Aberdeen rapper Jahh Jizzle has mopped up the local competition, and now seeks to release an EP early this year. Andrew Watson interviews.
Jamie Kemp, 23, of Summerhill, has honed his craft for about four years and has taken on all challengers with what has proved to be a sizeable appetite.
Perhaps this can be attributed to knowing the city like the back of his hand, which in turn is down to his childhood.
“I’m originally from the Castlegate. That’s where I was brought up when I was younger. Virginia Court area, and then I moved to Balgownie up in Bridge of Don. I did my primary school days up there, and then I moved to Hazlehead Academy, which was Summerhill area, for my later on days.”
Furthermore, a certain musicality could be more simply put down to his parents.
“My mum’s actually a singer. She’s done that her whole life. My gran was the same. My dad, he actually left when I was a young boy, about three or four, but was a drummer for my mum’s band. So there’s a lot of musical background for my family.”
Rap music was how he fitted it in with his family.
“I was always seeing my family, my mum, singing when I was getting brought up. My gran. Rap I found was my way of doing things. My proper introduction to rap music was about four years ago when I had a rap battle onstage, my first one, and that was one of the most memorable things that happened to me in my life to do with rap.”
Was Eminem an inspiration, like for many within the white rap audience?
“I actually don’t like a lot of Eminem. I like a lot of Wu Tang Clan, like Nas, maybe rappers you haven’t heard of. MC Justice, he’s from Australia. He’s a freestyle battler. A lot of underground people listen to Tenshu. He’s a bit bigger now. But I’ve got a lot of inspiration from a lot of different people, and not just the one.”
…and favourite rappers?
“Well, it was all about rap battles when I was getting into it and it was MC Justice, I’ve mentioned his name already, Tenshu, Shotty Horroh, Stig of the Dump. Professor Green when he was first coming out. There was a lot of others involved, but they were the ones that stick out to me. Stick out on my mind.”
Battling, of course, is more than metaphorical for Jahh. Once a keen amateur boxer, the physicality of it looms large.
“When I’m onstage and battling I get the same, that’s the only other time I will get the same rush as when I’ve had a boxing match, when you come off a boxing match and you’ve got the shakes and everything.
“It’s exactly the same feeling I’ll get when I come off after a rap battle, whether I win or lose. Whatever. And that’s, yeah, I reckon it has a lot to do with that.
“It’s the same feeling.”
It’s not all about throwing haymakers, though. The best battle rapper has to broaden their horizons.
“I know a few rap battlers and some of them do lack the aspect of writing tracks and performing them a bit different than having to rip the piss out of someone onstage. So, yeah, I reckon you just need to take a step back and listen to your track before you release it to think is that okay enough to put forward not as a rap battler, but as a musician.”
Many of those rappers he knows come under the umbrella of Aberdeen Movement. Jahh explains what exactly this is.
“Me and my pal Nico started it about four years ago when we first started rapping. A movement isn’t a group of rappers, it isn’t a solo rapper, it’s like if we go in a club and we all perform together. Say there’s Ill Collective, there’s me and a few of my mates, there’s RFM and we all come together, right? Like, describe that as Aberdeen Movement. A group of people when we all get together from Aberdeen to become a movement of rappers to try and push something forward. So that’s basically what it is.“
Coming from such an all-encompassing cooperative, there’ve been many offers. Some he’s appreciated, and others he hasn’t.
“You would get a lot of people trying to push this towards me. Oh, Jazza, Aberdeen Movement trying to big up my side of the rap, and I would, I’m all for that. Cheers for the promo and everything, but I don’t like people trying to sook up too much. I like people if they like my music, like it for what you like it for. Don’t try and push to try and like it. You do get that a lot of that round Aberdeen and round the whole of Scotland, I see. Not just here.”
There’ve also been enemies, the competition, that’ve become, in some cases, close friends.
“I’ve actually got a lot of friends through rap battling. I’ve had seven up until now onstage and I’m undefeated, but my first rap battle was against a comedian called Peter Wood and since then he’s just got me onstage so many times. He’s been such a pal to me, helping me out with a lot of things. There’s been another one of my friends, his name’s Giovanni. Gio.
“We battled each other before, as well. We’re just the closest of pals now. There’s like, I’ve seen it happen so many times, they’ll hate eachother for about a week after the battle’s over and done with. Bestest of mates. So, yeah, you can get along with a lot of people after seeing to them.”
We then got into the semantics of recording, debating age old talking points regarding how the musical process is recorded. Listen to the beat first, or tailor the beat to what’s been already written?
But at the end of the day, rap’s rap.
“Yeah, it does go a bit of both ways, but myself normally I’ll download say about fifteen random instrumentals, and I have got a few producers around Aberdeen that would send me some, like of their own instrumentals.
“So I would wait, write tracks, say a grime track over random instrumentals until a proper producer had sent me his one.
“Most of the time if you write a certain type of music, when someone sends you another version of it your track, your bars, will go to it quite easy. So someone goes, ‘oh you’ve been, this a homemade instrumental instead of just a YouTube one’.
“You’d rather spit your lyrics over a homemade instrumental that’s made by one of your friends, than just a random person that you’ve got over YouTube.
