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Introducing… J2

At once conscious lyricist and UK grime MC, J2 has a natural aptitude for introspective rhythms that keep toes tapping and heads nodding, a well-loved east London legend with a steady and respected ascent to 24/7 success. UD touches base with J2 to chat about his dream stage set-up, the Egyptian CDs found in his mum’s car, and who really is the J1 to his J2…

Photo: Vincent Dolman for UD

It’s not common for a neo-grime rap artist to dream of a seated gig over the sweaty appreciation found in the centre of a busy body-filled mosh pit, but J2 isn’t your regular grime MC. “Being seated changes the energy a lot”, J2 shares, “with rows and rows of people sitting down with a glass of wine in their hand or whatever their vice is, just listening”. Being this open to the kind of all-eyes-on-you observation that comes with a seated audience speaks volumes about J2’s attention to his artistry – as a self-described “conscious lyricist”, he commits to the bars he spits, delivering a measured vocal tempered by really, really good beats. 

J2’s music has an established sound, but he reminds us that he’s got more to come, and not necessarily more of the same. “I want to step away from the ‘fast’”, he shares frankly, giving us insight into his next shift from “140 BPM to something more like 90”, and a considered change of lane into something more introspective. Moving towards a storytelling type beat akin to Knucks, Loyle Carner, and America’s sweetheart, Mac Miller, J2 is yet another example of stellar UK talent with a shiny future ahead of him. Take your seat, and watch this space.

Photo: Vincent Dolman for UD

For someone who doesn’t know your music, how would you describe your sound?

How I describe my sound and how my sound would be perceived is quite different I think. This was a thought I was having the other day – like the songs that represent me, or the ones that are live on social media right now are the start of it, but it’s not all I want to be known for. 

I think right now, I would fall under the line of a current MC, I jump on a lot of good energy 140 BPM radio sets, hints of drill, some might say neo-grime. For now, it’s feel good music, conscious, 140 BPM, rap.

And do you feel like how your music is perceived now will be how it’s perceived forever?

At the moment, the 140 BPM is what I’ve been pumping out, so that’s what it will be perceived as, but recently I’ve been doing insta freestyles over 90 BPM beats just talking – in a couple of months time that will turn into an introspective kind of storytelling. I want to step away from the “fast”.

Tell me about your journey with music. Which artists did you rinse as a teenager? 

On the introspective front there are the American rappers like J. Cole, Mac Miller, Kendrick, and then on a UK flex it’s straight grime – Skepta, JME, Big Zuu, all of BBK. All of that. 

Photo: Vincent Dolman for UD

Was music a big part of your childhood?

I’m from Egypt, my parents were born there and came here, so when you step in my mum’s car she’s got those CDs ready of all the old bangers from Egypt. If a producer was to look at them to try to get a sample, they’ve got gold right there. My mum’s got the classics. 

Can you share a bit about Da Community

Yeah! We’re a multi-faceted creative group of photographers, videographers, directors, producers, rappers, singers – just about anything to be honest. If you need something, we’ve basically built our own internal community where we can support each other with our skills and energy. We built an internal community to serve the external community. I’m part of the family.

Is there a meaning behind your stage name “J2”?

Yes (laughs). My government name is actually John, and I have a very good friend who I met at uni who goes by “J1” which is where it all started. We used to link in uni accommodation where we’d just rap and freestyle with two or three other friends, and one day he just said “yeah, I’m J1, you’re J2, and we’ll become J²”, and I was like, “say no more, that makes sense, straight to the point”. And my favourite drink is J2O, so it works.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a routine for getting into the right frame of mind?

There’s no routine, I could be struggling to sleep and I’ll just try to write something. The first line is always the most difficult for me, but once I get that, it will start flowing from there. The moment it stops flowing, I just stop and I put my phone down. I never used to do that before and I’d just stress, get writers’ block and hit a brick wall, so I decided to start putting my phone down and forgetting about it completely. There have been times when I’ll write a song really quickly, like two or three hours in one sitting, but I don’t aspire to keep doing that, if I do too much in one moment I’m not going to like it in the future.

Photo: Dre Lenses

Do you collaborate a lot with other artists?

Yeah, that’s my aim this year. Just being outside and getting to know people first. I don’t like collaborating with people I don’t know – for me to work with someone I’ve got to be comfortable around them, you know. It’s all about the relationship that you have first. 

If you could have any featured artist on a track, who would it be?

Potter Payper. But it depends on how I’m feeling and what I want to write. I know that answer will change, but based on who I’ve been listening to right now it would be Potter Payper.

If you could be on any stage or festival headline, where would you choose?

I’ve never really thought about that. I’m not really like an event goer, even though I’m an artist, unless it’s to support people close to me. I’m not really the guy you’ll see at the function, but if I am there, I’m waiting for my people and enjoying the others I didn’t expect to see. 

I’d say my ideal kind of stage to be on would be a seated event, with rows and rows of people sitting down with a glass of wine in their hand or whatever their vice is, and just listening. Dim lights, good vibe, lots of interaction. Being seated changes the energy a lot.

Photo: Joey Hoang

How are you finding the Incubator Programme with UD? 

It’s good, I’m learning a whole lot of stuff that I didn’t know before. My whole intention with UD was just to gain knowledge and learn marketing and rights, licensing, copyright; all that good stuff, so it’s been pretty insightful. I’m having good conversations.

What does the future hold for J2? 

Short term – same shit different toilet. It’s just consistency, I’m staying at it and not taking my foot off the gas. And the long term would be cementing a plan that works with what I’m feeling at certain times, visuals, album or EP, starting on the introspective flex that I was talking about. Other than that, I just want to get paid (laughs). 

Follow J2 on Instagram or YouTube.

Words: Elsa Monteith. A Brighton based writer & broadcaster working in and around the arts and on the radio waves. Subscribe to Elsa’s Discontented newsletter here.

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