If a tourist had asked me 15 years ago whether Jersey had much of an urban music scene I would have laughed and suggested they turn right around and do the robot dance back onto the ferry. There were enough people to pack out a small nightclub, but if you saw somebody rapping onstage instead of in a dingy basement it was probably part of a touring theatre group trying to get kids from St Mary to stay away from the drugs. Since that time a few things have changed. Jersey has shifted even further away from the Black & White Minstrels to a diverse timetable of weekend festivals, one off parties and other events that aren’t exclusively pitched at people who learn about music from the Radio Times. I’m glad that middle-aged cabaret still has an underground scene (like Fight Club with bingo wings) but Jersey’s young people were in dire need of age appropriate entertainment, and now they have it, even if we’re still a bit closer to Butlin’s than Brooklyn.
Straight Outta Longueville
Although Folklore and Groove De Lecq do an amazing job of catering to the hippy crowd, and Jersey Live reliably beats V festival at its own game, as an ageing man with a large collection of futuristic running shoes I am most excited about the type of music promoted by newer events like Blkout and Reasons. I am 30% deaf and 100% down with the kids, so I like to hear music with plenty of bass and the occasional rude word. This used to mean exclusively hip-hop, but these days there is a wide variety of sounds grouped together under the slightly cringey euphemism of “urban music.” This descriptor starts with rap music, but has come to encompass garage, grime and the sort of drum and bass that you can’t use as background music on Grand Designs. It would just be more honest to say that it’s music that originally came from urban-based African-American and Afro-Carribean people, but there’s nothing the music industry likes more than a confusing genre name and dislikes more than racial politics.
Whatever you want to call it, what you can definitely say is that Jersey still doesn’t produce very much of it. We’ve got enough acoustic strummers that we’ve started exporting them to Sark, and a faceless army of studio knob twiddlers pumping out SICK BEATS, but not much in the way of MCs rapping about sea lettuce and traffic on the inner road. Yes, I am aware that Jersey’s ethnic makeup drastically reduces our chances of producing the next Kendrick Lamar, but Macklemore won the Grammy for best rap album and he’s from the mean streets of Seattle. Calvin Harris produced most of Rihanna’s last album and he was weaned on Irn Bru. Dare to dream, people of Jersey, which is exactly what I did when I falsified the musical biography of my area in order to try and get my L’Etacq based garage crew a spot on X Factor. It didn’t work, but if enough of us commit to editing Wikipedia we can finally establish street cred for Trinity breakdancers and the badman rudeboys of Maufant Village.
Shook Ouens pt. 2
I’ve realised that nobody is going to be interested in somebody who raps about seagulls, so if Jersey is going to get any respect we need to imply an atmosphere of danger, similar to how Bergerac made it look like you couldn’t walk down King Street without being knocked over by an international jewel thief fleeing from MI5. It’s not that far off from how Ice Cube went from being an architecture student to writing music about how he’s killed more people than malaria and is not on great terms with the police. To mythologise the troubles with your neighbourhood is traditional, although more along the lines of what the Wu Tang did for pre-existing social conditions in Staten Island, rather than trying to convince people that First Tower is a warzone where haters are out to jack you for your paycards.
Still, trouble sells. In the 90s, mainstream audiences around the world learned about America’s regional rap scenes through the public conflict between MCs from New York and their counterparts in Los Angeles. Known as the “East coast / West coast beef,” it helped shift millions of records but also culminated in the tragic deaths of 2pac and the Notorious BIG. Apart from the platinum selling records, international fame and senseless murders, I often tell people that Jersey is not that different: I myself learned about the code of the streets by seeing what happened when some boat shoe-wearing punks from Gorey Village tried to walk up in Le Braye car park and disrespect my homies from the west coast. It was nasty; they got back from buying Cornettos to find somebody had drawn a wang in the dirt on their BMW. Since then, I’ve lived in fear of reprisal and have been careful never to be caught trapping at St Catherine’s pier without a lobster permit.
Mo money, mo problems
It is a terrible stereotype to say that rappers only talk about violence; many of my favourite artists are much more interested in talking about money. There is also a strong tradition of using rap music to communicate social injustice and philosophy, but this is not the time for me to talk about the feds who oppressed me for overstaying in Sand Street car park. I admire rappers who boast about accumulating fabulous wealth from dubious sources, because I feel this is an area where Jersey people don’t need to do a lot of work. Artists like Rick Ross have made careers by telling people of the millions that they earned by bending the law, so maybe there’s a gap in the market for a man from St Mary who tells gritty stories of insider trending on the stock market, or the mortal enemies they made doing armed hold-ups on the honesty box near Val De La Mare. I aspire to be the Gucci Mane of Quennevais Precinct.
Talking about it will only get me so far, so I’ve decided to funnel some of the proceeds from my life of crime (aka Grandpa’s trust fund) into an extravagant series of music videos showing that it’s possible to ball (relatively) hard in a place that’s only nine miles by five. I plan to show that my community is behind me, that Jersey is a neighbourhood where OG potato farmers are proud that a young man escaped poverty and bought himself a tractor with diamond-covered wheels and a pimp stable of prize winning cows. I’m going to have girls pole dancing on the steam clock, Humphrey the lion holding an uzi and plan to melt down the Bailiff’s mace to make myself a new set of teeth. All I need is some criminal notoriety, so if the police are reading this, please be fully aware that I have no respect for the law and will not be cutting my garden hedge until you do something about it. I am not afraid to ride a horse on the beach before September, and regularly purchase things online without paying GST. If you think you can take me alive (and on camera) – come and get me.