G: State your name and where you’re from.
J: My name is Jehst, I’m from Planet Earth, and I rap, produce, and generally fly the flag for hip hop culture.
G: Tell us about the new album ‘Dragon Of An Ordinary Family’, your 3rd album. How long did it take to put together?
J: This album has kinda been forever in the making, it’s been a very very long drawn out process, frustratingly. I never really had a period of time that was just set aside to work on it, so it has just been bits of work here and there, other projects, other responsibilities, gigs, you know? Everything else that gets in the way of solidifying an album, so I have kind of been working on it for the last five or so years, but it’s not like it took five years to make if you know what I mean. It’s been a long time coming, I didn’t want to put anything out until the time was right and I was ready to do it, because you just get dragged along once you put a record out and you’re promoting it, you’re doing interviews, you’re doing radio, you’re doing shows to promote it, and it’s not just about finishing the record and saying ‘here it is’. Knowing from experience that there is so much more to it, I wanted to know that all the people on board were going to do what they need to do. And just to be able to trust that things will run as close to the plan as possible. You’re never gonna manage to get everything sorted, but when you’re doing it independently and you’re limited to your own manpower or budget or whatever, it’s one thing to attempt to pull it off and do your best, but it’s a completely different thing when people are just telling you ‘yeah I will do this’ and ‘I have got hat covered’, then if they drop the ball it can really get long.
I have spent a long time over the years chasing up money from previous records and sorting out what happened with this and what happened with that, you know tying up loose ends on things that went tits up so, I didn’t want to get in that situation again and spend a long time sorting stuff that could go wrong on the next record! I just wanted to get all that straight. I’m happy with all of that now, its on YNR which is my label, and the distributors that are on board we have worked with a for a couple years so we have a strong relationship there. There is no one really who can fuck it up on my behalf, It’s more work for me but I don’t have to worry about basic things, I have had all kinds of things happen, where a record has come out and the people doing the promo haven’t even had the promo cds to post out and they have been doing the PR campaign for the last 8 weeks and the cd is coming out and I’m like wait a minute have you not even heard the cd? Do you not have copies? People not doing basic fundamental things that you think would be covered.
G: So third time round it is all on your terms.
J: I think so man, and now im eager to see how it fairs and just get on with the next one, no long wait between this and the next record.
G: So for people that don’t know YNR is your record label?
J: Yep that’s mine. It’s been like a collective thing over the years and now it’s just pretty much me left, in terms of people that were involved in it and were running it. Now I have people on board helping to run it so it’s all coming together, it’s been a labour of love, you keep chipping away, and if like we said earlier, people fall by the wayside, it’s no great loss; if they weren’t committed to the vision in the first place then they’re just getting in the way anyway. So that’s what feels good now you know, there is no dead weight; I am just getting on with it.
G: So what was your mission with this album, did you try and concentrate on the writing more than the production?
J: Yeah kind of. I have done production on the album but I did want to focus on the writing and try and deliver something for the existing fan base, but there was no specific agenda. I am doing a lot of production for other people and working on other things, even if I’m not producing I’m executive producing stuff for the label, and just overseeing whole projects, so when it came to my stuff, it felt like the right thing to do at the time was to take the pressure off me a little bit and collaborate with different producers. It allowed me to sit in the artist’s chair, when the rest of the week im sitting in the producer chair with next artists, or sitting there in the label capacity. So I tried to work with other producers to keep it fun, but then inevitably that just turns into chasing people so, it doesn’t always stay fun!
G: So how did the title come about?
J: The title came about years ago, it’s taken from a kids book, I remember latching onto the idea and Asaviour saying “you should call the next album that”, so it kind of stuck, and I thought there is something to this, it’s kind of provocative, makes you question what I’m getting at. I feel the title creates the context of the material, sometimes you need a working title to just give you something to graft towards.
G: England for me is the stand out track of the album, can you tell us about the writing process for it?
