Wonderland.

J HUS

Ciaran Thapar talks to the inimitable rapper about his triumphant return.

J Hus Wonderland
J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue bucket hat

(L) Hat A COLD-WALL*, necklace EMANUELE BICOCCHI coat FENDI and trousers FENDI. (R) Hat and waistcoat custom UDARA COUTURE, trousers EMPORIO ARMANI and shoes VERSACE.

J Hus Wonderland
(L) Hat A COLD-WALL*, necklace EMANUELE BICOCCHI coat FENDI and trousers FENDI. (R) Hat and waistcoat custom UDARA COUTURE, trousers EMPORIO ARMANI and shoes VERSACE.
J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue bucket hat

Taken from the Summer 2019 issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.

On Friday April 5 2019, to the surprise of fans, who regard him as the ultimate embodiment of British rap’s current fluid eclecticism — and who would have been expecting him to return later, in the summer months —J Hus walked on stage to greet Drake at the Canadian star’s concert in London. Just two days before, he’d been released early from prison.

The 24-year-old, whose real name is Momodou Jallow, held his arms up high, hugging the air as “Spirit”, his fitting ode to transcendental resilience, sounded across the 20,000-strong crowd at the O2 Arena. Drake left, grinning, to grant the young East Londoner exclusive ownership of the moment. Then the instantly recognisable marimba bars of producer Jae5 and Hus’ 2017 Brit Award-nominated hit “Did You See?”, another of several standout songs from his critically acclaimed debut album, Common Sense, clanged triumphantly like an instrumental chuckle, as Hus launched into the liberation of long-awaited performance. Knowing full well they were witnessing musical history, people roared with excitement, Snapchatting and Tweeting in communal euphoria. Within minutes the outside world knew exactly what had happened. After months of eerie quiet, the “Farda” was back.

“It was crazy!” he yelps, giggling in residual disbelief. We’re talking over the phone at sunset. Hus is out of town observing the month of Ramadan, it’s one day before Eid and he’s expressed happiness at being on the home straight of his daily fasting ritual. “See when I go on stage, yeah? Normally I never get nervous. But this time I kind of was a little bit nervous, you know! But as soon as I went on, I realised the stage was mine. I felt home again.” He pauses, before adding, in a tone overflowing with the redemption of someone returning to his ordinary world from an arduous hero’s journey: “Right now I’m the happiest I’ve been in my whole life. It’s time for me to shine.”

J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue kick

(L) Hat A-COLD-WALL*. (R) Durag and socks J-HUS’ own, jacket and trousers PRADA, shoes DIOR.

(L) Hat A-COLD-WALL*. (R) Durag and socks J-HUS’ own, jacket and trousers PRADA, shoes DIOR.
J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue kick

In December 2018, J Hus — a rapper, singer, and everything in-between, who first broke into wider recognition as a hardbody, rulebook-ripping MC with his 2015 mixtape, The 15th Day and its bold street anthem “Dem Boy Paigon” — was arrested and sentenced to eight months in prison after pleading guilty for possession of a bladed article. Placed in the context of rising awareness about knife-related crime taking place across British society, the news media and its commentariat erupted in response. Hus was criticised as careless by those who are eager to make a link between the capital’s rap music and the violence taking place within its boundaries, and yet defended by others as a misunderstood case-in-point of how all-pervading yet mistreated the youth violence epidemic had become.

“That’s when I properly realised how big I was,” he explains, when I ask him to recall when he first realised he was a musician proper. He is quick to identify it as the most recent, messy period at the end of last year, one that became a phase of deep epiphany. Before then, he emphasises that no single moment mattered more than any other. “From my first song to my last, it was all growth,” he says.

“Things have always happened so fast for me. I started out doing this so young. Back then I knew myself, but I was still finding myself. I’ve never taken time to stop and reflect,” he says. “Plus I’m not too much on the socials. I just do my thing in the studio, and I don’t really listen to what people are saying because I want to keep a clear head. I don’t want people’s opinions to mess with my plans. But when that incident happened, I suddenly realised a lot of people are watching me. I realised I’m an inspiration to these yutes,” he explains, channelling the same self-awareness that he expresses in the jazzily sung chorus of “What Do You Mean?” on grime king Skepta’s new album, released three days before we speak, in which he raps: “I made some mistakes that I gotta redeem”.

