Tag Archives: Juga-Naut

New Joint – Juga-Naut

Juga-Naut – “Double Sixteen” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com / 2022)

Nottingham’s supremely talented Juga-Naut delivers a live performance of one of the many standout tracks from his recent self-produced release “Situationist: Stolen Art PT. III”.

New Joint – Juga-Naut

Juga-Naut – “Dressed As Myself” (@JugaNaut / 2022)

More lyrical excellence, quality self-produced beats and creative Theorist Labs animation from talented Nottingham artist Juga-Naut’s recent “Situationist: Stolen Art PT. III” release.

New Joint – Juga-Naut

Juga-Naut – “Treading Water” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com / 2022)

Get your two-step on as Nottingham’s multi-talented Juga-Naut gets busy over smooth early-80s soul vibes off his recent “Situationist: Stolen Art PT III” release.

New Joint – Juga-Naut

Juga-Naut – “Triple The Weight” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com / 2022)

Nottingham’s Juga-Naut showcases his immense talents on this self-produced gem from the recently-released “Situationist: Stolen Art PT.III”.

New Joint – Juga-Naut

Juga-Naut – “Dropping Hints” (@JugaNaut / 2022)

Nottingham’s mighty Juga-Naut lets off a steady flow of captivating wordplay on this dope track lifted from his forthcoming self-produced release “Situationist: Stolen Art PT. III”.

100 Favourite Albums & EPs Of 2021 (Part One) – Juga-Naut & Giallo Point / Genesis Elijah / Eddie Kaine etc.

It’s that time again. Hard to believe that 2021 has ended already. The last twelve months seemed to pass by at a lightning pace and as I approach my late-forties I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

That said, it was another difficult year for most, regardless of how fast the days and weeks may or may not have felt like they were moving. But music remained an essential escape for many of us. Listening to it. Talking about it. Making it. Writing about it. Remembering it. Arguing about it. Loving it.

Rhythm is life, as the great philosopher Warren G once said, and life is rhythm.

As I post the five installments of my 2021 list over the coming week, there will, of course, be releases missing that people may have expected or hoped to see. If an album or EP hasn’t been included, that doesn’t automatically mean I didn’t like it. It could just mean I didn’t like it as much as everything else I have included. In today’s social media-driven world, it can often feel like it’s all or nothing when discussing music (or anything for that matter). If you don’t love an album or think it’s an instant classic, that must mean you hate it or think it’s worthless. The middle-ground in-between where constructive debate occurs appears to be shrinking by the day. But I digress.

As always, this round-up celebrates the Hip-Hop I connected with most over the past twelve months. It contains the Hip-Hop I revisited most throughout the year. It shines a light on the Hip-Hop I enjoyed most in 2021.

So, let’s set if off…

Juga-Naut & Giallo Point – “Smoke Filled Room” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com) – Having already worked together on 2019’s sterling effort “Back To The Grill Again”, expectations were understandably high for the second full-length collaborative project to come from the UK’s Juga-Naut and Giallo Point, with the finished product finding the pair further cementing their reputations as masters of their respective crafts. An exquisite combination of top-tier lyricism and perfectly selected sample-based production, this album brilliantly showcased Juga-Naut’s natural talent for penning intricate verses packed with multiple layers that were a joy to follow, unravel, rewind and listen to again and again.

Skyzoo – “All The Brilliant Things” (MMG-Skyzoo.BandCamp.Com) – Another year passed by and NYC’s Skyzoo added yet another masterpiece to his already stellar catalogue. At this point in his career, Skyzoo’s ability to make his lyrical brilliance appear effortless should never stop us from remembering just how much work no doubt goes into every bar, every line and every verse that he commits to the pages of his rhyme pad. Like many of Skyzoo’s previous releases, this was a concept-driven project which found the talented emcee commenting on the gentrification of his beloved Brooklyn over an impeccable selection of jazz-infused beats from the likes of Kenny Keys, MarcNfinit and Tuamie. Writing with incredible attention to detail as always, Skyzoo pulled listeners into his world, placing us all amongst the sights, sounds and experiences of past, present and future New York.

IAMGAWD & Doc Da Mindbenda – “Hell’s Angels & Heaven’s Demons” (GawdsGift.BandCamp.Com) – Being able to create meaningful art out of the uglier aspects of life is a unique skill and one clearly shared by Chicago partnership IAMGAWD and Doc Da Mindbenda, as demonstrated on this captivating album. A quality example of the greatness that can be achieved when an emcee and producer share undeniable creative chemistry, GAWD’s commanding flow was matched perfectly here with Doc’s robust beats. Touching on a variety of topics, including the vicious cycle of gang life, structural racism and street politics, this album offered a powerful and sobering dose of reality.

Funky DL – “Beautiful Soul” (FunkyDL.BandCamp.Com) – Paying tribute to the soul music of the 60s and 70s in clever and subtle ways, this 21st (!!!) album from the UK’s Funky DL was an ambitious and expertly executed project. Accompanied by the organic sound of live musicians, DL delivered personal, heartfelt rhymes with sincerity and feeling, resulting in an album that was both inspiring and uplifting. A much needed ray of musical light.

Sons Phonetic – “Nakatomi” (SonsPhonetic.BandCamp.Com) – Having spent the last decade consistently delivering their own unique brand of quality Hip-Hop, Ireland’s mighty Sons Phonetic crew dropped their new long-awaited album “Nakatomi”, a skilful combination of sublime, sample-based production and expertly penned verses full of meaningful depth and striking imagery. A remarkable release.

Genesis Elijah – “A Prophet In His Hometown…” (GenesisElijah.BandCamp.Com) – A lot of artists will talk about keeping it real, but how real are they really keeping it? Are they talking about their struggles, emotions and mistakes? Are they letting you hear their true feelings through music? Are they being genuine? Watford-based emcee Genesis Elijah did all of the above throughout this striking collection of beats and rhymes. We cheered when Genesis spoke on his successes and cared when he touched on his personal battles. Backed by unique production from Pastor Dutchie and Shapes that blurred lines between genres, Elijah stood loud and proud throughout “A Prophet…”, rightfully staking his claim as one of the UK’s finest lyricists.

Codenine – “LVNDR” (TragicAlliesCodenine.BandCamp.Com) – Mood music of the highest quality, this latest album from Tragic Allies member Codenine was a towering creative triumph, blending sharp lyrical darts with smooth, emotive production from the likes of Chronic Tone and Karnate, lending the release a cinematic, soundtrack-like feel. This wasn’t an album you could (or should) just dip in and out of. It was a body of work that deserved to be listened to in its entirety in order to be fully appreciated.

TrueMendous – “Misdiagnosis Of Chyvonne Johnson” (TrueMendous.BandCamp.Com) – Personality. Flow. Ingenuity. Three things you’re guaranteed to hear on any release from Birmingham emcee TrueMendous. Having signed with the High Focus label in 2020 and subsequently dropping the well-received “HUH?” EP, this album release for the imprint found the UK talent in full artistic flight, clearly seeing every moment here as an opportunity to revel in her own individuality as she touched on relationships, self-image and personal history, accompanied by diverse and inventive production.

Tall Black Guy & Ozay Moore – “Of Process And Progression” (TallBlackGuy.BandCamp.Com) – A celebratory album with a message, Tall Black Guy and Ozay Moore combined their individual expertise and crafted something truly special here. Whilst the hype sticker on the front of this album boasted of the duo being here to “revive the pulse of Hip-Hop’s golden-era”, that statement only told half the story. Far from simply being a collection of predictable throwback tracks full of 90s nostalgia, this was a vibrant, inspirational release that respectfully nodded toward its back-in-the-day influences, yet very much remained a soundtrack made for the present day.

Fresh Daily – “The Quiet Life 2” (HighWaterMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Raised in Brooklyn, now residing in Oakland, Fresh Daily came correct on his long-awaited sequel album “The Quiet Life 2”, an absolutely brilliant release which found the talented artist matching his observational rhymes and conversational flow with warm, melodic production from the likes of Chris Keys, Lakim, Suff Daddy and more.

Jazz Spastiks – “Camera Of Sound” (JazzSpastiks.BandCamp.Com) – Scotland’s Jazz Spastiks never fail to operate at the top of their game whenever it’s time for the gifted production duo to bless us with a new release. This latest album from Coconut Delight and Mr Manyana featured a who’s who of underground heavyweights taking full advantage of the pair’s full-bodied beats. Wee Bee Foolish, Artifacts, Soundsci and more stepped up with their best microphone techniques, ensuring this album had maximum replay value.


Prox Centauri – “Mending What’s Broken: Odes For Stalwart Days & Fearless Nights” (ProxCentauri.BandCamp.Com) – Flint, Michigan’s Prox Centauri showcased his talent for penning sincere, life-affirming rhymes on this thoroughly engaging album release. Containing some of the best lyricism you were likely to have heard in 2021, Centauri floated above the clouds as he explored the meaning of the human experience via thoughts on spirituality, consciousness and community.

