J Hus is on the money at the Brixton Academy – review

J Hus
Momodou Jallow AKA J Hus performs at O2 Academy Brixton on November 15, 2017 Credit: Burak Cingi

In terms of UK rappers, few have carved a space of their own quite like J Hus. With his groundbreaking Mercury Prize-nominated debut album Common Sense, the 21-year-old from east London tapped into a singular, diasporic sound – a nod to his British-Gambian heritage – that was far removed from grime peers Skepta and Stormzy. Touching on Afrobeats, reggae and all-out pop, his is a shtick that never commits to one neatly filed genre.

Last night, J Hus – real name Momodou Jallow – made his long-awaited London debut, and he wasn’t afraid to celebrate by making a grand entrance. No sooner had the stage lights dimmed than he stepped out of a 10-foot tall, spinning fisherman hat – appropriate, given the number of hooks his songs boast. No expense spared, he was also joined on stage by four Mercedes Benz cars parked side-by-side next to speaker stacks, directly facing a frenzied crowd all here to see the Stratford prodigy. This was never going to be subtle.

No expense spared: J Hus joined on stage by four Mercedes Benz cars Credit: Burak Cingi

The brilliance of Common Sense is how it tackles J Hus’s tormented background. It addresses his expulsion from school, two stints in prison and hospitalisation for stab wounds – events which threatened to halt his career. But it distills this troubled past into something celebratory, in part thanks to the genre-hopping work of producer Jae5, which wraps Hus’s stories in playful synths and razor-sharp beats.

Live, this bright and bursting production became centre stage, whereas the intimacy of Hus’s own tales tended to fade into the background, parked somewhere behind the Benz cars. At times, it was difficult to pick out the bad-guy-gone-good narrative of his debut, or indeed his unique, culture-crossing delivery; a half-rapped, half-sung style that makes him instantly identifiable on record. Though anyone would have struggled to match the hysteria of 5,000 screaming fans, Hus had a habit of almost disappearing.

Credit: Katja Ogrin

After guest appearances from MoStack and Krept and Konan, south London rapper Dave joined him on stage for their collaborative track Samantha. His animated performance threatened to show up the headline act. But as the night progressed, so Hus began to display a brio befitting of the surroundings. He went from tracksuit-clad to shirtless, and delivered dance-nodding early single Lean & Bop and the ferocious Clartin back to back, finally bounding across the stage ebulliently instead of casually strolling.  

By his laid-back closer Did You See, he'd fully traded restraint and modesty for a commanding presence. True, anyone who begins a show by emerging in a spinning fisherman hat can’t be short on confidence, but here he seemed to grow into the occasion, bit-by-bit coming to terms with what looks like a blindingly bright future.