Six years is a long time in hip-hop. A genre of music that is constantly evolving, MCs, record labels and even entire sub-genres seem to vanish almost as quickly as they appear. The ever changing face of this music that we love can take many forms during that lengthy period of time, not all of them pretty either. In Britain, watered down hip-hop has become the new pop music and there is just no escaping it. It’s on the radio, television and in newspapers and magazines. There was even brief talk of a range of N-Dubz dolls. The last solo offering from Jehst, the United Kingdom’s finest wordsmith, was way back in 2005. Six years is a long time in hip-hop.
Fortunately Jehst aka Billy Brimstone is back to give the UK rap scene a much needed shot in the arm with his fourth release, “The Dragon Of An Ordinary Family”. After a clever promotional video for the first single “Starting Over” went viral, the buzz started to build around the much anticipated return of a true lyrical heavyweight and that first release didn’t disappoint. Jehst was back to what he does best, effortlessly weaving intricate rhymes together over that good ol’ boom bap while whetting our appetites for the LP.
On the album opener, “True Intention”, Jehst’s filtered vocals match the subtly threatening beat to create what almost sounds like a hijacking of the radio to deliver his message:
“God bless our corrupted minds that tried to fuck with rhymes
We probably should have stuck with crimes
Clubs are hating on me, fans are waiting on me
Alcohol got me, stumbling around like a waking zombie
Digging myself out of the grave to show these young bloods how to behave
Disciples counting the days, every LP is a resurrection
They’re stagnating, waiting for a fresh direction”
From there the album moves seamlessly into “Killer Instinct”, packing a beat that you could imagine DOOM himself flowing to, Jehst glides all over it dropping gems at will. “Zombies” and “Thinking Crazy” follow, the latter dealing with the feeling of desperation during the recession with “Zombies” seeming to be a subliminal snipe at the state of â€˜urban’ music in the UK.
This album really does start off strongly and gets even stronger with the fifth track, “England”. Over a minimalistic tinkling piano backed with steadily thumping drums, Mr. Brimstone explains how England in 2011 is not all tea and cricket. Rhyming for nearly four minutes with no hook, you can’t help but hang on to every word that’s bitterly spat out at the country he loves yet hates:
“Dear England, please confess your sins now
I see Police tape when I’m taking my bins out
A dead baby, got dropped down my rubbish chute
It don’t bug me out coz I just bun the zoot
Don’t look at me funny blood, it’s fucking truth
You don’t believe me? I guess it’s too much for you
A girl got abducted and chopped up in Catford
Racists with ice-picks? That shit is backward”
It has to be heard to truly do it justice and I’m sure that most of us in Western civilization can relate to some, if not all, of the lyrics that are dropped on this track. It’s hard to highlight just a few lines from this song as the whole thing is memorable and quotable. “Camberwell Carrots”, “Starting Over” and “Old No.7” all follow with the latter providing some nice punchlines over some slick production for a refreshing change of pace. “The Illest” takes this one step further as Jehst flexes his braggadocio side to a flute loop and shuffling bass:
“Yo, the war chief with a million militias, Billy is malicious
I’ll be doing this â€˜til I’m living in a million dollar villa in Mauritius
Kill a lyricist and leave him swimming with the fishes
Doesn’t victory taste delicious? He died in circumstances suspicious…”
Over the sixteen tracks and fifty six minutes on this album the only MC that you will hear is Jehst. Apart from a couple of guest hooks, Billy Brimstone is all alone and this is both the album’s strength and weakness. While existing fans will welcome this, new listeners may tend to get a little bogged down with some of the heavy subject matter. With deep and engaging tracks like “England” and the excellent “Tears In Rain” amongst others, it’s easy to forget that Jehst can just kick back and flip witty battle rhymes with the best in the game. That’s why the inclusion of tracks like “Old No.7”, “Zombies” and “The Illest” is as important to this album as the songs that will demand your immediate attention.
The album closes out with “Timeless” followed by “Two Point Four”. “Timeless” has a nice soulful feel to it, reinforced by the hook in the middle of the track, which perfectly matches Jehst’s blunted flow for a definite highlight. “Two Point Four” provides the platform for our MC to touch on why he got into rhyming and his continued love for the game:
“The dragon of an ordinary two point four
Fire-breathing since he was, like, two foot tall
Yeah, the kid spits flames
You’ll have to call the fire brigade to fix this blaze”
Overall, this is a welcome return to the scene for an artist who is truly skilled in his craft. Six years may have passed but Jehst is still as relevant as he ever was, if not more so. We will never see him charting in the UK or releasing a TV show but we don’t need him to. As long as he keeps steadily adding to his already impressive catalogue of music then we will be happy. Let’s just not leave it another six years, yeah?