Wavy Da Ghawd – “Ghawd’s Eden” (WavyDaGhawd.BandCamp.Com) – Having worked with the likes of Rome Streetz, Bub Rock and Sauce Heist in recent years, Brooklyn-based producer Wavy Da Ghawd entered 2021 already known for delivering quality soundscapes. This album further cemented the NY music man’s reputation for stellar work behind the boards, with underground favourites such as Planet Asia, Eddie Kaine and Ty Farris all eager to spit over one of Wavy’s carefully selected loops. Producer-based albums can sometimes sound disjointed, but the dusty-fingered basement vibe running throughout “Ghawd’s Eden” ensured it stood out as a cohesive collection with plenty of musical character.


Lewis Parker – “Frequency Of Perception” (LewisParker.BandCamp.Com) – A product of an era in Hip-Hop when skills were really all that mattered, it’s easy to imagine UK producer-on-the-mic Lewis Parker stood in a b-boy stance next to his trusty SP1200 whenever you listen to the self-proclaimed Man With The Golden Sound. A true master (you can check his credentials), Parker’s ability to craft timeless, sample-based music has only become more refined over the years, with “Frequency Of Perception” proudly standing as an example of what can be achieved when a veteran artist is still passionate and enthusiastic about their craft.

Rita J – “The High Priestess” (RitaJ.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago’s Rita J made a welcome return to the rap game with this superb album which found the skilled emcee being joined by fellow Windy City representatives Neak (producer) and Rashid Hadee (executive producer), who both also added their lyrical talents to the mix. Full of potent, thoughtful rhymes laced with a strong b-girl attitude and delivered over quality beats, “The High Priestess” stood out as a refreshing listening experience which fully tapped into the potential Hip-Hop has to touch the soul.


Let The Dirt Say Amen – “God Hates Gucci” (LetTheDirtSayAmen.BandCamp.Com) – Washington DC’s Let The Dirt Say Amen (aka Tim Hicks of The Cornel West Theory) delivered one of the most powerful albums of 2021, offering a thought-provoking critique of present-day Hip-Hop that came from a place of genuine love. Inspired by a time when Hip-Hop wasn’t just entertainment, but an artform that also attempted to motivate, inspire and inform its listeners, Let The Dirt Say Amen encouraged us all to do better, to be better and to treat this incredible culture with the respect it deserves.

Charlie K – “Sunshine Philadelphia: The God Hour” (CharlieK1.BandCamp.Com) – Accomplished Philly emcee Charlie K filled his well-crafted verses with spirituality, social commentary and poignant observations on this concise EP, backed by soulful production from the likes of Lim0, Kulture, DviousMindz and more.

Twizzy – “Crabs In A Bucket” (Twizzy.BandCamp.Com) – With a wink and a knowing smile, Bristol’s Twizzy offered his thoughts on the world around us and his place in it throughout this thoroughly enjoyable Chillman-produced album. Highlighting the growth that can come from personal struggle, as well as the importance of not allowing the matrix of daily life to distract you from what really matters, Twizzy focused on silver linings here rather than the dark clouds we all find ourselves under sometimes.

Eddie Kaine – “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” (BigGhostLimited.BandCamp.Com / 2021) – For me, what elevates a good emcee to a standout emcee isn’t just their ability to put words together, but whether an artist can deliver those words in such a way that makes you genuinely feel them as a listener? A rapper can be technically gifted, but if the verses in an artist’s book of rhymes don’t come alive with character and emotion once they’re in front of a microphone, is it really worth it? Whether speaking on personal hardships, painting images of Crooklyn life, or simply stating his lyrical prowess, NYC’s Eddie Kaine made you feel his bars, accompanied by the wailing soul samples of the always impressive Big Ghost Ltd.

Philmore Greene – “Knowledge And Power” (PhilmoreGreene.BandCamp.Com) – On this album, Chicago’s Philmore Greene delivered a soul-stirring collection of honest, contemplative rhymes rooted in the reality of his Windy City life experiences whilst reaching towards a better future. Produced by fellow Chi-town representative Rashid Hadee with features from Natasha Robinson, Skyzoo and Vic Spencer, “Knowledge And Power” lived up to its title with Greene possessing both in abundance.

Check Part Two here.

New Joint – Stu Bangas / Juga-Naut

Stu Bangas ft. Juga-Naut – “Same Spot” (BrutalMusic.BandCamp.Com / 2021)

Boston-based producer Stu Bangas employs the unlimited lyrical skills of the UK’s Juga-Naut for this piano-laced head-nodder from his new album “Deathwish”, which also features Mr. Lif, Blacastan, Starvin B and more.

New Joint – Juga-Naut & Giallo Point

Juga-Naut & Giallo Point – “Eternal Sky” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com / 2021)

Animated lyric video for one of my favourite cuts from Nottingham emcee Juga-Naut’s brilliant Giallo Point-produced album “Smoke Filled Room”.

New Joint – Juga-Naut & Giallo Point

Juga-Naut & Giallo Point – “Eating The Rich” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com / 2021)

With a flow that’s a force of nature, skilled Nottingham emcee Juga-Naut drops another jewel from his brilliant Giallo Point-produced album “Smoke Filled Room”.

New Joint – Juga-Naut & Giallo Point

Juga-Naut & Giallo Point – “Remember & Imagine” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com / 2021)

More creative goodness from Nottingham-based microphone master Juga-Naut’s brilliant Giallo Point-produced album “Smoke Filled Room”.

Old To The New Q&A – Juga-Naut

I first interviewed Nottingham’s Juga-Naut back in 2012 (read here). In his early-twenties at the time, what quickly became apparent during that conversation with the then upcoming UK emcee was that he already possessed an extremely strong sense of identity, which was coupled with a crystal-clear vision of the artist he wanted to be.

Fast-forward to the present day and Juga-Naut has undoubtedly reached the levels of brilliance that were hinted at on his earliest releases, building up a catalogue of albums and EPs which now runs into double figures, becoming one of the most impressive and consistent Hip-Hop figures of the last decade in the process.

Skills, technique and talent aside, the sheer passion Jugz has for his various creative endeavours can easily be felt through his work, whether he’s holding a microphone, chopping a sample, painting or experimenting with ingredients for his cooking business.

Whatever he may be doing, you can guarantee that Juga-Naut will be putting his heart and soul into it.

Shortly after the beginning of the first lockdown last year, Jugz and I jumped on the phone to discuss his then new album “Bem” (read here). At that point in time, nobody could have foreseen that the circumstances we were living in would still be our shared reality over twelve months later.

Staying busy by dropping a handful of projects throughout the pandemic, Juga-Naut added another one to the list this week with the release of the excellent “Smoke Filled Room”, his second full-length collaboration with gifted producer Giallo Point.

In this interview, the Notts representative discusses trying to remain inspired under Covid restrictions, the world of social media and the importance of staying on your own path as an artist.

Let the smoke signals begin.

A lot’s happened since our interview last April with Covid changing all our lives in one way or another. What sort of impact has the last year or so had on you from a creative point of view?

“It’s had a big impact, man. We haven’t been living life in the same way that we were. For me, in my brain, a day I’ve had or a place I’ve been attaches itself somewhere and then when I sit down to write or make beats the influence comes out and you feel inspired. But we’ve not been living the same way, so we’ve not been out having those experiences. meeting people, going to new places, eating something different, having those crazy times that come out in my raps somehow. So I’ve not had that inspiration. So, in a negative way, it’s been hard to be inspired over this past year. But then when I have sat down to write, and a lot of this new album was written during this period, it’s made me have to dig deeper into myself and be more personal because that was the material that I had to use. But yeah, this past year has been hard because we’ve not been able to do shows and be around people and have those experiences, so it has been difficult to feel the fire I usually feel. I mean, I can always work, but I don’t like forcing it. When you force your creativity I think that’s when you start treading water and coming up with stuff that might be just good enough, but you’re not necessarily bettering what you did last time.”

You released the “Bem” album just before lockdown started last year and then “12 Bricks” with Micall Parknsun was released towards the end of 2020. How did you have to adapt to effectively promote those releases and do you feel they suffered because of the circumstances or do you think they perhaps got more attention because people didn’t have the usual distractions with so many of us spending more time at home?

“It was a double-edged sword for sure, man. “Bem” did really well. It came out before the pandemic and I was really pushing it. It also got picked up for a vinyl release on Daupe which did really well for me. I loved “Twelve Bricks” and I pushed it as much as I could when it came out in October last year, but it kind of didn’t go where it needed to go. I also did “Polo Palace” as well last year with Sonnyjim and Da Flyy Hooligan, which again was a wicked album but I think it was affected by the pandemic. There was so much music that was coming out with people putting out more than maybe they usually would have and stuff just wasn’t reaching people because there was this flood of material. Also, and it’s so s**t that we have to think about this, but the internet algorithms and social media stuff has been wild. man. Every single thing you see me do, except for the vinyl drops where labels have partnered with me, I do myself from a grassroots level. So you put all this work in to the music itself and then putting it out, and you’re kinda doing it and hoping for the best, man. I mean, I do a lot of the internet s**t to try and make it work, thinking about the best time to drop, what days, but it’s exhausting and you never really know what’s going to get picked up and what the algorithms are going to be okay with. It sounds so weak to talk about, but it has been a big part of this last year. Especially with some of the big companies seeing how people have been using the internet to their benefit and so they’ve messed with the algorithms which makes it harder to get through. So even though people have been at home more and have perhaps had more time, it’s been difficult to get the music and the videos into the hands of the people on their phones and everywhere else. I’ve got a really good mailing list and I’ve got a loyal following, but it’s getting the music to have a wider reach that’s been difficult.”

