An old interview I did with Jehst back in 2007, making it one of the first interviews I ever did. It’s quite good though, the cringing moments are minimal. I thought it was gone for good, but found a random cache of stuff archived online. It was originally on the now defunct site, style43.com I should have a more up to date one with him coming this year, so stay tuned for that. Shouts to YNR.
Nowadays more and more grime emcees are appearing on the bill for hip hop nights. What are your thoughts on this crossover and on the grime scene in general?
It was inevitable really. It’s a transitional time for ‘Rap’ in this country, especially in the Grime scene where a lot of the DJ’s and producers have branched out into making Dubstep and sounds like Niche and Bass coming out of the North. Then, like you’ve said, nuff of the MC’s are spitting on different beats and blurring the line between genres. As long as people are making music from the heart then it’s all positive self-expression.
On the subject of crossovers, are there any other genres you’d like to experiment with, or any artists you’d like to work with, outside of hip hop?
Not really, I just wanna do what I do to the best of my ability. Saying that I’d love to work on some R’n’B/Neo-Soul type of stuff ‘cos I think a lot of the production that heads like me, LG and Harry Love do would work well. Big tunes like Amerie’s “1 Thing” and Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” were both more Hip Hop than a lot of todays rap songs are. What I mean by that is that they were based around breakbeats and loops while bare rap tunes nowadays are just plinky-plonky synths and weak sample-CD drums. UK R’n’B is so pop and I think that’s symptomatic of how Black music is treated by the music industry over here. There’s not much room for making D’Angelo, Bilal, Dwele type of joints that maintain that harder Hip Hop edge. Labels need to take more risks!
You released the Underworld Epics LP last year and on the Mengi Bus mixtape there are a number of remixes you’ve done for various people. Where do you prefer to be, on the boards or on the mic?
I’ve got love for both. Nowadays it feels like the rapping is my extrovert side, and the production is my introvert side. Rapping requires ego and exhibitionism, but producing is about being reclusive and spending time with the music – just taking time out to really listen and learn.
Do you think there’ll be a point in the future where you drop the mic altogether and concentrate fully on production?
Without a doubt. I don’t want to be rapping forever, it’s too limiting. I can push the boundaries a lot more with production because it’s not all about personal experience, it’s purely about sound. There’s emotional content but it’s more abstract and separated from your personal life. Being a rapper in today’s celebrity culture is far removed from the actual art of Hip Hop. As a writer I only want to write as and when I have something I passionately need to express, rhymes are poetry but that’s only one form of expressive writing. I’d like to try writing in a different format – screenplays or short stories or magazine articles. With production, I’m a music geek so I can immerse myself in the music at the drop of a hat. The only barriers when it comes to experimenting with sound are physical rather than psychological, like equipment and studio space.
It’s been 8 years since you dropped your debut, the Premonitions EP. Do you feel you have changed much as an artist since then, in terms of how your sound has progressed?
Of course. I’ve learnt a lot since then and gained a lot of experience. I’ve grown as a person and my music reflects that but I’m still true to the essence of what made me start in the first place – for many young people in the UK, Hip Hop is the only voice they have. As we get older we’ve got to take responsibility for how we contribute to the future of this culture.
And how about from what you’ve learnt about the industry? We always hear about how much of a struggle it is, do you feel you’re in a better position now to “play the game”, or is it still a real battle to get things done your way?
Its always a battle for artists because being creative and making money are always gonna be conflicting requirements. The key to alleviating that conflict is having your business air-tight but you can never totally separate the two if you choose to pursue music as your main income. It’s funny, I remember around the time I was making ‘Falling Down’ Strategy from Broke’N’English said something to me about rappers in the UK talking about ‘the game’ or ‘the rap game’ or whatever, and how ridiculous it was knowing the reality of situation. Since then we’ve had the whole Channel-U generation and artists like Dizzee Rascal topping the charts and now everybody talks about ‘the game’. The truth is that it has become just that – a game. Like the wider industry, it’s a matter of calculated risk, labels put money on artists like dogs at the race track! The beauty of where we were a few years back was that anyone in the UK involved in Hip Hop was in it for the love first, the money second. It’s not like that anymore.
You worked with J-Zone on Staircase to Stage and R.A. the Rugged Man blessed the Mengi Bus project with a verse. Do you have plans for any more transatlantic emcee collaborations?
Well the J-Zone collab was down to Harry Love, he had him staying in his house, and the Rugged Man thing was a feature he did for Stig of The Dump, a track called “Braindead” that I remixed for his 12” single and included on my mixtape. I’ve never actually pursued any American artists to work with and although there are bare dudes out there that I’d like to work with I’m more interested in connecting the dots on the UK side. People view working with American cats as validation but what about the fact that I’ve worked with Task Force, Lewis Parker, Klashnekoff? To be honest that means more to me because I know we’ve helped build something for the kids over here, we’ve come along way and achieved a lot in terms of opening eyes and ears to the talent on our own doorstep. When I step to Americans in the future I want it to be on equal terms where they respect our artists and our scene and want to tap into that as much as we want to tap into there shit.
Are you tempted to follow in the footsteps of Joe Buddha and Lewis Parker, and get more involved with producing stuff for some of the bigger US artists?
Big up to both of them man there ‘cos they’re legendary to me. Obviously I’ve worked closely with Lewis so I was really proud to see him working with Ghostface and pushing his own career forward. Personally I’ve still got a lot more I want to achieve here in the UK first but it’s definitely a possibility for the future.
Staying with America for a minute, do you listen to much hip hop from over there and are there any cats you’re really feeling at the moment?
Standard! I always have and always will listen to American Hip Hop. At the moment I’m feeling the new Redman shit, Guilty Simpson, the new Camp Lo album… bare shit! It’s dope that so many kids in the UK are really loyal to our homegrown stuff but sometimes I think it’s a barrier that there is so little integration within Hip Hop. Now you’ve got Polish Hip Hop crews coming over here and touring and it’s completely separate from everything else that’s going on. HillTop Hoods can play Shepherds Bush Empire and pack it out with Australians – its crazy! The future is about international connections.
Finally, what’s next for Jehst?
The new album ‘The Dragon Of An Ordinary Family’ coming soon!