part as a continuation of the work put in by other London based artists such as Kwamz & Flava, Mista Silva, Fuse ODG, Jaij Holland, Naira Marley and others who were also experimenting with fusing African vocals with UK sounds, was melancholic as it was addictively melodic. A shift in the ever evolving sound of the UK was on it's way.
Following Hus’s mainstream success hordes of other artists have sprung up, aided in no small part by Hus's enforced absence; in 2016, at the height of his hype, and just after he released his next banger Friendly, Hus disappeared. His past had caught up with him and he found himself serving jail time for a crime committed when he was younger (what that crime is remains unclear…). Now out of prison, he's returning to a burgeoning scene of MCs smashing out hits in the sound he was pioneering. We’re currently at the wot do u call it stage- the sound has been variously termed Afrobashment, UK Afrobeats, AfroWave, AfroFusion and more. All that’s clear is that Hus is more than ready to make up for lost time – when we spoke to him he'd recently released a collaboration with Santan Dave that most artists could have dined on for a few months. Hus, however, appears to have gone into overdrive, jumping on stand out tracks on the Nines and Stormzy albums and dropping a new single of his own, Did You See, that has notched just shy of 2 million Youtube views in a week. It’s fair to say J Hus is back…
What’s going on with the album? Is it coming soon?
Definitely, the album’s ready to come out – and I’ve shot a few videos.
Is it all Jae 5 production?
Mostly. Jae 5 produced most of it but there’s two, three tracks where a couple of other producers helped him. Jae 5’s my guy. We’re so comfortable with each other and know each other so well.
Is Jae 5 the same producer as [Lean & Bop producer] J.O.A.T?
What it is, is that Jae 5 used to be part of the group J.O.A.T., there were three of them, but they split up so it’s just Jae 5 now.
How far has the sound moved on from the 15th Day mixtape (Hus dropped his first mixtape, 15th Day, back in July, 2015)
This album is gonna be a ganme changer, I can’t lie to you. 15th Day, listening back to it now, it’s cool, but comparing it to the album, the album’s real music. It has meaning, it has messages. Everything on this album is proper.
What kind of messages?
Positive! A lot of positive messages in there, telling the people to keep their head up. It’s got everything on there, whether you want the dark cruddy stuff or the club, dance stuff. With this album, it’s still afrobeat-y and bashment-y but there’s also a lot of lyricism in there.
Talking of lyricism, have you got anything along the lines of Guns N Butter on there? That was a welcome surprise on the 15th Day
I’ve definitely got that. A couple of tunes like that. I wanted this album to be more deep thinking music – some of those type of lyrics are on afro-dancehall beats, but still deep. I don’t wanna give too much away though. With Guns N Butter I just felt like I was trying to find out who I am. That’s where I was at that moment in time, I was just trying to figure out who I was.
I thought it was interesting that you contrasted an individual’s crimes with the crimes of colonial Britain…
When I write, whatever’s on my brain comes out. I was trying to figure out myself, know myself and put it together.
Do you pay attention to someone like Donald Trump being in the news constantly? Does that sort of thing feature in your bars?
Hahh – there’s stuff about him on the album. That’s definitely inspired me, even on the new album there’s a lot of things that are political. I don’t wanna say what I actually say, but I say one or two things… Whatever goes on around me inspires me. It’s gonna surprise people.
OK, so changing the subject somewhat, something I’ve always wanted to know is just how many tracks are you actually referencing in Dem Boy Paigon? I’m pretty sure I can count at least 7 other tunes… Is the whole thing a reference?
Ummm not the whole thing. Some of it is just me. With Dem Boy Paigon what I was trying to do was bring a newish kind of sound, but bring back those old tunes. I like to look back on the past and see what things have worked, like the TLC bars, those are big, big lines that everyone remembers, I knew that if I put them in my track people would like it. I thought of a lot of tracks that I liked, took out parts of them and put them together to make something new. The hook is all me, but the bars are me mixed up with the past
I thought of it as a track where you laid out all of your influences for people knew to you. I could hear some Stormzy in there, some of JME-
It’s definitely got JME in there – I forgot about that! I forget myself… But after doing it I got advised to not always do that style of taking stuff. It’s OK once in a while, but I’ve stopped doing it, I want to show people the original me.
So there’s not gonna be a part 2?
I doubt I’ll do it again…
I saw you perform Dem Boy Paigon at Culture Clash – it must have been such a crazy moment for you having just got out of prison
Yeah… the day of Culture Clash, the day before I just came out. It was so mad. People didn’t even know I was on stage until after. That will stay in my mind forever, it was crazy. It was mad still, it was a good way to say yeah I’m back. Not everyone knew where I was, I didn’t really want to put it out there too much.