A struggle that has no doubt been compounded by the fact that everyone has been trying to do the same thing through the same platforms over this past year…

“The big part for me I’ve noticed is that I’ve always just put music out. I don’t have that thing in me as a person that makes me see everyone as competition. But because of the pandemic I think there’s been a dog-eat-dog capitalistic mind-frame that’s been exacerbated. So any music that’s out, people have jut seen it as competition so there hasn’t been as much sharing of each other’s work happening and trying to get more people involved in it. It felt like there was about three weeks last April when everyone was like, ‘We’re all in this together’, and then after that I feel like everything got real dog-eat-dog. Especially this year, man. I mean, I put out my “Been Away” video off “Bem” earlier this year and that was one of the best videos I’ve ever done. It really encapsulated Nottingham and a lot of effort, time, money, love and pain went into that, but it wasn’t received in the way I thought it would be, which was interesting. I felt a lot of distance which kind of helped me to push even harder, but at the same time I felt a bit alone after that which was weird. So yeah, I think this past year has felt very competitive and I think there’s been a lot of chatter rather than it being mostly about the music. Because we haven’t been able to do shows and connect with people in that way, it feels like it’s become more about what attracts people the most online. What’s the brashest, biggest thing that can capture someone’s attention rather than it being about the actual art, which is hard to deal with. It feels like a selfie of you can get more likes than your album that you’ve been working on for two years.”

We’ll get into social media a little further into the interview because I had picked up on a couple of lyrics on the album about that subject that stood out to me. But first, and correct me if I’m wrong and totally off the mark here, but to me this new album feels like it has a different tone to it compared to previous projects. Particularly with some of the dialogue snippets you’ve used with some well-known individuals talking about suffering for their art etc. For me, it felt like I was listening to an artist who has been perfecting their craft for a number of years now, you’re past trying to figure out why some people still aren’t listening, you’re on a creative path that you’re going to continue to stick to, and this album was about not only reaffirming your belief in yourself, but also about reassuring and inspiring other artists in a similar position to stay true to themselves and push on. Would you say that’s an accurate overview of what you were trying to get across on this album or am I totally wrong?

“That’s pretty bang on, man, pretty bang on. I’m glad you took something away from the dialogue samples that I used because to take it one step further, I used samples from Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and Jimi Hendrix talking about being artists. They’re all part of the 27 Club. They didn’t make it to thirty-years-old. But they’re some of the greatest artists of all time and they knew what they were talking about. Now, for some weird reason when I was a kid, I never thought I’d get to that age. I don’t know why, whether it was my anxiety or growing up where I grew up, but I didn’t think I’d make it to thirty. At the end of the first track on the album, the title track, I’ve also got John Coltrane talking about being more lyrical with his horn and pushing himself further, and I wanted to use that bit of dialogue to highlight how I want to become even more lyrical and push myself more. People have often said I’m too lyrical, so I’m saying I’m going to become even more lyrical. Exactly like you said, this album is about me cementing who I am as an artist for myself and it is also about other artists out there who might listen to this album who need that little push to just continue being themselves and stay on their own path. Especially in this day and age when you don’t need to adhere to any of the bulls**t rules about what you look like, where you’re from, how much money you’ve got. All that stuff really is just smoke. It’s bulls**t. What happened for me this past year is that the veil really did drop around all of this industry stuff and all of the bulls**t. It really is just smoke and mirrors, man. I mean, I already knew that, but seeing so much of it unwind on the internet has just been wild, man. But what you said you took from the album is definitely correct and I’m glad you picked up on all of that.”

The way you’ve conveyed those sentiments on the album is just masterful though because you’re not banging people over the head with it or jumping up and down shouting about how people are going to miss you when you’re gone or talking about leaving the game or anything like that. You’re still doing what you do, but there’s just an added layer to it this time around that lets the listener know exactly where you’re at as an artist right now after a decade of releases.

“It can make you crazy and very bitter trying to please everyone so you just can’t do that. Everyone has got a piece of advice or thinks they know what you should be doing. Nowadays, everyone’s an expert except for the person who’s actually doing it. So I’m really glad you picked up on all of that in terms of the tone of the album. But that tone is also partly down to the beats Giallo Point gave me. We’ve got a synergy now and Giallo knows me as an artist after doing our first project together, “Back To The Grill Again”. But he really knew where to go with it for this album somehow and the s**t he sent me, I didn’t say no to many of them (laughs).”

So the beats on this album were tailor made for you?

“Yeah, they were made for me, basically. There’s fifteen tracks on the album, and I’d say that eleven or twelve of the beats on there were ones that Giallo made to send to me. The others were beats he’d done and put little snippets of online that I heard and I was like, ‘Bro, I need that!’ But Giallo is just so easy to work with, man. Like I said, that synergy is there and it’s always a really positive back-and-forth.”

When we did our interview last year talking about the release of “Bem” you mentioned that you didn’t feel embraced by the UK Hip-Hop scene. Do you still feel that way?

“Yeah. It’s hard because I know I’m a part of it, but at the same time it’s hard to feel cemented in the scene and embraced by it and like I said, it’s very competitive and dog-eat-dog. But I’ve got some amazing artists that are around me, some are associates, some are close friends. but they really have my back and I love that. But it’s hard, man. I mean, I hear little things, like people think I’m a problem because I am who I am and I’m good at what I do, but then I don’t get put in the conversations. It would have bothered me more a few years ago, but now I really am just telling myself to keep going with what I’m doing instead of trying to get into the cool kids club. I’ve never been that person, I’ve just always done my own thing. Which was hard when I was growing up, but it’s kind of the same in the Hip-Hop world. Sometimes it feels like being in the schoolyard, man. But I’m just going to be that same guy (laughs).”

There’s a lyric on the title track of “Smoke Filled Room” where you say “The modern age is a comedy script” and you mention Twitter. What are your thoughts on the influence and impact social media has on people in general, and more specifically on artists?

“It’s so hard not to get tied up in the bulls**t rather than concentrating on the art, as simple as that sounds. I mean, someone can put out some really good music that they’ve put their heart and soul into, but you’ll get more attention for talking some s**t about politics, or saying something about another artist. Or someone might misconstrue something that you’ve said. Just the wild other s**t that’s not about the art, man. I know that the simplicity of humans means we all like gossip and we all like dumb s**t, we all do at some point, but at the same time it’s so hard to not get caught up in it. But I just have something in me that says ‘I can’t do this’, all the back-and-forth s**t and putting all my thoughts and feelings online. It’s just such a weird landscape, man. But I think I’ve been able to deal with it quite well up to now, but this past year online has been wild. I mean, the way people judge each other and then will forget about someone in an instant, it’s just crazy. The microscope that we’re under online and the way we’re judged by each other is just so unhealthy. Unless someone has done or said something wildly despicable, you don’t need to be calling people out for some s**t. That energy could be directed in so many amazing ways, but instead we get into the gossip and the bulls**t. It comes down to that same tribal, throwing stones mentality , which is a very old, prehistoric way of doing stuff but people still seem to buy into it so much. The online world is just a strange ocean of information, personalities and egos, man.”

One of my biggest frustrations is the amount of time people will spend online talking about artists they don’t like whilst complaining that music isn’t in a good place, instead of using that time and those platforms to consistently support artists they do like who may really need the exposure. Plus, there can be a real sense of superiority involved in the way some people will try to introduce others to music they may not have heard, which I think can in turn actually put someone off checking out a particular recommendation…

“Yeah, man. It’s weird when people position it in a way where they’re saying ‘If you don’t know about this particular artist you don’t about music’ and stuff like that. Also, when people describe an artist as being slept-on or being your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper, I think that can sometimes put artists who’re really good in a position where people look past them because describing them in that way means that they’re not viewed as being fresh or new, so instead it’s a case of ‘Well I should of known about this person so I’m not even going to bother anymore.'”

There’s a line on “Eternal Sky” from the new album where you describe your love of what you refer to as the art life as being your biggest curse. Did you mean that in terms of everything we’ve just talked about and what you have to navigate in order to maximize your art to its fullest potential, or did you mean that being creative is a curse because it just isn’t something you can switch off and step away from?

“Exactly that. man. Whichever way I turn I’m up against it and my art is never ever something I can just drop. I mean, tomorrow I could say that I quit and I’m going to do something else, but I would never be able to get away from it because it’s woven into the fabric of my being. It’s who I am. I love what I do everyday and I include music, painting and cooking as all being part of that art life. It was my favourite director David Lynch who I heard say that he lives the art life. It’s about waking up every day and creating somehow. But it’s also a curse because it’s relentless. My brain is plagued with these thoughts that I need to do more. Or I’ll wake up at three in the morning with a new idea. That’s the art life. I can’t hold down a normal job. I mean, I’m not making the money I might make if I was doing a regular job, and that’s for real. I’m not some rapper that’s out here pretending to be rich. Far from it. I’m a working artist. I sometimes find that really difficult and that’s part of the curse, y’know. I can be around friends that I went to school with and they’re all making triple what I’m making. I’m not afraid to say that. But I have got the freedom that comes with being an artist, even though it’s not all roses. So I do think that deep, deep love I have for what I do, it is a curse, man. My mind is constantly working, creating, tying it all together, and then somehow I’m able to do the business side of things as well. I don’t know how, but I am. But like I said, it’s relentless, and that’s the curse of the art life. There’s a beauty to it, which is that I can wake up everyday and create, but at the same time it’s held me back in certain ways, But that’s the reality and the double-edged sword of what we do as artists.”

