No doubt a legend in UK Hip Hop and easily one of the most talented wordsmiths to ever grace our shores, Jehst has been at the forefront of the UK’s Hip Hop scene for the past decade and a half. He’s released four LPs, each one iconic in its own right, produces some of the flyest beats and heads his own forward-thinking well-established label YNR Productions (which, by the way, is putting out some serious game changers in music this year).
So, first things first, could you fill us in on your movements since you dropped The Dragon Of An Ordinary Family last year?
I guess I’ve been continuing to promote the album – touring Australia with Bliss N Eso and M-Phazes. Plus we put out the remix version of the album just before Christmas. Putting a lot of hours in at the studio for the next album as well as production and guest verses for a bunch of artists… Just working hard basically!
Most people that know and respect UK Hip-Hop hold you as one of, if not the most, talented artist in the genre. When did you start writing lyrics and is it easy to get an objective view on your music i.e. to know when the lyrics are strong or where it might need improvements?
Yeah it can be at times if I’m working in isolation. I don’t surround myself with ‘yes men’ so I benefit greatly from bouncing stuff of my team. If there’s a few heads in the lab and I catch a vibe I know instantly from the reaction whether a verse is strong or not.
We premiered the video for your collaboration with Blossom on Project Mooncircle back in December, and you’re also performing at the Jazz Cafe tonight with Strange U who are signed to one of our favourite London-based Electronic labels Eglo Records. Would you be interested in doing more Electronic cross-over collaborations?
No doubt. You’ll definitely be hearing more music from me that can be categorized in that way. And more music on YNR that doesn’t necessarily fit into the traditional Hip Hop bracket. I’ve actually just recorded a track with Om Unit that’s set to drop on Metalheadz before the end of the year. Obviously I’ve already worked with artists like Alix Perez, Kidkanevil, Mo Kolours, Author, DRS… There are a lot of other cats that I’d like to work with to. Too many to mention here.
Your track England was so poignant at a time of serious unrest with the London riots etc, and your lyrics have always been so political. What drives you to write this sort of lyrics?
I don’t really see myself as a quote/unquote “political” rapper. But at the same time I don’t see anything as being off limits artistically. Music should be an open dialogue but there’s a huge culture of self-censorship among artists nowadays and particularly within Hip Hop. For understandable reasons.
There does seem to be a really healthy re-energisation of UK Hip Hop as of late, with artists such as Hawk House making serious waves across the Atlantic whilst staying true to the left-field style of the genre. What are your thoughts on the UK Hip Hop scene as of now, and how do you think it can be taken to the next level of recognition?
We’ve just got to put out dope music and work hard to make sure it gets heard. It’s not rocket science, but at the same time the infrastructure for so-called ‘urban’ music in the UK is still developing so with all the will, or money in the world there is still a bit of a ‘glass-ceiling’ situation here. I think that right now targeting the states is really important so big up the likes of Hawk House, Lil’ Simz and my peoples Beat Butcha and Paul White making moves over there.
Any chances of Champions of Nature ever getting back together for an album? I think there would be serious scope for a super-UK Hip-Hop group to take the scene by storm now?
Unfortunately I don’t think that will ever happen but I think you’ve got a very valid point about the whole super-group idea…
How do you think the musical aesthetic of Hip Hop has changed over the last 20 years?
It contracted and now it’s expanding – like lungs. And as long as it’s alive and well that’s how the cycle will continue to repeat itself. Hip Hop started from a place of being completely musically open – a break could come from any record, any genre. Then it developed into it’s own form of music with rules and guidelines to the production process. But that got stale. So now it’s back to encompassing any and all elements of the music of the day – as it did in the beginning. And through this period a new set of norms will be established and so on and so forth…
We’re really impressed by YNR‘s release of Confucius MC. What else have you got planned for YNR in 2014?
Look out for the sophomore album from Telemachus. It’s called In Morocco and it’s basically beats with a really strong world music influence. In particular the music of Morocco. It’s an incredible piece of music and very difficult to categorise!
We hear you’re working on a new album, could you give us a sneaky insight into what it’s going to be like?
I could do. But then I’d have to kill you.
Could you tell us a bit about your upcoming performance at the Jazz Cafe tonight?
It should be a pretty comprehensive set covering tracks old and new. It’s always a challenge to get the balance right with that. We’ve got Strange U playing in support too, which I’m looking forward to. If you don’t know about them then get to know. In fact, make sure you don’t turn up late and miss out!