ON ROAD OR IN RIO: JEVON BRAKES DOWN ‘FELL IN LOVE IN BRAZIL’ ALBUM & WHY CONFORMING IS BORING
Jevon is your favourite producer’s favourite producer, a family man, a true hood poet and the mastermind behind a new wave of Samba inspired UK hip-hop. The term ‘triple threat’ has become somewhat of an empty platitude over the years as, much like the term ‘legend’, it had been tossed around with such frivolity that it has become rather meaningless. However, the case for Jevon as the UK’s most complete triple threat is becoming more bulletproof with every passing release.
What unites ‘Frontline’ by Pa Salieu, ‘Provisional License’ by M1illionz and ‘Street Side Effects’ by K-Trap? Besides the fact they are three of the most impactful tracks released in the last year, they are all produced by the boy born and raised on Mozart Street and baptised in Coventry…Jevon. However, beyond the countless cold collaborations, Jevon has carved out his own place in the scene as a honey-toned vocalist and straight fire breathing MC. His latest album Fell In Love In Brazil is an earnest exploration of his Brazillian heritage recorded during a six-month adventure across Brazil. The 12 track project is a true homage to the chords and characters that first sparked his love of music after his Grandad left him his collection of Samba and Bossa Nova records.
This may be a big statement but it’s my belief that Fell In Love With Brazil is the most underrated album released by a UK artist this year. It pushes boundaries by looking elsewhere than Africa or Jamaica to form the sonic palette of its construction. It feels deeply personal and sentimental yet relatable as Jevon collaborates with his Grandads favourite artist, Marcos Valle, to craft a record steeped in a symphony of sultry harmonics. It is a party playlist imbued with the true spirit of protest music and a wholehearted tribute to the roads of London and the rainforests of Rio.
I sat down with Jevon following the release of Fell In Love With Brazil to find out more about the experience of living in Brazil while crafting it. I also had to ask about his experience working with Marcos Valle, his opinion on the biggest challenges facing the next generation of UK artists, as well as the origins of some of his biggest tracks with M1llionz, Big Zuu and many more.
First off man, the pandemic was obviously an incredibly challenging time for independent creatives such as yourself and for larger society as a whole. How are you doing? What was the lockdown experience like for you?
From a creative standpoint, it’s been alright man. From the beginning of the pandemic, I was still creating new songs and new music for myself and for other people. In general, I think it made a lot of musicians want to create more music in order to stay stimulated. I think I was actually busier during the lockdown than usual because so many artists wanted to make music while they’re stuck in the house all day. So as a producer, I would say people hit me up even more during the pandemic. All in all I’m good right now man, I’m happy and in a very creative space.
My big takeaway from the lockdown was to really believe in what I can do and try to just believe in myself more because I realised you can actually achieve quite a lot by yourself. I tried to prove to myself that I could do a lot of what needed to be done by myself and I wanted the younger generation to see that. There is a lot you can do if you take the necessary time out and apply yourself correctly. It’s a confidence builder when you feel like you’re pushing yourself musically to levels you hadn’t been able to reach before. I’ve always been someone to set certain bars for myself and I don’t let myself fall below that standard, so this year gave me some time to experiment creatively and really find new sounds and ways to express myself.
My writing style is certainly inspired by the things going on in the world and how I feel about that. Then I try and convey that in a way that hopefully people we understand. I try to be as honest as possible in my music and there has been a lot to talk about this year.
Your music has always been a reflection of your English, Brazilian, and Jamaican heritage. Is it true you first fell in love with Brazillian music after your grandad sadly passed away and left his whole record collection to you? Do you remember what any of those records were?
Yer man that’s absolutely true! I remember that there was a lot of Gilberto Gil, a lot of Marcos Valle as well as loads of old Samba and Bossa nova records…there was a little bit of Carlos Santana in there too! I still have all of them to this day.
When it comes to blending the two sounds, it’s really just a question of what sounds good to my ear. It’s all about finding what relates to me the most. All those sounds are just a reflection of what I’ve grown up listening to as a kid so all the garage influences, bashment influences, and grime influences have just been blended together while I’ve been growing up. I’ve tried to take bits from each of those sounds that always made me feel special and excited. Certain songs are like memories to me because of the way the music brings me back to a place that I was happy or a crucial moment in my life.
That’s what’s so amazing about music. So I’ve just tried to implement a little bit of that in my work because the same way that certain tracks have allowed me to create a memory through music, that’s the feeling I’m hoping to give to my listener. It’s funny, just thinking about garage music…I remember there was this one time my dad was cutting my hair while we were listening to Roy Davis Jr’s ‘Gabriel’ Mix and now that memory will always be stuck in my head. That’s what music does. It allows you to travel back in time and relive a certain moment, so that’s how I try to approach my music. Hopefully, in 20 years time, someone will hear my tunes and be brought back to something that happened this year.
Your debut album Fell In Love With Brazil dropped in February and is a beautiful exploration of Brazilian music, whilst also adding in your silky smooth vocals and London flow. Talk us through the process of recording this album. How was it getting to be in Brazil while you worked on it?
