Meet the London rapper who doesn’t care what you think.
When I meet Jeshi at Wood Street station, he doesn’t look as hungover as he claims to be. He has, via a quick detour home, straight from a Halloween party at LAYLOW, where he had been DJ’ing / trying to flirt with Rita Ora the night before. Despite his lack of sleep, he is full of childlike energy as we trudge through mud and rain-speckled fog into the heart of the eerily beautiful Epping Forest, the location for our shoot.
Jeshi is a rapper unlike many others. More obsessed with the overall package than his lyrics, his buoyant personality really is evocative of a child, and this is no insult. He is determined to live in the moment, and take thing as they come – a refreshing antidote to the ever-growing wave of industry-trained stars with overtly curated social media feeds and 20-30-year-plans. Importantly, his sound reflects this. His voice is full of gravitas, but he can just as easily evoke an ironic or comedic tone, if it fits of course. His production is hazy and hypnotic, filled with muffled beats and moody, synthy instrumentals.
It is characteristic of Jeshi that he would probably call all of this bullshit. Here is an artist who is not interested in constructed hype or embellishment, who would rather make music for himself than shape his sound to what others perceive as being ‘good.’ And, though this makes my job a lot harder, it is admittedly a breath of fresh air.
I chatted to Jeshi about his music, the importance of production and collaboration, and why Cartoon Network should be on Netflix.
How are you?
I’m wet, and wonderful!
Did you always know you wanted to be a rapper?
I think that, from the age of eleven, I knew that that was what I was going to do. Before that, I was just hanging out, watching Cartoon Network. I didn’t really have any interest in anything beyond that. This is off-topic, but all those old Cartoon Network shows need to come back, we need the Cramp Twins on Netflix!
Agreed. Who did you listen to growing up?
When I was young, it was really quite singular – I was really just listening to a lot of popular rap music. I had a framed photo of 50 Cent on my wall with the Gucci gun holsters, which I loved. The changing moment with me was actually seeing Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’ on TV at my nan’s house, which kind of opened my eyes…it’s a beautiful video, and it kind of showed me that there is a lot of stuff out there.
When you’re young, everything’s based on what’s cool, and what’s not cool. It’s cool to like rap music, and in your head everything else is bad, and you kind of get conditioned to believe that the things that are not ‘cool’ are not good, but they are! There’s so much great stuff out there, and as you grow up, you see that it’s not so much about the social norms and what’s cool to like and what’s not cool to like, it’s about Lana Del Rey singing on my nan’s TV in that beautiful video, with production that sounds like Kanye did it…it just really connected with me. That and Toro Y Moi really changed the way that I look at music.
I do love that Lana Del Rey video. Now, your sound has been described as everything from relaxed to moody to claustrophobic- how would you describe your sound yourself?
Um, I don’t know man…I just think I sound like R Kelly (laughs). I hate descriptions of shit in general man. What I find funny is that people perceive the music totally differently to how I make it, like people look at it and find all these deep descriptions and things… I’m not thinking of any of those when I make music, I’m just free form talking about my life.
You’re making my job a lot harder here!
(Laughing) Just write: ‘he sounds like R Kelly’. No, but it’s cool, because at the end of the day, that’s the beautiful thing about music, that people can perceive it in whichever way they want. But I’m just chilling.
Very diplomatic of you. Your songs are very intricately produced, and you can really pick up on different elements of the production on each listen. How much importance do you give this side of your music as opposed to, say, the more lyrical side?
I really only care about the end product. To be honest, I really don’t give a fuck about how well someone can rap, it doesn’t impress me. To me, anyone can rap. You see someone who’s born with a really amazing, beautiful voice, and you’re like, ‘wow, that is really some out of this world talent’, right? To me, rap is not like that. if you wanna rap good, and you put in the time, you can rap.
Some people though…
Yeah but even then! No one comes out of the womb rapping, it’s something that you learn how to do.
That’s interesting, because that’s quite a different view to have compared to a lot of rappers.
Yeah man, it just doesn’t really impress me. I don’t think it’s the most important thing. The thing is, I really like great songs, I like things that sound new, and I like things that are interesting – that’s what I really put effort into. Yeah, it helps that I can rap good, but if I was just standing on the street rapping a million bars or whatever, that’s not very impressive.
I guess what’s interesting is that – even the greatest lyricists, your Biggies, your Kendricks – they always have amazingly produced songs.
Yeah exactly man, they make great songs! I mean, you look at a lot of these really good technical rappers who could rap circles around people, but just doesn’t really make good songs, so it doesn’t connect. Even people who are really saying stuff when they rap, you can have everything to say, but if it’s not packaged in a format where people can digest it, then it doesn’t matter, because people won’t listen. Especially now, with the way in which music is consumed; people have such a short attention span, and if you don’t grab them within the first five seconds or something, you’re turning them off.
