by Jack Sommer
The UK music scene has been in an ever-growing groove in recent years, with hip hop artists from across the pond gaining more respect in their craft. The artists, at least the best of them, never fail to spit layered lyrics over dense production and draw people in with their accent-ridden articulation. We’ve already talked about Loyle Carner in the Daily section before, and now we are going to be speaking on another London artist: Jay Prince.
I first came across Prince’s music on the mix that Soulection did with Stussy in early September of last year. His track on the project titled “All You” stood out to me the most. It was a song I would continue to play the rest of 2014. Then, he released his latest project, BeFor Our Time, on January 19th of this year. The title is a double entendre, trying to simultaneously bring back the feeling of a golden era of hip hop seemingly lost but also still staying a strong representative of our generation. The young jedi produced most of the project himself, which was a skill he started to hone a year to two before he was even before he was rapping. The producing came from a keyboard sitting around his house that only he was using. The writing came along when he was around 14, gaining inspiration from is surroundings instead of just one specific person or thing. And although he may have grown up on the grime sound, so well known in his city, he has ventured into a different lane.
“Polaroids” is perhaps his most infectious song yet, a jam that feels reminiscent of past funk yet simultaneously feeling very much now and very much the future. “All I want is space to create and breathe,” he wishes. With solid verses and a hook will get stuck in your head in the best way, this is just one song of several gems in Prince’s catalog. “I've always wanted to intertwine a feel good track with some real life situations - so that it creates that mood where you're enjoying the music, but there's a message behind it,” he’s remarked about the song.
His music tends to have a special bounce to it. The 21-year-old from East London floats over songs you can play either in the whip or just vibing to in the crib with the homies. It can be something you can just have fun listening to, but it can also make you think. The song after "Polaroids" on the project is a track called “Cruisin” where Prince gets a bit vulnerable towards the end of his second verse.
I'm livin' in a world where they will come for your life
"Oh why?" That's the question that they ask all the time
Time, I ain't really had enough of that
My dad walked out when he had enough of us
So really I had to be the man
I had enough of rap
Teach my little bro how to live life without a map
Really wish it didn't have to come to that
Really wish the homies that said they had my back had my back
But really that's reality, I still got my sanity
Who you really got if you don't got your family?
Damn, I've been livin' life like a sin, no lie
And now they wanna to tell me that the sun don't shine
Maybe I just wanna go and make things right
Maybe I just wanna go out for the night
Prince is well-aware of the situations of the world, and speaks on them, but also advocates for peace, love, and prosperity. He strives to bring back storytelling to a bigger forefront and just show kids how important it is to be real and tell your own story. When I first sent Ryan the “All You” track, he said that Prince reminded him a bit of Kendrick, and I think that comparison is all too relevant when we think about what To Pimp A Butterfly (and frankly all of Kendrick’s catalog) has impacted hip hop in these same veins of telling stories of your own. He starts off that track with saying “I just wanna make something that lasts forever man. That’s what I wanna do to be honest. I ain’t here to just make music for now, man. I want my kids to hear this shit.”
Along with the project, just before it’s release, he released a short film called notes that he describes as "an artist finding themselves through experiences of life and art, an insight and a reflection of what goes through the mind of the artist when in the creative process and becoming better.” Again, he covers most of the duties and aspects of it himself in directing, writing, filming, and composing music for it - only getting help from Amir Qureshi on assisting filming and doing the sound. Prince is the star of the film itself, too, so throw in acting to that bucket as well. The ambition, drive, and creativity is not to be questioned from this young man.
Prior to BeFor Our Time, he released a project called Mellow Vation on November 18th, 2013. Part of the process that helped build up hype and recognition for the EP's release was an unplanned track called “Phase” which was described as “a spontaneous release from the heart” and was his first to hit 30,000 plays on Soundcloud (now at nearly 100,000 - although nothing compared to the 660,000 of “Polaroids”).
“Understand that I stand out, stand up. Wanna be heard you gotta man up. Follow the herd and try to sound tough. F that I ain’t tryna finna lose my way... Straight from the culture, I ain’t afriad to go go go back to the roots. That bit of truth. I’m just tryna give back to the youth. I try to be cool with it all. I ain’t even gotta deal, tell me how I’m really ‘posed to feel." - "Phase"
Another element that ended up helping the project spread was Prince putting up the offer of mailing a free physical copy to whoever wanted one, and he ended up personally hand-mailing over a hundred copies of the CD to people around the world. No profit made, just a way for him to connect with his fans and reach new ears.
Listening to the projects in reverse as I did, since BeFor Our Time was what really won me over, I can say that it definitely feels like that stepping stone leading right up to this new project. It has a lot of elements which Prince would later push even further, both sonically and thematically. Topics of truth, identity, family, and drive over a diverse array of melodic beats. You can see the progression between them, yet Mellow Vation is still a really great project on it’s own. It’s cohesive and fun just like it’s successor would turn out to be a little over a year later. It’s five tracks longer than Before Our Time, with the bonus track included - making it a winding road of 14 compositions dissecting the truths and promise from a growing, already-talented artist.
“Are you mad because I told you my reality? I could say I had a bad bitch, nine chains, black rings, smoke weed, get high, pop bottles, party every night. But that’s not me. Where’s the balance here to make it happen? Imagine a canvas of madness, I’m a black man standing. I ain’t pampered by the ratchet” - "All From Here"
With already an impressive and fairly extensive catalog, the future is looking bright. Prince traveled around North America this spring with the Soulection crew doing shows in Texas (SxSW), Toronto, California, New York (S.O.B's), Chicago, and more. On top of all that, he's managed to still finish up his uni degree this semester.
On the last song of the new project, he croons “I just want you to feel it” over some jazz horns. We sure do, man. We sure do.