In Conversation With:

A born-and-bred Londoner, Jeshi is an artist whose relatable tracks take aim at the flaws of the inner-city through the lens of a new generation. His witty but hard-hitting lyrics are filled with introspection, penning his journey of navigating through the complexity of one of the largest cities in the world.

Often humorously addressing the perils of society, his own issues and typical everyday struggles, he encapsulates his storytelling through vivid visuals which personify his words. Much like his alternative sound, both his flow and delivery are unique in their own respects. From touring with the likes of slowthai to dropping viral-worthy slapstick videos, Jeshi has quickly carved his lane and emerged from the underground as an artist to look out for in the new year.

We caught up with Jeshi to speak about his journey, the history of the U.K. rap scene, the importance of relatability to the youth as well as the meaning behind some of his most creative videos.

Original Shift: How did your journey into music begin?

Jeshi: Just being young and hanging around with people who were spittin’ and making tracks in their bedrooms. At 10 or 11 you’re influenced by everyone around you, it soon developed into something more than a surface-level thing, to know what I wanted to say. When you’re young you only really see music through the lens of MTV and you think it’s all unattainable but as I got a little older and met people who were already on that path it opened my eyes to the ability to create music for myself.

For real, it was always seeing these mad studios with crazy equalisers.

It’s rare you got to see the other side of it that’s not so glamorous. The little shitty USB mic, some dead headphones on someone’s mum’s PC.

You grew up in East London, the home of grime, how did that shape you as an artist?

I don’t know if being in East London specifically has a massive effect on me. Just being in London in general and seeing people from where I’m from go to astronomical heights put the battery in my back. I always hold onto a strong sense of where I come from and that’s something that I hope comes across in everything I do whether it’s the references in lyrics, the clothes I put on in the morning or the music videos.

As you said, at that time it was all just MTV so hearing collectives from ends really representing felt special.

Yeah, everything felt far-fetched until Channel U and sites like Limewire came along, it made everything accessible. There’s no TV screen between you anymore, all that gets taken away. The references in the music, seeing places that you’ve been to or are around, made it all feel close to home. Even if you’re not in it yet, you feel like you are a part of it all.

Is there any pressure being from East to take the grime route?

Nah, not really. I was around 13 when Giggs came out and after that people around me tiered off listening to grime. It was a lot of rap, the beats got slower and what was being spoke about seemed to get darker.

That switch in sonics was swift.

I’d never really heard that kind of hood rap from here. Obviously, grime has those tendencies but it’s not so much about that, it’s more about the hype and energy. A lot of what they say to each other is humorous and silly shit. But when you was hearing these rappers you know this is real shit. It was quite a weird transition in energy.

Being in a city like London where the rich and poor are in such close proximity how did that shape your formative mindset?

I love it. You end up navigating through life exposed to people from all walks of life. In a lot of other parts of the world or in rural areas it’s much more segregated so you’re only ever around people who are just like you which creates a real social divide. London definitely isn’t perfect and there are class issues here just like anywhere else in the world but I do like those lines being blurred as much as possible which it does do.

The U.K. music scene is thriving right now. What are your thoughts on it?

British artists are doing really well my only thing would be I’d like to hear some more interesting shit sometimes. It’s not just a problem here, it's a problem everywhere. When something starts to work and make money, everyone looks and replicates. It just gets rinsed, but all that happens is people lose interest. At the end of the day, things are great and I’m happy for everybody doing well and feeding their families off of their art. At some point, I think there will be a real shift in sonics and people saying new things which is always what I want to hear as somebody who really loves this.

At some point everyone was sounding like the Migos, now it’s shifted to drill but it’s good to hear some homegrown sounds.

That’s another thing the UK always does so well, is pioneer completely new sounds. I love drill, it doesn’t sound like anything. Even the American artists that are doing it, it doesn’t have the same feeling or energy. It sounds so British it’s unreal. I would just love for these moments to happen more than lightning in a bottle, I don’t know when the last time something came out that felt this original. Obviously there are influences from different things, but the overall feeling is very British, and that’s the shit I like ‘cos I think this is the greatest place on earth for music.

What are the main references that you pull from?

With visual stuff, I don’t really watch much movies or anything, I always flag images. Even when I write, I’ll have a notes page on my phone full of photos that feel relevant to what I’m working on. Almost like a mood board of random shit. It’s not really of anything beautiful, it’s something I flick through for inspiration. If I’m writing, doing a video or at a shoot, I have these references I’d pull from. It’s important for artists to have a strong sense of what they like and follow their intuition. Even if something comes out that you don’t really like, in that moment it felt like what you were meant to do. I try to think about things as little as possible, and just go and fucking do it.

You name drop different brands in your music and have an eclectic style. What does fashion mean to you?

That’s another thing I try not to overthink. I never want to feel too styled, I like everything to be super comfortable and don’t want to wear something that I wouldn’t run to the off-license in. I’ve always liked clothes, growing up here every kid wanted a Stoney and Prada trainers these were things we aspired to having but now it’s much more widespread. As you move through life and end up in different circles it’s weird to see how these are appreciated across different subcultures. Stoney and CP are so British without even being British - we’ve taken that as our own.

In “Hit by a Train” you talk about social issues that a lot of inner-city kids face. Can you tell us a bit more about the track?

