“I’m everything you’ve heard before, and nothing you’ve ever heard before…”
In 2016, he helped Popcaan’s Mixpak stage win Red Bull Culture Clash. At Christmas, he joined Skepta and Burna Boy to perform in Lagos, Nigeria. Over the last year, Hus has hooked up high-profile collaborations with peers such as Dave, Nines and Mostack as well as a guest spot on Stormzy’s number one album Gang Signs & Prayers. With the release of his debut effort ‘Common Sense’ from Black Butter, a top 20 single for ‘Did You See’ and a US deal from Epic Records, J Hus is just getting started.
Known for his brilliant blend of African instrumentation and dancehall melodies teamed with rough and rugged raps and sweet singsong choruses, Hus’s influences are more innate than learned; he just made music based upon the sounds that surrounded his childhood. Born into a Gambian family in Stratford, east London, Hus’ ears were filled with everything from Fela Kuti and Youssou N’Dour, to Wiley and Jay Z. “I’m a product of my environment,” he says. “There are influences everywhere if you listen for them.” Now ready to release his debut album, Common Sense, on Black Butter, Hus has been mindful to broaden his influences even further beyond Africa, Jamaica and east London. Boasting an ebullient blend of Dancehall, Afrobeat, Grime, Rap, Garage and R&B, Common Sense is a musical revelation, an emotional rollercoaster ride into the inner musings of an inner-city musician. As well as his signature sound – some say UK Afrobeats, others AfroGrime – there are nods to others influences too; Mike Skinner’s Original Pirate Material and classic Jamaican gangsta film, Shottas. A visit to Dublin. His Gambian upbringing. Part of the album features live instrumentation while it’s littered with Hus’s own brand of slang, from ‘Bouff’ to ‘bonsam’.
Keeping the guests to a minimum, Hus teamed up with MoStack and Birmingham rapper MIST, singer Tiggs Da Author and Nigerian superstar Burna Boy. Production over the entire album comes from Hus and long-term collaborator JAE5, with additional production on select tracks by Tiggs, Show & Prove, The Compozers, Mark Crown, TSB and iO.
A deftly delivered, thoughtfully considered collection of songs, the album is streaked with an irrepressible sense of humour while also underscoring a more serious side to Hus. There are reflections on past illegal endeavors to be found within Hus’ oeuvre, but they’re deceptively delivered; the soundtrack is so joyous that the suggestion of darkness, conveyed mostly through Hus’ persuasive flow, is a mere shadow lurking behind the upbeat beats. It makes Hus a dichotomous proposition, but also an infinitely interesting one.
Lead single Did You See has already clocked upwards of 12m views on Youtube thanks to the ridiculously popular, meme-worthy refrain, ‘Did you see what I done? I came in the black Benz, left in the white one’. Boasting African inflections and Jamaican patterns, the melody-heavy bounce picks up where 15th Day left off. Bouff Daddy is a similarly straight-up Afrobeats banger, as Hus leans and bops over JAE5’s playful beat. “In my area, bouff means money, so whenever I go back to my area, everyone’s like ‘the bouff man, the bouff Daddy’,” explains Hus of the title. “A lot of the words I use, people might not know what they mean, so you have to listen to the music to catch on, to work it out. To me, it’s normal, it’s just how we’ve always spoken in east London.”
Delving further into the album, Hus reveals other sides, sonically. The album’s opener and title track, Common Sense, co-produced with The Compozers and Mark Crown of Rudimental features live drums as a self-assured Hus starts as he means to go on. “I wanted to start the album very confidently, 100%. People often think of me as a singer, and I wanted to reaffirm myself as a rapper. I’ve got bars!” As for the title of the album and Hus’s answer is similarly self-assured. “It’s common sense to listen to J Hus,” he laughs, “Why would you listen to anything else?” The love-soaked Closed Doors features sax and piano. “I could be talking the most mad crud, but when you have live instruments it just makes me more emotional. I don’t know why, it’s mad,” Hus points out. “I feel more spiritual; I really feel the music.” The track ruminates on Hus’s prowess with women – I’m a bad-man lipser, he brags.
