J Rick is living proof that style in no way means a sacrifice of substance.
One of London’s most exciting producers, he first rose to prominence as part of Essie Gang along with other crew members like Octavian. But last year Rick released his first solo mixtape, ‘No Retreat, No Surrender’, an innovative collection of dynamic, fluid instrumentals, flitting between drill, RnB, dancehall, dubstep, house and trap. As well as being sonically significant, the project was deeply personal too, taking its name and concept and even audio samples, in the form of interview clips – from his late uncle, the boxer Errol Christie. A legend in British boxing, Christie grew up facing the rampant racism of British society in the ‘70s, but went on to become a champion – powered by his life’s motto: “no retreat, no surrender”. It’s something J Rick not only distilled into his mixtape, but carries within him as an artist.
We caught up with J Rick following his live DJ set for Napapijri’s event during London Fashion Week, at its Carnaby Street store in London.
J Rick said developing his solo career didn’t necessarily feel separate from his work with Octavian and the rest of Essie Gang - more like an extension of it. “ I was working on that mixtape for a while before everyone really knew about it, for nearly a year before it came out,” he explained. “It feels kind of natural, everyone in the group knew i was working on a mixtape so it was just pretty chill, like a natural progression.”
Rick’s also looking ahead to a big show at London’s Corsica Studios on 19th March: “It’ll be a different sort of set up, we’ll switch up the songs and that, do a little live performance - not a full band but whatever hard-wear I'm using, and I’m going to have proper musicians.” There are appearances from people like Octavian planned too.
It makes sense that he’d want to create a proper performance for this, as the tracks he’ll be performing are so close to his heart. Finding the clips of Interviews with his uncle – who who died in June 2017 – talking with people like ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser (a notorious gangland enforcer and amateur boxer) that intersperse the mixtape meant digging deep into family history. "For images i had to hit up this newspaper in Coventry,” Rick said.
“But the interviews are just all online still, on You Tube, with my uncle and Frankie, talking about Mike Tyson and that, even Chris Eubank’s ting - it's all out there. It was nice to immortalise him [Errol] - we had a good relationship, he spoke a lot about his life anyway so when he passed away it seemed to make sense to do it like that. My family - they rate it. It’s nice for them to see stuff about him online and in the news, immortalising him more than he already was.”
Now that deeply personal narrative-driven project is out in the world, J Rick’s looking to the next creative focus: new music, with a new force powering it. “That’s what I’m working on now. Iit’s a bit weird as the first one was focussed on something bare specific, and now I'm working on music that’s not as led by one solo entity - you've got to make the story yourself, find inspiration, live your life. The creative process, someone once said it’s like swings and roundabouts innit, just back and forth.”
With the previous mixtape folding in such a collage of sounds – drill, RnB, dubstep, dancehall, house – but all pinned together with a concept [his uncle’s story] it begs the question what new sonic direction a future project could go down. “I might shake up the approach,” he said. "Now i'm more mindful - so before I was mixing all the different stuff all together, now I'm thinking more about doing a group of music around this energy, then another group of music around a different energy. There’s just a lot more decision-making when it's not so led by one thing."
Speaking at the LFW event, J Rick also emphasised how he finds common ground between the creativity the powers music and the creativity that powers fashion. "Fashion and music has always had link-ups," he said, talking about figures like Virgil Abloh and his Napapijri collaboration, or how he himself created a soundscape for the Nike Air Force 1 Gor-Tex collab launch last winter. An avid skater, Rick also draws style influence from skating – the streetwear shapes that look great while allowing for movement that’s a vital outket for him when it comes to creative state of mind. "The skating ting and the fashion ting is linked up. Skaters want to look sick, and it's a whole lifestyle and culture,” he said.
“Going back to inspirations, skating's like a break for me. When you're skating you don’t have time to think about anything else. It’s like these two different sides - if you're in the studio or working from home for too long you get super restless, so its good to expel all your energy through skating. The more the music takes off the less time I have, I need to plan it - so I'll skate to the studio every day."
The new Napapijri Tribe Streetwear collection feeds into this urban style landscape, in classic street style cut and sew garments such as t-shirts, hoodies, and sweatshirts, in colourways mirroring summer sunsets in the city.
The SS20 collection also features Infinity – the brand’s first circular 100% recyclable jacket, linking design with sustainability and innovation. This is important to J Rick: "I feel like a lot of fashion, especially high fashion, how clothes are made is sort of an aside for lots of people, they don't want to think about it - they want to ficus on the design, how it looks." He also spoke about the issue of those in the public eye or social media not wanting to be pictured wearing the same pieces or outfit more than a few times, and how developments like the Infinity piece can help tackle fashion’s eco impact.
Ultimately J Rick sees music and fashion as interlinked, both as forms of creativity: "It's about expression. There's no right or wrong. And any fashion show you go to, they're walking to music. Artists are the soundtrack to fashion."
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