As if the capital is not one of the most diverse, mastered plethoras of music already, we stumble upon East London-based rapper-cum-producer Jay Prince knocking about on Apple Music’s New Artists section. With advocates such as Zane Lowe and Chance the Rapper, it is no wonder the 24-year-old enigma is taking over the UK hip hop scene.
With grime recently blowing up in the US with the help of veterans Skepta and Stormzy, this is one genre that refuses to sit down and shut up, and rightly so. Smile Good is the eight-track mixtape that young prodigy Jay Prince released in late October, and it is frankly impossible to ignore its emphatic staying power.
Despite the release being rooted in grime, it is a melting pot of rap, hip hop, soul and funk. Fear not, it is not the sloppy tribute that one may assume in a sea of woeful attempts. There is not a single hint of amateurism in the young lyricist’s plentiful garden. The Beginning, aside from being fittingly titled, is a soulful reprieve and introduction to the wonders to come. Nothing is by accident; everything has been artfully mastered. The UK’s answer to Andre 3000 only seems to be upping the ante with every song.
Smile Good does not aim to enforce aggression or offence like a lot of music of its stature. It does not confuse, madden or entice us into thinking it is something that it is not. Despite Jay Prince harbouring an impressive charisma and professionalism whilst being practically foetal in the hip hop scene, there is not an inkling of false egocentricity in his rapper’s snarl. Jay Prince does not want to be Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar, but does gratefully nod in the direction of our American friends.
Squad is an irrepressible offering, with eerie synth that is quintessential grime. Despite the belligerent tone from guest rappers Danny Seth and Michael Christmas, there is still attractive vulnerability in the lyric, ‘Ain’t nobody really know me like my ma’. Jay Prince seems to have friends in high places following touring with the likes of soul-pop princess Jess Glynne and electro-masters Major Lazer, then teaming up with LA-based label Soulection. Prince also finds himself aligning with Raheaven and Jordan Rakei on his latest release.
Father, Father is a Yeezy-esque, head-bopping anthem packed with gospel samples and smooth as silk vocals. Behind the animated production is a gateway to Prince’s take on life experiences and cultural issues. ‘I’ve been wondering what my purpose is at night’ chants Prince, with unmatched clarity and relatability.
Smile Good is layer upon layer of buoyant production, honeyed vocals, sing-song backing and barrier-free, progressive rap. Between headlining NME Presents… Future Sounds of London, supporting Chance the Rapper on his European tour and climbing the charts with vigour, it is all happening for Jay Prince this month.
Words by Samantha Ewen