If you kept your arse in the dances and the shoobz at all in 2015, then there's no way you missed out on the rugged rhythm of “Dem Boy Paigon”, the break-out track from East London’s rising star J Hus. Initially pumped out of iPhones, through the aux cords at large-scale house parties; the track proliferated through the Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter accounts of London’s next generation to arguably become one of the biggest releases of the year.
Receiving little to no radio play at the time, yet racking up millions of plays on YouTube, “Dem Boy Paigon” wasn’t backed by a label, a press campaign, or a big-budget music video. An underground release in the truest sense of the word, it was brought to light and heralded by the underbelly of London’s youth, who’ve yelled and tweeted the lyrics since it landed. From the outside, then, it’s perhaps easy to see the sound J Hus presents in “Dem Boy Paigon” as one that materialised from some immaculate form of musical conception. As it goes, the beat is in fact the product of a pair of teenage production wunderkinds: seventeen year old Blairy Hendrix from Manor Park, in East London, and his eighteen year old friend Joshua Beatz – who, alongside a whole raft of London artists, are helping to shift the fabric of the city’s soundscapes into new creative territory.
Like most producers their age, Hendrix and Beatz started out making trap music. At the time, the afrobeats sound in London was coming from the likes of Mista Silva, Kwamz, Fuse ODG and Timbo. It was happy, bubblegum, and far more appealing to the girls than the goons. While Timbo specifically had struck a nice balance between rap, afrobeats and bashment flavour, Beatz and Hendrix were trying to bring a little African heritage into the trap music they’d been creating. They gave the beat to J Hus, who threw a healthy helping of rudeboy style and hood themes into the mix, and a new sound was born.
“‘Traprobeats’ was the name we gave it”, says Hendrix, explaining the beginnings of the trap-tinted, afrobeats sonic that lays at the foundation of their beats. “We just pushed that sound to him [J Hus], he came with a crazy concept, and people started going crazy for it,” he continues. “It was more gritty, more hood.” The resulting “Dem Boy Paigon” is a track that’s as much resplendent of afro-centric glow ups, as it is one that deserves to be blasted out from a large-scale disturbance. That’s exactly what happened last August, when one resident in a North London estate unwittingly filmed hundreds of kids screaming along.
It’s a sound that harks back to an afrobeats heritage, yet subverts it into becoming something that sounds a lot more of the moment, of the here and now. And it isn't an anomaly track. Along with a bag of young music makers, J Hus, Beatz and Hendrix are part of a new crop in London urban music that is slowly propelling itself through the underground and out of the proverbial speakers of the masses – manifesting in the sounds of artists as far flung as Sneakbo and Belly Squad to Moelogo and Chip. So where did it all come from?
It’s easy to draw a line between this and Britain’s multi-cultural heritage, one that’s seeped in the semantics of rudeboy culture, which arrived with the first batch of Jamaican migrants to the UK. Yet where the rudeboy sound was once predominantly defined by Jamaican influences – moving from two-tone in the early 80s, to the sounds of jungle in the 90s, and grime’s conception in the 2000s – it’s now taken on a contemporary form that has come out of a culmination of different heritages; a crossroads where English, Jamaican, and West African dialects make up a multilingual landscape of vocal styles.
There's no truer example of this than the track "R.I.P. GORZ" by Brixton born rapper Sneakbo. As a tribute to his close friend, who was fatally shot last year in Brixton’s Angell Town Estate, the track is steeped in the ins-and-outs of British street culture. Yet what makes this tune so solid is that, as well as riding the riddim with sleek style, there are these deep prevailing sentiments delivered in Sneakbo's bars, that are set against the melancholic afrobeats/bashment infused instrumental to great effect. Similarly, tracks like “One Day” by MoStack or “Banana” by Belly Squad are undeniably British, yet reflective of their roots – the bass knocks and the beat rocks on both tracks in a way that can only be satisfied by dutty wine'in, tribal skankin', and reloading the riddim where necessary. Like J Hus, their new tracks emphasise the rudeboy essence of the new afrobeats sound.
Although the influence of bashment and rudeboy culture can't go unnoticed, one of the major catalysts for this new sound has been the rise of African pride amongst young Brits of African heritage. “This sound that you’re talking about is a British-African kinda thing,” explains Timbo, a key artist who has been bringing his own flavour to British rap for some time. “I believe there’s a culture of Africa in Britain and it’s of its own,” he continues. “There are African people in the UK, living in their own African way, and it's time for us to bridge the gap with people like J Hus, Belly Squad and those guys.”
Now, despite there being an air of African pride at play among the artists, that's not to say it is all one big happy family. True to the roots and culture of the scene, rivalries have formed, grievances have occurred, and beef has ensued. Namely, the ongoing saga between J Hus and Kojo Funds, who've been exchanging blows via social media, as well as firing war dubs over Soundcloud and YouTube for some time now, the latest of which are "Delajore" by J Hus and "Murda" by Kojo Funds.
“I had a beat called ‘Want From Me’ that Kojo Funds ripped from my Soundcloud,” says N2theA, a producer from Wood Green. “But I had a bit of a complication 'cos I sent it to J Hus as well, and I didn’t know they had any problems. So I was caught in a mad ting there.” N2theA has been another frontrunner in carving out this sound, and it’s resulted in him landing right in the middle of a bonafide beef.
Though the situation did take a much darker turn in 2015. When J Hus was stabbed 5 times in September last year, he tweeted: “"5 stab wounds could never stop me #AntiCh #F***DaOvaSide" – meaning ‘Anti Custom House’ the manor of Kojo Funds, and #FuckDaOvaSide referencing the geographical location of Custom House, being on the other side of Newham to the 15 Section (Stratford, J Hus' neck of the woods). Irrespective of the incident, the music exchange between J Hus and Kojo has been electric to keep up with, and elevated both their profiles, making it a defining event in the development of this new sound.
What does seem to be lacking in the development of the scene is the club nights, the spots to skank out to this music in its multitude of variations. Why? "These artists go to schools or are just out at train stations and places like that, and it's those kinda age groups that love them,” says P Montanna, a DJ who Timbo, N2theA and Hendrix all credit as one of the sole supporters of the scene. He explained that many of the listeners of this new afrobeats sound are still in their teens, and unlikely to attend a club night.
In fact, one of the main demands from shows for this crop has been university campuses. Timbo has found himself bagging shows at numerous student unions up and down the country. “There’s a lot more Africans in universities and that’s helped push the scene,” says Timbo. “I’ve done more than 100 shows at universities. I’ve been everywhere, and the ACS has played a big part in my journey.” The ACS being the African Carribean Society, which is predominantly run by British-Africans.
Artists such as J Hus, Timbo, MoStack, Belly Squad, Sneakbo, Kojo Funds and Tion Wayne are the spear heads of something new, and given that the core fanbase are secondary schoolers, college kids and University first years, it bodes well for the future. Just like grime did at the turn of the century, this new sound is struggling to find itself a suitable name – Afrohop? Traprobeats? Afrotrap? – but that isn't going to stop it blasting from the back of every London bus, and with defining events like the on-going saga between J Hus and Kojo Funds, it's becoming apparent that there's really something popping off here.
However it develops, and whatever it gets named, it's encouraging to know that right behind grime’s globe trotting popularity, there’s another style of exciting new music, with a distinctly British quality, that is just raring to go.
You can follow Timi on Twitter.