Clartin’ is the album’s angry moment as Hus takes on the haters; Leave Me is the smoking track. Plottin’ takes the tempo all the way up as JAE5 delivers a shimmery summer anthem that harks back to the late nineties. “I wanted that UKG sound. At that moment in time I was thinking about the Streets. I was really into him, very influenced by him, so I wanted something that sounded like Original Pirate Material. I liked that he didn’t really care - the way he rapped was like he was just speaking to the listener. I saw that as so sick.” The mischievous Like Your Style was inspired by a trip to Ireland and features Hus’s attempt at the Dublin brogue – ‘What’s the craic, what’s the storehh’. “It’s very cheeky, that one, but you know the girls in Ireland are crazy, man. There’s something about that place that gave me so much inspiration, even though I’ve only been once.” An album highlight sees Hus team up with Burna Boy on the upbeat Good Time. The pair met first in Nigeria, before teaming up at a London studio when Burna was in town. “Burna Boy is a wavy, wavy, wavy artist from Nigeria, he’s very big out there,” Hus explains. “He’s a cool brudda. I’ve been a fan of him for a very long time. And he’s very cool when I’ve met him. He’s a proper guy.”
On Spirit, Hus digs deeper into himself to discuss his past life when he took the path less righteous. ‘They can take away my freedom, they can’t take my spirit,’ he sings of his time spent in prison back in 2015. “When I was inside, I used to listen to a lot of radio. I thought if I could make a tune that would go on radio that could then be heard in prison, then I could almost talk to myself, myself in prison. I wanted a song that could really resonate with people in that situation. So if any of my tunes get played on radio, it’s great, but if that one gets played on radio then I’m going to be so happy. I made this one to try to keep everyone’s head up. It’s a purely positive message.”
Born Momodou Jallow and brought up in Stratford, East London by his single parent mother, Hus first started rapping in Primary School after hearing 50 Cent. “I was shy – I still can be – but it’s weird, when I rap my shyness disappears.” He continued to write rhymes throughout Senior School, inspired by the likes of Skepta and, later on, South London rappers Krept & Konan, eventually taking in everyone from Andre 3000 to Yousson N’Dour, Nollywood soundtracks and Fela Kuti. But while his musical talents were obvious, towards the end of school he found himself in increasing amounts of trouble. Throughout his mid-teens, Hus had to learn the hard way; after a prison sentence a year ago, Hus finally straightened his life out. “Prison; I learnt I don’t want to go back there again. I learned how much I love music and how much I love doing music. Before that experience, I had a negative mindset,” he admits. “Through meeting other people inside, it helped me to understand that I needed to have a much better, more positive mindset. I spent my whole time in there planning. I knew when I came out I wanted to make music that meant something, that lifted the spirit.” Over the last year, Hus has focused solely on music, and it’s paid off. Hugely. “I could see, almost immediately, that music was helping me to figure out who I am. I used to think I was useless, just a road guy. But music has shown me I have potential, that I can do something with my life, that I have a talent. Who I was before, that’s not me. I’m fun, I’m happy, I’m creative. That’s who I want to be.”
An ambitious and impatient young man, Hus – the J after his surname, the Hus short for Hustler - is also a strategist, a planner, a chess player in many ways. “I go for walks a lot,” he says of his approach to formulating ideas for music. “I like anywhere green; it allows me to clear my mind and consider what I want to do next.” Clearly incredibly clued up, he doesn’t just head to the studio to see what comes out; his creativity is much more considered. “I looked at what people were doing and what was successful and added my own spice to it. I put lots of ideas into the pot and what comes out is my own creation. Now, you have lots of people making similar music – we’ve created a movement. But for me, rather than trying to be like someone, or pretending to be someone else, you have to be yourself. No one can be a better J Hus than J Hus.”