- Words Mike Vinti
- Photography Vic Lentaigne
- Fashion Naomi Gordon
After a decade on the grime scene, Brum town captain Jaykae has climbed to the top. Now he wants to bring his home town with him. Taken from Notion 82.
Jaykae is a proud Brummie. Born Janum Khan and raised in Small Heath, in the shadow of the Birmingham City F.C. stadium, he’s repped 0121 since he first broke out in 2008 and has stayed true to the city ever since. While conversations about grime and British rap in general, have focused around London, the UK’s second city has been holding it down for the UK’s rap scene for decades. While Mike Skinner and The Streets might be hailed as one of the greatest British rap acts in history, most of Birmingham’s MCs have had to make do without so much as a co-sign.
All that started to change at the tail end of summer 2014 when a new generation of Birmingham-raised MCs, encompassing artists like Lady Leshurr, SafOne and Jaykae, started to pick up increased attention outside of their home city; opening the ears of the music industry to a world of grime that had been thriving outside of the confines of the M25. By summer 2017, Birmingham was front and centre, with the likes of MIST, Dapz on The Map and Lotto Boyzz propping up the city’s reputation as the new home of Brit rap.
- Cap Jaykae's Own
- Shorts Topman
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As one of Birmingham’s veteran MCs, Jaykae was catapulted into the upper echelons of grime thanks to the release of his EP Where Have You Been?, elevated by a string of high profile and higher octane features. When he’s not trading shots with former EDL leader Tommy Robinson and treating fans to Nandos, Jaykae’s busy cemented his reputation as not only one of the best MCs in his ends but in the country at large, collaborating with the likes of London Grammar, Skepta and revived Birmingham icons The Streets.
Known for his ferocious and dynamic flow, as well as a gift for lyricism, Jaykae’s take on grime is one built on the blueprints laid by East London pioneers like Ghetts and Skepta. Thanks in equal measure to his distinct Brummie accent and to the work of his go-to producer Bowzer Boss, Khan has carved out a unique space for himself. Four years since “German Whip” made grime cool again, the genre’s influence has birthed new scenes and helped shine a light on other kinds of rap music in the capital. Many of the rappers that emerged as part of the ‘grime comeback’ in London, have gone on to capitalise on the popularity of new sounds such as afroswing and drill, leaving those outside the capital to pick up the flag once more. Somehow, after years of being overlooked as an outsider, Jaykae has become one of the purest voices in grime.
- Jacket Nike
When did you first start rapping?
It was probably 2008, it was on MSN, it was big in Birmingham. We used to do big group chats and send stuff to each other. Just messing around. From 2009 I thought this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, man.
When did you find a scene?
In 2009. Basically, Grime Blog came out in Birmingham and it was a big YouTube channel and everyone was sending for each other and doing freestyles. That contributed to a lot of people’s careers in Birmingham. We used to like going on there and seeing who could get the most views and seeing all the gas, having all the little beefs in Birmingham between the crews—that was the start of it really.
Was there much grime going on in Birmingham before then?
Yeah, for as long as I can remember, there’s not always been a light shone on Birmingham for it but its always been there.
Did you grow up listening to pirate radio?
Yeah, Graveyard and Midlands Mafia where my favourite crews growing up. With Graveyard, it was Smokey who was way ahead of his time with his flows and that and there was Doctor who was more gimmicks and punchlines and I was a Doctor fan from way back.
Do you remember the first time you rapped for radio?
The first time was me, Rusky, DJ Free, Remtrex, RM. I’m talking about years ago, there was some little community pirate radio station we used to land on. Then we all ended up getting a show on Silk City, which was a massive pirate station in Birmingham. It ended up becoming a legal thing, and it was broadcast on FM, our show, the Invasion Show and Big Mikey’s show on a Sunday were massive. We had thousands of people tuning in.
What’s unique about Birmingham at the moment?