“That’s what I try and do, tailor, write, my bars to someone else’s intro off, say the internet, just a random one and then once a proper home, someone that you knows made one, sends it to you to push your work onto that. That’s how it goes for me, anyway.”
Another contentious issue for many hip-hoppers is the live band as a backup, as opposed to samplers and drum machines.
“When I first started out I was very iffy about this subject because I thought I wrote my tracks down to this instrumental, this is how it’s got to sound. But at the end of the day, rap’s rap. People are here to see a rapper, doesn’t matter what track you’ve done it to, you should have enough rhymes in your head that you can just open your mouth and spit to anything.
“Now, after about, I’ve been rapping for eight years now, but I’ve been onstage for four or five. I prefer a live band now rather than using my instrumentals from my phone, or just doing something random. So, a live band is what I like to prefer to do now.
“You get a lot of jazz and blues I jump over if they do, the Malt Mill used to have a night, there’s a night called Rhythm and Rhymes that happens every couple of months with a live band with Simon Gall and JuJu. There’s heaps of things on the go just now in Aberdeen. The scene’s really opening up in the last two years or so.”
Other discussion centred more around the style and delivery of rap. Technical and tongue twisting, or brutal and hardcore?
“I like to do a bit of both, actually. Depends on what I’m working on. Brutal and hardcore if there’s an opponent standing in front of me, then I like tongue twisters if it’s a, say a grime track, or a hip hop track. You like to show what you’re all about. On the other side, if you are battling somebody you like to tell them what you are all about.”
This lead to Jahh’s favourite rappers in Aberdeen.
“Out of Aberdeen, because I’ve rapped so long here, I know a lot of the rappers here. I wouldn’t particularly say, he’s my favourite rapper; he’s my favourite rapper.
“The one person I try to push a lot of confidence into’s a boy called Shaun Q, Shaun Quantrell. He’s just something else for the grime, really, with his grime flow. But there’s Shaun, Gio, and my mate Nico and Ill Collective.
“They’re all smashing their scene. There’s even FA. Gideon Gamba from Ransom Fee Media. I see a lot of singers actually coming out. Cameron Jay’s doing a lot of good for Aberdeen at the moment. There’s so much people to mention I could just go on for the whole day, like.”
Then came some discussion about the Aberdeen urban scene, and its health.
“When I first started onstage about four years ago I thought it needed a lot of improvement. Me and my mate Nico were the only two I was hearing, the only two rappers I was hearing, jumping onstage every week or so, but in the last two years things have just blown out of proportion. It’s getting pretty good.
“Every week there’s an open mic. Every maybe second week there’s another gig coming up with other, like, another headline coming up from, say, down the road somewhere. So there’s a lot of talent coming up to Aberdeen to perform, now, not just locals. Getting a bit bigger in the scene.”
Maybe regional accents, particularly Scottish accents, are part in parcel to do with the health of the scene?
“Aye, because they don’t really know you yet. Me and my friends, at the start of this year, about seven of us from Aberdeen went down to a Boom Bap Festival. That’s in Suffolk, and if you want to make anything out of yourself as a rapper you need to go down there and meet other people. There’s a few, there’s a handful, of folk that I already had on Facebook and spoken to but they never took me seriously until they actually met me at the Boom Bap Festival earlier on this year.
“It’s a bit different, it’s the same with everything, once you speak to someone but haven’t met someone face to face you could maybe take their persona as someone else until you meet them. Sometimes I think it can hold you back but you get a lot of Scottish rappers trying to put on accents as well which I think can hold you back.”
Then came an admission, whether putting this accent or that accent on, that comes with trying to gain some sort of mass appeal in the rap world.
“English and American. I can’t lie, I done the same when I first came out. [American accent] I was four years old, and stuff like that. Like putting on a different twang to my voice, but I really think being true to yourself is the way to go so no one can say anything about you at the end of the day. Rap battlers like to point things out so you need to be true to yourself, and that’s the best way to go.”
Mass appeal, of course, usually comes somewhere along the lines of a rapper’s ultimate ambitions.
“I’ve actually, a lot of things I wanted to do when I first started rapping, I’ve done them. But now I’ve bigged up the scene in Aberdeen. I’ve performed out of Aberdeen. All I really want now is to perform for Scotland, not just an area.
“I’d rather go down to England and, say, battle someone in Manchester for Aberdeen versus Manchester, but Scotland versus England. So I’m kinda needing out of here now and into a bigger rap battle league which Don’t Flop’s, In My Eyes or Breaking the Barrier or something further down the lines, like. So that’s where I’m really wanting to go.”
We then weaved back towards the Aberdeen urban scene. Can the Aberdeen scene hold its own within the United Kingdom?
“Definitely. You should hear us down at Boom Bap Festival, we’re the loudest folk going about. I thought it would be different; but after a few drinks and a few Scots we know how to handle ourselves out round about, like.”
Moving from Aberdeen, to the whole UK rap scene, is one of many things Jahh has in mind for the future.
“For the rest of the year I’m looking to put out another EP called Crossing Borders which will be Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland all mixed together. I’ve got a lot of artists I know from all over the place, so I’m looking to push out that one later on next year.”
The Jahh Jizzle EP is due to be released on Monday, February 8. This will entail six tracks. There’ll be digital copies to give to anyone who wishes to purchase. For the first fifteen people that share the EP online, Jahh will send a hard copy CD.
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