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Spotlight: Jay Prince

Spotlight: Jay Prince
Adam Tiran

After years lurking in the shadows, grime has in the last few years seen the meteoric rise of some of its founding forefathers and most prominent figures to mainstream chart success. But that hype seems to have come and gone, another sound chewed up by the pop hype machine and spat out, disfigured and unrecognisable from its original form. Nonetheless grime has these past few years undoubtedly stolen limelight (good or bad) from other urban UK sounds, in a time where any semblance of a UK hip hop scene seems like a blurred and distant memory. Hark back to the days of Jehst, Roots Manuva, Taskforce et al and UK hip hop’s last real punctuation on the population, and you begin to realise just how long it’s been since any substantive, lyrically conscious talent has come out of our little island.

But that time may finally be coming to an end. The emergence of a rapper like 20 year old East Londoner Jay Prince may just signal a welcome transition back to that golden age. With productions characterized by warm, soulful melodies sampling anything from funk & soul to R&B and folk and fit with complex chord progressions, and an effortlessly cool and unique vocal style and content, Jay Prince is making music that exhibits a maturity far beyond his years.

Calling himself ‘The Rick James of rap’ and with a blatant disregard for the inane output that has plagued much of hip hop for the past few years, Jay seems to pride himself on socially conscious, locally relevant wordsmithery – but it’s not all doom and gloom either. There’s a lot of love in his beats and lyrics, seen in the constant reference to his family. This is a young guy who isn’t scared to shout out his Mum on numerous tracks, plainly dedicating much of his work to the unit that surrounds him. That’s a far cry from much of that which preceded his career, and it’s an attitude that has set him apart right from the off.

With his second full length release, Mellow Vation, just out, which has been garnering some impressive traction and has already seen him snapped up by Elastic Artists, we got Jay in for a chat to get his thoughts on the re-emergent scene that envelops him, and of which he has, perhaps unknowingly, become a prominent part.

Thanks for talking to us, Jay. What’s new with you? Where are you based right now?

Hey it’s a pleasure. I’m just working on shooting videos from the Mellow Vation tape, pushing it out there as much as possible, and right now I’m based in London.

So yeah, you’ve just dropped your new mixtape, Mellow Vation. Another fine batch of tracks under your belt there, can you tell us a bit about the creative process behind the album?

Thank you very much. Well, the creative process was that I mainly focused on what I wanted to put out there, how I truly felt about everything, so creating Mellow Vation wasn’t much of a difficult task. I did my beat digging, hit up producers that could help me make my vision come to light, and also produced 7 of the records myself. Everything just managed to jell together from there.

You’ve worked a lot with Zurich-based producer Maloon TheBoom in the past and it seems you’ve built up quite a powerful partnership. How did you two first connect, and was he involved for this release?

Yes, Maloon is definitely one of my favourite producers and favourite people in general! We worked on an EP together named Voyage which we released in February 2013, having connected through Soundcloud & Facebook. I happened to come across his music through another Zurich based producer who I follow called Melodiesinfonie who is also a very talented beat maker. Maloon didn’t feature in the Mellow Vation project, but we do plan on working on some more music together for sure!

Good to hear! So there’s an impressive catalogue of samples in your backing beats, taken from funk, soul, R&B, even folk? Is this the kind of stuff you tend to listen to at home as well?

Thank you, when it comes to music in general I listen to everything I can, and I then try to study and understand it, but with funk, soul, and R&B these are some of the genres I grew up listening to, especially R&B. I also collect vinyls so I tend to listen to all of these genres regularly.

I’m sure you’ve been hearing this a lot, but there’s elements of the monotone spoken word stylings of guys like Ghostpoet in your delivery on this album. Was that a concerted effort or something you’ve naturally gravitated towards?

I’ve definitely heard many different things in terms of styling, but to be very truthful it was probably something I just naturally gravitated towards subconsciously I just do whatever sounds right to me so yeah this is definitely something that happened naturally.

Our first encounter with you actually came from your cameo on “Check It Out”, on the Black Vulcanite album. How was it that you came to be involved with an up and coming Namibian / South African crew? Did you manage to make it out to Africa during that collab?

Oh forreal !? Dope, firstly want to say that I’m a huge Black Vulcanite fan and they’re really dope! Well the way I came across that situation was through Maloon, whilst I was working on the EP with him, he was also working on a project with BV, he told me they liked my music and I checked them out and from there we got cracking and I was happy to be a part of a real good album, so yeah Maloon set that up and the rest was history.

Your laid-back, understated flow and apparent disregard for a lot of the vacuous lyricism out there has set you apart from a lot of other British MCs out there right now. Do you see yourself as part of any particular scene right now here in London or in the wider context?

Thank you! At some points I have felt that I have been an outcast, not being able to fit in under a category of a specific scene so I feel that this helped me find myself in terms of music and lyricism and from that developing skills. I have been able to come across many different artists that have similar mind sets as myself so I guess to some extent I’d say I’m part of a scene in London that just wants to put out good music.

“I used to have doubts about the UK scene, until I found hope…nowadays I don’t even worry”

One of your lyrics on Souled Out says something like “Don’t say you’re from the streets if you’re in the industry”. Does that signify a desire to keep your music underground, authentic and more respected perhaps?

I just wanted to put the whole idea out there of being true to yourself in whatever situation it is, because not everything we hear in music is the truth and I think that some people ignore that. Being where I’m from and my background it has humbled me to being true to myself, and I hope that reflects in the music.

What’s coming up for you in the next few months? In the next few months expect to see more music videos for tracks on Mellow Vation, more live performances (Be Discovered @ Hospital Club on March 6th & Breaking Music Showcase @ Bar Solo on the 13th), and most definitely more new music!

Thanks for talking to us and best of luck with the new mixtape.

Thank you.

Mellow Vation is out now on Jay’s Bandcamp. Pay what you want, make a donation.