J hus modelling for FS magazine ()J hus modelling for FS magazine () © Copyright

More hooks than a fisherman

With the hat to match, J Hus made the soundtrack to your summer, and is the most exciting artist in the UK right now.

It's 10.30am when J Hus' Addison Lee pulls up outside a studio in an East London railway arch. He's only travelled a couple of miles through mid-morning traffic, but after a late night spent recording, he arrives clearly fatigued.

While the photographer makes last-minute adjustments to lighting and lenses, the stylist leads Hus through the clothing options. His movements are minimal, his sentences short, communication reduced to nods and shakes. It’s a slow start to the day.

UK music is enjoying a thoroughly global moment. Since the beginning of 2015, UK artists have spent 33 weeks at the top of the US Billboard Top 100. And while Zayn, Adele and Ed Sheeran fly the flag and sweep the board at the mainstream award shows, coverage of artists previously confined to the underground has also started to sky rocket: Skepta won the Mercury Prize; Stormzy’s debut album spent a week atop the album charts.

Major labels have started to recognise that there’s a market for the type of artists who previously spent their careers on online platforms SBTV and GRM Daily. Rapper Giggs appears twice on the Drake album – in terms of global reputation, London musicians haven’t been this cool since punk.

Typically, it’s the type of music that’s remained underground because London, to an outside observer, can feel like a complex warren of subcultures. It’s a city with no coherent soundtrack, more a messy soundclash. The city’s music distorts out of phones at the back of buses, pans out of passing car stereos, is amplified through aux cord streaming off YouTube at parties – the unlicenced soundtrack to a snapchat.

J Hus in a green vintage tracksuit for FS magazine photoshoot ()

 

Want to know what London music is? Go to Notting Hill Carnival and stand by the roadside equidistant between three sound systems. That’s what it sounds like. It sounds like chaos, a total cacophony.

J Hus is 20, but he’s already been around for a few years. Included in the BBC Sound of 2016, nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards, and after a handful for singles, EPs and a mixtape, this month he drops his heavily anticipated debut album, Common Sense, a rich hybrid of sounds, which groups together grime’s tounge-in-cheek humour, road rap’s flow, dancehall’s lilt, bashment’s ruckus, and catchy hook writing akin to American artists.

The result is a radio-friendly package which still feels every inch a London thing. Ahead of the release, we sat down with Hus to find out about his story so far.

So Hus, how did the whole music thing get started?

I’ve always written lyrics, ever since primary school. I grew up on Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, 50 Cent, Usher, singers like that. But I always liked to rap a lot. My nickname was 50 Pence in primary school. It was summer in 2014 when I decided I was really going to take music seriously – that’s when I realised I really wanted it.

I felt like I wanted it so much, but I didn’t really have much going for me at that time. The geezer who manages me now, I went to primary school with him as well. We lost touch, but we reconnected through Facebook and he was just like, “Hus, you can do it man, I’ll find a way to help you.”

Was there anyone you really looked up to musically?

You know what, I looked at the UK rap scene and I just didn’t really feel like anyone was really doing what I wanted to do.

So it was never like, ‘I want to be like that person’?

No, it was more like, “I think there’s a space for me, a gap for me in this scene.”

Where does the inspiration to write come from?

It can come from anything. It can come from what I’m wearing, it can come from my area, my environment, anything at all. I could speak to someone and they could just say something and I think, “Oooh, that sounds catchy, that’s a good quote, and then I could use that.”

J Hus modelling for FS magazine style shoot ()

 

When Hus grew up in Stratford, Newham, it was was the most ethnically diverse place in the entire UK. It’s an area which, prior to 2012, was known chiefly as London’s eastern transport hub. It lies on a flat plain just north of the river, beneath the mountainous skyscrapers of Docklands and a couple of miles east of the City. The Olympics cast a spotlight on Stratford,
an area long neglected, and subjected it to rampant regeneration.

Today, new builds are filled with city workers who file in and out of the train station each morning and evening. It’s become the city’s closest commuter suburb, but despite a changing face, it remains a heavily multicultural area.

