It’s a hot, sticky London afternoon when NME meets J Hus at a photography studio in Farringdon. Ambling through the door decked out in a grey Nike tracksuit, he courteously shakes the hands of everyone in the room and, as we sit down, apologises for his tardiness: the energy-sapping lunchtime sunshine almost made him fall asleep in the back of his Addison Lee cab on the way to the interview.
But you can excuse Hus if he’s in need of a bit of shut-eye – he has had a mad year, after all. The east London MC, whose versatile, genre-hopping sound defies simple description – one track will see him sing sweetly over some dancehall rhythms, the next spitting rugged bars on the filthiest grime beat, before swerving into anything ranging from Afrobeats to garage, via R&B – released his debut studio album ‘Common Sense’ last month, which charted at a hugely-impressive number six in its first week.
It’s a deserved slice of success for the prodigious and much-hyped 22-year-old, who can certainly count himself as one of the UK’s next big hopes for international stardom – even greater things, which surely include a crack at breaking America, await.
It’s been nearly a month now since the release of ‘Common Sense’ – did you expect such an amazing response?
“I’m happy, still. It’s achieved everything I wanted it to achieve. I set myself certain goals, and I’ve achieved them with this album. Did I expect it to be an instant hit? I wanted it [to be a hit], but I don’t know if I expected it. But yeah, I wanted it.”
You’re renowned for incorporating a huge mix of genres into your sound. Was it difficult to bring this approach to making your debut studio album?
“Nah, it wasn’t hard – that’s what I naturally do, anyway. That was one of my goals, to show that I’m really diverse. But it wasn’t really hard – it comes naturally and easily to me. One day I’m in this mood, the next day I’m in another mood – which helps create the style of music I make.”
On ‘Common Sense’ you brought live instrumentation into the mix as well. What was the thinking behind that?
“I wanted it to sound like, more mature. Another target for me [with the album] was to create a sound [that appeals to] a more mature group of people, so I wanted to use different sounds to achieve that.”
You’ve said before that you want to sound “as unique and weird as possible.” As a trailblazer for your self-created sound, do you think other artists may now latch on to your boundary-less style of music?
“More people I guess have come out [with his style], but I’ve still got my own sound. I don’t think anyone can do what I already do. I just do it and it’s unique, yeah.”
You also said that you want to remind people that “I’ve still got bars.” Does this mean that you’re going to continue rapping?
“Yeah, I definitely intend to. I wanna keep rapping, I intend to. It’s good to mix it up, but I’m still gonna stay true to rapping.”
You’ve had quite a journey – coming out with those break-out freestyle videos, and then the huge response to your breakthrough mixtape ‘The 15th Day’ in 2015. Do you ever sit back and reflect on those times?
“Yeah, sometimes I look back and see how far we’ve come. It was wicked still, it was mad. I dreamed of this a long time ago – not necessarily being in the position I’m in now, but just being successful with music. So it’s good to look back sometimes and see where we’ve come from.”
Your stints in prison – most recently early last year – have been well-covered in the press. Do you see yourself as a role model for reform or redemption?
“Yeah, of course, I believe so. I think people can learn from my experiences, and I hope people can look at me and be inspired.”
What’s inspiring you right now, musically?
“I can’t really listen to music right now. It’s too much – I’m locked in the studio right now, just clearing my head. I’m just letting the album sink in and living life.”
Are you engaging with politics at all, such as the general election?
“A little bit, a little bit. You know what it is though? I don’t have as much time to get into it. My mind’s been on other things, but I definitely need to look into it.”
And in whatever music you make next, will you still be inspired by east London?
“Yeah of course. I’ll always be inspired by it – it’s home.”
So you’re only 22 now – what’s next for J Hus?
“Another album that shuts it down as much as this album has. And just keep going – I don’t see like a limit, I wanna keep going and be more successful. I don’t have like an end goal, I just want to keep seeing where I can take it.”
How you going to keep your head with all this success, and the pressure that brings?
“This ain’t enough for me. Yeah, I wanna get higher. This ain’t enough.”
And finally – tell us about your love for flat caps.
“I don’t know, I just like them! I like different things, but I dunno, I’ve started a trend. I’ve been wearing them for a while, I don’t know what it is! It’s cool, innit. I do have a collection, but I lose hats easily. I’ve had a million hats – snapbacks or whatever. I’m really into hats…”