2015 has been the year of the rapper, and you'd only have to look at the nominees for this year's MOBO Awards to see that. It's been a year of individuality, which wasn't necessarily the case two or three years ago. Grime and road rap frontrunners have taken it back to the essence, extracting the quirks and rawness of old and giving it to the masses in a more well-packaged way.
"I'm just gonna be more weird and unique as possible," said East London rapper J Hus, 19, in a recent interview, and it's that quirky edge that's made the game all the more interesting to see play out. Consciously meshing his penchant for Afro-pop and road rap, college dropout Hus has managed to fill the gap in a market that was never quite there to begin with, dominating a space that is uniquely his own. A product of '90s hip-hop and R&B, Afrobeats, garage, and grime, J Hus' melodic ear has given him the ability to spit about his harsh realities while giving DJs something they can work with on dancefloors. Cuts like "Lean & Bop", "No Lie", and "Dem Boy Paigon" have gone from hood anthems to certified club bangers that cause mayhem (sometimes with the feds being called) when and wherever they're being played.
Complex caught up with J Hus—the newly signed J Hus—to talk about his newfound fame, life after being stabbed, and how he feels about people spinning his music at weddings.
Well done on getting "Lean & Bop" signed to Black Butter Records—they're always on the ball when it comes to emerging new music. How did you get up on their radar?
Thank you! Thank you. Well, we dropped "Lean & Bop", got a little buzz, and then they just contacted my management. They were like: "We've gotta get J Hus signed!" They're good people. They're cool guys, man. When I went to go and meet them, it felt genuine from the get-go; like, I feel like I can actually trust them.
Is it an on-going relationship, or just a single deal?
For now, it's just a single deal. We'll see how it goes with them, but I'll always work with them whatever the situation is.
What type of act do you consider yourself to be? I've heard people call you Afro-pop, some call you grime, while others say you're straight-up road rap. You kinda go in-between the three. But, from your perspective, who is J Hus: the artist?
I like to say there's no natural genre to my music. I don't like to be put into a box. I don't wanna be given a title—nothing. I take inspiration from a lot of things, a lot of different genres, a lot of different artists. I like to take all of that and put it all into one. So I'd say I'm everything you've heard and nothing you've heard at the same time. I want to be known for everything.
Let's take it back to the foundations—who influenced you, musically, and how did the J Hus journey begin?
It started this time last year. I was just with my boys and they were like, "Yo Hus, you've got to take this seriously!" At that moment in time, I didn't really have much going on so it was the right decision to make. So, this time last year, I started off with a SoundCloud. Then I started doing freestyles, and then I started dropping tunes like "Dem Boy Paigon", "Lean & Bop" and here I am today. Influences-wise? I've got so many influences, bruv. One of my biggest influences is Fela Kuti. I like what he's done, and how he's taken a negative and made it positive. Growing up, though, I used to listen to a lot of Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, OutKast, UK garage, grime, bashment, dancehall—alladat! I listen to everything and like to incorporate it into my music and have a pretty diverse sound.
The 15th Day is the title of your debut mixtape and it's a solid listen right the way through. You kept my attention from track one to end, and that doesn't happen very often these days. Talk me through the process of making this project.
I'm based in Stratford, which is the greatest city in the world [laughs]. That's my area. That's where I'm from. I wanted to give the fans and the supporters a proper good package of music, so it just made sense to make a mixtape for them. The engineer I was working with gave me two weeks to do a proper mad mixtape and, literally, after two weeks, it was all done.
Did you expect it to do as well as it has? You've got folks playing it at their weddings now, which is a bit nuts.
That's crazy! Obviously, I want a good reaction and a good outcome but when it goes good, you're still in shock. I'm still in shock now, to be honest. Seeing people play it in Dubai—everywhere—it's just crazy, bro. To go Wireless, Rip The Runway and Notting Hill Carnival and see people going mad to my tunes, it's wicked. I made the mixtape in a small little studio in the ends, so it's mad to see how big it's got. I'm just grateful because I'm never gonna miss an opportunity now. And I'm very thankful to all the supporters. I'm fully gassed [laughs].
Were you gassed when you heard you were nominated for Best Newcomer at this year's MOBOs? Do you think you're in with a good chance of winning?
For me, and I told myself this from January, whatever I do—even if I don't win—I've got to remember that I was nominated for a MOBO Award. Do you know how big that is? Just achieving that goal in and of itself is a big achievement for me. This time last year, I wasn't really no one. Now I'm this J Hus guy getting nominated for awards! It's a big deal, man. So just to be nominated, even if I don't win, I'm still very grateful.
I know it's still quite fresh for you, so feel free to pass on the next question. You were involved in an incident earlier this year that ended up with you being stabbed multiple times. You posted a picture of yourself on Instagram, whilst on the hospital bed, throwing up what the tabloids claimed to be "gang signs." When I saw what they wrote, I was like: "They don't understand the culture one bit!" They were quick to slate you and say you're gang-affiliated without the facts, and failed to list your achievements in the same glowing light. What was going through your mind during that whole period?
I know that not everyone will understand where I'm coming from. They're just looking at it from their own point of view or they're trying to get a story out of it. Obviously, a big thank you to all the fans who supported me and stood by me but the people who wrote the article, they don't understand the culture or they wouldn't have done it to me. I don't really watch them, though, because they don't wanna see us successful. They don't want to see us win. I'm just so thankful for all the fans and supporters who stood by me... That's how I'm feeling about it right now.
Are you still battling with the street life? Even though you just got signed, dropped one of the best mixtapes of the year, and touring with it all over the country?
Me coming up so fast, I haven't really had time to sit and think about it and let it all absorb. OK, I might be J Hus, but in my head I'm just a normal guy. I'm still trying to get used to life. There are things that happen on the roads that you can't control. People are gonna hate, whatever, but you have to learn how to get over that. I'm gonna have to go through worse things than internet slander. I've got way, way worse things to come.
We hope not, though.
[Laughs] We hope not. We hope not. Hopefully, I'll be able to avoid those kind of situations in the future.
So, what's next after "Lean & Bop"? Another mixtape, maybe?
I want to come up with something different. I don't want to be like everyone else. I wanna take those sounds, everything I've heard, and mix it together to get something unique. I'm gonna be dropping another project before December, hopefully. And it will be ten times better than the first. Trust me!