Of the many trends invigorating the British music scene at the moment, the turn towards melodic, party-friendly afrobeat sounds is perhaps the most exciting. It’s definitely the most fun. Of all the current crop of rappers shifting their sound away from drill and road rap and towards afrobeat, Stratford-born J Hus has caught the most attention. Hus’ sound is hard to define, a chaotic blend of road rap, drill, bashment, afrobeats, West African hiplife, and hip-hop. He’s a sonic chameleon, switching up his approach every other track, and yet instantly recognisable when you hear his songs, from the signature ad-libs to the irresistible vocal earworms. It seems like every time he speaks he can’t help but come out with another hook, giving throwaway lines like "I like my Fanta with no ice" a vocal flair that turns them into quotable highlights. His music has been described by a lot of writers as being specific to London, but while he proudly wears his geographical influences on his sleeve, calling out posh girls in Upminster and referencing his upbringing in Stratford, he has an appeal that stretches far beyond the capital. When I saw him perform in Manchester the night before his new album Common Sense was released, the excited energy coming from the crowd more than papered over the cracks of an unpolished performance, happily filling in every line he missed. They even forgave him calling out, "What’s going on Liverpool!" halfway through, usually a surefire way to alienate any Manchester crowd. Hus has been riding a wave of positivity and hype for the best part of two years now, and that untouchable feeling is all over Common Sense. Almost everything he tries on this record comes off, carried along by his infectious charisma and sense of humour.
It’s telling that J Hus puts the title track, a glossy, triumphant victory lap of a song with a Dipset beat, at the start of the album. Common Sense doesn’t follow the classic rags to riches narrative of a lot of debut albums; Hus has already made it, we’re just here for the party. There’s rarely a moment on Common Sense that doesn’t contain at least some note of positivity. Even on darker tracks like Leave Me, where he reflects on enemies who used to be friends, he takes time to humanise his rivals and shed some light on the story: "Me and him got beef and we no longer speak/Still walk his nan across the street." There’s always room for lighter notes like this, and they’re evidence of J Hus’ dextrous lyricism and storytelling abilities. He’s able to balance stories of gang life with a rare humour, like in Good Luck Chale: "I’m at auntie’s house with the mafia/You ain’t real you can’t much no jollof with us". Plottin has a contender for best line of the year so far: "Get dough like we’re obligated/Dem man discombobulated." Moments like these combine to make the album a good-natured breeze, despite some of the heavier topics that are touched on. Hus’ unique ear for idiosyncratic bars is even more obvious on Fisherman, which features MIST and Mostack. Both rappers are promising artists in their own right, but Mostack in particular comes across as flat and uninspired when he’s on the same beat as J Hus.
Another positive note to be found on Common Sense is in J Hus’ treatment of women. He’s not exactly crafting feminist anthems, but many of the girls on Common Sense are described with a rare kind of affection, and given personality and agency that suggests their world revolves around more than just J Hus. On Plottin, Hus laughs, "Say she don’t do this often/Same thing she said to my bredrin/Can you imagine?/But do your thing, I ain’t judgin". Similarly, the subject in Good Time isn’t just an anonymous girl; she’s a "gang member", and Hus says, "She know the squad/She know the crew/For a long time, it’s been overdue". A recent article on gal-dem summed it up perfectly, saying that Common Sense is an album full of women the author would want to be friends with. It might seem like a relatively minor note, but it’s refreshing to hear this approach on any album, let alone in a genre that’s so often criticised for its misogyny. It’s just another aspect that makes Common Sense such a feel-good listen.
Every beat on Common Sense is handled primarily by one man – J Hus’ mainstay producer Jae5. The son of first generation Ghanaian immigrants, his childhood was split between London and Ghana and this cultural collision is most apparent in the vibrant, infectious Afrobeat bounce of tracks like Bouff Daddy and lead single Did You See. It’s in these moments where Common Sense is at its best, marrying Jae5’s stuttering, nimble melodies with Hus’ unbeatable ear for hooks. It feels clichéd to be calling an album the sound of the summer, but when Common Sense hits these heights, the label is undeniable. Still, the album’s variety means that there’s a track for every mood; fans who prefer his earlier material, more indebted to road rap and drill, will enjoy Clartin and Leave Me; people looking for more straightforward electronic pop moves will find Like Your Style and Friendly more to their tastes. J Hus can seemingly do it all.
Hus draws from the wider afrobeat scene for his features, bringing in fellow British newcomers MIST and Mostack for Fisherman and Nigerian crooner Burna Boy for the infectious Good Time, two of the album’s best tracks. MIST and Mostack both have albums coming later this year and seem set to blow in the same way J Hus has; they’re two rising stars in an exciting time for the broad church of British rap music. For the moment, though, they’ll have to be content with staying in J Hus’ shadow – he’s the undisputed king of the scene right now, and if Common Sense is anything to go by, he’s here to stay.
Words: Nick Bedingfield