- Words Notion Staff
- Photography Hanifah Mohammad
- Styling Uwais Best
- Grooming Lucy Thomas
- Production Studio Notion
Rapper Jay Prince talks about his musical journey, building beats on Fruit Loops 4 and operating as an unsigned artist for Notion 85.
His laid-back, honeyed hip hop has earned him co-signs from Chance, The Rapper and picked up acclaim from the likes of Zayn Lowe and Annie-Mac.
Meanwhile, his recent collaboration with GoldLink and Tyler, The Creator on dance floor pleaser, “U Say”, taken from GoldLink’s album ‘Diaspora’ is boosting his profile State-side. But it’s the east London rapper slash producer’s own introspective rhymes and jazz infused beats (don’t sleep on his ‘WONDER’ EP) that mark him out as true British hip hop royalty.
Let’s start where it all began. How has east London influenced you?
I grew up there, I went to school there, so for a very long time, that’s all I knew. I’m still friends with people I went to school with to this day. Outside of my household, it’s the foundation of everything.
What about home then — what was that like?
My parents are of Congolese and Angolan descent, so heavy African background — I definitely take pride in that as much as being from London. London, Africa, it’s like being in two worlds. I grew up around a lot of African and Congolese music, in my house that’s the language we speak, we don’t really speak English at home. Obviously being born and raised in London, specifically Newham, going school, being around London culture — it’s been sick.
- Jacket and trousers One Teaspoon
- Trainers Nike
You actually speak three languages – right?
I speak French, I speak Lingala and I speak English. I’m trying to learn Spanish. I’m trying to learn Mandarin too but that’s a whole other story — it’s hard!
When I started touring Asia it was dope and I really enjoyed myself, people were really responding to what’s going on. That was the first time I’ve ever been to a country where I don’t speak the language and literally no one is trying to speak English to you — you almost feel bad and I felt disrespectful trying to speak English to them. I guess it’s just something to do, try and learn a new language and immerse myself in other cultures.
Have you ever tried rapping in any other language than English?
I’ve tried to rap in different languages but it’s not the same. I’m still working on it. It’s translation more than anything because things mean different things in different languages. I haven’t really delved into it before but it’s something that I definitely want to try out for sure. It’s good to expand your horizon in everything you do — musically, creatively, it’s endless really.
When did you first start making music?
It started in church. I was playing the bass guitar in church and played the piano for a bit and then things happened naturally. Going to school in Newham, everybody rapped. Even if you weren’t a rapper, you just had a 16. In school, it’s just pressure. I don’t know, I was never really about having bars to say to people on the playground, but I had it, I had my bars ready kind of thing. When I was 14, 15 years old I was writing poems at first — I just wanted to make shit rhyme. I wasn’t really writing music at the time, I was writing lyrics, writing poetry, and then gradually started rapping and making beats.
- Jacket and trousers Carhartt
Did it get serious quickly for you?
I was always serious about it, other people started to take it seriously a little later [laughs].
Back then, what were you using to make music?
Fruity Loops 4. One of my close friends was making music too, so we were making music together. I didn’t have a laptop at the time, so I’d use his laptop to make beats until I could get my own. I learned a lot from him.
So you’re not using Fruity Loops now then?
Fruity Loops is still dope but I don’t use it.
Do you remember the first proper track you made?
When I was young I made a lot of music. I remember I made a song called “Gamble On Me”.
Was it good?
I liked it a lot. I even did the artwork for it. When I started doing music I took it very seriously because I liked it, so I decided to take it very seriously from a young age and I just always wanted it to be presented well. The stuff that would be up on iTunes — I didn’t know what a roll-out meant back then but I think I was on that path, of having things done officially. I always wanted to do stuff to a standard, even if I didn’t know what I was doing.
What’s your process now when you’re making music?
There is no set process. I work on music every day, even if it’s not in the studio, I’m thinking of an idea I want to do. I’m always trying to be in the mindset of being creative, as opposed to treating it like a job. I used to think about it too much though. My process was overly thought out. It was like ‘oh I need to do this, this, this’ and then the outcome wouldn’t be what I wanted it to be and I’d be discouraged. Now I just try and hold onto what I’m feeling more than anything and whatever the outcome is what it is. It might not be a song I use, it might never come out, but my process is always personal. I try and really hold down to what I’m feeling and the only time I can really do that is when I’m making music.
Is that why you self-produce so much of your work?
I don’t produce everything but I produce the majority of my stuff. I definitely have an involvement in pretty much everything that is happening. I’m just learning now to trust other people, trust in other musicians or people I work with because they are their own people too and have a vibe.
Is being independent and unsigned something that’s important to you?
Being signed isn’t a priority. The older I get and the more music I make, I’m realising what I want out of it, like what it’s done for me and how it’s helped me grow as a person — label or no label, you can’t really buy things like that. Being in the world and growing as a person is invaluable, everything else is just business. I’m not here to say it’s bad to sign or not sign with a label — it really comes down to what you want and what you feel like you need. I don’t feel there are any rules for me right now, so I don’t want to start making rules anytime soon.
What kind of support system do you have instead of a label?
I have people that are around me that want to support what I do and have a vision for elevating what I do and having that kind of team — that’s almost your own label in a sense, That’s what a label is really, it’s just a team of people that are helping your career and you can do that outside of the label system. The only difference is money — really and truly, money.
You’ve been spending a lot of time in America, how’s that been?
At first, it was more for creative purposes but after a while you spend so much time away from home, it doesn’t really become about the music anymore, it becomes about being away. I’ve been to the States quite a lot, I’ve met some great producers out there that I’ve become good friends with. It then becomes about the people you meet and building real friendships as opposed to networking connections. If I wasn’t making music 24/7, I’d be chillin. I’ve always had the balance. I don’t like being in the studio every day. More so I don’t like doing things more than I need to. I really do enjoy just chilling.