J: Yeah that just wrote itself. I had the beat already; I had some beats from Beat Butcha and I was just playing them, listening to em in my headphones, I remember I had a show somewhere, I was living in South London at the time and I was coming into London Bridge and I had started writing the first few bars, it just came into my head, I was listening to the beat and then I just carried on writing from that. I remember just writing over the course of the journey, you know just one long, long drawn out bar….bar ? That don’t really make sense! That’s what people say nowadays but actually let’s correct that; a bar is 4 beats, 4 beats to the bar! So to refer to a verse as a bar, it was just a drawn out verse, it just sort of wrote itself and then I don’t know if I even looked back at it or went through it. I just remember a week later saying to Butcha I have wrote to this beat and he forced me to demo it very quickly, just on a ridiculously busted set up and the mic sounded fucked, everything sounded fucked! Me and Butcha were living in the same place at the time and the demo vocal actually ended up being the vocal that we used for the album. When we tried to re- record it, it just sounded flat, it didn’t have that urgency, it nearly didn’t make it on to the album! I mean from a technical point of view everyone was sitting there, me, Chemo and anyone with an engineering head, just thinking, I don’t know what people are gonna think of it. You have your rules set in your mind of what you think is technically correct, and what is allowed to make it through the quality control process, and it was like, I don’t know if we can really put this vocal on the album, but then I started to realize that the vocal recording made the tune, it just makes it. The content of the lyrics are uncomfortable and abrasive, so it makes sense that the sound of the audio is hard to listen to and dirty and noisy and crackly, and eventually I realized that. It was like this is a happy accident, it needs to sound like that, the track wouldn’t work if it didn’t sound like that, I’m happy that the tune made it on, with the reaction that it gets, I’m glad that it stayed on the album because it very nearly didn’t make it. By the time I actually put the album together the process had been so long I had a lot of shit to work with, so I’m glad that one didn’t get axed!
G: How did you come up with the postman viral video for Starting Over?
J: It was a combination, I had the idea of a viral to get people talking, to do something that wasn’t just a standard music video to promote the album, standard marketing I don’t think is effective anymore, we are constantly bombarded with adverts and sales pitch’s all the time, and I didn’t want to put the album out in that way. I thought it would be good to come up with a viral concept and it developed on its own accord. I had the idea, and there was a guy called Adam Bernet who at the time was a student filmmaker and director. I was chatting to him a lot about the idea and then eventually Ian Pons Jewell, who actually did the viral and made the video, refined the concept and came up with the postman idea. We needed a job where someone could be spying on you; if you’re working behind a counter in the butchers or whatever it’s gonna be weird if some dude is coming in to get his meat and then getting his iPhone out and trying to film you, it’s gonna look bait and not convincing, the postman thing was a good way to do it, because it looks convincing. If you thought someone you recognize was delivering your post it would be easy to film them through the blinds or on the sly, it has been well received and definitely did what it needed to do. It got people talking, provoked an emotional response, people weren’t just like ‘oh I’m gonna buy the album’ or ‘I’m not gonna buy the album’, ‘do you think it will be any good’, ‘it will be dope’ ‘it will be shit’. There wasn’t really any of that; it was like, ‘oh shit!’ ‘oh no!’, whether people were saying ‘yeah yeah fuck him’, or other people saying ‘ah no that’s not right’, it made people look at the reality of it all. People get brainwashed from video’s seeing everyone flossing and getting awards and T4 On The Beach and all of that, and that’s apparently what UK rap is now, and that’s only 5 dudes!! What about everyone else? What about the last 20 odd years of artists!!
G: I read in a previous interview that you wanted to make the album for your fans, and for people that have supported you throughout the years in underground music. How important do you think it is that you cater for your exisisting fans and do you consciously work on something that you think they will like?
J: I think there are 2 sides to this; if you already have a fan base and you think to yourself, well actually, maybe I would have a bigger fan base if I do this sound or work with these people, if you make a commercial move purely based on the idea that you will make more money out of switching your shit up, my counter argument to that is well, you’re also running the risk of completely alienating your existing fan base. Okay cool, so you have been doing some hardcore rap street records and now you want to do some RnB ballads, that’s cool, if your shit gets playlisted and you have the right video and the right people behind it and you have some international smash hit single then wicked! You’re gonna be much better off for it, you’re gonna be making a lot more money than you’re making doing some rago raw street hip hop shit! But, if it doesn’t work, you’re just alienating your fan base! And I have seen artists do that just based on the subject matter of a single, I have seen fans just switch off, ‘I’m not felling that’ ‘why is he talking about this?’ and I’m like nah listen to the whole thing it’s still good, and they’re like ‘nah I’m not on that sound’ or vibe or subject matter. But the flip side is if you keep doing what you’re fans want to hear and you’re not feeling it anymore and you want to go in a different direction musically then shit, you have to have the freedom to do what you want and hope that you’re fans will come with you, because their interested to see how you develop and change and if the intention behind the music is still pure and you’re being true to yourself, then in theory that’s probably what you were already doing. Which is why people came to it and related to it, so if it gets to that point where you’re churning out the same old shit because that’s what people like, then you’re not being true to yourself as an artist, and what you want to put out and what you want to express on a record. So there are two sides to that coin in that way, you know what I mean?
G: Let’s skip back a few years to the end of the Low Life era, can you briefly tell us what happened with it all? From a fans point it seemed all good one minute, then shut down the next!
