i-D’s music class of 2018: jaykae
“When you’ve got nothing to lose, that’s when you go for it."
Jaykae wears jacket Stone Island
“When you’ve got nothing to lose, that’s when you go for it,” Birmingham’s Jaykae says. He’s reminiscing on his early teens, battling fellow grime MCs in parks, raves, on the streets of Small Heath, anywhere. He credits those times with helping him hone his bar-building craft, and putting his hometown on the grime map. “I think a lot of people paid attention to Brum when grime wasn’t really as popping in London. We got noticed because we were still doing lots of clashes and freestyles and videos.”
Now 26, Jaykae has moved on to making fully-realised music that’s every bit as attention-worthy as his early freestyles. Join three million other people and listen to the simultaneously haunting and uplifting Toothache, now, on repeat. He’s also had a son. “It fixes you up, because you’ve got other things to think about before yourself.” Perhaps this explains Jay’s selfless perspective when it comes to his role within the scene. He’s still at the tipping point in his own career, but he’s already thinking of the next generation. “When I was growing I never had anyone to look up to. You had to look away from Birmingham, to London. I think that’s our job. We have to build it up for the younger generation to surpass us at some point,” he says of fellow Brummie artists such as Mist, Lady Leshurr and the Lotto Boyzz.
This future-focused ethos trickles into the messages underpinning Jay’s music, likely intensified by the murder of his friend MC Depzman in 2013. “I try my best not to talk about violence in a certain way, unless it’s past tense. I don’t like people glorifying things that shouldn’t be glorified, like knives and people dying. We need a bit of positivity,” Jaykae insists, “a bit of respect.” He’s certainly got ours.
How did you go from clashes to making music?
I started learning about studios and realising that I'll have to pay if I want to go to these things. So I started saving, and then on the weekend I’d go and get a sesh in. And just learn my craft. I wanted to mix songs and do proper, rather than just rapping to a camera. I wanted to take my craft more seriously.
When was that?
So why do you think you’re kicking off now?
I think people just appreciate hearing real stories and the way that I put it on a song. There's people that have watched me grow up through the Internet -- I've got fans that have stuck with me for nearly 10 years. Then I've got fans that have just caught on maybe 2 months ago. So it's just a building process I think.
How’s it different from when you started?
Today you can go viral in 24 hours on the internet, and just be a superstar straight away. Back then it wasn't as easy as that.
How do you feel about that?
When you build up towards something then I think it feels better. It's more of an accomplishment, rather than just a click of a finger. Boom. It's not in your hands -- it just goes viral, and all the attention's on you. And then a couple of months down the line you can't hold up to that attention, and it slips away, and you'll just be remembered as something that happened a couple of months ago. I think I've tried my best to stay relevant this whole way through.
What’s the Birmingham music scene like?
I feel it's progressed a lot. I don't think we'd ever seen anyone as influential. There wasn't a Birmingham artist that had become a millionaire, for instance, that's close to home. A grime MC that made it -- that went and bought a mansion and went and bought a Ferrari. We haven't got that in front of us. So I think that's what our job is, to build it, and for the younger generation to surpass us at some point.
You're laying the groundwork?
Yeah. I think I'll be respected in my city forever for what I've been doing, but I think there'll be others that surpass us -- to make them think oh, I can do music and make money, and it's not just a joke and laugh it off. Because when you do music people don't take it seriously. Initially. Until they start seeing something good happen. And that's when people start believing.
If you could only listen to one artist for the rest of your life, who is it?
Biggie probably. I'm a fan of Drake, I listen to a lot of Drake's music. But I think if it's all the time... Probably be Biggie.
If you could work with anyone in world?
Martin Scorsese. I love his films. If it wasn't music it'd be Martin Scorsese, if it was music it would be like, Ed Sheeran or Bruno Mars. I saw Bruno Mars live and I didn't think he'd be as good as he was live, and it shocked me. I've been a fan since then.
Plans for 2018?
Next year I want to drop my first album, that's my plan. And do a UK tour, Europe tour.
Photography Ronan Mckenzie (Collage by Kristina Britton)
Styling Julian Ganio
Hair Naoki Komiya at Julian Watson Agency. Make-up Ammy Drammeh using M.A.C Cosmetics. Styling assistance John Handford and Nathan Henry. Hair assistance Kazuhiro Naka. Make-up assistance Grace Ellington.