Afro rap, afro bashment, afro trap, raprobeats – OK, that last one might be a step too far, but whatever you want to call it, J Hus is it. He was tipped by the BBC in its Sound of 2016 list, but had his year scuppered somewhat by having to serve a short prison sentence for historical offences. He’s since expressed frustration at this, but managed to bridge the unplanned gap with a quick burst EP (‘Playing Sports’) and has used the time that bought him to take stock.
It’s arguably paid off: a handful of features and a collab with Drake-tipped south London rapper Dave kept things bubbling, and have served to build anticipation for a debut album that many had been thirsting for already. ‘Common Sense’ is his first long-form release since 2015’s ‘The 15th Day’ mixtape. Since then, he’s quietly risen as the leading figure in what’s arguably the most exciting new musical movement in the UK.
So does the album – coming out via Sony’s Black Butter subsidiary, which has more of a track record for radio-friendly house music singles than it does cutting edge UK MCs – live up to the hype? The short answer is ‘yes.’ The slightly longer answer is ‘yes, but not as you’d expect it to.’
Funnily enough, the record packs something of a slow burn effect. It’s funny because pretty much anything Hus touches at the moment has clocked millions of views on YouTube before you can say “Hussla baby.” From the lounge funk of the titular opener, to ‘Bouf Daddy’s’ gentle pop bump or the mellow, trappy swing of ‘Leave Me Alone’ this will be mostly new territory for Hus fans more used to the riotous likes of ‘Dem Boy Paigon’ or ‘Friendly’ (the latter of which appears at the album’s close).
Indeed, pretty much all of this is brand new material. That seems like a gutsy move in 2017, when most albums are trailed by multiple stream-only singles and videos, but here it figures more as a reminder that there’s still a place for bold new artists in the world.
‘Goodies’ at once harks back to the early handycam freestyles that caught people’s ears, while also pointing to the more refined Hus they hear and revere today. It’s something that previously has bound the success of the big name US rappers Hus today recasts lyrics from (50 Cent on ‘Common Sense’, Cam’ron on ‘Good Luck Chale’). And it’s this ability to balance underground styling with genuine pop chops – and, crucially, to do so on his own terms – that stands him in such uniquely strong stead. ‘Good Time’ is a key example of this, and a track that could easily go stratospheric come summertime.
A careful handful of features live up to the hype that clips leaked over the past few months have generated. Both ‘Mash Up’ (with MoStack) and ‘Fisherman’ (with MoStack & Mist) will make for obvious single choices later in the year.
‘Clartin’ feels perhaps the most forced tune on the album – the equivalent of a radio MC shouting into the mic until their DJ is forced to wheel the tune – but that hasn’t seemed to matter much at his recent live shows, where it’s been among a handful of new tunes performed.
There’s something for pretty much every setting on this album. The production across the board is outstanding – when we spoke with Hus last year, he talked about the chemistry he has with regular studio sparring partner, Jae5, and it’s on show in spades here. And the other thing here in spades? Hooks. So many hooks.
On a recent visit to Radio 1Xtra’s studios, J Hus was put on the spot and challenged to freestyle using nothing but flatpack furniture instructions for inspiration – and he still managed to produce a chorus-worthy hook. Each new verse, bridge or chorus brings its own earworm idiosyncrasies and dialectical ditties. The kind of light touch that’s had kids across the UK crowing about liking their Fanta with “no hice” since ‘Friendly’ first hit the airwaves last year.
It won’t, but in many ways it would be nice to see this album ‘do a Stormzy’. Hus simply doesn’t have the industry cogs behind him in the same way, but there’s no denying his star quality – that indefatigable, indefinable essence that’s as potent as it is elusive. With that said, lead single ‘Did You See’ getting A-listed by Radio 1 is as sure a sign as any that this is just the beginning for this movement and its young figurehead.
This sound now has an album to pin to the mast. It’ll soundtrack this summer, but don’t be fooled into thinking that its time will be up by September. It’s just common sense.
Words: Will Pritchard (@Hedmuk)
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For tickets to the latest J Hus shows click HERE.