It was one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life man. It’s something I think I’ll never be fortunate enough to experience again in terms of being in the same frame of mind. It was unexplainable. Before I arrived, I had tried to make a few tracks based on the sounds and instruments that I had heard on my grandad’s vinyl’s and thought I had created something that didn’t sound like anything else out there. I played it to a friend of mine called Denzyl who is a distributor that I work with. He was the first one that really saw what I was trying to do and he told me “You have to go to Brazil and link with the musicians out there.”
He put me in touch with someone out there who is the ‘Don-Dada’ of hip-hop music in Brazil and was also one of the first people to merge Samba music with hip-hop. I went to him and he totally got what I was doing and put me in touch with the best musicians in Brazil to come and play on my album. That’s what really made the difference. The whole experience of doing that taught me so much because I literally had to tell these world-class musicians what I wanted and he kept saying to me “Don’t be shy, tell them exactly how you want it because this is your album and you only get one chance to do this.” He continued to tell me very calmly that I only had one opportunity to do this so do it right and I thought “cool!’. It gave me the confidence that I needed and taught me how real music should be made.
I ended up going to Brazil a couple of times over the lockdown but the longest I was there for was about three months. I had all the time to start getting to grips with the culture and understand it as well as getting to see quite a few parts of the country, but now I’m back in the UK I miss it dearly.
The album cover concept and music videos for ‘Forest Fire’ obviously draw on the massive and tragic forest fires happening in the Amazon at the moment under Bolsonaro’s watch. Why was it important to you to draw attention to this and not just pay home to the music of Brazil but also try and effect some change?
I’m really glad you touched on this man because it’s so important and like many things going on in the world right now it doesn’t feel like a lot of people know what’s going on. I felt like it was important to try and portray a message to those outside of Brazil that would help and mean something to the people. Brazil is very divided racially right now and when I’m looking at people that aren’t in a position like myself, those that cant provide for their families, it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see. When I was there, I’m looking at people that look like myself and when I’m speaking to certain people in the hood and favelas and they are explaining to me what’s really going on in Brazil and how it’s like “waking up in hell” each morning it became a real eye-opener for me. I’m looking at people that look like my brother’s or look like me and yet the realities we are living are so different.
I was over there while quite a lot of things were happening politically including the days that Bolsonaro rose to power. I saw first-hand that whole transition period and it really wasn’t pretty or nice to see. I saw the very real divide between people so with the album I wanted to make a statement about how I really felt about it all and what I had witnessed in order to try and be a voice for those people I met on a world scale. The rainforest is literally burning down and we couldn’t need that rainforest more, it’s our lungs and if we burn that down then the world will shortly follow.
You feature a number of Brazilian artists throughout it, such as the spoken word artist Rincon Sapienca and the legendary Marcos Valle. Valle has obviously been an industry legend since the ’80s, so how did you guys get connected for this record and what was the experience like working with him?
It was certainly a surreal one. I literally just reached out and asked! The record is obviously dedicated to my grandad and Marcos Valle was his favourite musician ever so I knew that somehow I had to get his favourite artist on there and I wasn’t going to stop until I managed it. I reached out and explained that he was my grandad’s favourite and that I would be honoured just to even play him some of the music. I actually sent him ‘Cocaina’ first and he was like “Oh no I cant jump on this haha!’.
I then sent him a demo of ‘Heaven’s Calling’ and he instantly said that he loved it and asked if not only could we meet but also if he could play on it. When he came he knew the chords straight away which was just amazing to witness. It was incredibly humbling to see someone with that amount of experience in music and at that age to comfortably be able to make a song with someone like me was amazing. He really didn’t have to do that but I think he is just such a big fan of music and understood what I was trying to do so was happy to get involved.
Having Marcos Valle play on my album was honestly the icing on the cake of the whole experience. Getting to collaborate with him, and actually work together not just over facetime or something, especially getting to sit down and walk him through the album and my journey as a musician was truly an amazing experience. Not only that but also getting to see him work and watch him play the keys that would end up on my album was a real pinch yourself moment. I know if my grandad could have seen that he would have loved it.
‘Lil Ze’ is perhaps my favourite track on the album as it highlights your ability to glide and find a pocket amongst a really complex beat with this boisterous Dizzee rascal kind of flow. Do you enjoy choosing more difficult Jazz style beats that present more of a challenge to spit over?
To be honest it’s a bit of both! With certain beats, it kind of just falls into place so I will hear something and my ear will naturally make me want to jump on a track a specific way. It’s like I’ve tuned my ear to know when something is hot and when it will sound great for the flow I’m trying to deliver. With Lil Ze, there was so much going on in that instrumental and I remember for some reason it made me just want to play football. I don’t know why maybe cause the rhythm kind of feels like a football chant and that was the energy I wanted to give it from a production standpoint. Then from a content standpoint, I wanted the whole track to be written from the perspective of the character Lil Ze from the Brazillian crime film the City of God. He was always a character that fascinated me.
