As one of the recipients of Paco Rabanne and NTS’ A Million Ways To Make It programme, rapper and renaissance man Jianbo is crystallising his vision.
It’s a beautiful time to be in music — we’re living in a period where we have everything at our fingertips. If you’re indulgent, perfect. If one minute you fancy listening to an artist that tickles the emotions you’ve been ignoring, or you simply fancy whacking your current favourite song on the stereo, we can have everything we desire whenever we want it. Flip the roles and it’s not always that simple for musicians. Whilst it’s a rewarding creation for all, the ins and outs of the industry can be particularly gruelling, demoralising and often elitist. This is why fans are so important; it’s you guys that keep the train moving.
It takes a real type of fan to go out of their way to find the next talented artist, and now some of these fans sit within the biggest brands the world has to offer. More than ever, we are seeing brands use their platforms to empower the next wave of creatives and musicians. It’s almost become a race to catch an artist before they blow, to spot their potential and provide them with the right resources to get there.
One music programme leading the charge is A Million Ways To Make It, an artist development platform by Paco Rabanne and NTS. Championing the new music scene, the initiative offers support and mentorship to up-and-coming, independent artists. From financial aid — recipients will receive a £5000 grant from Paco Rabanne — to specially tailored mentorship packages supported by NTS, it’s a 360-degree treatment you don’t often see, designed to give each artist space to fully immerse themselves in their art.
When I got the scoop that Jianbo was one of the chosen recipients of this year’s ‘A Million Ways To Make It’ programme, it was a real moment of pride. I’ve been listening to this guy for a minute and he’s one of those artists where I not only enjoy his sound, but more importantly, his perspective. Because it’s different. If we go deeper, why? It’s authentic and honest, whilst a little jokey too — a likeable and accessible confidence shines through his lyrics and all-round output. This is why we listen to music, right? For enjoyment with trust in your search for musical satisfaction. You could pick anybody to listen to in that moment in time and you choose them. It’s a big thing.
Now for those yet to ‘take a walk with Jianbo’, he’s a Chinese-Vietnamese-British rapper who pairs mid-00s-inspired grime flows with a wide range of influences, both musically and visually, from his upbringing and his heritage. Having landed himself a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with the support of the Paco Rabanne Fund off the back of his debut EP ‘Yellow Peril’ earlier this year, Jianbo is looking ahead with sharpened vision. It’s in this space of confidence that I meet the artist, to learn all about the partnership, the importance of mentorship for emerging artists, and his aspirations for his future.
Hi Jianbo! How does it feel to be selected for the Paco Rabanne Fund?
It’s a real honour to have been selected and to be in the company of some of the previous winners, some of whom I really respect. In addition to that, NTS is a radio station that I personally really respect and have been a fan of for many years now. I’m very grateful.
What are you hoping to get out of the mentorship scheme?
I’m going to get a lot of different things out of it. I feel like my career is at the stage now where I could use more advice and guidance. Honestly speaking, a lot of the music and videos that I’ve created have largely been for myself. With that in mind, I haven’t always had that central focus on figuring out some of the finer details of the industry. There’s still so much to learn, and I’m hoping to get the advice and guidance that can help me take the whole Jianbo project to the next level.
What qualities have helped you get this far in your journey?
It sounds so boring to say, but I think my greatest quality is that I work hard. I really believe that hard work often triumphs over what people would like to describe as natural talent. It’s about being persistent and focusing on what I’m doing,and not so much on what everyone else is doing.Aside from that, I think the other quality that’s really helped me is trying to live with a curiosity for life. I think as a musician, and especially as a rapper, it’s important to figure out what you want to make music about. If you don’t live a life filled with colourful experiences, you might find it hard to figure out what you want to make music and songs about. A big part of what makes me who I am is that I have an open mind.
How will the A Million Ways to Make It programme help further your career?
It’s going to have a direct effect on my career and everything people see in terms of music, videos and everything around that. Mixing and mastering, for example — they’re things that I’ve personally funded myself so far. There’s nobody backing me apart from some of my friends, who have massively contributed to my career. I wasn’t able to push my next release, and I was even considering signing an unfavourable type of record deal in order to complete and realise the vision I have for this next stage of my career. The Paco Rabanne Fund itself is really going to help me because I can not only complete what I originally had intended, I can go a step further and push the sound and visual elements with the additional finances it can offer me. With the mentorship especially, there’s a world of help and direction. It’s not always about what you have, it’s about how you use it.
