JESHI IS AT THE TOP AND HE’S NOT COMING DOWN
Exhibit 30,000 in the case for Newham becoming the new unofficial epicentre of UK music is the effortlessly smooth storyteller and master of gritty world-building, Jeshi. This brash but brilliant wordsmith is boldly honest and ruthlessly transparent with his audience, delving deeper into his own character with every chorus to craft a track that oozes authenticity and unapologetic openness. For my Harry Potter fiends out there, Jeshi treats tracks like Horcruxes, embedding a little part of himself in each of them. Despite having a more abstract and forward-facing approach to song construction, he is unquestionably an old-school soul looking onto the state of the scene and society from a pensive perspective, analyzing but never criticizing.
Jeshi first captured our curiosities back in 2016 with the release of his debut tape Pussy Palace and the lowkey layered and maturely mastered vocals of its standout single ‘2Tashly’. His unparalleled ear for experimental yet accessible riddims set him aside from other MC’s as it became rapidly clear his creativity extended beyond lyrical prowess and encompassed both beat selection and visual design.
A string of stellar records like ‘Daydream’, ‘Paranoid’, ‘Rush’ and ‘Pink Champagne’ firmly established Jeshi as a jewel and a jester in the court of public opinion, remaining just as entertaining as he is eloquent. However, in 2020 he entered a new era with an eight-track tape titled Bad Taste featuring a landmark collaboration with his contemporary and friend Celeste as well as a new headline hit called ‘Coming Down’. After a slew of singles like ‘Sick’ and ‘Hit By A Train’ raised his star to new heights in 2021, Jeshi’s clearcut position as a face of UK hip-hop was set in stone.
We caught up with Jeshi ahead of the release of his latest single ‘Another Cigarette’’ to reflect on his road to riches, breaking down the tracks, collaborations and personal philosophies that helped guide him to the forefront of his generation. Of course, we also had to find out a little more about his time in the booth with Celeste!
As a lad who was born in Newham before moving to Walthamstow, I have to get your take on why you think Newham specifically breeds so much incredible music? Whether it’s Kano, Newham Generals, Ghetts, Kojey Radical, Idris Elba etc. What do you think makes Newham such a hub for British talent and lyrical ability?
I actually don’t know man it’s difficult to put a finger on it, maybe there is just something in the water. I don’t actually drink the water around here, it kinda tastes like shit so there definitely is something in there haha! It is interesting though because when you look at the early grime days in the east end, particularly in Bow & Newham, there always seemed to be these recurring pockets of creativity. I think new ideas breed new ideas like a domino effect.
People doing great things will always in turn inspire others to do great things. It is strange now though because I think that process happens more through the internet and all these inspiration points become meshed together as you can now be inspired by someone on the other side of the world, but back in the day, you were inspired a lot more by the people in the surrounding area. So in general I think a lot of those pockets of local inspiration have been broken down a bit more by the internet but they laid the foundations for sure.
Your style of spitting and bar construction is obviously very different from that grime scene sound but your proximity to it must have left some imprint on your artistic approach. Have you drawn inspiration from the Grime scene in any way as you were discovering your own sound? Was that local sound your first avenue into rapping?
I was definitely very inspired by Grime and the wider British rapping scene, it was definitely the thing that put the batteries in my back and made me want to go do this. I remember being online as a kid downloading grime tunes on Limewire and watching sets on Channel U, without that I would never have had the lightbulb moment that I wanted to be an MC. A lot of people around me were writing and standing around spitting over grime beats so grime became my first introduction to the writing process before I moved on to find my own thing.
The older I’ve gotten, the more curious I’ve become with music and the more hungry I’ve been to find new things and new sounds. I love grime but it got to a point as I grew where I had to brand out, which doest diminish how I feel about that music at all, but I had a natural curiosity to find what else was out there. It was important to me to be like a sponge and just take in as much as I can about other styles of music in order to find out what I like, but also just as crucially, what I don’t like. I spent a lot of time going back and listening to old music that I had missed purely because of my age that gets classified as all-time great music to find out why certain things stand the test of time and why others disappear. My music has sort of become a byproduct of taking in everything I see and hear in my life and in others, the good and the bad, the things I like and the things I don’t, and then seeing what comes out in response to that.
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I love your ability to really set a scene and describe settings or feelings in really abstract but super relatable ways. Whether it’s “bin men picking up needles on the estate” in ‘Hit By A Train’ or the stub a cig out on your thigh bar in ‘Sick’. Where did you first learn to hone your skills as a storyteller? Were there any other MC’s, authors, movies, video games that really made you fall in love with storytelling?
Bro I’ll be completely honest, this is always something that people say to me a lot but really my writing sounds a lot deeper than it actually is haha! I really don’t have much of a thought process about it, it just seems to be the default way that I put words together. I never think “how am I going to improve my storytelling” or “what combination of words can I use would be unusual but descriptive”, I honestly think if I wasn’t a musician and instead was an author then I would write the exact same way as I do now. I think it’s just the way my mind processes language.
It may be a little bit unique but I think that just makes the music itself a little more unique. A lot of the time it’s real-life things that I see or that my friends go through that stay in my brain because I pick up on obscure things rather than the big noticeable things that everyone sees. My music wouldn’t be interesting if I said the things that everyone’s thinking so I have to lean on the things that only I see and notice. The best thing I can possibly do is give the most authentic version of myself across in my music.
Your latest single ‘Generation’ is kind of the exact opposite to ‘Hit By A Train’ & ‘Sick’ in that instead of looking inward you’re looking out at the state of the world. Did the lockdown life play any part in the genesis of this track & in some way raise your awareness at the flaws with our fixations and societal issues?
