Coventry-based producer Jevon is taking his inspiration from the late '90s garage scene, London grime and the sounds of his Brazil to create a corner of British hip-hop all to himself.
Authenticity is key to anything in life. Without it, what you end up with is a poor facsimile of something that once was filled with life-experience and sincerity. Hip-hop indeed may have suffered this fate for a while, but things appear to be back on track for the genre which is now so expansive that to use the term hip-hop, is equivalent to saying Slayer and The Rolling Stones are both just ‘rock music’.
“I feel like hip-hop is a father genre now” rapper and producer Jevon muses. While British hip-hop is a fire taking over the music industry, there’s still an element to it that means it’s seen as an outlier to the majority, giving a niche level to newly sprouting sub-genres.
Before we get to Jevon divesting what hip-hop means to him, and what it’s become, first we go through his journey - but not the one he’s currently on. With me on loudspeaker as he’s driving through his home city of London, feeling a little worse for wear after the previous night's escapades, he’s raring to talk about what life is like for Jevon - and his authenticity.
Having started as a producer, most notably for Nine’s debut full-length One Foot Out, and producing XL’s New Gen compilation, Jevon’s decided the time is right to start making a name for himself. Which must’ve brought it’s own set of complications, surely?
“It’s difficult sometimes because when you’re producing yourself, it’s almost like you’ve got to know which role’s which at times and that can be quite a challenge, but I like the challenge!” He tacks on. ”Also knowing when it’s finished as well, if you’re doing it all by yourself, it’s hard to know the finish line because you’ve got no one else to tell you.” Much like the perils of first being a producer, Jevon tends to continuously add on to his replies, seemingly wrapping up before another burst of thought comes out.
“Of course, that’s the big one - I’m never actually satisfied. I know it’s crazy, but yeah…” He trails off into a chortle. As of writing his debut EP, Judas is still unreleased. Four of the potential eight tracks are currently available, each one rooting in a natural melding of R'n'B, with spots of grime and garage, but most important of all are the worldly flourishes, specifically Brazilian. Stemming from his decision to take a pilgrimage to his ancestral country to finish up his debut album, this visit was ultimately just as much about the music as it is about the personal relationships back home.
“It was just kind of like a wake-up call for me. It’s like, ‘Okay, cool, this is it. This is where it begins’. Yeah, it’s taken a while for me to get to that point - but when you’re producing for other people you get influenced by a lot of different stuff. I think the best thing to do with that is just finding your own identity, so I just went back home, and that’s when I started a plan of action and knowing what to do.”
This trip has been the focal point of any Jevon press coverage recently, for a good reason. Since the world today offers artists such as himself such more exploratory ground thanks to streaming - and crossover hits such as the gargantuan “Despacito”, the floodgates that opened for a genre-less world.
“The game’s changed now, there’s…how can I say it…” he pauses to consider the weight of his answer. “There are no rules now. There are no rules in this music industry.” Perhaps, rather fittingly to this statement, a police car speeds past Jevon. With the metaphoric sirens in the distance, he continues. “People like world music now because they’re hearing new things because it’s accessible. That’s why afro-swing, or whatever you want to call it was a big influence on English music. Our Nigerian counterparts and our Ghanian brothers were bringing the influence over here.”
How this weighs in on his past relationships with his music was undoubtedly going to crop up; as artists, you always want your next work to be your best work, but that doesn’t mean when you learn something as ground-breaking to your process as your heritage that it won’t draw a line straight back to your beginnings.
“You always have doubts as an artist. I feel like” he breaks for a wry chuckle. “I feel like if you don’t go through doubts, then you’re not human. When I started listening back to my old music not too long ago, I realised how I was making music, and I feel like the doubt comes from not staying focused. You’ve just got to trust your gut feeling. Sometimes, when you make something, and it’s so different, there’s a voice in your head saying, ‘Yo, no one else is doing this’ so is it gonna work? But then you have this other feeling.”
Which brings us neatly onto the EP itself, and more importantly, the all-encompassing title. With Jevon still making his way through London, he opens up into the decision to attach the name of perhaps one of the most famous betrayers of all time.
“I felt like the songs are all asking for forgiveness, and learning to accept things as they are. And I feel like I’ve misplaced my trust with certain things as well…people have Judas’d me a lot [and] I’m just learning to forgive because talking as a person…as myself, harbouring that energy does me no good. It just doesn’t.”
By deciding to entwine his musical growth into forgiving those who’ve wronged him, and speaking his truth, does he feel like this was a necessary part for his EP to play?
“Yeah, yeah…do you know what it is? If the music’s not honest, it’s not gonna connect to people. When I’m at my most vulnerable, I feel like it connects more with people because they’re going through the same thing. Or they can sympathise. So I feel like I have a responsibility to be honest with my music and that’s why I wanted to take it back to my roots.”
At the age of fifteen, the West London-born Jevon found himself transplanted to Coventry to live with his grandparents at the behest of his parents after they saw the “misbehaving" path he’d stumbled upon. An essential fact that highlights the societal impact which hip-hop, and its various branches, currently have is far less rooted in the music - the real power is its message.
“The thing is I come from that place. I come from a deprived area; I came from seeing the stuff that these kids are rapping about.” He continues. “And I think that’s why I was able to articulate my frustrations and my misunderstandings. Do you get what I’m saying? It’s…our music isn’t different…no, it is different, I feel like we express ourselves differently.”
Perhaps one of the more controversial cultural topic - most notably within the city streets of London, is drill music, which Jevon sees as a truly authentic representation of what the next generation is currently living and, more importantly, influencing. “I know the police are on top of drill music [and] in my opinion that is not tackling the problem. These kids are just rapping about what they live…they’re just a product of their environment.”
“The issue is a lot deeper. It’s almost like…” he pauses to consider once more. “Imagine taking a shit, and putting a cover over it. That’s not getting rid of it, that’s not getting rid of the problem. And I feel like taking down drill videos and shit is just basically that in a nutshell. These kids are doing this to get out of the hood. They’re rapping about what they live.”
“Okay, so…we’re talking about authenticity, who I’ve worked with…I’ve worked with Nines.” Jevon speedily says, getting more animated. “The authenticity was there…I was around it because I was spending a lot of time around this guy for me to understand what he’s trying to do musically…and his lifestyle reminded me of my Dad’s” he pauses before deflecting. “I won’t go into too much detail of that, [but] certain things were clicking, and that’s why we had a good connection when it came to him translating certain things to me that he didn’t necessarily know how to communicate musically.”
So with the authentic side to both his music, and the peers around him, the truth may set them free but the restrictions still imposed by both law (for drill music at least) and a failure of the mainstream industry to continuously realise what’s happening around them. Especially with your Dave’s and Fredo’s managing to, somewhat briefly, de-throne Sam Smith from the top of the charts.
Which begs the question - what does hip-hop mean to Jevon?
"It’s got to a point where it’s a father genre to so many different genres. It’s almost the connector to everything. Without hip-hop there would be no grime, there would be no drill, there’d be no trap, there’d be no mumble rap, as we call it today. Hip-hop has birthed a lot of music. I see it as a father. As a guide. Yeah, that’s the best way to describe what hip-hop is to me."
Jevon's debut Judas EP will be released soon.