Momodou Jallow—better known as rapper J Hus—is, as his name claims, a hustler. From early school days, when he hawked donuts on the playground for profit, to his beginnings as a hardworking, independent rapper-singer in Stratford, London, Jallow’s entrepreneurial spirit has been on display. Never one to worry about convention, Hus created his musical path unrestrained by genre or region. He seamlessly synthesizes Afrobeats, reggae, soul, R&B, grime, and hip-hop into a unique expression of danceable music.
J Hus’ 2017 debut, Common Sense, showcased the then-21-year-old’s dynamism. On “Bouff Daddy,” Hus bounces and somersaults across a dancehall beat with youthful confidence. Next, he’s growling over drill beats and machine-gun blasts on “Clartin.” Hus’ understanding of tone and album flow creates a magnificent wall of sound, and the combination delivered global success. Common Sense achieved Gold status in the UK, and critical acclaim in the US, a testament to the hustle and raw energy Hus brought to bear on his debut.
Three years on, following one jail stint in 2018 and 2019, Hus has released his follow-up record, Big Conspiracy, hoping to fine-tune the approach of his debut and solidify his place on the global rap map. To that end, Hus’ latest offering feels less loose and carefree, yet more intentional. “Don’t think I’m shy ‘cause I’m quiet,” Hus once told Vice. “I’m plottin’.”
On Big Conspiracy, every rap is crisp; every hook is an earworm; every song is plotted. The album begins with Tribe-like jazz bass and guitar lines, a perfect backdrop for the headliner to reach within himself, and pull out introspective meditations on jail time, fear, and street life. “Everybody look like a secret agent / So I say no to drugs like Ronald Reagan,” he raps on the title track, a reflection of the paranoia Hus feels as a result of fame, multiple arrests, and a stabbing in 2015.
Fear remains a motivating factor across the record and manifests itself in the murky and pensive beats of producers Jae5, iO, and TSB. On “Fight For Your Right,” Hus warns, “Get the bread, avoid the drama / You can avoid the feds but not the karma / Protect your chest with body armor.” Surviving is not a passive or defensive act for Hus. It requires constant vigilance and endless hustle to stay afloat.
On the following track, “Triumph,” Hus indicts violence: “They only respect violence / Badman move in silence / The fakers form an alliance / But the real will always triumph.” Yet, over a funky, Dre-inspired beat, he chooses to move past his fears and instead embrace life, dance, and laughter. On “Play Play,” Hus and the endlessly charismatic Burna Boy make a mockery of gunplay, turning weapons into irreverent phallic innuendos. “I had to link a cougar with the Luger / But the next time, I bring out the big Bazooka,” Hus swaggers over infectious rhythms and steel drum samples.
As J Hus weaves together introspection and playfulness, gritty rap and gorgeous melody, it becomes clear his greatest strength is balance. Hus never sacrifices one idea for another. Nor does he tonally ping pong back and forth as many pop records are known to do. Instead, each instrument, sample, and vocal performance blend like well-churned butter.
As the album comes to its close, the bigger picture that is Big Conspiracy becomes clear. J Hus is on a personal journey from fear and paranoia to an embrace of hope in the album’s final songs. “Love, peace and prosperity / God, grant us the longevity,” Hus sings on “Love, Peace, and Prosperity.” It’s a plea born from a tumultuous life. It’s also a steadfast celebration found in the midst of madness.
J Hus acknowledges a balancing act we all face daily: Earnestly acknowledging hard times, yet choosing to dance in spite of them. One never precludes the other. J Hus understands how to walk this tightrope. On Big Conspiracy, he makes sure we do too.