‘This is All I Know’: London’s Jay Prince Wants to Show You Something New
To see more of Jay’s photos, check out @loungeinparis on Instagram. For more music stories, head to Instagram @music.
Rapper Jay Prince (@loungeinparis) is East London through and through. He was raised here, has family here, got an education here. But his music is far from the grime-inflected tracks the city prides itself on. In truth, it’s more in tune with a stateside sound — his production and flow marked by a New York-heavy rhythm filled with soulful horns, electric pianos and a direct, syncopated flow.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I get that quite a lot,” says Jay, about being compared to US hip-hop. “I understand why — I have had a lot of American influences. I didn’t grow up on UK hip-hop heavily … I listened to grime when I was a kid, but I was like 50-50. I liked a lot of Lil Jon, Jay Z, Kanye, Common, Mos Def, some R&B and neo-soul.”
While his musical influences may be easily traceable, less so are his visual cues, which he shares in the way of portraits and city photos from his travels at home and abroad. Jay has spent time crafting a look and image through his photography — including the pictures he takes and the ones his friends take of him. Still, he admits to experimenting with his style, continually searching for one that fits.
“I am still trying to find it out myself,” he says. “Usually I am about a dark tone. It depends a lot on where I live. London is not always sunny, so you have to use the light that you have. Whereas when I went to Barcelona, it was so bright.”
Though music is Jay’s primary passion, photography plays an important role in his life as well. His goal is to combine both areas into a diverse, creative portfolio. That’s why he devotes time getting better at each — writing rhymes, making beats, investing in cameras. For the pictures, Jay began developing his skills while on tour in the States, where he connected with some photographers. They began to meet up in different cities to take each other’s portrait.
As for the music, Jay started rapping when he was 14. While East London has a rough-and-tumble reputation, he managed to side-step most of it by focusing on hip-hop. And though he wasn’t involved in drugs or gangs, he was certainly aware of what was going on.
“I had friends who were kind of involved and would have fights and stuff,” he says. “Growing up in East London, it was fun at first — you try to understand yourself a little more, you try to build friendships. As I got older, it was bad — people started getting hurt. I started questioning a lot of things. And you have to kind of look out for yourself and be careful. It was about watching your back.”
Instead of putting his energy into the streets, Jay would put it into his music. He had a voice and he wanted to use it. (As he says in his track “1993” off his EP, BeFor Our Time, “This is all I know.”) And it all came from the opportunity given to him by his parents, who immigrated to the UK from Africa before Jay was born.
“I remember my mom always taught me, ‘When we came here, we gave you an opportunity.’ And I never understood. Like, I was born here. I wasn’t born in Africa. What type of opportunity?” he says. “As I got older I started realizing and appreciating it. If it’s really true that there is an opportunity here, then I am going to test it. That’s when I got into music. And I was like, I love this. And I know I got that opportunity because of my parents. It was for me to build myself and have my own platform to build my own future and build my own career. And now I am a musician. I have worked and built my own world.”