On that I read somewhere that Spotify’s policy of only paying for a stream if it’s listened to for longer than 30 seconds has changed the way in which people make songs, with longer intros becoming way rarer for precisely that reason.
Really? I think it’s quite sad, the way that streaming has effected it, as I think the business model of music should follow the music, not the other way round. Even the way that people are making their albums now all these 25/30 track albums. Essentially, the more singular streams you get on an album, the more sales it equates to, so if someone listens to your album once all the way through, and it has 25 songs – as opposed to 11 or 12 – that’s twice as many sales. It’s interesting – I’m not against it, it’s just how it’s happening now, and I think there’s a lot of beauty in it, and at the same time there’s bullshit that comes with that too, but that’s just like anything in the world.
Speaking of production, you linked up with Mura Masa via Twitter, and he ended up producing your single ‘Paranoid’ – how do you think social media and the internet in general has affected up and coming artists trying to make it?
Everything is accessible now, which is cool because it makes it easier to do stuff. But, at the same time, I think it kind of takes the ‘wow factor’ away from from it all. I remember hearing stories before about people fainting when they saw Michael Jackson, but that doesn’t really happen now, because you see like twenty photos of your favourite musician on Instagram every day. You almost feel like you know them, they feel really human. Before, artists were enigmas, and I don’t think that’s the case anymore, because everyone’s right there…it’s interesting.
‘Paranoid’ was taken from your latest mixtape ‘The Worlds Spinning Too Fast’ – do you think your sound has changed from Pussy Palace in 2016, to that mixtape, to now?
One hundred percent. For me, the moment it stops evolving is the moment I stop making music, because there’s just no point any more. It’s been about getting a better understanding of myself and what I’m trying to do. I feel like, with my whole career and making music and stuff, I’m learning in front of people, I’m just kind of figuring stuff out in the public, and people are seeing me do so, which I think is quite cool. That’s what you see in ‘Pussy Palace’, and TWSTF. The next project I’m gonna release is like the ultimate version of that, and it encompasses a lot of the aspects of everything I’ve done previously, but on steroids.
Can you tell us a bit more about the next project?
I don’t really know shit about it, I just have songs that I think are great (laughs). To be fair, it’s pretty much done, but I don’t have a name or a date.
On the credits for your last mixtape, you thank various people ‘and anybody who’s let me record in their bedroom/kitchen.’ Can you talk us through the process of making a body of work like yours?
It’s super DIY. I was recording in my girlfriend’s kitchen, in my house, in friend’s bedrooms… anywhere. If you’re trying to do shit, you just do it wherever you can…I don’t have like a mad studio or whatever, so I just work where I can.
You recently linked up with Daisy Maybe for ‘Riverbed’, which was great by the way. Who else is doing stuff you’re rating right now?
The list is so long… Celeste, Fredwave, TTY, Haich, Casso, Louis Culture, Smerz, Thieta, Lauren Auder…yeah. I definitely feel like I’m missing someone, but I’m hungover and my brain isn’t working! Fuck, Tirzah! Tirzah is great, she’s my favourite musician right now.
What do you think of all the different stuff coming out of London at the moment?
I’m into it. I think it’s cool that there’s a new wave of music…it’s like everything in life, you need options. Grime is great, Drill is great, but there need to be different things that people can hear. And so I love it in those regards, I don’t think everything is great but, just like with anything, there’s some cool stuff and there’s some trash stuff.
Do you enjoy collaborating with others?
I only make music collaboratively. Every single song I make is worked on with people in some capacity, I don’t really enjoy sitting by myself in a room and working on a song. I start ideas like that, but I like what other people bring to the table, it makes it more interesting.
Who would your dream collaborator be?
Toro Y Moi.
Your video for ‘Speedboat’ is a really visceral, warped journey into a balloon high…how much creative control do you like to have over the visual side of your music?
Like the music, it’s very collaborative. That video was just me and Bafic who had the idea and it just kind of worked out. I don’t really remember it because I literally took a balloon shooting and it was all a bit of a blur. With any aspect of anything I do, I just want it to feel like me. It’s just about having an accurate representation of who you are, because at the end of the day that’s the only thing you can be the best at. I can’t be the best rapper, that’s very relative, I can’t be the best musician. I can be the best at being who I am, and that’s all.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give someone?
Don’t fall asleep while you’re driving a car. That’s actually the best advice I could give someone: if you’re tired, and you’re tryna drive, have a nap.
What would you say your ultimate aim was?
To go to dinner with Kelis (laughs), I’m just trying to link Kelis, and talk to her about how she shaped my childhood.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully putting out some music at some point (laughs). I haven’t put out any music in like a year, which in internet years is like ten years, but that’s something I try not to conform to. So yeah, putting out some new music, which hopefully people don’t hate.