When I was working on the production of that track I started to hum a flow to it until I started to piece in different lyrics that I had already and it continued to build from there. That track really felt like making a puzzle until I caught the vibe and then everything flowed from there.
Not only do you bring the bars throughout this album, but on a track like ‘Girl from Bahia’ or ‘Ghetto Cinderella’ we see the set of pipes you have on you bro! Where did singing arrive in your musical?
So I taught myself to sing and produce because I wanted to be able to do a little bit of everything by myself. I didn’t want to have to rely on anyone in order to make a song happen. I’m such a fan of music that wherever I would hear a song that I fell in love with, I would always think “can you make a song like that? Can you push yourself musically to make something of that quality?”. So as the years went on, I started to really love making my own hooks. That pushed me to try and get better at singing. It’s definitely been a later development in my artistry but something that I’ve really started to gravitate towards and relied on more.
I read in an old interview with you that when you craft an album, sometimes you don’t notice until you’re finished that there is a recurring theme throughout it. With your previous project Judas, you didn’t realise that you were writing about asking for forgiveness. When you finished this album, was there anything that became a recurring theme without you intentionally creating it that way?
Totally! I realised that throughout Fell In Love With Brazil I was writing about my own encounters dancing with death. I noticed on that first listen through that death and my proximity to it was a recurring concept that kept popping up and how I’ve been able to keep dancing around him.
One track I have to ask you about is ‘Duppy FT. Big Zuu’! I can’t get enough of how the beat switches up halfway throughout the track. Is it fair to say that as a producer you don’t feel like you have to conform to any ‘rules’ on how songs should be constructed?
100%, I think whatever sounds right to my ear and if I get gassed up when I’m listening to something I’ve made, then I trust my gut feeling and go with it. Even if it’s not within a typical idea of what the track ‘should’ sound like. Conforming is boring!. If you want to sound like someone else then conform, but if you want to sound like the best version of yourself then you only need to do things that sound sick to you!
‘Duppy’ was just another natural link-up between me and Big Zuu. Me and him grew up together so I’ve known him for ages and we have a lot of mutual friends. A lot of people don’t know this but where I used to live in West London, there was a football club across the road. Zuu doesn’t know this either, but I remember him when he was really young and he popped up to me with all this energy and he was just so funny that I never forgot the kid. Then when we bumped into each other after all the years it was just surreal to see that we are now creating together and working together as young adults. I think that song is special because I just wanted to show people that you can create something great just by making vibes and not forcing something.
What’s the worst thing about an artist in the era of social media? Is it ha ing to be your own brand strategist and social media manager? Is it trying to stay relevant when it seems a new artist crops up every day?
I think the culture is putting pressure on kids to artistically be something that they’re not. There is an opportunity for kids to be way more creative than what is being projected to us as the standardised format for being musical creative in today’s society. I feel like the culture has championed certain artists and songs that have constructed a false ideal of what the younger generation needs or should do in order to have success with music. Executives in the industry are damaging the art we create by making it more about the image rather than the actual art form. I personally think it’s totally backwards and needs to change. Don’t let these exec’s make you think you have to go down a certain road to be successful. I promise you there are so many ways that you can express your creativity without having to focus on this current poster boy image of UK rap.
Speaking of the younger generation, you recently let us know that you have a feature spot on M1llionz debut mixtape Provisionally License on the track ‘Hometown’. Besides producing a load of other tracks on that project, how did you guys come to link us for this one?
You see M1llionz, I have a lot of time for that kid. His journey from where he started to where he is now is exceptional in the way that he has turned things around. Now he is telling us about the process and what he has been through in a way that is extremely clever in the way that he expresses himself. He is a true street poet. That is the perfect definition of him.
It was awesome to be a part of Provisional License and to help find a way to bring his vision to life. ‘Hometown’ came at a time where I was feeling very frustrated at the lack of attention my vocal stuff was receiving compared to my work as a producer so I wasn’t originally even going to spit on it. I told him that and he said ‘WHAT?! You are one of the coldest! Are you mad!”, so he got me to sing the hook on Hometown haha! He is a real one-man and this tape is just the start of what we have cooked up together.
Who are you listening to a lot of at the moment and is there a younger up and coming artist your associated with what you think we should check out?
I’ve been working with a lot of young guys and girls in the scene recently so I’ve been lucky to cherry-pick a lot of the artists that I’ve been fans of for ages. A few I would consider being the future of the UK sound like M1llionz, Amaria BB and ADZ Heartless. From me to you I think ADZ is the future of UK rap. From a street point of view, that kid is the messenger! He is like J Hus, Stormzy and Dave all in one. Of course Pa Salieu! I’ve been so proud to watch that guys journey ever since I produced his track ‘Frontline’.
Lastly Jevon, If you had to pick one track to summarise your artistry to an alien what would it be?
Blossom, 100%! That’s my favourite song I’ve ever made. It represents new beginnings for me and I believe it mirrors the cycle of life. That song is a real positive vibration based on love and releasing the bad in order to blossom into something beautiful.