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Jake Rosh interview: “having a purpose and a message is key to standing out”

We speak to the local rapper about his fantastic new album, ‘Hydra’.

Jake Rosh first popped up on our radar earlier this year when another local rapper, Jamie Broad, mentioned that Rosh had produced several tracks from his 2020 release, Streams.

After doing some digging (as we do) it’s prevalent that Rosh is the kind of artist who never tires of hard work. Not only a producer, Rosh had just released his latest album, Hydra, which follows his 2016 debut, The Sample Life.

Suffice to say, with Hydra, Rosh arrives at the peak of his powers.

Rosh‘s brand of conscious-rap is a refreshing outlook not only in the world of hip-hop and rap, but in the sphere of music here in the North West.

Rosh‘s sharp focus doesn’t see him shirk away from the burning issues, not shy of posing the toughest questions to his audience, coldly staring down that dark lens where mental health (Therapy, Loser, and the emotionally charged closer, Suicide Note), education (Teach Yourself) and climate change (Rare Breed) are all firmly in his ire. Suicide Note in particular is the kind of cut that should be celebrated in its own right.

With the Liverpool hip-hop scene very much an underrated commodity, the likes of Rosh are leading the charge in what (to these ears at least) sounds like one of the finest full-length local releases in 2021. With Hydra, Rosh dispenses a blood-sweat-and-tears honesty that the likes of Roots Manuva‘s showcased with aplomb on his 2015 album, Bleeds.

Earlier this month we were lucky enough to speak to Rosh about Hydra.

Jamie Broad interview: “I’m not perfect and like anyone I’m trying to figure things out”

Sun 13: How have you been coping with lockdown?

Jake Rosh: “I’ve been trying to make the most of the extra time at home that we’ve had, and focusing on what I can do rather than what I can’t. Having a positive mindset has been key. I bought and moved into my first house a year ago and I turned my garage into a nice home studio space which is where I’ve been spending a lot of time when I’m not working.

“In some ways, the lockdowns have been a blessing in disguise for my creativity and inspiration, in particular pushing me to get Hydra finished and released and developing myself as an artist.

“On a wider perspective, I’m fortunate enough to say that me, my family and friends have all remained healthy, so I’m very thankful for that, as I know that so many people have lost loved ones, jobs, businesses etc.”

S13: Tell us about the writing and recording process of Hydra?

JR: “The majority of tracks on the album are produced, written, recorded, mixed and mastered by me on my own equipment and I’m really pleased with how it’s sounding. I usually like to produce the beat first so that I can write my lyrics to match the mood and tempo of the beat, which just gives you a more complete end product, I feel.

“Inspiration for lyrics can come at any time. I’ve woken up from dreams at 4AM and reached for my phone to jot things down before going back to sleep. They can come suddenly or you could be reflecting on things from the past, and both are definitely evident on Hydra.

“I enjoy the recording process, too, as it’s a completely different skill that’s taken years of practice to get to a place I’m really happy with. I’m by no means a professional audio engineer, they’d probably tear my mixes to shreds, but I can get my music sounding crisp, clear and easy on the ears which is all 99 per cent of listeners care about.

“Three of the tracks I recorded at Go Play studio in Liverpool, one of them being for the purpose of the collaboration with Dominic Dunn, but also, it’s nice to just focus on your delivery and let someone else do the technical stuff. At the same time, you can learn from working with other engineers. As a treat, I’ve just upgraded all of my equipment after about eight years of using the same stuff, so my next projects should be sounding even better.”

LONESAW interview: “we just make the art we make”

S13: I find that there’s a heavy conscious-rap element to Hydra. There’s a broad emphasis on climate change and education – not a lot of artists in this space seem to be taking on these themes. How important was it for you to commit these ideas to tape?

JR: “Hydra feels like my coming of age album. It’s the first time I’ve put 100 per cent Jake into it, by really digging deep down into my own values, mission, thoughts and feelings. Climate change is massive and doing something about it is very important to me. It’s happening all around us, and the more people talking and doing something about it, the better. Education is a big part of the problem for climate change, but also other things like racism, well-being and general life skills which are not taught to children, but are so prevalent in everyday life still.