I took a step back and was looking at my life as a whole. There are so many things that piss us off or make us have a bad day that people don’t speak about because it’s not deemed interesting to rap about. Instead, it’s all about how great life is but personally don’t find that interesting to listen to a lot of the time. I’d find it more entertaining to hear about how you left your house for work, were running late and the bus drove past you and fucking splashed you with water. Then you dropped your phone, it smashed and feels like everything’s going wrong and you wanna kill someone sometimes. ‘Cos that’s real. That’s the kind of shit we all go through as humans. I want to make shit for people that have been in those situations where they can listen and relate to. I try to make light of a lot of these things because 9 times out of 10 the problems ain’t as big as they are in our heads. “Hit by a Train” lists all the things that go wrong on a day-to-day basis; a lot of them are humorous and isolated wouldn’t even phase you but when something goes wrong it seems like there’s always about 5 other things that are due to go wrong on that same day. That’s when it just feels like you’ve been hit by a train [laughs].

The track feels like Groundhog Day and in the video you’re on an escalator but not going anywhere. What does that symbolise?

For every step you go up, for every good thing that happens, it feels like something bad pushes back down sometimes. You’re trying to fight your way through all these people coming your direction and it’s a physical representation of these little things that life throws at you.

When you talk about it being trivial, I get the same essence from your track “Sick”.

What I want to do is tell the story of the normal kids everywhere. The problem is, sometimes the music is so one-dimensional. Everyone is listening to music about drilling people so much that kids feel like they need to relate to something they know nothing about. People just want to fit in and feel like someone is speaking to them. I want to give an alternative perspective of being young in London. It’s always super hood shit or it’s super-conscious, there’s got to be some middle ground. Yeah I know this hood shit, I’ve been around it, I relate to that but at the same time, I relate to a whole world of other shit too. As humans we’re multidimensional, all of those things play a part in who I am, it’s about bringing all of this into a melting pot because it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

London, not even just music but in a lot of aspects of culture, is a dog-eat-dog place. How do you manoeuvre around that whilst staying true to yourself and your sound?

It’s a city thing. It’s probably the same with most places, but here you feel it more because it’s smaller. Everyone feels like everyone else has to do badly for them to do good, it’s put onto us but it’s not true. Especially with music, if you’re doing great shit that people like, it will cut through, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. If what you’re doing is that fucking good, it will find its home. You don’t have to be a dickhead, you can get where you want to get in life and still be nice, treat people good, and be respectful. If you see someone doing something that you think is great, fucking say it. I think people are so afraid to praise others because they think it takes away from them. Everyone wants their fucking dreams to come true, people want to look after their families, want to have some money in their pocket, and not stress about money and all of that shit.

You recently toured with slowthai. I catch the same vibes from you both doing this alternative sound and representing British culture. How did that partnership come about?

Super naturally. I met Ty a long time ago and I know Kwes who he works with a lot too. You get on with people with similar intentions. Being yourself and making good shit - anyone who’s like that, I’m gonna get on with.

Speaking of tours, what’s the most memorable show that you’ve done and why?I did my first show post-lockdown last month.

I hadn’t released music in a while, but when I started to drop again, Covid happened so I couldn’t perform. Sometimes, because of the internet, when you release music, it’s just numbers on a screen, it’s almost like it doesn’t translate in your head. But when you’re out and you see people singing the words back, you chill with them after and they’re telling you about what songs meant to them — it’s a surreal feeling that makes it worth it. I don’t care if a song has fucking 10 million plays on Spotify, that don’t mean shit, it’s numbers on a screen.

Do you think that the internet and accessibility of streaming has helped or hindered the authenticity of music?

I think it’s a double-edged sword. A beautiful thing is that anyone can put music out at the exact same level as the biggest pop star on earth, it’s right there. It’s not like back in the day where you need money to press CDs or to get anywhere you need label backing. Now there’s no restrictions, so everyone can do everything, it’s great. It also means a lot of over-saturation and many people think it’s a bad thing, but as I said earlier, if it’s that good, it will work. But I also think that it has depreciated the specialness of music. That feeling of going to buy a CD, unwrapping it, and sitting down to listen to the full tape. That purity and romanticism of consuming music isn’t there anymore, which I think is sad, but we gotta evolve with technology. Things are gonna change and you can’t be afraid of change.

Yeah, those days are gone.

Vinyl is having a little resurgence in certain pockets of music. It’s so interesting how an alternative band won’t stream as much as other genres but they’ll chart higher because there’s a market for vinyl. It feels special that it’s slowly coming back and I’d like to see it more across all genres. For fans, it’s nice to be able to hold something of an artist you love. When it comes in the post and you’re looking through the art and attention that’s been put into it, it makes you appreciate the artist more.

Who is your dream collaborator, dead or alive?

Amy Winehouse. I don’t even know if I’d like to work with her, I’d just like to hang out with her. I just love the way she wrote, it’s all of the things I think about. Writing in a way that speaks to people and relates to just the normal shit. But I don’t know, man, anyone who’s good, anyone that’s making shit that’s exciting.

What does the future hold for you?

I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing. Try to pull all the good things out of my brain, push barriers and make better music. I have a lot of things that I have on the way which I’m really excited about sharing. Keep making shit that people like and people relate to and hopefully, it means something to someone, somewhere. And try not to get in trouble [laughs].

Anything you want to plug?

Nah. Don’t listen to me, that’s the plug. [laughs]