The children of grandparents from the West Indies, West Africa, India and Pakistan grow up and go to school with the children of refugees from Somalia, Kosovo and Sri Lanka. Kids also arrive from across Europe. The result is a cosmopolitan, densely populated area where different ethnicities are grouped together, and must learn to coexist.

It’s the kind of place where teenagers have to entertain themselves. The indoor shopping centre, opened in 1974 and left unloved since the bigger brands moved their stores to the Olympic Westfield, has become a de facto 24hr skate park.

Stratford is just a mile, one junction along the A12, from Bow – birthplace of Wiley and Dizzee Rascal, and the area largely regarded as grime music’s ground zero. Stratford, too has a thriving, homegrown MC scene.

J Hus wearing gucci t-shirt for FS magazine style shoot  ()

 

Tell me about Stratford. That’s an area that’s changed a lot with the Olympics – what was it like growing up around all that?

Before the Olympics, it was just… growing up anywhere, you have good times, bad times, that’s just growing up. It was a nice area, actually it was a lovely area. Then the Olympics came around and in those times, I was up to no good. The Olympic things started happening, and the police started trying to clean up the area, you know, sweep up all the criminals, and I was part of that. They locked me away, and as it was changing, I came back out. It’s changed a lot since I was younger, but I still love it, I still represent it. It’s still my area.

Do you see yourself staying there?

I grew up there, and spent a lot of time there, so I’m trying to do other things now, but it’ll always have a place in my heart, and a lot of memories.

There are lots of MCs from Stratford – it seems like there’s lots of stuff going on. Do you feel like you’re part of a scene?

To be honest, with all that stuff, I’m a bit anti-social. I’m very anti-social. When I get to know you, I’m open, but I don’t go out my way to meet new people, I don’t really do that. Look, when I know people, I am fine, but more I just keep myself to myself.

It’s where you met your producer, JAE5, though, right? How did that relationship come about?

Back in 2012, one of my friends was rapping a lot and he started on this music course, and there was a deal where if you brought a friend along to the course, you’d end up getting money. So he brought me along and JAE5 was teaching people how to produce. But me, I just wanted to do something with rap and record, not produce, so I lasted like two weeks. Not even two weeks, maybe a week. That was the first time I met him.

Then, end of summer 2014, I went to watch some local DJs – one of them DJs for me now, actually. It was at this little festival thing, and I told them I was taking things more seriously.
They reconnected me with JAE5 and we booked a studio. For the first two sessions, he didn’t even bother showing up, he didn’t take me that seriously. But when we linked up, we realised what we both can do.

J Hus in FS magazine cover photoshoot ()

 

He only seems to make bangers. Why do you think the two of you work so well as a team?

He understands me. He knows what I can do. He understands my voice and he knows what I like, and what I don’t like. I don’t know exactly what it is, but the chemistry is just there.

What’s the experience of making your first album been like?

It took six months in the studio, me and JAE5, it got hectic. At first I had a bit of a block, and I couldn’t write anything. June, July and August, I didn’t really make anything, but by September, I started really getting back into it, and by the end of November, my part of the album was done.

Have you played it to many people, and what have they said?

Yeah, they all tell me it’s a game-changer. Everyone I’ve played it to has loved it.

J Hus has received some pretty high-calibre endorsement as well. Skepta’s a fan, as is Stormzy, who got him to feature on his debut album Gang Signs & Prayer as well as his Live Lounge appearance on Radio One. Krept & Konan were in one of his music videos, and even grime’s godfather Wiley tweeted his approval. This support will likely help Hus to quickly reach a new audience, but there’s one man involved in UK music who can help increasing an artist’s profile more than any other – self-appointed honorary roadman Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham.

Drake’s More Life dropped earlier in the week, and has been on the studio stereo all morning. Between shots, Hus bops his head and sings along to Blem, the playlist’s seventh track. A dark Jamaican-inspired album cut. Everyone in the room creases with laughter when Drizzy sings “I need you to stop running back to your ex, he’s a wasteman” – UK slang the Canadian star’s appropriated on his multiple trips over here.