It’s something that I’ve always thought about. I started that song a long time ago, definitely prior to the pandemic. However, I think the time that the pandemic has given us has allowed us to look around and really take stock of what’s happening. For me, I think it comes from a pure place of curiosity, almost like sightseeing, because the last thing that people need is another person chiming in to say “I think the world should be this way and you’re all wrong!”.
I really wanted to be empathetic about all the things that make it so much harder to be young now than it probably was when I was young. I think as a whole, this virtual world brings so much pressure and can make you feel shit about yourself and life all the time, which is something I just didn’t have to deal with when I was a kid. I think accessing too much information all at once isn’t good for anybody fam. I’m 1000% in favour of kids being switched on to what’s going on and having political views and acting on them but sometimes having access to everything so young does more damage than it does good. We have our whole lives to stress about the state of the world. When you’re young you should be worrying about the girl you have a crush on at school or what time you knocking for your mate in the morning or how to get to football after school, you know?
You clearly really care about and put a lot of time into the visuals and music videos for your tracks with ‘Looks Like Trouble’ being nominated for the best newcomer award at the UK MVA as well as a number of incredible videos already under your belt. How challenging is it to hand over creative control of a track and try to convey your vision for the visuals to a director or a creative team?
I think a few years ago I found it hard but I find myself today in a real stride with how to get quality visuals done. The crucial part is that it’s never a process of just handing it over to someone else, the only way I know how to get good results is if it’s a collaborative project. So whatever director I’m working with, we are going to be in conversation the entire time, from the inception of the idea to the creation of it. I try to pick really great people to work with that bring something that I never could have come up with to the table. I’ve definitely had times in my life where I’ve thought “I should direct my own videos!”, but then you miss out on the strengths of others and the addition of new ideas that I could never bring. A constant dialogue of refinement between me as an artist and the director is the method I’ve found most effective. Ultimately, all my successes and everything I try to do revolves around picking the best people to help me paint the picture I’m trying to create.
You phrased your approach to songwriting in a really lovely way recently in an Instagram post stating to your fans, “thanks for listening to what I have to say”. Do you view your tracks as more like a conversation with your audience and have you always been comfortable putting a lot of yourself and life experiences in your music or was that a process you had to learn?
I think it’s definitely a conversation, but one on many levels. It’s a conversation with myself and it’s a conversation with whoever is listening. The interesting part is that it’s a conversation that is open for interpretation where everyone is going to take something different away from it. That’s why I think it’s almost better to not explain your meaning or intentions behind something because it can cloud the takeaway that other people are going to learn from it or ruin the mystique in some way.
As I’ve gone on, I’ve always tried to intentionally push to give more of myself in my music. I always think after I’ve completed a track, “Ok, how can I push who I am across more?” or “How can I convey my life clearer through this music?”. It’s funny because I never come away from a project thinking “Ok, how can I rap better?”, what I really care about is my audience coming away from a track thinking “yer I really know this guy now”.
Your beat selection has always been so on point, even thinking back to early tracks like ‘Pink Champagne’ and ‘2Tashly’ all the way through ‘Daydream’ and now with ‘Hit By A Train’. Talk to me about the producers you’ve worked with over your career. Do you like working with the same familiar faces over your career to really build that understanding or do you get inspired by working with new producers with new sounds and ideas?
I think for me it’s a bit of both, I love working with friends that I’m familiar with so it’s not such a big thing and we can just jump in the studio with a couple of beers and make some great shit. That being said though, there are a lot of people I work with where we have that kind of relationship now but when we started we were just introduced by mutual acquaintances or through social media. For me, I don’t really care about someone’s reputation or how talented they are, it truly just comes down to how well we get on and if it’s easy to work with them as people. Sometimes what people define as ‘great’ and what I define as ‘great’ is totally different so it’s pointless working with ‘great’ producers if our visions and tastes just don’t line up. It becomes too hard to land in the same place if you’re walking in two different directions. Any lack of synergy will ultimately come out on the song.
You have worked with some dope artists so far in your career whether that’s P-rallel, LYAM, Fredwave, Daisy Maybe. BUT I have to ask about working with the incredible Celeste! How did you guys come to link up for her Lately EP on ‘Summer’?
Same as much of what I do, she was just a friend of mine. We met randomly at some Christmas party and became friends! I can’t remember exactly how ‘Summer’ came about but I think she hit me up saying I’ve got this beat, come through to the studio and jump on it. I’m pretty sure on the same day we laid down both the ‘Summer’ verse and then she jumped on my track ‘30,000 Feet’. It wasn’t in some flash studio or anything like that, it was just on my mate’s set-up and was a very quick process without having to think too much about it. It would be different if I didn’t know Celeste and our labels just put it together but because we are friends it was just simple with no pressure. Because of the pandemic a lot of fun stuff hasn’t been able to happen but someday I would love to jump on stage with Celeste and perform those tracks!
What’s it been like getting back out on stage again for show’s man? Did you have any rust after not doing shows throughout lockdown?
It’s been good! I’ve done a few recently, including one in London but I think I was putting too much pressure on myself having not played in so long. I think sometimes you can think yourself into a whole with certain things and force things internally to be perfect and as soon as you do that you lose a lot of personality in your performance. I did a show a couple of weeks after that in Brighton, and I don’t know if its because I was VERY hungover, but I absolutely loved it and found it so freeing because I didn’t go in with any expectations I was just there and with the people who had turned out for me and as a result I had the best time ever. Definitely looking forward to doing a few more in these coming weeks though and I can’t wait to start doing festivals and stuff, that’s always been a dream of mine!
Lastly, we always like to end by asking you to show us around the heart of your hometown so where would you take someone to get some good food?
Hahaha, it’s so funny how the easiest questions are always the hardest. I think it would have to be this Japanese restaurant in Soho called Taro, I used to eat so much of the ‘Duck Don’ from there but I haven’t in ages.