- Words Liam Cattermole
In a rare break from the booth, JBEE talks future feature plans, showing versatility and why Drake will always be king.
With a wicked penmanship, JBEE’s the London rapper showing growth through versatility. Amassing 2.7 million monthly listeners at the time of writing, the MOBO-nominated wordsmith is refusing to be put in a box, gaining notoriety through chart hits and freestyles. Released in February, his most recent single “Heart On Ice” speaks to broken hearts and anyone who’s ever felt ‘the one’ slipping away from them.
Breaking through the capital’s noise, JBEE dropped his viral track “4AM” in 2021 and quickly struck a chord with lo-fi drill lovers. There’s something profoundly melodic about the single’s minimal 808s and chopped vocal samples, which nestle below an expertly devised flow pattern: direct and endearing, the lyricism finds comfort in JBEE’s aspirational imagery.
Poised for greatness, JBEE’s recently teased a forthcoming project, which he insists on leaving to fans’ imaginations. “Heart On Ice” takes the rapper’s tried-and-tested drill formula, revelling in a tale of relatable romance issues. Directed by Blue Boredom, the visuals see JBEE yearning for his lover while staying focused on the mission in hand: a burgeoning career in music, living lavishly and providing for his day ones.
To get you up to speed, we spoke with JBEE on a rare break from the booth about showing versatility, future feature plans and why Drake will always be king. Tap in!
You were nominated in 2022 for a MOBO award, how did it feel achieving that level of recognition as such a young performer?
It was good to feel like my work and music was being noticed by the industry for once. Even though I didn’t win, to me, it was still a great achievement.
Talk us through your process for creating a track, and how you source songs to sample.
So lately I’ve been writing a lot of my music in the studio, normally me and the producer will run through some loops and we’ll pick a sample I’ve thought of prior to the session. Once the beat is made I tend to try and match my writing with the sample on the beat.
TikTok is a platform you’ve had massive success on – how has social media facilitated your rise in popularity and getting your name out there?
Social media in general has been a great tool for building my success as I started off dropping freestyles on Instagram, which were doing alright online, but once I moved over to TikTok, that’s when things properly started popping off for me!
After the success of “4AM”, was following up with new music a concern, or did you know that producing something with the same impact would be no hard feat?
No it wasn’t really a concern, my only concern was how long I hadn’t dropped music for after “4am”. However, once I dropped the “Next Up” freestyle, those concerns disappeared.
Your sound tends to fall into the lofi drill category, although you’ve mentioned in previous interviews having dipped into drill, wave and afro-swing. Is breaking out into different sounds something you’d consider exploring in the future?
Yeah 100%. I’ve got tracks that have completely different vibes from my previous songs. I feel like making different types of music within different genres shows growth as an artist and versatility, so you guys will definitely be hearing some different stuff soon.
An artist you’ve previously said you are inspired by is Central Cee, having been the first gig you attended. How has Central’s meteoric rise in popularity inspired your own trajectory?
Honestly, I just admire his work ethic to be honest and how once he got the chance he never looked back and kept going. It’s rare to see someone have such a clean run as he has.
Your first single of 2023, “heart on ice”, takes quite a mature approach to heartbreak and details love turned sour. Why is threading these strong and often abstract messages into your lyrics so important?
It’s important because I like being as real as possible in my music. The supporters gravitate towards that as they can relate and music is my way of opening up about how I feel, so it goes hand in hand.
You performed at Wireless in 2022, and will be on the BBC Radio 1extra stage at Reading and Leeds Fest this year – how does it feel to be performing at some of the biggest music festivals alongside some of the industry’s most prolific acts?
It’s crazy to see I’m doing shows in general, where I have people coming out just to see me rap for 15 minutes sometimes. Like I said earlier about the MOBO, this is something that makes me feel noticed and appreciated, so by God’s grace there will be many more and to come.
Are there any artists, in particular, you’d love the opportunity to work with? Who’s been on your radar lately?
Drake is for sure one of my favourite artists right now, not even just because of his popularity but how he manages to express the way he feels through his music is crazy. It would definitely be an honour to work with him. Right now, I’m really taking Ayra Starr, Knucks, Unknown T, SG Lewis, Lil Silva, 6LACK, and Cat Burns is also someone I’d like the opportunity to work with soon.
And finally, we’d love to know what is on the cards for 2023?
I’ve got a cold new single called “Scar” with Gyakie that’s dropping this month. I also have a mixtape on the way, dropping in the middle of the year so definitely watch out for that. This year is all about taking this music thing to the next level, all gas no breaks.