When your debut album is nominated for a BRIT, MOBO and Mercury Music Prize, where do you go next? J Hus walks several different roads on second album Big Conspiracy. And ultimately, they all lead within. Delivered at a slower pace than its youthful predecessor, this grand body of work is a moment of deep self-reflection from one of the UK’s biggest stars.
But to understand the space where Hus has arrived at, it’s crucial to have a sense of where he’s been. The east Londoner has lived a series of ups-and-downs since Common Sense’s release in 2017. It broke the UK top 10, cementing Hus as a once-in-a-generation artist – someone capable of storming the charts while retaining critical and street appeal. But just one year on, in December 2018, he was sentenced to eight months in jail for possession of a bladed article. After a stop-and-search on his car outside London's Westfield shopping centre, police say they had found a knife on his person.
Following a traumatic few years, one thing that’s been niggling in the background is the care Hus has given to himself. When he reignited his Twitter late last year, he returned with flurries of messages about African spirituality, conspiracy theories; he shared his own ambitions, deepest thoughts and anxieties.
This regular – and at times intense – mental purging made many ask if he was OK. But for someone who’s consistently been reclusive due to custodial sentences and the threat of danger, perhaps the endless stream of thoughts was the rapper’s subtle way of opening himself up to the world around him. With each tweet, Hus shows us that he’s still one of us – just a twenty-something black man trying to make sense of his place in the world.
This sentiment translates throughout Big Conspiracy, where Hus seems far more sure about himself and the path that he’s on. He’s no longer navigating the industry with rose-tinted glasses, because at any moment he could lose it all. Right from the album’s opening verse, he touches on the precarious nature of infamy. “Nothing in this dunya is satisfying / All these niggas selling out, but nobody's buying / You can be a jungle lion or a circus lion,” he says, with sharp and renewed clarity. By the second verse he’s referencing karma and the need to look inside your soul for guidance.
Compared to the cheeky boasts of Common Sense hit “Did You See”, the Hus on Big Conspiracy is contemplative. He remains cheeky – foggy and loved-up track “Cucumber” uses the juicy vegetable as a sexual innuendo. And one stand-out track, Burna Boy-featuring “Playa Playa”, has him referencing his various crushes. But largely, this album focuses on knowing yourself. On the tense “Fight For Your Right”, he references his prison stint, a need to plan for the future, the importance of setting goals. “Helicopter” contemplates on the use of “knowledge and wisdom, in this Babylon system”.
The idea of a reinvigorated yet challenged Hus comes to a head on album closer “Deeper Than Rap”. Sitting atop a pensive, piano-led beat, the lyrics hit with a deft poignancy. “I was fresh from a war but it was internal / Every day I encounter another hurdle / Why they wanna take my manhood and strip search me? / When I think about my life, it's been a long journey”. And this: “I’m just a road man / Why am I preaching?”
Several times, Hus has been knocked down by those supposed to help him. When he was asked by police why he was carrying a knife, he replied, “You know, it’s Westfield”, implying carrying a knife in the popular London shopping centre was for his own safety. He’s also faced criticism for his Twitter presence – many of the theories he’s been tweeting about have been debunked. In one tweet, he responded to fans calling him crazy. But when you step back and observe the world Hus comes from and the language he has access to, he has a clear eagerness to learn. This simply requires those interested to meet him at his level of understanding. Big Conspiracy is a tapestry of that knowledge. It’s stuff he’s acquired since Common Sense, sewn together as a story of personal enlightenment, friendship and road tales.
By the end of the album, Hus intentions seem crystal clear. He’s become disillusioned with the luxury world promised to him on Common Sense. Now, it seems, he just wants to do right by his people and find some semblance of peace. The last line on the album sums it all up. “I had to play dumb, just to blend in / Then go to Africa for spiritual cleansing.” He knows he has to play the game while he’s here in the UK but for Hus, his final destination is home. Big Conspiracy is his next step there.