Because as hard as living that art life may be sometimes, the alternative of not doing that definitely isn’t going to lead you to happiness…

“Yeah. The choice is either not being happy much but being really happy when great things happen, or not being happy at all (laughs).”

As I said earlier though, what’s so good about this new album is that everything attached to what you do that may be seen as a negative, you’re still able to take that and craft something like “Smoke Filled Room” at such a high level, and incorporate those thoughts and feelings into your music but without it becoming the driving force in terms of your content. It comes across in the music that you’re at a different point now in life and you’re contending with certain things, but there’s still such an elegance to what you do and how you’ve put this new album together.

“Thank you, man. Elegance is such a great word, man. That’s really such a great word.”

It’s the best way to describe how this album sounds and feels to me. I mean, you listen to this album and it literally floats. As I was playing the album, I was thinking, it’s like you’ve been climbing a mountain for the last decade releasing your music. But now you’re at the top of that mountain in terms of the level of skill you’re operating at. There are still clouds around that sometimes can blur your vision and stop you from seeing off into the distance, but they’re just below that peak and you’re still stood on the top of that mountain having achieved as much as you have artistically over the years. You’re above those clouds and whilst your music may touch on certain issues this time around, it’s not weighed down by negativity, complaining or bitterness.

“One hundred percent. Thank you, man. That means a lot. I mean, I struggle saying these things about myself, but it’s a conscious effort to not be all those things, like bitter and negative. It’s a process you have to go through and it can be very tiring but I do it because that’s where I want to be. At the end of the day, when someone sits down to listen to my album, I don’t want them to be burdened with my bulls**t. I don’t want people to feel like listening to my music is a chore or a task. Also, can someone who doesn’t even listen to Hip-Hop put it on and be like, ‘Yeah, this sounds sick.’ That’s still always my goal. But it means a lot that you can hear I’ve got to that point on that mountain because getting to that point has been heavy on me. It’s been me climbing that mountain over the years with everyone telling me ‘Don’t quit! Keep going’ but not actually having much help on the way up (laughs). But I kept going and I’m glad I got to this place and you can see it. I feel like maybe above those clouds that are getting in my eyes there’s a very tall, jagged peak that I’ve still got to climb, but hopefully I can get up it. There are eagles flying around and vultures waiting for me to die, but I might get there (laughs).”

You released “Fine Furniture Vol. 1” earlier this year which showcased your beat-making skills. Are there plans to drop any more instrumental projects or produce for other artists?

“That project had to come out. I mean, I’ve been making beats for almost as long as I’ve been rapping. People had been saying to me for a long time that they’d love a beat-tape from me and I’ve always wanted to do it. So it just felt like the right time to put it out and I knew there were people out there who really wanted it. I’d love to get into producing for people more, but I’ve got so much going on, it’s difficult to take on projects. But I’d love to work more with upcoming artists and try and do some stuff. I mean, when I do commit to working with someone, I don’t just throw them something and expect them to work with it. It’s a real collaboration, man. So hopefully in the future when I’ve got a bit more time I can work with some already great artists and also some up-and-comers. But I have got a couple of things coming up. I’ve produced a whole project for Vandal Savage, who I’ve worked with forever and he’s my best mate, so I’ve done something for him which is very interesting. I’ve also produced an album for a rapper named Taja. She’s not put anything out before but she’s amazing. That should be coming out this year and it’s exciting because it’s her first ever project. She was on the last track on my “Bem” album and she really is wicked. I’m really looking forward to that coming out. There’s some different styles on there from me as well, like there’s a house track on there I did for her. But the way Taja’s spitting on there is crazy, man. I loved collaborating on that album and putting it together. I just love collaborating, man. That’s what the art life is all about. Just being in that zone and having that flow.”

How’s the cooking business been going?

“It’s been okay, man. I’ve had a few things on. It was hit hard by the pandemic, with a lot of my bread-and-butter work and normal jobs getting cancelled. But I’ve not been running around trying to do too much. I’ve just been trying to be careful with my family and everyone else. I mean, I could have done some things, but I wasn’t comfortable. But I have got some things on the cards with my catering and I can’t wait to get back into it because I love doing it. Obviously we’ve not been able to bring people together for my normal events like Food & Film and my pop-up shops, but hopefully it will pick back up again.”

So if you were to look back on all your releases so far, would you say “Smoke Filled Room” represents a line being drawn in the sand with you now entering the next stage of your career as an artist?

“I think so, I think so. It’s interesting you said that and I’m really happy you took that in from listening to the album. It’s also the reason why there are no features on the album. It’s just me and Giallo, back-to-back, really just focussing on the music and the message. That’s it. Line in the sand is a great phrase as well because that really is what this album means. This is where I’ve got to, this is the level I’m at and what I’m doing, and I’m going to try to continue going up. But if this was to be the last thing I did, I hope it’s a piece that people would consider as great. I mean, it’s not the last thing, but it definitely is that line in the sand. This is Jugz, full-stop. People in the past have said that they really like my music but that they don’t really know who I am or what I’m about. I kind of addressed that with “Bem”, but “Smoke Filled Room” is really about me digging in and showing people where I stand and the level I’m working at. This is me, take it or leave it. This is where I’m at. If you’re along for the ride and you love what I do, that’s amazing. If it’s not for you, c’est la vie. That’s cool. I’m not trying to please you. I’m never going be in that boardroom where people are telling me they’re going to make me a million dollars. That’s never going to be me and I know that. I’m going to be a working artist and I’m happy about that because it will keep me free to be who I am.”

“Smoked Filled Room” is out now .

Ryan Proctor

New Joint – Juga-Naut & Giallo Point

Juga-Naut & Giallo Point – “Smoke Filled Room” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com / 2021)

Nottingham’s mighty Juga-Naut delivers the jazz-influenced title track from his forthcoming Giallo Point-produced album, with the UK emcee gliding effortlessly over a smooth, horn-laced soundscape.

New Joint – Juga-Naut & Jazz T

Juga-Naut & Jazz T – “Marble & Granite” (BootRecords.BandCamp.Com / 2021)

The sound of master builders at work, this quality new track from the Boot Records label finds Nottingham’s supremely talented Juga-Naut pairing his formidable flow with strong, sturdy beats supplied by Jazz T.

New Joint – Juga-Naut / Liam Bailey

Juga-Naut ft. Liam Bailey – “Been Away” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com / 2021)

Soulful, drum-heavy vibes, top-tier lyricism and striking visuals from Nottingham-based talent Juga-Naut’s brilliant 2020 album “BEM”.

Fine Furniture Vol. 1 Beat Tape Stream – Juga-Naut

Nottingham’s multi-talented Juga-Naut puts the mic down for his latest release, choosing instead to focus his attention on delivering an impeccable selection of exquisite beats for your listening pleasure.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2020 (Part Three) – Mr. Lif & Stu Bangas / Skyzoo / Juga-Naut & Micall Parknsun

Check Part One & Part Two.

Mr. Lif & Stu Bangas – “Vangarde” (FBDistribution.BandCamp.Com) – A sonic response to the “new world adjustments” we were all dealing with throughout 2020, this album from Boston partnership Mr. Lif and Stu Bangas was sharp, urgent and intelligent. Covering topics such as the pandemic, police brutality, politics and social unrest, the duo delivered inspired commentary on the events of the year, providing a soundtrack to the struggles faced by many. Music to strive by.

Es x Pandamonium – “The Connected EP” (EsxPanda.BandCamp.Com) – It doesn’t seem that long ago that the idea of music being made via the internet by individuals on opposite sides of the globe was considered ground-breaking and revolutionary. Nowadays it’s standard practice. But that doesn’t make the results of such collaborations any less impressive. This EP found Canada’s ever-consistent Es building musical bridges with the UK’s DJ Pandamonium, resulting in a vibrant EP full of thoughtful lyricism and accomplished production.

J-Live – “Drawn Up” (RealJLive.BandCamp.Com) – Delivering quality Hip-Hop since 1995, this EP from underground favourite J-Live proved the past twenty-five years have only refined his musical talents, with this self-produced release featuring plenty of the punchy, insightful lyricism and true-school attitude that have become his trademark since those early indie releases.

Mark Ski – “Catch-REC” (FunkByFunk.BandCamp.Com) – UK producer Mark Ski called on a transatlantic team of talented emcees to help put together this debut album, with the likes of Blame One, Booda French and J57 all stepping up and delivering the lyrical goods, complimented by knocking drums, smartly-selected samples and deft cuts.

Skyzoo – “Milestones” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – This brilliant concept-based EP found Brooklyn’s Skyzoo celebrating, analysing and embracing fatherhood, drawing inspiration from both the birth of his son Miles and memories of his own adolescence. The NY emcee’s talent for being able to communicate so much in just a couple of lines came into its own here, as Skyzoo joined the dots between his relationship with his own father and how that helped shape the person he is today. An inspired piece of work.

Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – “Alfredo” (ALCRecords.Com) – Having already got two full-length albums with legendary producer Madlib under his belt, Gary, Indiana’s Hip-Hop champ Freddie Gibbs upped the ante on this latest project, joining forces with another studio giant, The Alchemist. Casually draping his street-orientated verses over the subtle, understated excellence of Al’s work behind-the-boards, Gibbs further secured his spot as one of the rap game’s go-to artists.

Aye Wun – “Gutta Wit Da Smoov” (AyeWun1.BandCamp.Com) – This project from Queens, NY’s Aye Wun definitely livesd up to its title, with the Rotten Apple rhymer blending raw wordplay with largely laidback, melodic production from the likes of Matt Kuartz, Milano Constantine and The Kurse.

Westside Gunn – “Pray For Paris” (WestsideGunn.Com) – 2020 was a big year for the Griselda camp, with multiple releases from the Buffalo-based crew landing with maximum impact. Of the three full-length efforts from WSG, “Pray For Paris” was the one that worked best for me as a cohesive body of work, with production from the likes of DJ Muggs, Daringer and Camouflage Monk setting a sonic tone for the project that fully complimented Gunn’s distinctive voice and unique delivery.

UFO Fev & Termanology – “From El Barrio, With Love” (UFOFev.BandCamp.Com) – The second of three brilliant 2020 releases from East Harlem’s UFO Fev, this seven-track EP found the NY artist calling on the production talents of Termanology, who came through with a quality batch of captivating musical gems. Rhyming with the attitude of an emcee fully aware of his own greatness who wasn’t prepared to wait for the rest of the world to catch up, Fev further proved himself to be an essential figure in the Rotten Apple underground.

Big Kahuna OG & Monday Night – “Thug Tear” (SchemeTeamAllStars.BandCamp.Com) – With production on this album split between Unlucky Bastards and Graymatter, Richmond rhymers Big Kahuna OG and Monday Night utilised the soulfully mellow tracks on offer here to wax lyrical about their daily operations in a pre-pandemic Virginia.

Juga-Naut & Micall Parknsun – “Twelve Bricks” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com) – Using their 2017 “Six Bricks” EP as the sturdy foundations for this full-length collaboration, Nottingham’s Juga-Naut and London’s Micall Parknsun once again proved themselves to be master builders of quality Hip-Hop. A brilliantly matched partnership, this album really felt like a genuine joint effort, with the end result ensuring there would definitely be an appetite from fans to hear the pair working together again in the future.

Sa-Roc – “The Sharecropper’s Daughter” (Sa-Roc.Com) – A lyrical force of nature, Washington DC-born, Atlanta-based artist Sa-Roc delivered arguably the best album of her career so far with this largely Sol Messiah-produced release. Packed full of verses that demanded to be listened to, studied, processed, then rewound and listened to again, “The Sharecropper’s Daughter” was a masterclass in emceeing. When Sa-Roc says on “Hand Of God”, “I’m tryna leave a Hip-Hop classic”, that was clearly a mission statement and not just an empty promise.

Blimes and Gab – “Talk About It” (BlimesAndGab.Com) – This thoroughly entertaining debut from San Francisco / Seattle duo Blimes Brixton and Gifted Gab was the sound of two experienced artists completely in control of their creativity coming together to make a bold statement through music. Drawing on an eclectic selection of sonic influences, the pair’s larger-than-life personalities ultimately held this album together, with their infectious blend of lyrical expertise, sassy wit and humour endearing them to listeners and making the pair feel like old friends.

The Cornel West Theory – “By The Time I Get To Minnesota” (TheCornelWestTheory.BandCamp.Com) – No strangers to making thought-provoking, outspoken Hip-Hop, Washington DC’s The Cornel West Theory responded to the events of 2020 with urgency on this release, confronting white supremacy, police brutality and political corruption throughout the EP in no uncertain terms.

Black Thought – “Streams Of Thought Vol. 3: Cane & Abel” (RepublicRecords.Com) – At this stage, Black Thought’s position as one of the greatest emcees of all-time should really be unquestionable. This was the opinion of many long before the infamous Funkmaster Flex freestyle, but that breath-taking performance definitely opened more eyes and ears to the Philly legend’s incredible talent, which has also coincided with an increase in Thought’s musical output. This third (largely Sean C-produced) volume of the “Streams Of Thought” series was another lyrical tour de force from one of Illadelph’s finest, bombarding listeners brain-cells with a barrage of powerful verses.

Agallah & Sadat X – “The Gods Have Arrived” (Agallah.BandCamp.Com) – Celebrating a friendship that began in the early-90s as well as a time in Hip-Hop when skills and reputation meant everything, Rotten Apple veterans Agallah and Sadat X decided it was time to build and put together this collaborative release, delivering Five Percent-inspired knowledge whilst handing out lyrical speed-knots to non-believers. New York straight talk in full effect.

Shaolin Drunk – “Raw Feeling” (HeavyDrums.BandCamp.Com) – Echoing horns, melodic vibes and dusty beats could be found in abundance on this release from Brazil-based producer Shaolin Drunk. Sounding like a lost collection of instrumentals off the best 90s underground singles you’ve never heard, Drunk not only captured the style of that period but also injected his music with feeling and soul, two qualities that can sometimes be missing when present day producers attempt to pay homage to the generation of golden-era music makers that influenced them.

Knowledge The Pirate – “Family Jewels” (TuffKongRecords.BandCamp.Com) – The illustrious Pirate set sail on his third full-length collection of street-related stories, all delivered in his trademark been-there-done-that-you-don’t-impress-me tone and matched with the subtle sonic drama of producers E.L.E.M.N.T and Cuns. A master of creating mood in his music, Knowledge’s latest was full of vivid, cinematic crime-side rhymes that turned your third-eye towards a shadowy world of risk and suspense.

Wish Master – “The BULL (The Best Underrated Living Legend” (WishMaster.BandCamp.Com) – The Bristol-based emcee approached his third release with “more than hunger” as he blessed beats from Ral Duke, Chimera and Van Dam with autobiographical, word-weary rhymes laced with life lessons. A captivating, accomplished collection of beats and rhymes.

Kadeem – “Passing Exchange” (ItsKadeem.BandCamp.Com) – Heavy-mental wordplay from the Boston lyricist could be found here, accompanied by smooth, understated production from No.Pulp, USeeIt, Jeff Alan Gore and more. This five-track EP may have been short in length, but Kadeem definitely put the time to good use, skilfully finding seats for listeners on his train of thought, piquing our interest and ensuring heads would be waiting to join him on his next musical journey.

Part Four coming soon.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2020 (Part One) – Busta Rhymes / Juga-Naut / Lyric Jones etc.

What’s left to say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said? Not much. It’s been an unforgettable twelve months that will have affected everyone in different ways. But during a year of change, worry, loss and uncertainty, music has remained an important and consistent sanctuary for many of us  – word to Gary Bartz!

The pace of releases throughout 2020 has been relentless and the level of quality extremely high, which meant that when I sat down before Christmas to start compiling this annual Old To The New ‘best-of’, I was initially looking at a list of approximately three-hundred-and-fifty notable projects which had caught my attention throughout the year.

As always, the criteria used to reduce the size of that list was simple – which albums and EPs had I enjoyed the most?

So, with all that being said, huge thanks to everyone who dropped good music during 2020 and played a part in helping to ease the day-to-day pressures of so many – as Digital Underground once said, you get those heartbeat props.

Now, in no particular order, it’s about that time…

Busta Rhymes – “Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath Of God” (ELE2.BustaRhymesUniverse.Com) – As suggested by its title, this long-awaited project from the mighty Busta Rhymes truly was one of the year’s ‘event’ albums, largely receiving a collective nod of approval from Hip-Hop heads across social media in the days following its release. Effectively providing what you’d expect to hear from a veteran emcee on a greatest hits collection, but via new material instead, “ELE 2” showcased all facets of the former Leaders Of The New School member’s artistry, personality and character. Rowdy, Dungeon Dragon Busta. Playful, party-starting Busta. Timberland-wearing, East-Coast stompin’ Busta. Radio-friendly Busta. Socially-aware, Five Percent / Nation Of Islam-influenced Busta. All of the above and more could be found here, on an album which not only further cemented Busta’s legacy as a genuine Hip-Hop great, but also delivered music that captured and reflected the energy of 2020.

Juga-Naut – “Bem” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com) – Released to coincide with his 30th birthday, this largely self-produced triumph from Nottingham’s Juga-Naut added further weight to the opinion that this multi-talented artist is one of the best of his generation. Steeped in true-school tradition whilst avoiding banal nostalgia, “Bem” effortlessly achieved the balancing act of sounding (and feeling) both familiar and fresh. This was upper-echelon emceeing, as stated by the man himself.

Uptown XO – “Culture Over Corporate” (OneForceUnited.BandCamp.Com) – The Washington DC-based lyricist (of Diamond District fame) started 2020 off the right way with this incredibly dope solo album, which featured XO delivering thought-provoking rhymes over soulful, speaker-rattling production from Drew Dave, touching on issues that would become major talking points as the year unfolded.

