Hackney rapper Jimmy on his role in UK rap: “I see myself as a hero”

Jimmy has spoken to NME about his new mixtape ‘Where Should I Start?’, having a song on the Top Boy soundtrack, and how his drill-inspired music is “motivational”.

Tomorrow (March 29), the Hackney-born rapper will drop his long-awaited second full-length record – boasting features from Potter Payper, Alchubbino and longtime friend V9. ‘Where Should I Start?’ will serve as the follow-up to Jimmy’s 2022 debut mixtape ‘Risk It All’.

Speaking to NME, the east Londoner said he had been “continuously making music” after releasing ‘Risk It All’. On ‘Where Should I Start?’, he wanted to rap “more about his life over the past few years,” including “police problems”, “what was going on between people in the area”, and him “having [his] daughter”.

“There were so many things going on at once,” Jimmy revealed. “That’s kinda where I got the name from [because] where do I start? The name speaks for itself.”

The project includes two tracks produced by electronic duo Chase & Status (‘In N Out’, ‘Fade Out’). “There was one or two talks and then we got into the studio. It really just happened,” Jimmy told NME. “I really enjoyed working with them because they were different songs that I wasn’t used to. It was like experimenting at the same time as well, so it was a good experience.”

Jimmy agreed that drill rappers should experiment more with their music, “because there’s a certain drill sound that everyone is doing nowadays”.

“I feel like you’re more noticed when you’re still doing a bit of drill, but you’re adding your little styles,” he explained. “[You’re doing] something a hundred people ain’t already done. If you experiment with what you’re doing, you might make something you never thought you would make.”

READ MORE: The best drill songs… ever!

Ahead of the release, Jimmy shared a video on his Instagram profile, asking his audience: “When you look into my eyes, what do you see? Do you see happiness or do you see pain? Do you see a hero, or do you see a villain?”

Jimmy explained why he put these questions to his audience: “I see myself as a hero because my lyrics are motivational [that have] a good effect on some people’s lives [while] they may be going through things in life.

“I asked the audience [what they thought of me] because some may see me as a villain due to the pictures I paint in my raps. [However,] they could also see me as a hero because of the influential lyrics which could give people an extra push to get to where they want to be.”

Jimmy told NME that “UK rap, in general, from back in the day” inspires his style of music – which lies between the frenetic nature of drill music and the suaveness of ’00s hip-hop. You could hear the structural influence of grime in Jimmy’s music, but his manager interjected and was very adamant that the quintessential genre is “not [their] lane”.

NME asked Jimmy to be more specific as to what “UK rap” had influenced him. In response, he mentioned the likes of south London rap pioneers Blade Brown and Giggs as inspirations. When asked if their music was still considered “road rap” – the subgenre birthed in the late ’00s to combat the stagnation in grime’s popularity and the rise of gangster rap – he said: “Rap is just rap, innit? I feel like everybody raps a bit of road in their raps.”

He went on to argue why “road rap” was a confusing term for the music at the time: “If you were to listen to those rappers back then and then they got mainstream, would you say they’re road rappers [or] now they’re just rappers?”

The ‘Welcome To E9’ artist is a part of the UK rap collective 98s. This group consists of childhood friends Unknown T, V9, Alchubbino, Billy Billions, DLA, DaBoi’JT, DA, Mazza, PM, Smokes, and Stally. Unfortunately, two members – Kay-O and HitMan – were convicted of murder last December.

Unknown T became the breakout star of the group, and has released two UK Top 20 mixtapes: 2020’s ‘Rise Above Hate’ and 2021’s ‘Adolescence’. Many consider the rapper to be the leader of the group, however, Jimmy made it very clear that he is “his own artist” and has “never relied on another man’s success to be somebody myself”.

“I set goals for myself to reach targets,” he told NME. “Not only [in] music, but I’ve also been self-motivated and I’m highly determined to put my all into whatever I wish to achieve.”

98s released their debut mixtape ‘Class Of 98s’ in September 2020, which includes ‘Family’ – the collaborative track made by Jimmy, V9, Alchubbino and Billy Billions. The melodic rap song was selected to feature in the soundtrack for the final season of Top Boy on Netflix.

READ MORE: Here’s every song on the ‘Top Boy’ season 5 soundtrack

“That was proper still!” he said enthusiastically while talking about how it felt to have a track appear on such a popular show. “My manager sorted that out and I was proper gassed to be on Top Boy.” When asked what he thought of the season finale, Jimmy replied: “It was too much. It was still good at the same time, though, but I just expected it to be different.”

NME asked Jimmy – who grew up in the London borough Top Boy is based in – if the crime thriller accurately depicted his hometown. He responded: “I feel that people love it so much because it’s how life is for certain people.”

He further stated that elements of the revived show – including “people living in estates” and the “things going on in the streets under people’s noses” – are relatable to “not just Hackney, but London in general”.

READ MORE: ‘Top Boy’ season five review: still the greatest TV show on Netflix

“The same way people like Top Boy and stuff is the same way people like certain artists,” Jimmy added, explaining why art doesn’t need to always reflect reality. “They are painting pictures. So, even if you can’t relate to the actual [event], you could relate to it in your own way.”

Many have called Jimmy a documentarian who shares tales from his life. However, that’s not his purpose for releasing music: “Music is therapy to me. I like making music – I have been since I was quite young, so it’s more like a hobby to me. I like to rap about other things but, at the same time, I give people what they wanna hear. I don’t just rap about the ends.”

Jimmy is one of many rappers who keep their identity hidden behind a mask. Even during his video call for this interview, he wore his signature white knitted balaclava because he thought it’d be “nicer to wear it than have a black screen”.

“I like keeping myself to myself,” he told NME. “I just didn’t want the attention at the time [he started his rap career]. I quite like rapping and the mandem were doing their thing so I thought, ‘Let’s put it on and show people I can rap as well’.”

Hackney rapper and 98s member Jimmy. Photo credit: Yukki/Press

Brixton star K-Trap is one of the most famous names to have removed their masks over the last few years. NME asked Jimmy why he hadn’t done the same. “I don’t think I need to,” he replied. “I might take it off in the future – you never know! [But] I feel like, right now, there’s no need to take it off.”

Thinking about what’s next for him, the new father said: “I want to open more doors for people and feel appreciated [in the UK rap community] – you never know, I might have made people feel comfortable enough to rap. I don’t need an award to know I’m good.”

‘Where Should I Start?’ is expected to be out on March 29 and will be released independently. You can pre-save/pre-add it here.

The post Hackney rapper Jimmy on his role in UK rap: “I see myself as a hero” appeared first on NME.

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