J: It wasn’t that simple; different people had different issues over time, when it was all good for me and Mystro and Task Force and Skinny, there was already Lewis Parker and Super T, Dolo and all the guys involved in the 98’ Series records, and the Easter Island Record. They were all like ‘nah fuck Low Life, we’re gonna do our own thing’. I guess in some respects that should have been a warning to everyone that shit might not be as it seems. But shit was cool, there was creative freedom, the records were selling, there was nothing to really beef about. For me it was an opportunity and I felt more comfortable putting my stuff out with LowLife than I did going to sign with anyone else. Between ‘Return Of The Drifter’ and ‘Falling Down’ I had opportunities, but I felt like nah, you know doing this independent route has got me this far so why switch it up? And then there was a slow breakdown of things in general man. I mean it’s not just down to Low Life, the bottom line of the Low Life story is at the end of the day, for those that don’t know, Braintax ran Low Life, and by the end of it he basically screwed a lot of people out of a lot of money and didn’t even have the common courtesy to tell people that he was shutting operations down. It was always a situation where you could turn up at the office, you know if you weren’t getting royalty statements or you weren’t getting money through, you could just turn up and be like ‘can I see some statements I think im owed some money’. It was all good, but then it got to a point of, oh, there is no one in the office anymore, it’s just a big empty office. I had a little bit more insight into what was going on because I am more involved in the business side of things, because of YNR and my manager at the time, Boombox Distribution, you know, not major industry stuff but within our Hip Hop cottage industry that was developing, I was involved and I wasn’t just making music, I had a bit of an insight into what was going on. But most of the artists, in fact all of them apart from one or two, were not even informed on what was going on. Which I think is sad, but you know the general decline of that movement was to do with so many things man. I think a lot of people got greedy and it became oversaturated with sub standard music basically. I think too many people looked at what Low Life and other labels where doing at the time, you know there was power in being independent at that time, Kemet were doing amazing things with Klashnekoff, and Champions Of Nature were doing that whole thing independently. Dented Records was emerging, there was a lot to be said for keeping it independent, but I think it just meant that every Tom, Dick and Harry thought ‘I can put a 12’’ out’ or ‘I can put an album out and sell as many copies as this artist or that artist’ and once that started happening, shit just got saturated with weak shit you know? I got bored. I wanted to hear a new Task Force record or a new Kashmere record or Lewis Parker or someone that I’m really into, and then I’m looking at what the distributors are doing and they are trying to sell some next shit that there isn’t really a fan base for. They were just assuming that you can sell this to my fans or Klash’s fans or Lewis’s fans and that’s bullshit! You think because it sounds a bit like that, and they look a bit like that, that it can be categorized in this way and that it can sell. But no, have these people done the time? Have they gone out and gigged? Have they established themselves? No they haven’t. And when that started to happen then it turned into ‘oh this shit doesn’t make any money’! And it’s like nah! People that are selling records and that have got fans and do gigs, are making money, and have been making money! Everyone saying ‘oh nah this is dead, this is over’ is because like we said earlier, bob from down the street you know, he’s the new shit, well why? says who? Because someone threw some money. You started to get the thing where people would come in and start to throw money at shit but not do the job right, so you know, that fucks shit up because something could be high profile, but it’s not delivered right so then they don’t get the right results and people say ‘ah, nah that artists was meant to blow but he didn’t so forget about that whole movement, forget about all those artists’, but the reason that shit didn’t blow is not just the fault of the artists, it’s everyone involved in the process, it’s one of those things, when money comes into it ,the music goes out the window! Even good artists start making shit music then it doesn’t fulfill the expectations that people had of those artists, so then everyone just gets all down on it and all negative, and it’s like nah man, you just have to have a machine that works so that the artist can have fresh ideas and can do their thing. So once it turned into all that, and no ones making any money, which is all bullshit, it made everyone start to act like that and it became a situation where there was no unity. People fighting over money, getting suspicious of each other because if this guy ripped me of then maybe that guy could rip me off! A lot of talented artist’s minds just got poisoned, and then you have people thinking ‘I have to make Grime records now because this is what’s big’ and a lot of people got fuckd off with the media saying that Grime is the proper UK Hip Hop, so then you had artists that are from some real hard backgrounds like ‘wait a minute, maybe I should be this Grime dude?’ But at that point people are just being what the media is telling them they are. This is the problem man, money, media attention and all of that shit. We complain when we’re not getting it, but then when we get it, it does actually fuck shit up! So you know be careful what you wish for man because you might get it!
G: I heard a rumor that no one ever got paid?