Lyric Jones – “Closer Than They Appear” (LyricJones.BandCamp.Com) – Boston-raised, LA-based Lyric Jones showcased both her influences and musical range on this exceptional album, weaving together a rich tapestry of sound that was simultaneously diverse and cohesive. Drawing on both struggles and triumphs as inspiration, the gifted artist packed a lot of herself into this project, resulting in an album that was as personal as it was entertaining. This was music that stuck to your soul.

Brainorchestra -“Marmalade” (Brainorchestra.BandCamp.Com) – A quality collection of rugged-but-smooth mood music, this album found New Jersey’s Brainorchestra utilising his sharp delivery to slice through mellow, loop-based production from the likes of Ohbliv, Foisey and Big Daddy Chop with slick, bravado-fuelled verses that were rich in rewind-worthy lines.

Kamanchi Sly – “Electrosis” (KamanchiSly.Com) – Tugging on the heartstrings of ageing b-boys everywhere, UK legend Kamanchi Sly pulled out his fat laces, name-plate belt buckle and Nike windbreaker to take a moonwalk down memory lane with this brilliantly executed tribute to the electro sounds of the early-80s. Capturing the urgent creativity and futuristic flavour of that particular time period, the Hijack emcee’s lively, spontaneous rhymes sat perfectly atop the pulsating, self-produced soundscapes found here. Don’t stop the rock!

Strizzy Strauss – “Trust The Process” (IAmStrizzyStrauss.BandCamp.Com) – Grounded in the realities of life’s everyday drama but buoyed by a genuine sense of hope and optimism, this full-length debut from Leicester’s Strizzy Strauss built on the promise of the down-to-earth emcee’s previous material, showcasing his natural ability to deliver relatable rhymes that resonate with honesty and integrity.

Casual – “Big Head Science” (Casual1.BandCamp.Com) – Hieroglyphics legend Casual (aka Smash Rockwell) made a welcome return with his latest long-player which featured the West Coast wordsmith delivering an onslaught of lyrical destruction alongside the likes of Planet Asia, Killah Priest and Ras Kass, demonstrating the same swaggering skills that ensured his 1994 debut “Fear Itself” left an indelible mark on the rap game.

Heist Life – “Get Money Teach Babies” (SauceHeist.BandCamp.Com) – In 2020, the Bronx kept creating it! Rotten Apple rhymers $auce Heist and Ty Da Dale matched street-smart, Five Percent-influenced verses with drum-heavy production from Spanish Ran throughout this eight-track dose of uncut New York Hip-Hop, which also featured Flee Lord, Rome Streetz and Tree Mason.

Spittzwell x Boog Brown – “Summer Daze Vol. 1” (Spittzwell1.BandCamp.Com) – Refreshing like a cool breeze, Detroit-raised, Atlanta-based emcee Boog Brown glided over the sublime, jazz-influenced production of fellow ATL resident Spittzwell on this quality addition to her already impressive catalogue – sincere and inspiring.

Rocdwell – “SIMPLICITY (The Life That Makes The Songs)” (Rocdwell.BandCamp.Com) – Dropping very early in the year, this full-length release from Detroit’s Rocdwell offered plenty of lyrical food for thought, encouraging listeners to step back from the Matrix of our daily existence, focus on what’s really important in a world full of distractions, and grab life with a renewed sense of purpose. A message which carried further weight as 2020 progressed.

Dell-P – “MEGA (Make Emceeing Great Again)” (Dell-P.BandCamp.Com) – Philadelphia’s Dell-P made good on his promise to make emceeing great again throughout this 16-track opus, delivering well-crafted verses full of substance and character over a varied selection of beats. No throwaway tracks or filler to be found here, “MEGA” was the sound of an artist determined to uplift and inform his audience whilst further building on his reputation as a highly-skilled lyricist.

Skyzoo & Dumbo Station – “The Bluest Note” (TuffKongRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Backed by the organic jazz grooves of Italy’s Dumbo Station band, Brooklyn’s Skyzoo added yet another release to his already impeccable discography in the form of this six-track EP. A genuine master of his craft, the New York emcee has been at the top of his game for so long now it would be easy to take his brand of top-tier lyricism for granted. We shouldn’t. Skyzoo is one of the best in the rap game with a catalogue of work that should be celebrated at every given opportunity.

Fly Anakin – “at the end of the day.” (MutantAcademyRVA.BandCamp.Com) – Richmond, Virginia’s Mutant Academy crew continued to prove themselves to be one of the most talented collectives currently dropping music with a string of releases throughout 2020, starting in January with this quality project from core member Fly Anakin. Flexing his energetic, engaging flow over perfectly chosen production from Graymatter, All Ceven, Ohbliv and more, Anakin took listeners deep into his VA state of mind.

Apollo Brown & Che’ Noir – “As God Intended” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – The creative chemistry between Detroit’s Apollo Brown and Buffalo’s Che’ Noir resulted in an album that sounded like the pair had been working together closely for years. Che’s descriptive and at times painfully personal rhymes gave this project a real emotional depth, whilst the subtle tweaks Brown made to his signature style to compliment  and enhance the talented emcee’s flow further demonstrated his skill as a producer.

Superbad Solace – “Sol Controller 2” (SuperbadSolace.BandCamp.Com) – Timeless Truth member Superbad Solace returned with a worthy sequel to his 2018 solo release, once again teaming up with producer Mono En Stereo (formerly known as El RTNC) to capture the essence of Rotten Apple rap, blending New York straight talk and a natural flyness with an exquisite selection of beats and loops.

Kinetik & Micall Parknsun – “Spin Cycle” (IAmKinetik.BandCamp.Com) – Calling on production supremo Micall Parknsun to provide beats for this impressive EP, London-based emcee (and Breaking Atoms podcast host) Kinetik covered a lot of lyrical ground here, using his conversational flow to deftly switch from humorous recollections and witty punchlines to social commentary and poignant observations.

Milano Constantine – “Winston Wolf” (MilanoConstantine.BandCamp.Com) – Diggin’ In The Crates affiliate Milano has spent the last two decades dropping consistently strong material, with his skills appearing to reach new levels of Ginsu-like sharpness on each release. This short five-track offering was another potent showcase of the NY emcee’s infinite talent, with Constantine still clearly influenced by the Rotten Apple of his youth yet managing to avoid sounding tied to any particular time period thanks to his effortless flow.

Helsinki Booze Merchants – “Film Poster Whips” (BrokeRecords.BandCamp.Com) – With alter-egos in full effect, UK wordsmiths Luca Brazi (Lasagna Baghdad), Benny Diction (Paolo Pumpernickel) and MNSR Frites (Bald Daniels) offered up a dope concept-based project which aimed to deliver “an introspective take on getting older in rap and an appreciation for the finer things” in the trio’s own unique style. They succeeded. Packed with punchline-heavy verses, laced with humour, sarcasm and, at times, self-deprecation, this was a thoroughly entertaining release on all levels.

Godfather Don & Parental – “Osmosis” (DJParental.BandCamp.Com) – NYC’s Godfather Don became a cult figure within underground Hip-Hop circles back in the 90s and rightly so. The Brooklyn rhymer’s brain-busting wordplay ensured tracks like “Properties Of Steel” and “Piece Of The Action” were widely-received as classics during the decade’s independent era. For this new project, Don joined forces with French producer Parental, whose well-established brand of polished beats provided a solid backdrop for the Godfather’s forthright, competition-crushing verses.

Check Part Two here.

New Joint – TULIP88 / Juga-Naut

TULIP88 ft. Juga-Naut – “Family” (TULIP88.BandCamp.Com / 2020)

The mighty Juga-Naut flexes his top-tier skills on this short-but-effective track from fellow Nottingham representative TULIP88’s forthcoming EP “Beats & Words Vol. 1”.

New Joint – Juga-Naut & Micall Parknsun / Da Flyy Hooligan

Juga-Naut & Micall Parknsun ft. Da Flyy Hooligan – “Glass Mortar” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com / 2020)

Mellow madness off the heavily-anticipated “Twelve Bricks” collabo album from the talented Nottingham / London duo.

Old To The New Q&A – Juga-Naut

UK emcee Juga-Naut is the perfect example of someone with undeniable natural talent. It’s as if he was born to rhyme. Whilst the Nottingham-based wordsmith has undoubtedly worked hard to perfect his craft, the end result sounds so effortless it’s clear the lyricist-slash-producer is tapping into a place of pure creativity every time he puts pen to paper, picks up a microphone or switches on his sampler.

Having spent the best part of the last decade releasing a string of quality projects (some self-produced, some collaborative efforts), Juga-Naut’s work ethic and dedication have been unquestionable. A true student of the game, Jugz respects the history of the culture, drawing upon it at times for inspiration, whilst boldly stepping forward on his own path, delivering music that is unique, vibrant and larger-than-life.

With his latest album “Bem” dropping back in February, Juga-Naut jumped on the phone recently amidst the coronavirus lockdown to discuss his artistic development, family and future goals.

You released your latest album “Bem” to coincide with your 30th birthday – was the album recorded specifically for that purpose or was there already a project in the pipeline?”

