Thursday, 13 December 2012

Jehst and Kashmere

Existing as he does, as one of the most respected producers/MCs/lyricists in UK hip-hop, Jehst can pretty much do whatever he likes. Hell, if he wanted to make a concept album with his mate Kashmere based on 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' - Hunter S. Thompson's legendary seedy, corrupted, acid trip to the post-hippy dark heart of the supposed American dream - then who's to stop him? Nobody, that's who. And that very album, 'Kingdom of Fear', is out now on his own YNR Productions label.
Bite My Wire managed to get Jehst and Kashmere in the same place for long enough to find out what the fuck is going on. Perhaps, if they explain things, we'll rest easy...

Kashmere and Jehst on drugs

How did Kingdom of Fear come about? Obviously you guys have worked together in the past...
J: It's something that we both talked about. We were both working on different projects, and it was at a time when rap in this country was starting to get commercial. A lot of people had a lot of business concerns wrapped up in the music, and creativity was getting slowed down by all the politics and the business. We just wanted to get back to the essence of making music in the moment, and enjoying the process, and it actually not being preconceived. Like, what happened in the session is that we'd do a track, and then we were onto the next thing. I remember Kashmere saying at the time, that the reason an album is called an album, is because it's a record of that time, in the way that a photo album is an album. It shouldn't necessarily be a compilation of ideas. I think nowadays, especially in rap, most albums are put together on the basis of box-ticking. "We've got this producer, we've got this collab..." And that was starting to be the case even with the UK underground. We were just bored of everything. We didn't even know what we were going to do. Kash brought the Hunter aspect - that concept - to it.
K: A lot of people probably aren't going to get it by listening to it, but this album was about agriculture. We're just trying to put it out there, to tell everyone to support their local farms. Because without farms, where are you? You know? What can you do? Life is just pointless without farms.

So you just sat down to make an album, then Kash decided it'd be like this?
J: Nah. I won a competition, and I got some free tickets to fly to Los Angeles, and when we got to LA, we thought "Let's do a little road trip", and we actually started living the Hunter S. Thompson lifestyle without even realising we were doing it. Then once we realised it had all been done before, and that we were just biters, we thought that if we were going to be biters we might as well just be true to it. Like all hip-hop goes back to the sample, and we stay true to where the original idea came from, and we just said "Fuck it", and just ran with it. It just became Kingdom of Fear.
K: Plus, it's really expensive to hire cars out there, you know?
J: You know what they say, 'Don't drink and drive, smoke a spliff and fly home'. That's actually where I made my millions. I've got a 25% share in a t-shirt company based in Scarborough, and they were one of the first people to actually print the 'Don't drink and drive, smoke a spliff and fly home' t-shirts. I don't need rap music! I just do that shit for fun. All that shit where I rap about being broke, what I mean is, I'm broke doing rap. Because that ain't paying me. I'm not being silly, I've got billions in the bank, off the t-shirts.
K: He doesn't like to show it off.

Yeah, you actually wouldn't think you were as rich as that.

J: What I'm saying is, rhyme doesn't pay. Crime pays, and t-shirts pay better. Merchandise is the future of the whole music industry. People say that live shows are the future of the music industry, but the reality is, we've got hologram-Snoop now.
K: Tupac.
J: Oh yeah, sorry - hologram-Tupac. Snoop's real, right? I thought Tupac was still alive, and the hologram was just him revealing that. Because Elvis is still alive, you know? He actually rents a room from me in Brockley. I was confused because Snoop has now reincarnated himself as a lion. I think Snoop's maybe been doing more drugs than we have.
K: He kind of reminds me of the eighties TV show, 'Manimal'. Where the guy could transform into different animals. And I think Snoop has really shown people how it's done.
J: But Snoop is frontin', he's not being true. He needs to do a video like Manimal, the way we did Kingdom of Fear, and just say "Look, I'm biting my whole shit. I'm on a Manimal thing". Do you remember Manimal?

I do, yep.

J: What about Trumpton? Do you remember Trumpton?

Hell yeah man.
K: Believer.

Right, Hunter S. Thompson is known for just how American he is. Was it easy to translate that into a UK hip-hop album?
K: It wasn't hard, man. We just went to McDonald's, and got a bunch of Big Macs. Because that's really the main American thing. McDonald's is bigger than Hunter S. Thompson. That's on the real. Starbucks.
J: When I was growing up I just wanted to be a member of the A-Team.

Don't you any more?

J: I am now. I'm B.A. Baracus. I'm Plan A. That's why Plan B's called Plan B. But just look at B.A. Baracus. A lot of people don't realise this, but my make-up artist is a genius. Eminem was blowing up around the time I came out, so we figured out that if I whited myself up I'd sell more records. If you saw my mum, you'd understand that I look a lot like B.A. Baracus. As long as I don't wear the feather earring, then it's cool. If I wear those feather earrings people are just hollering at me in the street, going "Mr. T! Mr. T!" Some people think it's a gay thing. How is that gay, dungarees and Converse? And a mohawk, and feather earrings? And the gold chains?! Eric B and Rakim had gold chains, are you telling me Eric B and Rakim are gay?

So now that we know how wealthy you are...

J: He's on Disability Allowance because he's a drug addict.

Did you take a lot of drugs making the album?

J: He wasn't a drug addict before we made the album! Hahaha! Mainly just Ajax.

