Examining the Two Men Who Perfectly Represent London's Great Cultural Divide
Jay Rayner and J Hus tell us all we need to know about the changing face of the capital.
It's no secret that London is a divided city right now. An ever-extending megalopolis torn apart at its buffed steel joints by issues of class, culture, race, gender, lifestyle, income and occupation. I mean, in how many other European cities would a hooded-up mob organise an attack on a tourist trap café? Where else but London would a high street estate agents have to hire private security? It's basically Les Miserables with considered think-pieces replacing public executions.
Numerous distinct cultures and social groupings exist within this framework, but I'm not sure any of these divides crystallise what's going on quite as well as the one between two men at the heart of two very different Londons: J Hus and Jay Rayner. The canyon between the pair reminds me of the theory that 1970s America was divided by the mythical "Manson/Nixon" line, with Charlie cutting the wild, bohemian new America away from Richard's conservative middle.
J Hus is the current superstar of underground British music, his distinctive afro-grime cuts "Dem Boi Paigon" and "Lean & Bop" becoming anthems for the roads. Ignoring the traditional routes to success (he's only just signed a record deal), he's instead built his fame on an organic local fanbase that came to wider attention when "dem boi paigon, you can't bring them man around me" became the battle-cry of a near-riot after a house party-gone wrong in Hackney. He is, in my opinion, the most genuine – and the most exciting – British artist in years.
Food critic Jay Rayner also has a fanbase, but they're more likely to be interested in the new Hackney's pisco sour cocktails than the old Hackney's Snapchat block parties. With his Van Dyke beard, town crier physique and Argentinian centre-back hair, he cuts a fairly bizarre figure, but make no mistake, Rayner is London's epicurean-in-chief. An engaging writer, he's won legions of acolytes through his Guardian column, and many a restaurant can thank him for that last table booking on a Saturday night. A cult figure among affluent Londoners, he's something of a street food Michael Winner.
Despite having 20 years and a whole lot of social clout (Rayner's mother is the late TV agony aunt Claire Rayner) between them, these men have become emblematic of London's opposing groups, as well as the city's increasingly terminal separation from itself. Also, both their names start with J.
But just how different are they, and what do the various facets of their work represent in a society increasingly influenced by its cultural forbearers?
Nineteen-year-old J Hus is a man who lives life on the edge. Just a few months back he was hospitalised with a stab wound to the leg, only to post a picture of himself being treated in hospital, not only smiling, but throwing up a gang sign linked to his Canning Town/Stratford affiliations. Quizzed about it by Complex, he unrepentantly suggested that his detractors simply "don't understand the culture". As many of his contemporaries move towards the world of big-money tours, high fashion collaborations and establishment respect, you get the overwhelming feeling that J Hus might be a man who just wants to watch the world burn – so much so that he even boasts about how little he showers.
Rayner, on the other hand, is a man of quiet comforts. He knows where to get the best crème brûlée in London; he is a member of a jazz quartet; he once said that he enjoys the National Portrait Gallery because "had a privileged upbringing which means that quite a few of the new faces in there were familiar to me from real life". He eats custard tarts in bed. The lifestyle he leads is one many people in this city are trying to emulate, which puts him in a not too dissimilar position to Hus.
J Hus is representative of a new young London, one that is wildly aspirational, hedonistic and uncompromising when it comes to getting to the top. He's a fervent capitalist, bemoaning the days when he "used to eat sardines for dinner", whereas Jay Rayner likes to eat them at Jojo's restaurant in Whitstable, "introduced only to salt, lemon juice and the heat of the grill".
Rayner is on the Masterchef judging panel and J Hus is nominated for MOBOs. Hus is from "shitty old Newham, where I boy my old friends like I never even knew 'em", while Rayner claims to have first eaten alone in a restaurant aged 11, during a Swiss skiing trip. The difference is simple: J Hus was born wanting and Rayner was born having, their respective work perfectly illustrating the lottery of birth in London.
"A lobster bisque makes its point through udder-squirts of cream. Pâté en croûte is a dense cramming-together of blitzed animal between two slivers of pressed pastry, all served far too cold. Main courses are prime ingredients at excruciating prices. A beef fillet for £46 comes with a Yorkshire pudding which isn't as good as those I make, alongside a dry bit of sawn-through marrowbone topped with breadcrumbs. Most odd is two slices of pork belly, cooked for seven hours before being grilled, in a sticky glaze that smells lightly of Marmite."
"Dem boy paigon / I can't stand them / I don't trust you if you ain't mandem / They wanna do me / imma do you before you do me / Imma do you before you do me"
I'm pretty sure you can guess which is which there.
While J Hus' look is pure road-luxury: Moncler, North Face, Stoney, hats and hoodies from his own brand "The Ugliest", Jay Rayner's look is simple flamboyancy. He's a big man who's a little soft in the middle, and his wardrobe of pinstripe blazers with big sleeves and flouncy, paisley cuffs is his chosen swag. He looks like somebody who'd drive a hard bargain on an episode of Flog It!, or perhaps the guy you first suspect in an episode of Midsomer Murders, or maybe it's a once-lauded painter forced into teaching watercolour classes at an adult education centre in Putney.
In the end, these two men, so polarised by this invisible line in London's sand, eventually find a kind of commonality in their own opinions of themselves. In particular, their physicality.
See, while most MCs will boast about how pretty they are, J Hus does the exact opposite. He is loud and proud about how ugly he is, calling himself "The Ugliest" at every opportunity. Even though, despite a bit older than his 19 years, his face has a kind of editorial charm to it.
For his part, Rayner has been frank about his battles with his weight, writing in The Guardian that "the problem was I had become used to my size. I have never been thin. There is a picture of me taken shortly before my sixth or seventh birthday party, all toothy grin and flowing cravat, and looking at it I can see my weight was probably about normal. But I don't recall feeling normal, even then. I did not come from a family of normal people. Normal people were thin and we were certainly not that."§
I suppose, for all their socio-cultural differences, J Hus and Jay Rayner are united in their loathing for themselves, and what could be more indicative of living in London than that? No matter where you're from, what you do or who your friends are, you're always going to be made to feel bad about yourself. I see a Fire in the Booth freestyle collab coming on.
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