J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue
J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue black and white

(L) All clothing, shoes, bracelets and necklace DIOR. Rings left to right MIANSI and SHOLA BRANSON. (R) Durag J-HUS’ own, jacket and trousers PRADA, shoes DIOR.

J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue
(L) All clothing, shoes, bracelets and necklace DIOR. Rings left to right MIANSI and SHOLA BRANSON. (R) Durag J-HUS’ own, jacket and trousers PRADA, shoes DIOR.
J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue black and white

On his “Daily Duppy” — released 10 days after Hus’ return through GRM Daily’s freestyle YouTube series — Hus raps about the same kids he knows look up to him. Over a soothing hip hop beat whose binding riff is a funk melody played out on a swaggering bass guitar, shimmering like glitter with panpipe and keyboard high notes sprinkled throughout, Hus delivers a piercing verse of lyrical honesty about his recent life experiences.

“When I was writing the Daily Duppy I was spilling my feelings,” he says. “I was in a low place, I wanted to speak from the heart. And I just wanted to rap as well. A lot of the time people don’t know I can rap, because I’ve got my singing and all of that. Some people think I’m just a hook guy. But I wanted to prove to people I can still rap, and take it back to where I first started. I wanted to say what’s on my mind, talk directly to the people, and start being real and genuine.”

One of the many lines that stand out, for obvious reasons — especially when the increasingly talked-about state of London’s underfunded youth services are considered — is when Hus raps: “I swear I had a plan and a true vision, they closed down the youth clubs and build a new prison”. I ask him if he can expand on the lyric (later that night, his management would send me through a photo of Hus stood politely on a small stage presenting a £4000 cheque to a community centre in Haringey, North London, last year).

“Growing up in Stratford, I’ve seen a lot of the youth clubs closing down. Last year I even donated to one to keep it open! The council promise to build new stuff, but they haven’t done it, and then I’m seeing new prisons being opened. You have to get the kids from young. You can’t take away all these facilities… we need to keep investing into the youth… We need to have facilities for when people are young, not prisons for when they’re older and already in trouble,” he replies passionately.

J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue fur
J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue front

(L) Opposite page: Durag J-Hus’ own, top MSGM and coat ACNE STUDIOS. (R) Jacket, trousers, and vest ROBERTO CAVALLI. ring SHOLA BRANSON. Opposite page: Hat and waistcoat custom UDARA COUTURE, trousers EMPORIO ARMANI and shoes VERSACE.

J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue fur
(L) Opposite page: Durag J-Hus’ own, top MSGM and coat ACNE STUDIOS. (R) Jacket, trousers, and vest ROBERTO CAVALLI. ring SHOLA BRANSON. Opposite page: Hat and waistcoat custom UDARA COUTURE, trousers EMPORIO ARMANI and shoes VERSACE.
J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue front

I ask about the pressures artists like him feel: those who have managed to leave a certain lifestyle or environment behind through pursuing music, but who nonetheless still have to deal with the baggage that comes with staying humble and authentically rooted in where they come from. He quickly segues into articulating the responsibility he has, as someone with a voice.

“We’re rapping about our lives… And I feel like, whether it’s me, or Stormzy, we need to get into politics. The youth, they can’t relate to politicians. These yutes, their role models are either musicians, actors or footballers. Or they wanna be gangsters, because these are the only adults they can relate to. They don’t have any role models who are politicians. There is a disconnect between our current politicians and the younger generation. So I think now it’s our job as rappers to step up. At the same time, it’s not just us who is responsible. Have you heard of the expression: it takes a whole village to raise a child?” It’s all of our responsibilities. In the future I do definitely want to get into politics and build a bridge so the youth can get into it, too.

Over recent years, almost exactly since J Hus has been a prominent feature of London’s musical ecosystem — since grime’s resurgence, UK afrobeats and rap’s steady takeover of the charts, playlists and festival line-ups, drill music’s digital cross-pollination from Chicago, and even the collaborative force of the domestic jazz scene — black British music has been experiencing something like a revolution. You only need to spend a short amount of time talking to young music fans in Britain’s major cities, counting the millions of YouTube video views by artists who are often just starting out, or tracking the high proportion of unsigned, independent acts represented in streaming and sales figures, to see the extent of the movement. I ask J Hus, who has been one of the key pioneers of this sonic explosion, if he can explain the exciting shift being experienced by Britain’s subcultural aesthetic.

