Interview: Jaja Soze
“Mugger, bank robber, crack dealer...” this is how south London rapper JaJa Soze, and his previous life of crime, were described on the TV programme ‘Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men’. Nowadays, “hip-hop artist, activist, business man and author” are the words used to characterise JaJa and also highlight his achievements over the past 10 years…
Since making the decision to turn away from crime and pursue a career in music, JaJa Soze has had to fight a long and uphill battle with the police, media and certain sectors of the music industry, to remove the negative connotations attached to his past and also former gang - now legitimate music collective - PDC Ent.
Despite overcoming the setbacks, reaching an impressive level of independent success, whilst also becoming one of the most influential rappers in the UK, it appears JaJa may be hanging up the mic for good. On one of his most recent tracks ‘Black Empire’, Soze fires the lyrics, ‘after this song, I’m never gonna rap again/and last night, I buried my last pad and pen’, leaving many of his supporters and fans wondering if this song was indeed his last.
We recently sat down to discuss his rap retirement, new found love of poetry and why his infamous ‘Grime Bully’ diss track really wasn’t all that serious.
“[Laughs] no, it’s not retirement,” he says. “I’m kind of going more into poetry. I’ve had enough... well, I haven’t had enough, but I think I’ve got a deeper love for spoken word. If I do music, it will be a few collabs now and again, or more acoustic, live band type stuff.
“With music you are limited to just 16 bars, a chorus, bridge and then the song is finished. With poetry, you can do 32 bars if you want to. You can just go in. As an artist, you have a lot to say – some artists don’t have a lot to say, so they don’t really need that – but I have so much to say that one track isn’t really enough. With poetry I can express myself to the fullest. I can be comical, go off beat, come back on beat. You can just do what you want. It’s more creative and you just have more freedom.
“Also, with poetry and spoken word, you get a nice audience. The hip-hop audience was ok before, but now it’s a strange kind of vibe. The message in the music, the content, the concepts… they’ve all changed. It’s just urban pop. I came up in the underground hip-hop scene and that kind of vibe just isn’t there anymore. I think that kind of vibe has moved over into the poetry side of things, which is why that scene is really expanding. People can relate to it a lot more.”
I had to ask JaJa about his ‘Grime Bully’ diss track to see if his feelings towards grime had changed, and to find out why he would launch such an attack in the first place.
“[Laughs] you know what that was? I just say whatever I feel at the time. At the time there was a lot of blocking going on within the scene. I still feel the same about grime. I’ve never been a big fan of it. That was then. I don’t really have any issue with that anymore. I was just having a moment... a ‘JaJa moan’ [laughs].
“I respect grime. But back then, grime was grime. Then you started getting grime artists winning hip-hop awards, so I was like, ‘wow, what’s that all about?’ If they were winning Best Grime MC, then I would have been cool with that, but not Best Rapper. We have enough rappers for them to be winning rap awards and we have enough grime MCs to be winning grime awards. So yeah, that’s where that came from.
“I’ve seen some of the artists I mentioned on there since and they’re all cool. They all know I have a moan now and again. Some of them even phoned me and were like, ‘Jaj, why are you always causing trouble, man?’ [Laughs]”
Words: Trina John-Charles (@ATrinajc)