2019 was far from kind to J Hus. The East London rapper lost his freedom, sentenced to jail after being caught in possession of a knife outside Stratford’s Westfield Centre. He also lost his father, the impact of grief leaving a lasting impression on the mental health of an artist who has only just turned 23 years old. At times – put simply – J Hus has not been a well man.
New album ‘Big Conspiracy’ comes as the New Year gets into swing, and it represents a broadening and deepening of J Hus’ artistry, while sacrificing a tiny aspect of the immediacy that turned his Top 10 debut album ‘Common Sense’ into a modern British classic.
Long-time studio cohort JAE5 returns as executive producer, and the cast has expanded, taking in fresh production talent and two stellar guests. Opening with title cut ‘Big Conspiracy’ and ‘Helicopter’, it’s actually a low-key beginning, with J Hus feeling out the ground beneath him – it’s tentative, betraying a certain fragility without lacking confidence.
It’s a record that plays with ‘Common Sense’ tropes – he remains the Fisherman, but rejects his self-oiled label “the ugly one” – while exploring fresh ground. ‘Love Peace & Prosperity’ finds J Hus in the role of provider, looking to those around him to find balance, moving past his new-found fame in search of something deeper.
It’s a recurring theme on the album, rising to a forceful crescendo on the introspective, deeply self-analytical ‘Deeper Than Rap’ which asks: “How do you live when your life’s a facade?”
All of which isn’t to suggest that J Hus has somehow pioneered a ‘conscious’ offshoot of afro-swing. Yes, he moves a little deeper, but ‘Big Conspiracy’ still bangs hard when it needs to – explicitly so on the Burna Boy aided ‘Play Play’ which is little more than a torrent of innuendo, double entendres, and raw filth. Meanwhile KOFFEE continues to her surge to stardom on ‘Repeat’, one of the album’s true high points with the East London artist trading off against the Jamaican riser.
‘Big Conspiracy’ is a record dogged by continual themes – the impact of warfare, both external and internal – but also fraught with contradictions. The palette J Hus draws on has never been more diverse, moving from fluid afrobeats leaning production through to the live guitar and bass which permeate ‘Helicopter’.
An album that moves from red-blooded braggadocio to intense self-doubt, ‘Big Conspiracy’ never fully sits in one place, this ever-evolving puzzle with J Hus at the core. He wears many masks, but it’s often when these slip that ‘Big Conspiracy’ is at its most viral, and revealing.
Recent single ‘No Denying’ seems to encapsulate these fluctuating moods, as he vows “the fisherman needs a bigger fish” before explaining “I'm on the roadside but I'm playing chess…”
Somewhere amid ‘Big Conspiracy’, J Hus throws down his defences to reveal his biggest gambit yet.
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