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Jay O Dec 23 Guy Gooch1

On the Rise

08 January 2024, 09:00
Words by Jen Long
Original Photography by Guy Gooch

0207 Def Jam-signed Tottenham artist and producer JayO sees his ascending trajectory in music like a marathon – and he’s in it for the long haul.

It’s a process, it’s been a long while,” says North London artist and producer JayO from his Tottenham bedroom. “I started music when I was thirteen and now I’m twenty-four. Me and RZ, we’ve been doing this a long time and we’ve both stuck to it. We didn’t give up, because we knew that it’d work and we know how talented we are.”

It’s a journey that’s seen him rack up millions of streams and be picked by Stormzy to play his curated This is What We Mean day at All Points East. Having met his producer and best friend RZ at primary school, the two followed each other across educational institutions, studying music in class, experimenting on evenings and weekends, manifesting their creative careers via an expanse of style. “There’s a lot of genres you can make and me and RZ, we’ve done a lot of making it and having fun with it and I feel like that’s the essence of music,” he says. “If you don’t really have fun with it, it’s not really music, it becomes a job.”


Growing up, JayO took cues from his older sister, borrowing her iPod and listening to songs on repeat by the likes of J. Cole, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and Kendrick Lamar. However, it was RZ and his older brother who had the most impact on his musical direction. Also a music producer working as Gamz, RZ’s brother started out building a studio in their family’s back garden. “I feel like we just became more comfortable going to the backyard and trying to record. He built a shed in the back garden so we were just in and out,” says JayO.

As Gamz’s career grew, establishing his own imprint and running his own club night, JayO and RZ learnt by proxy. “As a young kid, you watch along and see how everything works,” he explains. “I feel like it played a big role. I feel like if I didn’t have that around me or didn’t see that, I wouldn’t be how I am today.”

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Alongside gaining experience observing, JayO built up his vocal confidence at their local youth club in Tottenham that boasted a studio with recording booth, using the club’s quiet moments to further his own development. “Me and RZ, started to realise we might as well go in there when no one’s in there,” he says. “He already had a knowledge of producing and then I’d just try and experiment and leave some vocals. As we kept recording different songs we dropped them on Soundcloud.”

Both RZ’s parents were pastors and he and his brother played in church, accompanying the choir. “They’re quite a musical family and I feel like they had a lot to show me,” says JayO. However, his own family also helped further his musical appreciation on annual trips to Nigeria. “We had a house in Lagos and we’d go there every year until I was like, ten. We’d just play a lot of CDs, from Whizz Kid to Burna Boy, a lot of different artists. There’s not much you can do as a kid in Nigeria apart from either go out and play football with your neighbours or listen to music and play Playstation.”


Also an avid footballer, JayO trained as a Junior Gunner under the direction of his grandmother. “She’d always take me to training down the road, from six or seven,” he says. “Around fifteen, I went to this football camp and I just knew it wasn’t for me. It’s easy to say you love a sport, but to continue it just depends on how you feel about the sport. It’s funny living in Tottenham and supporting Arsenal,” he laughs.

After school, JayO went to Northampton University to study Marketing Management. Best friends, RZ enrolled at the same university and lived five minutes away, gifting his old Macbook to JayO. He leant to record himself in the privacy of his room, sowing the seeds for what was to come. “The beauty of YouTube is everything because that’s how I put myself out to know what types of beats to make and stuff like that,” he explains. “I did marketing management because I wanted to know how to market myself to an audience and know how to do it in a way where it matches me.”

Alongside making music in his room and with RZ, JayO was getting more into TikTok. It didn’t take long for one of his tracks, mellow banger “XO,” to start to blow up. In 2021 he left uni and moved back to London. “I was like, ‘If I’m gonna do this, I have to do it 100%’” he says. “I decided to take a leap of faith and just not go back to uni. I gave myself a year to see where I would be. Within six months everything started to go up and up. I really only went to uni for the experience, but I just realised that maybe I actually don’t need this degree to do what I want to do. If I really wanna do what I’m destined to do then it’ll work out in my favour.”

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While “XO” continued to grow, so too did JayO’s profile, bringing ever increasing industry attention. He began to work with the London-based music group Flight Club who helped him release the track and began putting him in sessions with other artists. They worked together across follow up single “22”, an epic piano-driven cut of afrobeat-crossover, before parting ways, JayO inking a deal with UK imprint 0207 Def Jam. “I saw it from the marketing standpoint of a bigger push. Signing with a major was the intention, coz they push on a different scale,” he says.

His first release on the label was “Back,” a sultry and sleek track of mature and expansive RnB. Penned on a writing trip to Ghana with RZ, the two kicked around ideas, never expecting to land on something that would become his major label debut. “We were just vibing out, thinking what we were gonna create. To be honest, I didn’t think it would come out. I thought it would be one of them songs we’d just have,” he laughs.

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Conversely, new single “Often,” a slick ride of pulsing groove and effortless delivery, was written by JayO in his room in Tottenham via a virtual back and forth with RZ. “We did like, eighteen different versions of that track, we kept going back and forth to it,” he says.

For JayO, the desire to search and take a long-term vision is important to the project in all senses. “I call myself an explorer, because I like to explore and see different things,” he explains. “Once you have creative control, your vision can come true. I like to grow. One year I want to start on afrobeats and then in another year it goes to RnB, but it’s done in a way where it fits a brand. Branding is very important for every single artist.”

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