Let’s rewind it to the start… Can you describe the moment you realised that music was something that you wanted to pursue?
I’ve always loved music. I grew up loving grime, rap, bands and jazz, a lot of different music. I always had an interest in it. The funny thing about being an Asian rapper is I didn’t always feel like I was qualified or fully allowed to be a rapper in a lot of ways. If you grew up as an Asian kid, there were no real Asian rap heroes. Ultimately being a rapper is about having a perspective, and you’ve got to figure out what your perspective is. I think I’ve always wanted the music deep down inside, but in the last few years, it’s become a lot clearer to me that this is what I should be doing on a deeper level.
Did you experiment with your sound at all? Was there a style or flow you did then that you don’t now?
I’ve made thousands of songs over the years that will never see the light of day and I’ve experimented with a lot of different things — whether that’s playing instruments, singing more, doing slower types of rap, more melodic kinds of rap or using autotune. It’s really important to experiment with things, even if you don’t even intend to take them seriously whilst you’re experimenting. It’s good to be able to step outside your comfort zone.
Your visuals are always really captivating and hold a lot of production value — how important is this to you, as well as putting out great music?
The visuals are really important to me because being who I am, and looking how I look, I often get this kind of statement online: ‘His voice doesn’t match his face’. People don’t believe it’s me. It’s important for me to highlight this and show people how beautiful and rich my culture is. That’s why I often embed a lot of East and Southeast Asian themes into my music videos. As well as the cultural element, I’ve always had ambitions and a desire to be on screen. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an actor. Me picking up this kind of music is kind of my time to figure out that side of myself, even if it’s through the lens of music videos. The visual elements are super important to me and I’ve been massively inspired by cinema, especially Hong Kong cinema. It’s not only homage, but also something that I have found very inspirational in my life.
What’s the best thing about the music industry right now?
The best thing is that they’re letting people like me in.
And the hardest?
The exact same thing. The fact that they’re only just starting to let people like me in.There aren’t many people that can necessarily always relate to my perspective or opinion on things, which is natural as they haven’t lived a life like mine.
How important is it for brands like Paco Rabanne to support emerging artists?
It’s really important for brands to support emerging artists, because often those who are breaking out don’t have the resources or finances to push the art.London is a city that’s built on ideas and a changing narrative, and I think it’s really important for the creative scene of our city — and not just the city, but all of the UK— to be able to flourish and give support to voices in different communities, especially marginalised communities. Sometimes it’s the only way for these voices to contribute to the overall scene and continue to give our city and country a healthy and creative mindset. It’s not always easy to get support from public institutions like the government. So where brands can stepin and support emerging artists, it’s super great and really keeps our city’s culture alive.
Any advice you’d give people looking to break into the industry?
The biggest truth is to keep going, keep working, and keep believing in what you’re doing. That sounds corny, but I believe it. Don’t be disheartened and don’t be afraid of changing. It’s OK to learn, grow and step forward. Be consistent and persistent. Be self-assured about what you’re trying to do.
What are you most looking forward to about your involvement in the A Million Ways To Make It programme?
I’m looking forward to the mentorship and the advice I’m going to receive. I’m really looking forward to doing an NTS guest radio show. To be able to have a show is something that I’ve often fantasised about. And I can’t lie, I’m also looking forward to having the finances and being able to stay independent. That’s a godsend.
What’s next for you?
I have a music video coming out soon. I want more music. I would really like to speak about one of my upcoming music videos, which is called “Chinatown Trouble”. “Chinatown Trouble” is the sequel to “Chinatown Alley”, which is a music video I put out earlier this year. “Chinatown Trouble” and “Chinatown Alley” are actually part one and part two of what I describe as the ‘Chinatown Trilogy’ — a three-part music video series with a linear storyline that continues and resolves itself across three tracks. I also have a lot of songs coming out soon, various collabs, which I would love to share more about, but I’m going to keep a pleasant secret until it’s the right time. There’s a lot coming up for me soon — more shows, videos, music, and more Jianbo. I’m so inspired right now.
Find out more about A Million Ways To Make It here.