J Hus: The First Chapter
This article is taken from CLASH issue 107 in print - head here to purchase a copy.
Four years ago Momodou Jallow set himself an ultimatum. If his music wasn’t popping by the end of the year, he wasn’t going to waste any more time.
Jallow had been coming up with lyrics for as long as he could remember, but he’d only recently recorded his first song. ‘Vacation’, a track about needing a break from probation, was recorded over a beat ripped from YouTube during his first session with a rising producer called JAE5. When Jallow listened back to it, he was certain that it was going to blow up. A self-confessed daydreamer, he was ready to be the proud creator of the hottest song in the country. And when that didn’t happen, he felt like a failure.
Today the 21-year-old East Londoner is laid back in the passenger seat of his friend Creeper’s car. Darkness has already engulfed the deserted street, and he’s stealing a rare moment of calm from an otherwise hectic day shooting with Nike for their Air Max 270 campaign. Jallow, now known across the world as J Hus, is far from a failure. With a Gold selling, award-winning debut album ‘Common Sense’ under his belt, and a follow-up on the way, the future of British music without him is unthinkable.
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J Hus’ path into music began in a situation not unlike this one - a conversation one summer night in 2014 with his friend Moe, whom he’s known since nursery school and at the time was studying Business Management at Portsmouth University. “We were literally just sitting in my car talking about our future,” Moe reflects. “He was pretty much doing nothing, so he just asked me, ‘What should I do, man?’” Up until then Hus had only shared his raps in the form of schoolyard cyphers, but his friend had a strong belief in him. “He was just like, ‘You know what? I think you can do it. You can actually take this music thing further,” Hus recalls. “I was like ‘What? Are you going to help me? You might as well be my manager!’”
Having been instilled with self-assurance from a young age, Moe was happy to take up the mantle. “Sometimes you need people around you to push you,” says Moe, “and I think I gave him that motivation to get started.”
Moe and his older brother Kilo - also studying at Portsmouth - would move Hus to their student accommodation to keep him away from the trouble he’d become wrapped up in in London, using their student loan money to fund videos released via online platforms like Link Up TV and BL@CKBOX. Despite having no prior music industry experience, the brothers embarked on the journey with Hus because they wanted to keep him out of trouble. “He’d come out of jail and said, ‘I wanna change my life around, I wanna come off the roads,’” remembers Kilo. “For me it was like, only someone that’s heartless wouldn’t try and help someone that says that. I just helped out.” The pair found their calling in music management, and they now look after JAE5, NSG and Young T & Bugsey (in addition to Hus) under their own blossoming company, 2K Management.
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JAE5 recalls first meeting Hus while he was teaching a music production course. Hus wandered in with a friend, looking to record tracks, and disappeared after his second day there. “He’d sit through the course and at the end of the day we’d let him record,” says JAE5. “But he figured out it wasn’t worth spending the whole day there to get 30 minutes at the end of the day, so he was not on it!” The pair met again after their mutual friends, the DJ collective Young Boss Ent, insisted that the duo should get into the studio together. At first Hus would come through and freestyle over beats he’d found online, but after impressing JAE5 with his curiosity and willingness to experiment, he decided it was time to make an original track together - producing a fresh beat for a song Hus had already recorded called ‘Forget A Hater’, which would land on Hus’ ‘The 15th Day’ mixtape.
Together they created a unique sound that’s recognisable, but never loyal to one particular genre. While Hus cites American rappers like 50 Cent as early influences, his music quickly evolved into a distinct soundtrack inspired by the streets of London. “We’re very much influenced by the Afro sound, and obviously my background is African,” says Hus, whose mother was 25 when she moved to London from Gambia, and introduced him to a lot of African music and classic soul as a child. “My community where I grew up there is a lot of African and Jamaican people, and then I’d say it blends with my London culture as well: the accent, the lingo that we use.”
Similarly, JAE5 enjoys the creative freedom in borrowing from different sounds, rather than sticking to a formula. “Just because he’s a rapper, don’t mean he can’t do a ballad,” he stresses. “I’ll make whatever suits the vibe. We’ve got a lot of influences: ‘Closed Doors’ is R&Bish, ‘Spirit’ is bashment, ‘Common Sense’ is hip-hop, ‘Plottin’ is garage. How do you describe that?”
