SCENE OF THE YEAR
From influencing elections to headlining major festivals, 2017 was a monumental year for grime and hip-hop in the UK. Scene lynchpin, J Hus, shares his thoughts on why it’s taken the music industry by storm and captivated a generation of young people – an
Peter McGoran charts the rise and rise of the London grime scene in the company of star artist J Hus.
Nget heard. They’ve got shows popping up everywhere, they’re actually making money from the music and, from that, the scene is getting bigger and bigger. It’s like in America – rappers started off only being known in their own region. They didn’t have to be known in the whole of America to be making money. Then they grew. Slowly, the UK is becoming like this too.”
Young people making music for the youth, and young people feeling empowered by this, has had an unlikely effect on UK society as a whole. The #Grime4Corbyn campaign, which had Stormzy and JME at the forefront, agitated for a Labour victory back in
June’s UK General Election, at a time when Jeremy Corbyn was being vilified by much of the mainstream media. The result saw the biggest youth turnout in 40 years, and a massive upset for the ruling Tory government; as a result, a generation of young people no longer felt disempowered and disenfranchised. While J Hus keeps his political views guarded, he’s animated about the influence that this music has on young people.
At the end of our interview, I joke with him about one of his tracks ‘Like Your Style’, which features the refrain “What’s
the craic man? What’s the story?” – a chatup line that he picked up one of the last times he was in Dublin. The rapper makes the point that he’ll pick up any piece of vernacular and use it for wordplay.
“In my area, we have our own way of talking. I have this one close friend, he’ll just sit there and think of new lingo and that. Then a few days later it’ll become so common in our area we’ll all say it, then next you’ll hear me put it in a song.”
Therein, I suspect, lies a message for emerging Irish artists like Jafaris who opened for J Hus in The Academy.
“It's the same as us doing it in the
UK. We just embraced our own culture. Embraced our voice. And now it’s true to us, innit? Now it’s becoming a proper culture. This is what people call real UK
music now. When people do it in Ireland it’s gonna be the same for them.” London to Dublin, were bonding with his music faster than the labels could keep up with. And while grime MCs and rappers have long plied their trade in the UK, for a number of years it was pigeon-holed, with a limited sphere of influence.
But now? It’s setting the social, political and cultural agenda within the UK and beyond.
“You got all the country in general, like, embracing youth,” says J Hus, talking backstage at the Academy, as the din of an expectant crowd grows in the background. “Instead of copying Americans, we’re setting our own trends and now everyone’s watching us.”
Grime’s origins were an amalgamation of some of the prevailing scenes in 1990s/2000s inner-city London – fastpaced UK garage, pounding drum & bass, and dancehall were all prevalent. But new upstarts have been broadening the possibilities in recent years. J Hus, in his Album Of The Year contender Common ovember 7, 2017. The evening is still young but already a huge crowd waits outside the Academy, Dublin, eager to see 21-year old North Londoner, J Hus, perform to a sold-out audience. As your
Hot Press correspondent heads back stage to interview the man in question, he can’t help getting a distinct feeling of déjà vu about it all.
Rewind back to March, and it was an MC from the opposite end of the Thames who was bringing young Dubliners out in force, this time to the Olympia Theatre.
Stormzy’s rise to the forefront of British music has been as phenomenal as it has been unprecedented – young kids, from Sense, masterfully lashes together afrobeats and dancehall with sounds as diverse as g-funk and jazz. And lyrically, MCs are spitting bars about some of the vital issues of our time: depression, class war, poverty and social media.
Stormzy, J Hus, and dozens of emerging artists have always acknowledged that the previous generation paved the way for them. The pioneering music of the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Kano and Wiley allowed younger artists to step up and find their voice. For J Hus, it was Skepta that led him to believe he could make a living from music.
“I’m very much inspired by Skepta,” he admits. “Those guys started this whole
“We embraced our own culture. Embraced our voice. And now it’s true to us, innit?"
thing. I could always make music, it came naturally to me. I was always known to have bars and to be able to rap from an early age. But those guys showed all of us that it actually could be done and that you could be successful.”
The knowledge that he could do it himself led to J Hus recording several lo-fi freestyles back in 2015, which quickly went viral and allowed him to make a name for himself. This seemed to be the way for many of his peers.
Back in the summer, ahead of a headliner spot at Longitude, Stormzy’s manager
Tobe Onwuka told Hot Press that the importance of the DIY approach meant urban artists who didn’t have clear access to the industry could carve out their own reputation.
“This all wouldn’t have happened if the music industry had been the way it was 20, 30 years ago, when you ‘needed a demo’ to approm some label. It was a barrier – a permission, if you like – that got torn down by the internet.”
J Hus concurs with this.
“It’s easier now to get out there,” he says. “There’s so many rappers underground. But now they’re able to