Life exists at the intersection of classic hip-hop haze and poetry. The West Londoner’s music is story-driven and has the grain of old film. The rasp in his voice (“Black Noise”) and the overt conviction in his delivery (“Havana” and “Twisted”) make his latest EP, coming September 17, Jones, an equal turns cutting and touching affair. Listening to Life is akin to falling down a well of vignettes, amplified by his sample selection.
Life’s imagery is staggering, and on the whole, his writing is technically tight. No stranger to vulnerability, Life’s Jones blends everything purists love about the essence of hip-hop with the crispness of modern mixing, breaks, and song structures. In that way, Life already feels timeless.
Pulling from Gift of Gab, Nas, D’Angelo, Slum Village, and more, Life privileges lyrics above all else. His message is one of love, understanding, and appreciating love in all its forms.
“My whole angle is: The same way you talk about your bitches, your fancy cars, and your chain, it’s okay to put that same energy into saying, ‘You know what? I love her,’” Life explains. “Not just love in a romantic sense. It can be in any capacity. It’s just about shedding light on love in as many capacities as tastefully possible.”
Aside from love, Jones delves into Life coming to terms with not knowing much of his past. The album features allusions to his biological family and the truths that come with being adopted and accepting the present for what it is. All of his work, too, hinges on poetry and mentorship by the venerable Maya Angelou. Life’s love of language carries Jones to spectacular and affecting heights. It’s all about being able to paint a real-time picture for the listener.
“I’ve always wanted to do that, to be able to rap and have someone say ‘I could visually put something to that,’” he says. Though Life’s current following is small, the passion and depth of his music suggest a bright future. An artist’s artist is bubbling up in West London, and we’re lucky to be along for the ride.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: What was your early music taste like?
Life: When I first started, a favorite auntie of mine—she was called Ruth, and she was a good friend of Maya Angelou’s—bought me an album called 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, by Gift of Gab. That was the first album I worshiped; I studied top to tail.
At what point did you feel the need to try to make music of your own?
It was the poetry, to be honest. At Maya Angelou’s place—my mom used to take me there every year for Thanksgiving—I used to go up and do my poetry. It was then that I wanted to perform it with music. It was Maya Angelou, really, she kind of guided me.
On your new project, Jones, the subtitle reads “A story by Life.” Where does your passion for storytelling come from?
I’d have to give it to Nas. When I used to listen to Nas’ music, there’s a way you can listen to the song, and you’ve got this image playing out in real-time in your head. I’ve always wanted to do that, to be able to rap and have someone say, “I could visually put something to that.”
What’s the most important story you’re telling on Jones?
Probably the scenario with my mom and my biological parents, because I’m adopted. There’s a song called “Black Noise” on there, and I make a couple of references to my mom and my auntie, who were integral in me not focusing too much on not knowing about my past.
What do you do when you hit a writer’s block?
I listen to new stuff. I had a writer’s block just before my show. I couldn’t for the life of me come to putting words together. I just had to inspire myself. I listen to a lot of new music from artists I love, like a Dreamville record or J. Cole. I listen to a lot of jazz when I want to be inspired because they have all these unorthodox time signatures.
How do you keep yourself from overwriting?
That’s an amazing question because as an artist, it’s very hard to come to the cap. When you're creative, it’s very hard to say, “Maybe I’m doing too much,” because it’s coming from you and you always want to see what you can do. I share it with people. I have a few trusted artists and friends around me, and if I think I’m doing a bit too much and I could’ve stopped a verse ago, I play it for people. If all the POVs come back the same, I make my adjustments, and then we move.
Did you ever struggle with holding back?
I struggle with it a lot because of the kind of music I make. I pride myself on being able to delve as deep as possible. I pride myself on being able to dig deeper when it comes to lyrics. It is hard because you need to find the medium between showcasing your capabilities and not doing too much. It’s hard because lyrics are at the forefront of what I do, so it can get tricky trying to keep the cap on things.
What do you want people to learn about you after listening to the EP?
I want people to learn that being a man and falling in love is completely fine. N****s fall in love every single day and act like it’s nothing. My whole angle is: The same way you talk about your bitches, your fancy cars, and your chain, it’s okay to put that same energy into saying, “You know what? I love her.” Not just love in a romantic sense. It can be in any capacity. It’s just about shedding light on love in as many capacities as tastefully possible.