“I always had the idea since I was young. For me, back then, turning thirty really meant adulthood. I already had a couple of songs, like the song with Liam Bailey which I did a couple of years ago, and one or two others. But a lot of the tracks on the album were made very close to the time of it coming out. But I’d had the idea of doing it for a long time, man. Like I said, from when I was young. I remember thinking, ‘Okay, if I’m still doing this then I want to do an album when I turn thirty.’ Of course, I’m still doing it so I made the album (laughs). Also, not being corny, but I wanted to give something out to people for my birthday. But yeah, I’d always planned to do it. I mean, I’ve got so many other projects on the go, but with this, I was like, ‘Yeah this has got to happen.’ As far as the name of the album goes, I didn’t actually think of that until quite late. The title of the album “Bem” is also my third name. It’s an African name which means ‘good’ or ‘well’ in Portugese. So when I thought of using that, I felt that it really fit what I was trying to do with the album and made it personal.”

We did our first interview together eight years ago when you’d dropped the “Marvelous Wordsmiths” project with Vandal Savage. Since then you’ve released eleven projects and maintained a consistently high level of quality in your music. How do you feel you’ve developed as an artist over that period and have you learnt any lessons along the way that you apply to your craft today?

“That’s a good question, man. I mean, the most obvious way to answer you is to say that I’ve literally grown-up during that period. When I listen back to some of the music I was putting out at twenty-two, twenty-three-years-old and then listen to the stuff I’m making now, the progression has been great. I was always good at rapping, but my actual sound and confidence in being who I am has really come out during that time. So I think that’s what I’ve really applied to my music, just me fully embracing who I am. We’re in a place now within Hip-Hop where you can create your own world that people really want to be involved with and buy into and that’s what I’ve really applied to what I do. I’ve got a formula in some ways, but I just try to make every project I do a cohesive body of work. When I look back to “Marvelous Wordsmiths”, that was a mixtape in our eyes and it was a bunch of other people’s beats, mixed with some of our own stuff, and we were just having fun. But with something like “Bem”, that’s a fully cohesive album, fully sequenced and thought out. I also understand now that something like the artwork used for an album is all part of the package. Everything together, the artwork, the sound, the sonics, it’s all super important.”

So would it be fair to say that on your early projects you simply viewed yourself as being a rapper, but now you consider yourself a fully-fledged artist?

“One hundred percent, man. I think we talked about it in that first interview we did, about both my parents being artists and me coming up around art and how that influenced me. Art comes in so many different forms and when you’re making an album, aside from the music, there’s the cover art to think about, you’ve got videos and the visual aspect of what you’re doing. I mean, I always wanted to be considered the best rapper, but that only goes so far. You can only be the best rapper to other rappers. And I’ve kind of got to that place, which is amazing. Some of the greats and some of my peers are holding me up there in that place and that’s what I’ve always wanted, but that doesn’t solidify you in history and pay the bills. I mean, it’s not even about just paying the bills, it’s about creating lasting pieces of work. You mentioned I’ve released eleven projects over the last eight years, but in my head I’m never doing enough. I’m in a weird place where I feel like I’m never doing enough but at the same time there’s so much music there that I wish people could go back and really get their teeth into. Of course, I listen back and there’s some stuff I wish I could have done better, but there are some real gems and some of those projects are really special. I had this thing where I really wanted to get as much music out as I could before I was thirty, so then any shine that comes from now on, people will be able to look back at everything I’ve already done and be like, ‘Okay, this guy’s not a new jack.'”

As much as you have clearly developed as an artist over the years, I think all the elements that make your music so good now have definitely been there since the beginning. Perhaps now though, your own increased confidence and self-awareness means that you’ve been able to refine what you do and how you approach your music?

“One hundred percent. It’s like when you’re cooking and you reduce everything down to create your stock. You just keep reducing it down until it becomes perfect. Then once you’ve got it, that becomes your formula and something that can be added to any dish. I mean, back with a lot of those early releases, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but I knew it was right. I knew it felt right and I knew some of those things I was doing were what you were meant to do if you wanted to be considered an artist. I was just trying to do my best with it back then, so I’m really happy that effort came across even at that young age.”

“Marvelous Wordsmiths” was my introduction to you and I remember  looking at the cover art and thinking it was a somewhat random choice, but then when I listened to the project it did make sense in a way that I still can’t really explain…

“If it feels right and it’s genuine, that’s the key. It sounds cliché but if you’re doing something because it feels right then it just works and people will be able to hear that and see that. ”

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You mentioned your parents earlier. Now, you’ve been working with your dad (aka Stickman) recently on the Cellar Sessions videos which feature his incredible drumming skills and he also delivers a really powerful spoken-word intro on “Bem”. What’s that collaborative experience like for you on both a personal and creative level?

“The intro on “Bem”, that’s a beat I did a couple of years ago. I recorded those drums in my parents’ cellar with one mic. I’ve done quite a lot of drum tracking and then used them on tracks. My dad just goes off. I let him do what he’s doing, he goes off for twenty minutes on the drums and then I just chop up whatever’s been recorded. I mean, it’s all amazing, but I’ll find the super gems and use those in different tracks. Both my parents are amazing artists, but they’re middle-aged now and I had that fear of missing the chance to solidify that talent in history both for myself and for them. I’m at a place now where I’ve got eyes and ears on me, so I can stamp that for them. They’ve both done amazing things in their lives and that doesn’t have to stop because they’ve had kids or whatever. My dad’s an incredible poet, drummer and visual artist, and my mum is an incredible painter and she makes clothes. She did the cover for my album “Bon Vivant”. She sewed the whole thing together, needle and thread, and it looks amazing. I mean, I wouldn’t be who I am without them and also the people we had around us, who were their friends. I grew up around art, so my whole feeling was like, it would be a loss in my life and our family history if we didn’t certify it by having them involved in my music. I hope to do much much more, but in a worse case scenario, if what we’ve worked on together so far was it, I’d be happy. But going back to the “Bem” intro, I asked my dad to come and record something for me, I told him to go straight off the top and he just did that.”

That intro was off the top?

“Yeah, he did that in two takes I think. He will go off! But it was important for me to get him on the album intro with me turning thirty because I wanted to show people that this is where I come from and this is how I was born and raised, man.”

I met your parents when you performed at Nottingham’s Rough Trade a few years back and heard some of their stories, including them seeing Run DMC perform in Manchester back in the 80s. I remember coming away with a better understanding of who you are and where your artistry comes from. I mean, your dad in particular is just magnetic in terms of his personality and passion for music…”

“He is, man, he is. My dad is the ultimate extrovert. I mean, I’m super close with all my family. But with my dad, he’s been through a lot in his life. He’s been through a lot of hardships and faced a lot of racism. His brother, who was also an amazing artist, took his own life in 1988. So he’s been through a lot. But he’s a true artist and a true eccentric. Every moment that he’s in, he’s truly in that moment. He lives for love and people and energy. That’s the key to what he does. My dad went to New York in 95 / 96 and was playing with all the jazz musicians out there, he went to the poetry clubs, he met Crazy Legs from the Rock Steady Crew and was drumming for him, all kinds of crazy stuff. That’s what I want to keep going. Hopefully I’ll be able to tour with him one day and do something on that level.”

So in a way, “Bem” is as much about celebrating your family heritage as it is about you turning thirty-years-old…

“I really wanted the album to be like the household we have and how it was when I was growing up, with different artists coming over and things like that. I also have to say rest in peace to one of our family’s best friends Pablo and also DJ Jazz Spirit who both passed away. I mean, some of my friends’ parents were so important and pivotal in who we are as well, man. The music was always there. I used to get lectured by Pablo for hours and hours, all of us, my brothers and our friends. He’d play a record and then we’d have to sit down to talk about it and explain why we liked this part and why we didn’t like that part. When you’re young you’re kinda like ‘What’s going on?’, but now I understand that was all part of my foundation. I mean, we’d sit there and listen to a whole John Coltrane piece and then Pablo would turn around and put EPMD on (laughs). Then he’d take that off the deck and put Fela Kuti on. Then he’d put a Roni Size record on. He did all that too f**k with our heads at a young age (laughs). Man, I could go off about it for ages, but the childhood I had was very unique and myself along with my brothers and friends are blessed to have had that. We’ve all been through different things, but that structure there that led us to love art the way we do was amazing, man.”

I’ve mentioned this to you before, but I’ve always felt that you sound particularly good over 80s soul and funk loops. Looking back over your catalogue, you’ve included a number of tracks fitting that description on various releases. Have you ever considered doing a full project based on samples from that musical era?

“I have, man. That’s always been part of my formula, to just put one or two tracks like that on each project because I haven’t wanted it to get too samey. But I’ve been thinking that I might grab a few of the best ones that I’ve done before, do a bunch more and make it into a cohesive album. If I do that, then my idea was to try and get one or two of those classic artists from that period involved in some way. That would be amazing, man. Or people that are doing that type of music now, because you’ve got a few artists out there that are on that vibe. But I’ve always just seemed to fit in that pocket; that 95-100 bpm straight soulful s**t. That music has always hit me and I’ve always loved it. That’s my favourite s**t, man. That 80s soul and rare groove sound. That’s my music through and through. But I’m definitely down to do a full project around that. I’ll be in the full three-piece crushed purple velvet suit on the cover (laughs). So if I do it, I’m going to go all the way.”