There were a lot of different rumours, can you say what you were inside for?
It was a case from before I even started music. It was pending. From when I first started doing music I had that case going on. It was from my previous life.
You don’t want to say more?
Naaaahh. That’s the past. That’s my previous life.
Is it easy to escape the past? Do you feel like sometimes it comes to drag you back?
It has! It’s mad. You know what it is, coming away from the past and getting into music was a way to get away. I always knew in my head that I’d done a lot of bad things in the past, and they would come to bite me in the future. I was waiting for it to happen. Yeah… It’s not as easy as people think. In my head I’m like, do the music and get away, but it’s hard, with the roads there’s so many things that come with it that it’s not easy to get away. You got to just keep your head up and keep yourself around positive people. I keep myself busy, I’m always in the studio, and if I’m not there I’m doing a show. I’m in the studio keeping away from trouble.
What would you say to the younger version of yourself?
Ahhhhhhh too many things! It depends on what stage in my life I was at. Just before the music took off I would have said ‘you ain’t gotta prove nothing to no one. Just keep on doing music’. But I always felt I knew – in my head I thought I knew best. If I could go back I’d say keep your head down, stick with the music, stay in the studio, there’ll be way better to come.
And now that’s paying off with a debut album… I’m assuming there’s some features on the album – is Mostack on there?
Obviously Mostack is on there, but that’s the only one I’m gonna say.
I think that was an easy guess..
I’ve got two or three other artists on there, but there’s not many features on there. I’m not really a feature guy.
I feel like you’re part of a scene that’s coming up in London – no one’s really got a name for it, but it’s not just you out there – do you feel like there’s a movement going on?
To be honest with you, what I do, I don’t think anyone else is doing what I do. I’m not even hating! There’s a couple of people I respect and like, but what I do is just me. I am the movement!
OK, so what about your influences? Is there any one around you listen to?
You know what it is, I’m so busy right now I don’t have time to listen much, There’s a couple of artists that are proper underground – there’s a couple of artists from South London called Mucky and Reekz MB. I listen to them a lot. But I can’t listen to too much of that crud. I’d rather here some slow RnB, I don’t wanna hear all that negativity, I come from all that, I don’t want it around me. So more time I listen to a lot of old skool slow jams. If I’m in the car I like to listen to some old skool Destiny’s Child, it calms my nerves
So would you do an album of R Kelly covers?
I’d do a mixtape of 90s RnB covers… like Tory Lanez – you know what he goes in on; that Fat Joe tune
He finished that track…!
So what songs would you do?
That’s a hard one cos a lot of people have done so many songs already. Hmmmm. Have you ever heard that song by Faith Evans (sings) “I remember the way –“
You Use To Love Me! That tune’s a classic
I’d do early 2000s as well, the early Ja Rule stuff
Like Livin It Up, Always on Time?
Yeah, a lot of them, like the Ja Rule and Ashanti tunes
You could probably phone Ja Rule tomorrow and he’d jump on a track with you, I’d say he’s got a lot of time on his hands.
Hahaha, I’m not gonna lie, I’m a fan of 50 Cent as well.
Well he’s bankrupt as well so I reckon that could happen too. A J Hus and Fiddy tune would be hard.
I wouldn’t do it! I got offered the opportunity to, Semtex was gonna sort something out.
And you didn’t do it!
Nah, I’d rather just stay a fan innit
You didn’t want to spoil the magic?
Yeah I didn’t want to spoil it man, I wanted to just be a fan
But still, he could have done one of those sung hooks. I can’t believe that could have happened.
I know, I know… but some things are best left alone
And talking of collaborations, you recently did the track with Dave, did you write it together?
He came to see Jae 5 and I was upstairs – I came down into the studio and saw him and that was the first time we met innit. He was doing the tune himself, I’m just there, and he was like, ahh can you help me with some melodies for the hook, so I started helping him, and then we looked at each other and I said, “I might as well jump on the track” – we both said it at the same time. So I wrote my verse then and there. It was so natural, nothing had been planned.
So come on, have you got any idea when your album’s gonna drop?
In a month?
Well, I’m fully back. I’m gonna be doing bare freestyles, I just wanna be in your face, I’ve been away for so long it’s uncomfortable. I’m back in it
Do you feel like other artists have been going for your crown while you’ve been away?
I feel like the scene needs me. There’s a lot of imitators. People have been settling for less. I can come back and set the bar high, you get me. That’s from what I see. Hearing my music and comparing it to what’s out there now, I don’t think there’s any comparisons to be honest.
So it’s gonna be big
It’s gonna be big!
Follow J Hus on Twitter to keep an eye out for the album…