Described by many as “the best British rapper of all time“, Kent-born, London-via-Huddersfield MC/producer/label boss Jehst is certainly among the most respected and influential individuals in the history of UK hip hop. A leading figure in the British scene since the early 2000’s with critically acclaimed albums such as ‘The Return of the Drifter’ and ‘Falling Down’, homegrown hip hop with more traditional-style beats never quite made the mainstream breakthrough it once threatened to.
Grime came to gradually dominate the airwaves after Dizzie Rascal’s ‘Boy in da Corner’ won the 2003 Mercury Prize, and a few years later, Britain’s leading underground label Low Life Records folded when its owner Braintax decided he’d had enough. After releasing ‘Nuke Proof Suit’ in 2005, Jehst took some time out to focus on running his label YNR Productions, re-appearing again five years later with a new album titled ‘The Dragon of an Ordinary Family’.
Despite continuing to make guest appearances on albums by the likes of Jazz T and Loyle Carner, and annually popping up with a few live performances here and there, Jehst had released no original music of his own over the past six years. So it came as a surprise to many when news broke that a new album was ready for release back in June.
Inspired by a Gil Scott-Heron track of the same name, ‘Billy Green Is Dead’ follows a fictional everyman character who has been worn down by the modern world and its focus on selfish individualism. With beats produced by the likes of Beat Butcha, Paul White, Zygote and Jehst himself, it features some of his best work to date and has been viewed by many as a return to form.
Taking ‘The Billy Green Show’ out on a short tour of the UK and Ireland, Jehst stopped by Manchester’s Sound Control for an intimate performance in front of some of his most dedicated fans (one of whom claimed to have seen him close to a dozen times over the years). Supported by Chris P Cuts on the decks, and with the very accomplished Confucius MC backing him up on the mic, Jehst showed exactly why he’s considered to be among Britain’s finest ever rappers.
A natural rhymer with witty wordplay, a stream of consciousness flow and a monotone delivery, the more traditional style beats that he’s favoured throughout his career continued on his conceptual fourth. However, this time they’ve taken a somewhat bleaker turn, matching its dark lyrical content that’s laced with despair at the contradictions of 21st century existence and peppered references to a variety of conspiracy theories.
Supplemented by two projector screens either side of the stage playing a selection of clips related to each track, the set opened with ‘Billy Green’s Theme’. Introduced by audio and video of Gil Scott-Heron performing the short poem which inspired the album, each track comes thick and fast with Jehst putting a lot of energy and passion into his performance.
The anti-consumerist ‘Good Robot’ and the glitchy, JFK-referencing ‘Kennedy’ were among the early set highlights, the latter featuring a solid verse from Confucius MC who was also on tour promoting his own album ‘The Artform’, on which Jehst worked as executive producer. Lead-single ’44th Floor’ also comes across excellently live, containing arguably the finest lyrical performance of his career. Album closer ‘Billy Green Is Alive!’ was another stand-out, accompanied by one of Jehst’s very own beats.
Although there was little sign of his older material during the ‘The Billy Green Show’ tour, there was an encore performance of the pro-cannabis anthem ‘Weed’ from Evil Ed’s 2004 album ‘The Enthusiast’. Recognising that it was getting close to curfew time, he ended the set there and used the remaining time to sign autographs and meet his fans who had gathered around the merchandise table.
‘Billy Green Is Dead’ is available now via YNR Productions