It’s funny how the success of "Dem Boy Paigon," the sleeper hit by 19-year-old rapper J Hus, mirrored that of "Trap Queen" by Fetty Wap. Both are semi-sung rap songs that came from literally nowhere, by unknown artists, that blew up without any initial support from media or radio. Ok, Kate Hudson isn’t dancing to "Dem Boy Paigon" and J Hus isn’t up for a VMA against Kendrick and Nicki, but 2.3 million YouTube plays for a song that’s not on iTunes and has almost never been on radio is pretty good going for a kid from Newham who, up until this mixtape, had recorded most of his output on pavements.
He makes nods to “Trap Queen” on his debut mixtape, titled The 15th Day, as he does to Beenie Man’s “Rum and Red Bull” and JME’s “Serious”. Those three songs could give you a rough triangulation of the sort of artist Hus is. He’s entirely separate from the grime resurgence currently dominating UK radio, but he’s also way smoother than the last wave of thugged out UK rappers trying to emulate US stars. There are elements of bashment, and a lot his songs sound like the opening bars of a Protoje track, but the beats are more couched in the new wave of afrobeat. I guess you can think of him like a British Young Thug, but with none of that slickness - he’s more gleeful and gnarly. On one track he puts it best, singing “Dem boy pretty, J Hus is gruesome, dem boy bocat, I can never twos em”. There’s a song about his love of sleeping with white girls called "Bangers and Mash". You get the picture.
Hus got his break with this Street Heat on Link-Up TV at the end of last year. Yes you can hear the inception of “Dem Boy” in a few lines, but his style is underdeveloped and indistinguishable from a slew of other road rappers. There’s a danger that the need to spread over 15 tracks would see him fall back on these tropes. But from the off, this mixtape shows he’s only heading in one direction. “I’m Coming” is a love song for a posh gun-toting girl with a “double-barrelled”. The more serious stuff works well too, “Guns and Butter” talks about gang life and the police relations in a way that doesn’t make you wince. But the highlights are the boundlessly energetic Fekky collaboration called “Drive Me” and “No Lie,” a track that basically calls bullshit on everyone and everything.
UK rap is almost based around disappointment. Promising talents who get swept up by record deals and tinpot impresarios and end up on tracks with someone from Neon Jungle. That’s even truer when it comes to albums. Even the most talented rappers in the UK - Giggs, Wiley - struggle with the mixtape/album format, making more sense over three minutes than three quarters of an hour. There have been hundreds of one off smashes like “Dem Boy Paigon” before - tracks that do good numbers on GRM Daily and then disappear forever. And that’s why it’s so encouraging to hear J Hus stay fire across 14 other tracks. We’ve spent a lot of 2015 wondering where the next big British MC is going to come from - now we know for sure.
Listen to the J Hus mixtape here.