J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue durag
J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue shadow

(L) Jacket PRADA, ring on pinkie finger HATTON LABS. This page: Hat A COLD-WALL*, necklace EMANUELE BICOCCHI coat FENDI and trousers FENDI. (R) Durag J-HUS’ own, jacket and trousers PRADA, shoes DIOR.

J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue durag
(L) Jacket PRADA, ring on pinkie finger HATTON LABS. This page: Hat A COLD-WALL*, necklace EMANUELE BICOCCHI coat FENDI and trousers FENDI. (R) Durag J-HUS’ own, jacket and trousers PRADA, shoes DIOR.
J Hus Wonderland Summer Issue shadow

“It’s the internet. It’s played a big part. It brings everyone together. But also, there is a big afrobeat influence in music now. Growing up when I was young it wasn’t cool to be African. A lot of us used to lie and say we were Jamaican. But now a lot of Africans have embraced it and become proud of who they are. Everyone is more proud of being themselves. Even if you listen back to the old school London music, people used to put on American accents, but now we’re being ourselves. I think when you’re real to yourself it draws people in. And London’s very diverse, so all the cultures are blending,” he explains.

Has an increased sense of pride in Hus’ African roots impacted his own music-making? “Definitely. I’m from Stratford where there are lots of Africans. When I first came into the game, the UK was just starting to embrace the afrobeat thing. I’d be walking around and see people who aren’t black African blazing out afrobeats! I’d hear Capital Xtra blazing out afrobeats! And I was like, what’s going on!?” he replies jovially. “Plus, I always wanted to be different. When I came up, I came up rapping, but I wanted to bring the afrobeats feel into the rap scene. I wanted to mix the hard rap with the wavy afrobeats style. I used to listen to Caribbean music and American, too. That’s what I grew up on. I wanted to bring everything I was listening to onto one platform. When people ask me how to define my sound, I say I’m everything – I’m reggae, bashment, afrobeats, US rap, UK rap. I’m everything you’ve heard, but nothing at the same time. Because I’m bringing it all together and making a new sound.”

The rap music field in particular is increasingly competitive. On the one hand, artists must try harder than ever before to be innovative and get noticed – to pierce through the noise. But on the other, everyone across the race and class spectrum now has the benefit of a strengthening industry infrastructure and social media-enabled blueprint to elevate themselves. The fact Hus’ time away does not seem to have affected the size and hype of his loyal following is therefore especially impressive – if anything, it might have even ballooned as intrigue and empathy about his unfortunate absence has increased over time. He clearly remains one of a few leaders in the scene. Who does he see as the others?

J Hus Wonderland Summer I red jacketssue

Durag J-HUS’ own, jacket MSGM, trousers STYLIST’S OWN and necklace EMANUELE BICOCCHI.(R)

J Hus Wonderland Summer I red jacketssue
Durag J-HUS’ own, jacket MSGM, trousers STYLIST’S OWN and necklace EMANUELE BICOCCHI.(R)

“Stormzy, Dave, MoStack, Fredo, Digga D. I’m loving everything that is coming out of the UK right now. I’m loving the new drill sound, and we’re even starting to see more girls step up and do drill, too. Most of all it’s Stormzy though. Because I realised that doing music is more than just the music. It’s more than that. You look at America, the artists who last long and do well, like Diddy and Jay-Z — who was today announced as a billionaire — all these rappers, it’s more than music because they get into business. I feel like Stormzy is at the early stages of being our Jay-Z. And I like what Dave is doing,” he replies, verbalising deserved respect for his rhyming partner on the pair’s catchy 2017 song “Samantha” (Hus also appears as a standout feature on Dave’s recent concept album Psychodrama, for the ethereal, attitude-dripping “Disaster”).

I’m told I’m allowed one more question. I ask him if we can expect some new music soon. More videos? Another album? “There is definitely an album this year! I can’t say when, but it’s soon,” he replies.

What can we expect from it? “Like with Common Sense, it won’t just be one sound on the album. And just know you’re gonna hear a more grown up Hus. You’re gonna hear music with more meaning. I’m more mature. I’ve learned a lot.”

Photography
Will Spooner
Fashion
Toni-Blaze Ibekwe
Words
Ciaran Thapar
Fashion Assistants
Shaquille Williams, Mazni Musa, Tamsin Beeby and Jake Lussier
Production Assistant
Camilla Liconti
Special thanks
The Lemonade Factory, Nando's Restaurants and Edwin Spooner
J HUS