I was dutifully taking notes as a fight broke out in the middle of the pit. Punches were thrown and beer went flying. Some guy behind me kindly pulled me back, which prevented me from getting an elbow to the face. It was Boiler Room’s 2015 SXSW showcase and it was chaotic, to say the least. No reprieve could be found in the crowd, so I retreated to the outskirts.
It was there I met Moz, manager of British rapper Jay Prince, at a food truck. This was right before I became more aware of what was happening in England—and with grime music, in particular. About a month after SXSW, in 2015, Skepta released his breakthrough single “Shutdown” and became the torchbearer for grime's recent inroads into America, assisted by co-signs from Drake and Kanye West, among others.
Frequently mistaken by Americans as a subgenre of rap, grime was birthed and shaped as a product of UK garage, dancehall, drum & bass, reggae and more. Since “Shutdown,” other grime artists beyond Skepta have shifted into the spotlight in the U.S.—including Stormzy, Oscar #worldpeace, Novelist and more—and the genre is making notable overseas strides not seen since the mid-00s from artists like Dizzee Rascal.
Jay Prince, however, puts on for British hip-hop.
Prince is actually from East London, where grime originated, yet his variety of hip-hop isn't beholden to grime. He doesn’t mimic grime’s aggression or audacity, and he doesn’t follow grime’s hastened BPM (beats per minute) count.
Prince is beholden to the internet, which allowed him to form a sort of global sound—one that is in tune with what’s happening in U.S. rap: Genre-blending, soulfully-charged singing-raps and live instrumentation, cast over a medley of rock, hip-hop, and jazz-inspired production. His latest release, the 8-track mixtape Smile Good, is a testament to that blend of aesthetics.
Compared to his previous release, 2015’s Beautiful Mercy EP, Smile Good is luminous. In an interview with Spotify, Prince said of his new project, “The last project I did was very dark. Smile Good is just a reminder to be like, yo, live life, just listen to good music. As long as you are breathing, living, people you love are around you and everything, you can’t go wrong, man.”
On “Father, Father,” the project’s first single, Prince borrows a page from Chance The Rapper, employing gospel background vocals in the song. On "Squad," which features two DJBooth Top Prospect alums in Michael Christmas and U.K. rapper Danny Seth, Prince makes use of an eerie trap-like beat, melding it with a harmonic hook. He wraps the tape up with the more mellow and nostalgic, R&B-influenced title track, reminding us to “Smile Good.” While he makes use of different sonic elements throughout the tape, Smile Good still flows smoothly and cohesively.
Musically, he’s aligned himself in the best way possible, working with Los Angeles-based label and collective Soulection—which boasts members around the world—and working with a handful of emerging American musicians, like Allan Kingdom, Joyce Wrice, Christmas, and SiR.
While the music industry and those more cognizant of music culture might be listening to grime, while grime is making more noise abroad, and while Skepta and Stormzy are attempting to make more accessible and digestible grime music for American listeners, the genre has yet to fully break into the American mainstream. For Jay Prince—particularly with Smile Good—grime is in the bag, along with a whole lot more.
Smile Good is available now and can be streamed below via Spotify.
By Tara Mahadevan. Follow her on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Instagram