In 2012/13 it was really thriving down here, the grime scene was practically a Birmingham thing back then. I’m starting to get that feeling again. Not just the grime scene but the whole music thing. Birmingham is going to have a really strong year, somethings really going to happen. Everyone knows their business now, it’s not views on somebody else’s Youtube channel that we care about, it’s business. We can see what we can do to change our lives. It’s more professional.
"Moscow" by Jaykae
What’s changed since you started?
Everything I wanted to do and everything I dreamed of when I first started, I’ve done. I’ve just been enjoying it, things are happening I never would have thought would happen. It’s a lot more mainstream, middle-class people are buying into it, songs are charting, people are becoming millionaires from making grime music.
Your song “Toothache” was featured on the TV show Power recently, has that started to get you some attention in the US?
I’ve had a lot of Americans do reaction videos and things like that. That song in particular, when I check my Spotify I can see its pulling in plays.
Do you care about breaking America?
I want to break Birmingham first man.
You don’t think you have?
In a sense, in that everyone knows about it and us, in that sense, yes. But I’m talking about buss us man, there’s so much talent here and independently we can do so much, we can set up our own labels and shit. When I go London it’s so active, I go to one building and have a meeting with three labels, there’s so much going on. It’s not like that in Birmingham, there’s no infrastructure, there’s no headquarters, I’d like to buss Brum properly. I’d like to be known for that man.
It’s sad man because they shut the Rainbow, that’s where the majority of things used to happen. They had a pub, then they had a few rooms and then a warehouse, I have a lot of memories there. That’s my favourite Brum venue ever. There’s not really a spot now.. Oxygen Rooms used to be it before Rainbow, but they put rules in which killed the vibe. You used to go in there, and there would be thirty people on the stage doing a grime set, and then they pulled it down to one DJ and four MCs, and that killed the whole vibe, and everyone stopped going there.
How did growing up in Small Heath shape you?
It’s all I talk about bruv, me and my friends and my experiences in the area. That’s what I’m based on. Because I’m mixed race and I come from a very multicultural area I’m not ignorant of other people’s cultures and religions, I just express myself freely.
Everyone is different in my area but everyone respects each other, everyone lives with each other, there’s no segregation. On Eid all the non-muslims and getting fed, on Christmas all the non-Christians are still getting chocolates and sweets delivered to the house. We make everybody feel welcome, everybody respects each other’s cultures, I think that’s a big thing, man.
Do you feel like you need to speak up for multiculturalism?
Social media has opened racism to be acceptable again, so I try not to indulge too much in the topics I want to speak on because when I check my feed, it’s full of messages from trolls. I try to hold it as much as I can.
What do you think about Brexit?
It doesn’t affect my life bro, I’m not waking up and thinking ‘shit man, Brexit’ you know what I’m saying? This whole country is fucked man.
What’s the best thing about Birmingham?
What’s the worst thing?
I don’t like the amount of kids that are getting stabbed and how many people are dying and shit like that man, that’s what gets me down man, I don’t like seeing people with potential losing their lives.
Who’s your favourite Brummie?
This could come back and bite me in my ass mate, let me think about it one sec. My favourite Brummie? Probably Mike Skinner.
How did you first meet up with him?
My manager Despa knew Murkage Dave, who runs Tonga with Mike, and we lined up a session for me and Mayhem to link them at the studio. We did a song called “CCTV” and we just built a relationship from there.
You two have become pretty close since then, you featured on one of his new tracks and went on The Streets comeback tour…
Bro, I used to say to him ‘please do a tour’ and he’d say ‘I’m not doing it, I’m never doing it again, I’m never bringing back The Streets, I’m not doing it, I’m not doing it, I’m not doing it!’, and then he ended up doing it, you know what I’m saying?
Are you taking some credit for that?
He gave me credit for that bro. I swear to god, we were all in a room and he sat me down and thanked me. I’m not chatting shit bruv.