That 80s soul / funk flavour is the ultimate feel-good music. Even my five-year-old son Daniel loves that stuff. Obviously he’s heard a lot of music being played in the house and in the car since he was born, but before he could even talk I noticed he really responded to those 80s classics. By the time he was talking, Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce” and Luther Vandross’s “Never Too Much” were two songs he used to ask to hear all  the time. But for some reason he couldn’t say Luther Vandross and used to pronounce it as Super Bandross!

“I’m using that as the name of the album – Super Bandross (laughs). Man, that’s amazing. But it’s music that speaks to your heart. This is the thing with that type of stuff, it’s just uplifting music. It’s upbeat. I’ve never been able to listen to sad music. I’ve always struggled to do that because music affects me so much. Music can make me cry at the drop of a hat. Chords in a song can really mess with you, which is why stuff like Roy Ayers and a lot of the jazz fusion artists, they really hit me because those chord patters they use just do something to me. It’s powerful, man. But when I perform live and I do those songs with the 80s samples, people love it. Even if they haven’t heard the original song before. It just hits them in a certain way and that’s what I want.”

You’ve dropped a few releases that feature you working specifically with one producer for the whole project – Micall Parknsun (“Six Bricks”), Sonnyjim (“The Purple Door”), Giallo Point (“Back To The Grill Again”). As a producer yourself, what do you look for in another producer that makes you decide you want to collaborate with them in that way rather that just handle the music yourself?

“Man, nobody’s ever asked me that (laughs). To be honest, all those guys you’ve mentioned, they’re my mates now. Obviously I love the beats they’ve done, otherwise I wouldn’t have used them, but it’s about the energy as well and me getting in touch with them and really getting where they’re coming from. I mean, one of the reasons I started producing when I was fifteen, sixteen-years-old was because I really didn’t like a lot of the stuff people were giving me, so I decided to give it a go as I’d thought it couldn’t be as hard as people made out (laughs).  But with Sonny, he’s got a good ear for straight raw loops and I got where he was coming from. With Micall Parknsun, I loved the drums and I love the way he chopped the beats. Plus, he was one of the first people from the UK who openly really promoted me and he didn’t have to. Before we even worked together, he was telling people about my music. Not too many people do that because there’s so much ego and weirdness out there. But the beats he sent me, he told me that he’d made them specifically for me, and they worked. Same with Giallo Point. A lot of the stuff he does is super grimy, but he told me that he had some stuff for me. He sent me a couple of tracks and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s it!’ So the rest of the beats were almost made to order for me and as they were coming through, almost all of them I was hearing were perfect for what I wanted to do. There’s something about Giallo’s beats though that make me want to write to them as soon as I hear them, which is rare. He’s got a great ear for samples.”

How does working with outside producers influence your writing process, if at all, compared with when you’re using your own beats?

“So the difference between me working on my own tracks and working on other people’s is that ninety percent of the time, whenever you’ve heard me on a beat of my own, I’ve literally made the beat and written to it that same day. If I leave a beat after I’ve made it and I keep listening to it, I just can’t write to it. My brain just switches off and I start thinking ‘You know what? I can hear Nas on this beat or Jadakiss.’ If that happens then I find that I just can’t write to it. It’s a weird, weird thing. So with my own beats, if I don’t write to them straight away I’ll just agonize over it and it’ll just turn to ash, man.”

Are we likely to see another VVV album with yourself, Cappo and Vandal Savage?

“Well, we have got another one in the works, man. We were already supposed to do one but everyone was just too busy. I mean, that first project was just for fun and was just all of us having a laugh. When we all wanted to get together, have a few drinks and record some music, that’s how that first project came together. So our deejay, International Jeff, he’s got a tape with about ten tracks done and it’s all on his beats. So that’s there and is yet to come. So there will be another Triple V album but it won’t be in the same vein of how we did the one before because it’s Jeff producing it, whereas before it was between me, Cappo and Vandal Savage doing all the beats. But everyone’s just doing different things at the moment with their own music and just life in general. So there will be another Triple V album, it’s just a matter of time, man.”

When the first VVV tracks and videos started to surface initially I wasn’t completely sure whether they were meant to be taken seriously or not. What was the inspiration behind you all coming together to form the group in the first place?

“All being at the forefront of what we do and all coming from Nottingham, it was a natural thing for us to come together to work on something. But when we started, it was really about saying let’s just make something and see where it goes. We didn’t just want to do the traditional underground UK Hip-Hop sound and be put into that box. Hip-Hop can be very conservative and there are just so many rules that people apply to it, but with that first Triple V album we just wanted to have fun. We were creating our own world with our own sense of humour, but within that there were some real gems and some really good music. I mean, we got a real cult following just from that album alone and I think it was almost cathartic for all of us just to get that out of our systems. I had so much fun doing the videos the way that we did and making that music. We all went on tour together and that was some of the funniest times I’ve ever had in my life. It was just absolute chaos and pure fun. man.”

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Previously you’ve talked about the politics of the UK Hip-Hop scene and how initially it was difficult for you to gain attention coming from Nottingham. Do you feel that’s changed now or are you still facing the same issues?

“It’s still the case, man. But it’s made me go even more Nottingham with it. I mean, I’ve done shows and worked with people all over the country and all over the world. But there are still people not paying attention. I did a podcast in London last year and one of the guys told me I was one of the only rappers he listens to outside of London. When I asked why he said it was because he couldn’t get with the accents. Now, that’s someone British saying that, so imagine what someone from Sweden or the USA might have to say about the music. But when it comes to people not checking the music out, I’ve often asked myself is it because of the way I look? Is it purely because of the accent? Am I not gangster enough? Am I not backpack enough? I wouldn’t say I’m a square peg in a round hole, but I don’t quite fit anywhere people want me to be. But the people who do know, they’re stone cold fans and that’s the beautiful thing about it. I guess to answer your question, I still don’t really feel embraced, but the whole world is listening to me now.”

You recently dropped a video for the track “Bone Marrow” which gives a massive nod of respect to Wu-Tang  and also uses the same Syl Johnson sample as the crew’s 2000 cut “Hollow Bones”. What made you choose to pay homage to the Clan and what impact have they had on you as an artist?

“It’s almost beyond words how much impact the Wu have had on my life. There’s just something so pure, so raw and grimy and real about their music. But that loop there, I was just listening to the original song and it’s one of those songs that really hits your heart because it’s pure Black pain that you’re listening to. The way RZA used it and flipped it on “Hollow Bones”, I was going to loop the same part, but then I decided to use a different part that didn’t have the vocals on just to have a little difference to it. But in terms of how they’ve influenced me, Wu-Tang is one of the most important groups in Hip-Hop history and they’ve had a massive influence on everything, from lyricism, to beats, to clothing, to slang. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for some time. I mean, I wouldn’t be the emcee I am today without Raekwon and Ghostface, and I wouldn’t be the producer I am without RZA.”

“Yellow Glow” is a personal favourite of mine off “Bem” and is a perfect example of the point you were making earlier about particular sounds in music being able to trigger certain emotions and feelings.  The verses from yourself, Taja and Oliver Rees obviously have a nostalgic element to them, but even without the lyrics that track would still you put in that place just off the production alone…

“I’m really glad you said that, man. Like I said earlier about music hitting you in a certain way, with the chords and the progression, that’s what I was aiming for with “Yellow Glow”. There’s both a happiness and a melancholy feel to it as well, which sums up life in general but also comes from looking back on the best memories ever and understanding those times will never happen again. But the two emcees featured on there, I feel that they’re the future. I’m still not at a place where I have enough reach to say ‘These are the next guys!’ and everyone jumps on them, but if I can do anything for those who are truly good people and who have talent, then I will. I’ve got a whole project with Taja, she’s an amazing emcee from Birmingham, and Oliver Rees plays his own instruments and as an emcee he’s amazing as well. But that track came together really well and I’m glad you brought it up because not many people have brought it up in the same way you just have so I’m really happy about that.”

So obvious final question, now you’ve hit thirty-years-old and reached that milestone, what’s next for you?

“When I look back at the plans I made when I was younger and the ideas I had of where I wanted to be by the time I reached my late-twenties / early-thirties, I’ve actually surpassed it. Not in terms of monetarily or receiving the recognition I feel I deserve, but when it comes to just releasing music, having a worldwide following, having loyal fans, having legends and people I look up to supporting me, I have all that now which is amazing. So the thing for me now is getting to a place where I’m financially okay to just put my own music out, have a label and put out artists I want to work with. I really want to be free to do what I want to do and not have to rely on anyone else. So the next step is about being at a level where I can tour every summer, put my music out, and have a strong enough following to be able to do this for the foreseeable future. It’s coming, man, it’s coming. I’m gradually picking up steam and behind the scenes my name is being talked about, it’s just about now getting my name to the forefront (laughs). Moving forward I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and hopefully get more of the world to listen to what I do. I want to have longevity. In twenty years time I want people to be talking about my music like, “Do you remember that “Bem” album that Juga-Naut put out? That was a brilliant album, let’s go back and listen to it.” I mean, I’m sending orders for tapes out to Japan which is crazy! When we did our interview eight years ago, I wasn’t thinking that I would end up sending cassettes to Germany, Japan and the US. But it’s definitely a beautiful thing.”

Ryan Proctor

The “Bem” album is available now at JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com.