J Hus in FS magazine cover style shoot ()

 

While J Hus’ sound is a product of his upbringing, and Drake’s the result of a globetrotting lifestyle, the two share a knack for musical alchemy. And More Life has put British rapper Giggs on the international map, his flow confusing many American and Canadian rap fans.

Drake’s got previous. Late last year, he featured on Wanna Know, a track by UK rapper Dave, transforming the south Londoner’s profile and catapulting him into the spotlight. Around the same time, Hus was also working on a track with Dave titled Samantha.

Hus’ first single off his new album, Did You See, is a total, total, total jam. The kind of thing that a DJ can pull up during the intro five times and the crowd still go wild. It has been shared
so frequently on the internet that you imagine it’s only a matter of time before Hus is pulled into Drake’s orbit. Hus wants his work to be successful on its own merit, rather than high-profile endorsement, but it’s something he’ll have to think about, as is the whole fame-game in gener
al.

We’ve had More Life on all day. What do you think of it? And is Drake’s fixation with UK stuff a good thing?

Hmm… it’s a good thing, it’s a good thing. But I wouldn’t want him to take our thing and make it look like it’s him. Even though he’s bringing a lot of light to the UK, I still, we still, need to own it. Remember that it’s still ours. But I actually quite like the new thing, I respect it. He’s smart, he’s a really smart guy, and he knows what he’s doing. He really knows what he’s doing.

You’ve had lots of props and support from so many established artists. Has any of that stuff really stood out for you?

I went to Nigeria, and Skepta was there with me, and gave me some advice. It’s good to speak to someone in a position where you’d like to be, and having them support you. I grew up on Skepta, so to see people you grew up on respect you, the way you’ve been respecting them your whole life, it’s sick still.

J Hus wearing gucci t-shirt for FS magazine cover photoshoot  ()

 

What about footballers – have any of them reached out?

I’ve seen Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain working out to my music on Snapchat. I’ve bumped into Daniel Sturridge a couple of times, too – he’s been cool.

You support Arsenal, right? Looks like you’re #WengerOut, according to your Twitter… Who do you want to replace him?

Hmm, long-term… Thierry Henry, he would do a good job I reckon. He’s a legend, innit, so I wanna see him back. I grew up on him. Let’s not talk about Arsène Wenger!

OK, let’s talk about Stormzy. How did the appearance on the Stormzy record come about?

Yeah, it was wicked, the way it all panned out was you’d think it was all planned, but it just worked out, I did the thing with Dave, and then Stormzy, and then Did You See dropped, it was all natural.

Did You See is one of the songs of the summer – how have you witnessed the reaction so far?

Yeah I’m loving it, loving it. I haven’t been able to perform it yet, but I’m performing it tonight for the first time so I’m looking forward to that. I’m not on Snapchat but my friends are, and they always show me their phones and it’s always playing on people’s Snapchats, so it’s getting about, and it seems like people are loving it. Then it’s streaming very well and all that.

J Hus in white stutterheim jacket for FS magazine photoshoot ()

 

You’re in the studio most of the time, right?

I’m always at the studio, so much of my time is there. It’s like my second home. Actually, it’s more like my first home at the moment!

It’s in Ealing [one hour from Stratford by car] but I’m still there. Sometimes I just fall asleep there, I spend the night a lot of the time.

When you’re busy working, can you get a sense that it’s really beginning to pop off? What kind of things can demonstrate that to you?

What? That things are going well?

Yeah…

Social media, there’s stuff on internet, and then when you just see people in the street and they’re like “Yeah, Yeah!”

But if you type J Hus into Twitter and hit Latest, a tweet comes through every minute. Stuff like ‘Did You See is MY JAM’, ‘Come on and drop the album’, and girls being like, ‘J Hus is too cute!’ – how do you stop that all going to your head?