The ambition and dedication of the young Londoners paid off. Hus credits the team around him for where he is today; thanks to them he can spend every day focused on writing lyrics, confident that his team are each playing their part to keep the machine moving. Moe’s discipline, Kilo’s charisma and JAE5’s musicality have all assisted with his progression, both as an artist and human being, into someone who’s able to impact the world around him. This is never more visible than when Hus tours the country to play sold-out venues. “I’m very aware of the influence [I’m having on other young people],” he admits. “It’s the best feeling in the world just seeing our plans in real life.”
In May last year, Hus embarked on #TheJHusTour, where his biggest venue was 1500 capacity, and by November the smallest venue on his #CommonSenseTour was 1000 capacity. The latter included a career-defining moment, selling out his first ever London headline show at the 5000-capacity Brixton Academy, after being prevented from performing in the capital due to his criminal record. “We had a good track record [with live shows] so we went to the promoters like, ‘This is what we’ve done in the past two years. We’ve had no problems.’ Then they gave us the rules to perform,” explains Kilo. “So we literally just followed all the rules they gave us. I think as well as the album going Gold, that was one of our biggest moments.”
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That’s why I’m not really keen on interviews and all that, because I still feel like I’m on the first chapter...
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Hus admits that he struggles with moments of self-reflection, preferring to stay focused on the path ahead, rather than ruminating over past victories. “That’s why I’m not really keen on interviews and all that, because I still feel like I’m on the first chapter,” he offers. “It doesn’t make sense to review the whole book when you’re still on the first chapter. I want to finish the book.”
The night before our chat, Hus walked the red carpet at The BRIT Awards where he was nominated in three categories - British Album of the Year, British Single and British Breakthrough Act. Although he has racked up accolades including an NME Award for Best Album, a MOBO Award for Best Song (‘Did You See’) and a Mercury Prize nomination, he walked away from London’s O2 Arena empty handed. Twenty-four hours later, the experience seems only to have fuelled his ambition: “I got nominated for three BRITs, which is a brilliant achievement. But I’m still working for more. I didn’t win, so there’s more to achieve. I never really sit down and think about it, I just keep going.”
It’s a refreshing outlook for a young artist in the spotlight, and one that has developed, he admits, over time. “The most difficult thing I’ve had to overcome, if I’m being honest, is that pride as a man,” he admits. “Sometimes you’ve got to put your pride to the side.” A self-described “over-thinker,” Hus has learned to allow his thoughts to play out, rather than trying to fight them off. “That’s how I am as a person,” he says. “I always try and keep an open mind. So I’m not always thinking one way, I try to think of all the perspectives.”
Unsurprisingly he doesn’t want to give away too much about the follow-up to ‘Common Sense’ just yet either, but he says that he has been working on it since the day he turned his debut into his label, Black Butter. There’s “a strong five” tracks currently in the bag according to Hus, but JAE5 disagrees: “I think we’ve got seven or eight songs, and he will say we have five. Next week he’ll say we’ve got two because he will listen to a song so much that he gets bored of it when nobody in the world has heard it!”
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To prevent this, the pair tend to lock in for long studio sessions when it’s album time, something they’re currently in the process of doing. “Hus can’t do a nine-to-five and go home, you have to sleep at the studio,” says JAE5. “He might come up with his biggest song at five in the morning. You have to be there or you’ll miss it.”
Hus has already formed a direction for the record, which he believes will be both surprising and satisfying for fans of his existing material. “It’s different from ‘Common Sense’ but it’s definitely building on that as well,” he says. “It’s gonna be more me, I guess. [I just want to] take it to the next level.”
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I want to set the best example for someone who came from where I come from. I want to set the blueprint.
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JAE5 echoes his optimism: “It’s going to be epic. Sometimes before there were things I wouldn’t ask for because I didn’t feel we were there yet. I want to do tunes where we have a whole orchestra, but my way, so it still sounds like me and Hus. But I felt like if I went and asked for that before they’d probably look at me like, ‘Shut up!’ I know on this album there’s nothing we can’t do.”
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J Hus and his team have proven to be brilliant strategists, but planning can only get you so far along the path to stardom. Hus has faith in his process, and while he says he still doesn’t quite know what his definition of success is, he feels like he’s headed towards it. “I’m just going to keep going in this direction, because it’s working,” he finishes. “I want to set the best example for someone who came from where I come from. I want to set the blueprint. Really and truly there is no barrier: I can take it as far as I want, as long as I keep going. So I’m going to keep going and keep achieving. Keep kicking down doors.”
Words: Grant Brydon
Photography: David Uzochukwu
Styling: Matthew Josephs
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers
J Hus wears Nike Air Max 270 throughout
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