J Hus
Big Conspiracy
Black Butter

J Hus is the big cheese of British hip hop at present, the progenitor of the afroswing sub-genre.  British hip hop generally differs from the American version through a different form of beats, a greater Caribbean influence, and, well, the accent.  London has been the home to the bulk of British hip hop, even since the breakthrough of Roots Manuva over twenty years ago, through the glory days of grime, and through to today’s drill and afroswing.

Big Conspiracy is J Hus’ second album, following 2017’s Common Sense, and is his first #1 album in the UK.  And there’s a reason for this.  Big Conspiracy is a most excellent album.  Common Sense was a notable album as it married an r&b styling with London’s larger grime/drill/dance hall sounds.

Hus has had on-going legal problems, largely connected to carrying a knife, and he has done a few stretches as a guest of Her Majesty.  Upon his most recent conviction, in 2018, when asked by the court why he was carrying a knife, he made it clear it was for safety on the rough streets of Stratford, London.  And thus, in a lot of ways, British hip hop emerges from the same places as American hip hop: inner city ghettoes, it is the documentary of the underside of British society, whether it comes from Hus, Manuva, or Dizzee Rascal, or Kate Tempest.  The London Drill scene has had on-going battles with the police, to the point with the London police have actually banned performances by drill scene rappers.  I’m not kidding.

So.  Back to Big Conspiracy, this is a documentary of the life and times of Hus, On ‘Fight for Your Right,’ (which, of course, draws on the Beastie Boys’ legendary ‘Fight For Your Right (To Party)’), Hus is reflecting on his life from prison, and asks himself, ‘How you gon run the world? You can’t even run your life.’  And so we have a man looking inwards for the answers.

The album as a whole is introspective and reflective, and Hus himself is more subdued than he was on Common Sense.  This is the sound of maturity.

Musically, it seems to me that afroswing is just a catch-all term to serve as shorthand for the fact you can’t pin Hus down to any one sound, not that you ever could with Manuva, Dizzee Diz, et al.  But, you know music critics love few things more than obscurantist genres to describe well, sweet fuck all.  Anyway.  This is also a very well produced album, the beats, melodies, and rhythms are smooth, drawing on all the sounds of the London hip hop scene.  Common Sense producer Jae5 returns as executive producer here, with other work from Levi Lennox, iO and TobiShyBoy.

I think my favourite track is ‘Love, Peace and Prosperity,’ the penultimate track of the album.  Over a thick bass line and bouncing beat, we have reed-based African percussion, as Hus is looking for exactly that, love, peace and prosperity on the streets of London:

Love, peace and prosperity
God grant us the longevity
I live a street life and I sing a melody
They wan’ see me go mad and lose my sanity
Love, peace and prosperity
God grant us the longevity
I live a street life and I sing a melody
They wan’ see me go mad and lose my sanity.

You know me, I’m the alpha
Call up my nigga like, “Yo bruddah, how fa’?”
I greet you with my right hand ’cause that’s my culture
Run from rali, duck from rolla
Put the shotty underneath the sofa
How you so close yet so far?
I can see more, I’m gettin’ older
Since I was young, I been a loner
I’m switchin’ gears, the man been sleepin’ for years, they in a coma
Smell the aroma, stoner
Pass me the mash, make it bring it to the owner
Pass me the cash, I need all the payola
It ain’t over ’til I say it’s over
I cut through, Sun Tzu not Casanova
But you gave me your heart, you a organ donor
You say you nuh like it but you love it, don’t you?
Your momma told you stay far, why you comin’ closer?

Album closer ‘Deeper than Rap’ has Hus staring down the barrel of a gun and contemplating the paradise he saw at the end of the barrel.  And then he considers where he is and where he’s from, drawing on the history of racism in the UK: ‘No blacks, no dogs, we were segregated/ They took our history then they went and erased it.’  I mean, what the fuck do you say to that?

Nigerian MC Burna Boy makes an appearance on ‘Play Play,’ and despite the auto-tune used on his voice, this is still a dope track, as Hus thinks back to his first crush and all the girls he’s loved before.

As Hus hits the stratosphere of not just British hip hop, but British pop music as a whole, I can’t help but think that he fully deserves it.  It’s not just his lyrics, but the music, and rather than the reductionism of a lot of hip  hop, where everything is drawn back to just the beat, something that was particularly predominant in London grime, as well as drill, Hus’ African heritage leads to a fuller sound, with more melody and rhythm, and it’s impossible not to be bopping your head along to these tracks.  Lyrically, the character that emerges from Hus’ life is also one you find yourself cheering for, as he lays it all out for us here.  Go check this out now.