J: No that’s not true, people got paid, people did get money over a certain period of time, but it’s not so much people weren’t getting paid at the time, but once the operations just ceased to exist without anyone being really told, there was no wrapping up of the books and also Low Life continued to sell everyone’s music digitally. Literally, some people’s music is still being sold digitally through Low Life! I have shut all my shit down now but that’s taken me five years to shut it down, and I had to go through my distributor, get them to deal with iTunes, get lawyers, all this bullshit. So it’s basically more a matter of shit not being above board shall we say. I would be lying to say that it’s not like no one ever saw a single penny of royalties, but you know, its not legit, when you’re still selling peoples music yet you have deliberately created a situation where no one has any idea how they can get in contact with you or where you are, that’s criminal. Especially when you’re doing that to people that at one time you would have called friends. That is just straight snake shit, but you know that is the reality of it man, it’s like you want to keep selling man’s music for 5-6 years when you’re hiding on the other side of the world! That’s just plain wrong man, in anyone’s book that is wrong.
G: That’s what I heard, that he moved somewhere and was building something with the money?
J: Yeah it’s all deep, but it goes back yet again to that whole myth of ‘oh that shit don’t make any money’. No, that shit made enough money for this guy to run off to the other side of the world, open holiday resorts and do his own thing. I’m saying that in a good way, like actually you know that’s how I try and look at it instead of being mad!
G: For that to have happened, that whole time the scene was not as dead as we all thought then!
J: That’s what im saying. I try and look at it like that. I have spent a lot of time mad about ‘where’s my money’, but then I was like actually, it’s nice to know we made enough money for someone to rip us off, and run off to a sun drenched fucking beach somewhere!
G: When Low Life was in its heyday, that was like the best place for talented up and coming artists to go to, or to try and get signed by, and then when that disappeared it was like another huge blow to the movement that was being built at the time.
J: It’s true, artists like Parky and Dubbledge who were with Low Life towards the end of the label functioning, it’s sad to say, I feel like it wasn’t the best move for Parky to do at the time, with Working Class Dad, not the best thing for Dubbledge to do with The Richest Man In Babylon, but I guess they were still a bit in awe of the status of the label. I think sadly they could have put those albums out through very different channels and would have been better off for it. But then the flip side is, good shit came out of it, Parky had the video for So What on daytime TV in Australia, and I think a big part of that was the weight of the Low Life brand. I give full credit for everything that was positive that came out of that label, and even business wise I give credit for the fact that we had that opportunity to make money when we did, and that he had that belief in the records. It’s just sad that all the negatives undermined all the positives, and all the negatives didn’t really need to go down like that. Everybody could have been cool and could have still done nicely out of it, it’s a shame, but fuck it!
G: So you own all your music now?!
J: Yep, all my back catalogue is on YNR, it’s all available digitally through iTunes and all that shit, but just make sure if you’re buying it from a digital retailer that it has a YNR catalogue number because if it has a Low Life catalogue number you can guarantee I will be not seeing a penny of that! So, it feels like a bit of a nail in the coffin to do a ‘best of’, but we might do a CD compilation that has the tunes that I’m known for on it, but basically I have just re issued everything digitally.
G: What’s next on the cards for YNR?
J: I have an album that I’ve produced for Kashmere called ‘Kingdom Of Fear’, which should have come out a while ago, but I was like, I can’t keep putting off my own album, I was like I’m ready to do my album, then it was like wait, I have to do the new parky album or the new Jyager debut, or whatever it was, so sadly the Kashmere thing got pushed back. But it worked out alright because he had the Galaktus thing on Boot Records, we were talking about it and we thought put Galaktus out first, it was gonna be the other way round but you know. We just put out the Telemachus 7’’, Scarecrows featuring Roc Marciano, and there is a full album from Telemachus called ‘In The Evening’ which is already done and wrapped up, just want to make sure we put out a few singles and create some awareness of him as an artist, the album is amazing and it’s quite crossover, but not in a pop way, a lot of it is instrumental and it’s like get home from the club and strap a zoot and throw some music on. It’s called ‘In The Evening’ but to me it’s more like 6 in the morning, like some proper atmospheric shit! So I want to make sure that reaches the potential audiences that it should, but we will probably put another single out which I’m on, so that will bridge the gap from my album you know. There’re things in the pipeline, Parky is in the studio, Jyager is in the studio, there’s always something happening.
G: Any last words/shouts?
J: Shout out to Apollo, shout to Parky, Shout out to Rodney Dangerfield, shout to Basil Rathbone, who’s the kid from transformers? Shia Labeouf. Shout to David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst, and if you’re lucky enough not to have a job right now they are re-running all the classic Only Fool’s And Horses at 2 in the afternoon, but I have noticed they have edited shit that is not politically correct now! Just shout out to Peckham in general! Shout to Bambooman! We just saw him in Brick Lane!
G: Anyone else? I wished I hadn’t asked now.
J: There must be one more, shout out to Paul White; he’s got a new album out “Rapping With Paul White” which I’m on! So that’s a plug, that’s a blatant shameless plug!