I don’t know. You know with me, I’m a person who is naturally quite humble. You’ve got to keep remembering why you started, where you were before, where you want to be, I just have to keep thinking that I’m not where I want to be yet. There’s still a lot of work to be put in, and you have to keep persisting. They could be loving you right now, but tomorrow they could be on someone else, someone new who’s come out, so you’ve got to keep at it, I might not last.

J Hus wearing fisherman hat for FS magazine photoshoot ()

 

Are you looking forward to being famous then?

Famous?

Yeah, famous!

Not really… I guess, I want my music to go far. But I dunno if, I don’t want to be ‘famous.’ [Rocks his head to one side.]  But then, I do want to be ‘successful’ [rocks his head to the other side to imply the tussle].

OK then, wrong question – how would you define success?

Yeah, that’s a question! [Pauses.] Just when everyone around me is OK. Just when I can put my friends on that, or just do this, and we can just do it like that! [Points with his fingers and then slapping his hands past one another to punctuate the end of the sentence.] Just put on all my people, and make sure everyone around me is comfortable. That’s when I’ll be successful. When everybody around me is making money, and I’m not the only one who’s out there. I can bring my friends in. Then I’ll be successful.

Your management team is made up of old friends from your area. Who do you look to for advice, and who do you listen to for advice?

I look to them. The same friends, the same people, old friends. The ones that have been there from the beginning.

J hus modelling for FS magazine ()

 

We haven’t been this excited about a debut record for a while – we played Did You See on repeat so many times in the office, sung the hook so repeatedly, that people who hadn’t even heard the track started joining in. For 57 minutes, J Hus offers you a faithful tour of his London. On first listen, it’s amazing how varied the material feels but also, how Hus’ fun character emanates through every track.

Whether busting jokes about West African food, complaining about his little brother pinching his slides, or just trying to chirpse girls, it’s the kind of thing that could only have been made in a country like the UK, by a scamp who blagged his way into a recording studio, met a producer and made one of the most exciting debut albums of the year. Credit to the record industry, which often fairly gets a kicking for being run by a bunch of old men in suits, this time it’s supporting a diverse talent, giving a second chance.

The flipside to the increased exposure of the record is that major labels take control over campaigns. Hus is impulsive, and is used to sharing music with his audience whenever it’s ready. Nowadays, even the timing of something as trivial as an Instagram post is built into a promotional campaign. Part of being a major label artist, particularly prior to the release of a debut album, is sitting on your hands, patiently waiting, hoping that everything falls into place.

Once you’re locked into doing something with a label everything gets held up and scheduled into campaigns – has that been a bit frustrating?

Yeah for real. I’m a very impatient guy with that stuff, but timing is very important and you can’t rush anything, especially if you want it to be proper. So I’m learning to be patient!

What can people expect with the record?

Ummm, what can people expect with the album? Something different. Some diversity, it’s gonna be crazy. They shouldn’t really expect anything, to be honest with you. Just wait for it, and don’t expect anything, because even if you know my music it’s not going to be what you expect.

Why’s that?

Because it’s a new me, I’ve grown up, a bit. It’s more musical, there are lots of different styles on there. 

Where did all the styles come from?

A lot of the tunes that came out before Did You See – songs like Friendly and things like that, remember they were all written a really long time ago and I’ve been away for a long time. I was away from releasing music for a whole year, so it took a whole year to build up this whole new style. I’m just in my own world most of the time but it just came out of that. It’s just all the stuff that influenced me growing up. Bashment, afrobeats, UK rap, American music, everything. Everything that’s popping off, that’s what influenced me growing up, so that’s why you hear it all in my music now. My parents also played lots of African music, so that had an effect on me, too.

You’re on a magazine cover, man – how does that feel?

It’s crazy. If you told me this a couple of years back, I’d be like [kisses teeth] “Shut up, you’re chatting shit.” But it’s crazy, it’s like living the dream and all that!

FS magazine cover J Hus May 2017 ()

 

Grab J Hus' Common Sense now!

Photography Leigh Keily

Styling Fiona Downie

Words Thomas Theodore

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