UK Hip Hop News – Jehst Interviewed by The Guardian
Legendary UK hip hop mc Jehst recently dropped his highly anticipated album ‘The Dragon Of An Ordinary Family’ which received a glowing review from ourselves. On the back of this release UK newspaper The Guardian decided to interview the UK rap mc.
“The cafe is called E Pellici. It’s a proper East End gaff, tucked away on Bethnal Green Road. The lunchtime crowd on this sunny Wednesday is made up of builders, tradesmen and one very hungry rapper.
Jehst knows the waitress bringing him his cannelloni (with a side order of chips), and he exchanges jokey greetings with the owner. It’s easy to see why he likes E Pellici: it seems to have been around for ever. There was probably a time when this noisy cafe didn’t exist, but nobody remembers it.
The 31-year-old Jehst (born Will Shields) is startlingly similar to how he sounds on record: whimsical, laidback, almost absurdly talkative, perhaps ever so slightly stoned. But under the cheerful exterior, there’s a core of tempered steel. He’s the head of YNR, a decade-old independent label that has outlasted almost all its competitors and put out some genuine classics. Last month he released his first solo album in six years, entitled The Dragon of an Ordinary Family – perhaps one of the most anticipated UK rap albums of the year.
Right now, he’s talking about Starting Over – literally. The album’s lead single, which came with a brilliantly conceived video that imagined Jehst as a postman, grew out of a throwaway rhyme. “The track was a bit of drunken catharsis,” he says. “It was something that I’d written very quickly, completely scattered about, and I was in the studio flicking through stuff, and really felt the need to record it. I thought the pattern of the rhyme was really simple, which is why I’d completely neglected it.” He chews thoughtfully on some pasta. “[But then] I thought, ‘There’s something here, let me not be completely techy and geeky about it.’ I did it in one take, recorded it myself, and thought: ‘I kinda like that.’”
He talks about his frustration at having to deal with people recording in different locations to make a single song, and having to send verses and beats via email: “Nowadays, 36 Chambers would have been done with the Wu-Tang Clan emailing verses to each other.”
So was Dragon made with everybody in one room, then?
“I tried, I tried. And I wasn’t able to do that, but I tried to. And I won’t make another record in that way, because I’ve come to a conclusion over the last few years that it’s not [worth doing]. You should be making music, not chasing people over email. I’d rather go to a studio with someone who will make sure it’s a finished product.”
The Dragon is an absurdly well-made album, with iridium-dense production under Jehst’s laidback drawl. His confident, straightforward style has never given in to histrionics, and he is light years away from the antics of Odd Future or the crossover success of Dizzee Rascal. His Twitter account has no posts, he’s barely on Facebook, and even the viral video for Starting Over is unusual for him. This is an analogue guy in a very digital world. That he’s got UK rap so excited shows his pulling power – and just how much is riding on his record.
Since his superb 2005 album Nuke Proof Suit, UK hip-hop has gone in various directions. It certainly hasn’t stagnated, but there’s definitely been something missing – a hole in the fabric that no one knew how to stitch. When a man with Jehst’s track record returns, there’s always an impact. Hence the rumbling from fans: can Jehst bring it back to what it once was?
“Um,” he says. And after a long pause: “I think the proof is in the pudding. It’s very early. Let’s hope that all the people who say that they actually support the record come to the shows and continue to support the music. I think it’s easy for fans to say an artist can ‘save’ hip-hop, but it’s on the fans to do it.”
The Dragon of an Ordinary Family is out now on YNR.”