We met HJJ (Henry Jackson Jones) through our friend James, who introduced us to his music and collective TWOSIXTYSIX a few months ago. Living in Walthamstow, we met Henry on a Monday bank holiday at his apartment to talk about his journey as a rapper, the northeast UK rap scene, grime and what could be the future of hip hop.
When did you start rapping?
I first started writing lyrics when I was about 16. I was playing drums at a band at the time and was writing all the lyrics for the band. I first recorded rap music when I was in my second year of college. Never took it more seriously and putting stuff out there until the last couple of years really.
When you first started putting things out, were you nervous about how people will react to it, or were you confident in the content you were making?
I was definitely proud of it, but there was definitely fear involved. I kind of don't even want to describe it as fear, because it's not fear in the visceral sense, but it is doing something scary and exposing yourself. But I very quickly realised that the fear of acceptance is not the battle at all in today's digital era. The battle of today is getting noticed. And that you just need to work really hard for anyone to even care. That totally changed my perception of what to be concerned about.
That's very true and I totally agree with that. Making good things is one thing, but trying to get the word out there and promote them is another. To go back a bit. You come from Newcastle. How's the rap scene there?
It's not very big, but it's definitely getting healthier. There are a few rap groups from Newcastle and the surrounding areas. There's a group called Dialect, or The Scrufs. They pioneered a lot of north east rapping. UK rap in general had a lot of identity crises, but they were the first people I heard who were rapping really well and completely uncompromising in terms of their sound. They have regional accents, they speak about where they're from, they are just being them selfs. Not trying to be anyone else, even tough the sound and music had some very obvious hip hop roots of US east coast hip hop. What they were rapping and how they were rapping was completely northeast of. That inspired me not to be ashamed of who you really are and just be yourself.
That is a great inspiration to have and it is amazing that it is exactly that message that got stuck with you. We are in London and we talk about rap so I have to ask you. Do you like grime?
Yeah yeah. When I was in Newcastle I knew very little about it, just was familiar with the really obvious people like Dizzy or Sway. Then I came to London and one of my good friends Ashley just taught me everything about grime, the full history. It's crazy what happened to it recently. It's very esoteric knowledge with its genesis exactly in London.
I would love to know more about grime, maybe I should talk to Ashley too.
Haha yeah you should! I guess it's a sub genre of the UK hip hop, but the weird thing about it is that by definition it has to be 140 bpm. Most hip hop music can be anything between 80 to 90 bpm. So grime in itself is a completely different tempo and that makes the rapping different. That's why it really is its own genre. What I love about it is always gets the crowds go!
Have you rapped in a grime song yourself?
Yes I've done a few. With TWOSIXTYSIX we did a song called Heartless. The sounds is very melodic and got all these guitars in it. It's actually by a grime producer called Vibrant. I've been also writing stuff that's been much faster recently.
How do you see hip hop and rap has evolved in the past let's say 20 years? Do you think rap music has become more mainstream?
Music evolves. It's like culture. There are waves of styles and trends. It's like fashion. What is in the forefront at the moment does not exclude those who are on fringe doing different and exciting things. Which eventually will become the new mainstream at some point. For example, some of my fav rappers Aesop Rock, Saul Williams , K-os. They are very intelligent rappers with unbelievable vocabulary with a lot of metaphors and detailed vivid imagery. But it's very dense and hard to understand. But hip hop and rap is so much on the forefront of the entertainment industry nowadays. Like everyones parents know now who rappers are. Therefore I'd like to believe what down the line we will see people liking more complicated stuff, like those guys I mentioned are doing.
You're part of a collective called TWOSIXTYSIX. Tell me more about it and who are the members?
Yes it's a project I founded with a few good friends. We all met on a producer course run by Converse and since then we have used this as a platform to release music and put on events and live shows. Member are JAckie (beats by JAckie) , Fosterbeats, CD Spinz, Liv, Chris Love and Rtmgsn.
Do you have any shows planned up for the near future?
We're playing at the O2 Academy Islington, supporting a Canadian rapper Mad Child (editors note: this gig already happened by the time of the release of this article), and then we're playing a festival Meadows in the Mountains in Bulgaria, on top of a mountain. It is our first international show so we're really excited about that!