When people like you two, and somebody like Dizzee, are obviously multi-millionaires, what do you feel about people like Task Force who are not?
J: I think Task Force should have invested more money in their t-shirt printing. I used to wear the Grafdabusup t-shirt and the Wha Blo t-shirt, but where Task Force went wrong, is that they spent to much time trying to make good music, and writing good lyrics. Whereas if I can refer to the artist you just named, I mean, he doesn't does he? You can just leave his name blank, so we could be talking about anybody. I'm being a bit silly, but let's be real - that's all it is. It's not all about rap, or hip-hop, it's the same for any form of art. Any form of artistic expression. You come into it thinking it's the industry for making money from your art, and it's not. Everything's about celebrity culture, everything's about fucking social-network-following, reality TV bullshit. There's not really that much place for people who are trying to do something from the heart, to make paper. I don't want to get too into the politics. You know what, much love and respect to Task Force. They were a huge influence on me, I love those guys. I love their shit. I don't want to get too much into who did what, and what happened to who, but we're from a time where people still looked at the type of music that we do with the eyes that it would never, ever make anybody any money. So it was never a concern for us. When we started making money it was a surprise. And that spawned the generation that capitalised on the opportunity to make money out of rap music, out of hip-hop culture or whatever in the UK. So you had a generation where some guys came along then disappeared real quickly, and some guys went on to make fortunes. A lot of the guys who did make fortunes did it by changing up their whole styles, and realising it's a business. That's all it is. I handle my business because I gotta pay my rent and I gotta eat, but you know, fuck business, fuck capitalism, fuck the 'indusrty' side of music. It's just an industry like everything else, except you don't put on a shirt and tie. That's the only difference. You put on some skinny jeans and some fucking Blazers or whatever it is. Most of them have got office-job mentality and I hate most people in the music industry. Even the ones that I like. Can we go back to talking about Ajax?

Of course.

J: Ajax gets your whites whiter than the leading brand. I won't get my payment if you don't print that. I've got an investment in Ajax, along with the t-shirt company, but I don't like to mix up the two businesses. They're two separate things.

Kashmere and Jehst in the Stockwell Arms. Photo by James Thompson.

The album only took two weeks to make. That's not very long. Did you rush it or something?
J: It took two weeks to make, but then we sat on it for about twenty years. And it took somebody about forty years to make a video for it.
K: For real, was it rushed? Nah, it didn't feel like it. I was rushin'.
J: Yeah, we were rushin'! It was fun. The last solo album I did took six years, that wasn't much fun. We produced the Steps comeback album. Take That smashed it with the comeback album, so why can't Steps do it? Because I'm their ghost writer, they've got a lot of new stuff ready to go. And we produced a lot of their stuff with Shock G from Digital Underground, he helped out a lot. And Hammer was our business consultant. Do you remember Ya Kid K?

Yeah, from Technotronic.

J: Well Ya Kid K is now known as A$AP Rocky, I don't know if you know that.

Wow. I did not know that. What are your plans for when this album comes out? Do you just sit back and watch the money roll in?

K: The money has already rolled in, you know what I'm saying?
J: When the album comes out we have to start counting the money. The problem is that we have to pay people to count the money. It's really confusing, because we can't really budget how much we have to pay these motherfuckers to count our money, until they've counted the money.
K: When they start counting the money, that's when counting the money gets serious. Because counting money, is counting money. And you've been to the bank before, they're very serious in the bank. Because they're counting that money.
J: Because of the financial arrangement we have with the money counters, we have had to set up a Fritzl-style basement situation, to keep them motivated to work.

I can understand that.

J: I'm just going to put this out, and this is an exclusive - if you sell this on we'll sue you - when we removed Jimmy Saville's gravestone the other night, we actually took that down into our Fritzl-style basement where we keep our money counters, and showed them, and smashed it up in front of them. We said "Your whole life could go the same as Jimmy. He thought he'd got away with it. But we'll come back for you. Even in the grave". So, you know, that helped to motivate the money counting.

Did you guys have much to do with the downfall of the late Jimmy Savile? I mean, you moved in similar circles...
J: Hold up, I don't know if we can respond to that. We moved in the same circles? I might have to talk to my lawyer about that. You know what, I'm not going to say that we did, but also, I'm not going to say that we didn't. It was crazy times. The seventies was a crazy time. Certain things happened. We weren't aware of everything Jimmy was doing at the time.

So it just didn't seem wrong at the time?

J: You know what, I never saw Jimmy in those kind of scenarios. We only ever went out tracksuit shopping, or for a little bit of jewellery. We'd argue a lot of the time, because what me and Jimmy had to do, we'd ring each other before a night out, and say "You're not wearing that tracksuit, are you?" because we'd always buy matching tracksuits.
K: Listen, Jehst always thought he was cool. I always thought he had a problem.
J: That's because he touched you.
K: I always kept my trousers on.
J: He touched you through your trousers. That's what I heard.
K: I wore a pair of boxer shorts, a pair of tracksuit bottoms, and a pair of jeans. And a chastity belt. Over the top of all of that. And a condom.
J: You did wear all of that protective clothing, but then to put a thong on over the top? I think you maybe gave him the wrong impression, and the chastity belt did look a lot like a red codpiece. You look a lot like Cameo! And I've never seen you both in the same place at the same time. That's an exclusive. 'Kashmere and Cameo never seen in same place at same time - YOU work it out'.

Jehst and Kashmere. Photo by James Thompson.

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