The profile of East London rapper J Hus has exploded in a year when British MC culture is as healthy and competitive as any in recent memory.
Operating from the grime stronghold of Stratford, the 20-year-old has amassed a huge following in the blink of an eye thanks to a unique synthesis of styles and a fearless desire to maintain his own identity.
J Hus started to accumulate wider attention last year, thanks to a handful of fiery freestyle videos filmed around his native Newham. The youngster’s stock was propelled even further following the release of his anthemic ‘Dem Boy Paigon’; a simple but remarkably infectious hybrid of afrobeats and road rap, the tune has been receiving riotous receptions across the British capital all year. Since then J has showed no sign of slowing down, dropping one of the UK’s best mixtapes of the year (The 15th Day) and displaying his versatility with playful, radio-friendly hit ‘Lean & Bop’.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” says J Hus. “I’ve got a lot of things planned. I’m motivated, hungry for more.” It’s no surprise he is feeling positive. The MC just landed a record deal with Sony-backed imprint Black Butter, home to regular chart botherers Rudimental and Clean Bandit. The feat is all the more impressive when you consider how recently he began approaching music like a profession.
“I’ve been into rap since primary school. Everyone around my area always knew I could rap. I’ve always rapped but I never made no videos or nothing, or took it too seriously,” he admits. That all changed about a year ago: “I properly started this time last year. The guys who manage me now, they’re my friends. They sat me down and said we’ll help you do it. I’ve been doing music for basically a year now.”
Less than 12 months after a handful of early tunes first surfaced on SoundCloud, J has racked up an astronomical amount of views on YouTube, delivered impressive freestyles for Tim Westwood and Charlie Sloth, performed at Wireless Festival alongside his idols Krept and Konan; he even almost stole the show supporting Young Thug barely a fortnight ago.
A key to the ascending youngster’s rapid success is his desire to maintain individuality in a climate where commercial success often comes from doing the opposite. “Basically, when I first started I sat down and thought to myself ‘If I’m gonna do this music thing properly, I’ve gotta come with something — do what the best are doing but give it a little twist.’ I was thinking, the best way I can do that is to be myself,” he says. “There’s no better J Hus than J Hus. I thought if I’m gonna do it then I’ve gotta be unique, 100% truthful.”
The diverse sound of Stratford’s (self-proclaimed) ugliest MC can be attributed to a tightly meshed blend of influences that he melds in a singular fashion. The 15th Day mixtape is dotted with lyrical references to Outkast, 50 Cent, TLC, Beenie Man, Lil Wayne and JME, to name a few. Tracks on the mixtape occupy the spaces between rap, R&B and bashment, with J Hus’s influences glued together by an Afrobeat style that reflects his Gambian heritage. A few catchy ad libs haven’t hurt either.
“Everything I listened to, I wanted to put it all in one,” he asserts. “If I do it like that it’ll be something different, something nobody will have heard before. I wanted to come with the ‘I don’t care what nobody thinks’ attitude. I’ll go do a freestyle and I might sing in the freestyle, or do something where people might say ‘Oh’. I had a background where I was a road guy or whatever, so me singing and dancing in the videos might look kind of funny to people, but I don’t care. I just want to be myself. I want to be able to provide for every type of fan, every type of supporter I have. Whether it’s a road guy or someone who wants to party, I just want to make music for everyone. Even a tune like ‘Dem Boy Paigon’, girls love that tune.”
The closing track on The 15th Day has been causing mayhem in UK clubs since it dropped at the end of last year. ‘Dem Boy Paigon’ didn’t get an official release or even a video, as few could have anticipated the success that would follow. “I didn’t really plan anything for it,” he admits. “With me, I like to do things at a quick pace and move on really quickly. I get bored of things really quickly.”
The song has had security staff in nightclubs across the country earning their pay cheque. The clip above shows police in Stoke Newington trying in vain to shut down a raucous party soundtracked by the tune. “It was on the news and everything, that was mad,” J says of the footage. A brawl erupted when he performed the song at Wireless Festival. “We had to stop for a hot second,” he laughs.
Few MCs in the UK can currently match the reaction J Hus has been eliciting in venues up and down the country. “When I first started doing shows, the first show I went to, I said to one of my friends: ‘We’re going to perform now. If the crowd don’t react how we want them to, we’ll just perform to each other.’ We did our thing and the crowd just loved it. I don’t know why but the first time I performed I didn’t have any nerves, I just performed and did my thing. So from there, I just got mad used to it and the crowd, I don’t know, it’s a feeling I can’t explain.”
“When I’m on stage I just do my thing,” he continues. “I go on stage, go crazy on stage. If the crowd love it, they love it. If they don’t, they don’t. I haven’t been booed off the stage yet though, they always love it so it’s working for me. When I perform, I just want to give the fans what they pay for, give them a good time. It’s a performance that you’ve never ever seen before, I want them to get their money’s worth and come see me again. I only realise how mad it is when I watch the videos back. When I’m on stage I don’t realise how crazy it is, I’m just performing.”
Having just inked the deal with Black Butter, J Hus is hopeful for the future. He wants to progress and mature without compromising any of the individuality that has landed him in this position.
“I’m just going to be more weird and as unique as possible,” he says. “I just want to take it to the next level again, and right now I’m really into funky house. I wanna bring that back, that’s what I’m into right now. I wanna do that and also I wanna grow as an artist. I want people to hear my music and think ‘Wow, J Hus has progressed, and he’s not the same,’ because before I used to just make music but now I want to write songs, and talk about proper things. I don’t want people to think I just make party tracks, I want to make proper songs.”