“Having gone through 21 years of education from pre-school to post-graduate level, the majority of what I was taught I will never need or use in life, so I wonder why are we not modernising education to reflect today’s problems? That’s where the song Teach Yourself came from. I like to reflect on myself regularly to become more self aware and focus on my purpose and goals, one of which is to enjoy making music, but to also use it to try and make the world a better place if I can.”

S13: Can you tell us the thinking behind The Wrong Business?

JR: “Sliding in nicely from the last answer, I think a successful artist needs to have a purpose. Particularly in rap, I’ve seen so many people try to pick up a mic and start talking like they’re the next best thing, with nothing to really back up their claims. They’re in it for money and fame and they expect it overnight after they’ve put out a couple of videos from their iPhone.

The Wrong Business is (for anyone who decides to listen to it) a warning that this is marathon, not a sprint. If you’re not prepared to put the work in, to develop yourself, find your sound, find your niche and find your purpose, then you’re not going to be around for long, and I’ve seen hundreds of these people come and go.

“Don’t get me wrong I, and many others, started off rapping about being the best and making it big, and it’s in the nature of rap to be competitive and boastful, so you have to have some room for that, but I slowly learned and grew to just enjoy the journey, be myself and not expect anything from anybody. There are so many rappers these days, which is great because it shows U.K. rap in particular is booming, but at the same time it’s even harder to get heard, which is why having a purpose and a message is key to standing out, rather than just replicating what’s popular and expecting to follow suit.”

Jake Rosh - Hydra

S13: With Spend it on a Dream, you’re quite rightly calling out consumerism. With the pandemic, as a society, do you think we’ve learnt that less is more, or do you see things carrying on as they were?

JR: “Consumerism is absolutely massive in rap, and it’s never been something I could associate with personally. The sad thing is that I think it’s a key component as to why some people stigmatise the genre and associate you with that lifestyle when you tell them you’re a fan or artist.

“Generally throughout life, I’ve come across a few people who’ve had that ingrained in them from a young age, whereas others have just fallen for the false reality that those brands want you to believe so you’ll do anything to buy their products. If that’s what you want to do with your money and you can see past that then fair enough, but the song asks the question are you really winning with your expensive lifestyle or could you have spent that money on something more meaningful that will help you or others achieve more in life.

“Also, I think there’s a difference between paying for quality and paying for labels. For example, I’m all for having a nice car as long as it does its job and is reliable and I’m not putting myself into debt for it. I’m all for dressing, looking and feeling good as long as I can still afford to do the things I enjoy and am not living with the mindset that I’m better than anyone else because of what I wear.

“I can’t say I feel like the pandemic has changed consumerism. The fact that some people were straight back out to the shops on the first day they reopened tells you it’s still there and as restrictions ease, I can see it returning to how it was. There was a massive increase in online shopping over the pandemic, too, so just because we couldn’t see it on the streets doesn’t mean it stopped. People have been very bored and it’s so easy to access.”

S13: Therapy and Loser both highlight mental health. Again, with the pandemic, it feels like we’re speaking about mental health more and it’s feeding through more prominently in music, too. How important was it to highlight this?

JK: “In my other life, I’ve studied and worked in psychology and mental health for 10 years now, so it’s a huge part of my life and I’m glad we can say that it feels like society is at a place where it’s talked about a lot more now. As I’ve grown into myself as a person and an artist, I’ve started to let it flow into my writing.

“In terms of getting messages out there of positivity, resilience and getting help, using my knowledge and personal experiences, it’s added extra meaning to what I’m doing. I feel like there’s a whole audience that need something they can relate to in the form of music, rather than hearing it from some politician or TV presenter that doesn’t represent anything about them. There’s something about rap that just makes things feel more real for some people. That’s the power of it that I want to unlock and help people see that there is so much more substance to rap than what you see in pop culture or assume.”

S13: Suicide Note is some ending. I won’t lie, it actually brought a tear to the eye. It feels like the best thing you’ve written. How important was it to end with this track?

JR: “It was the last track that I wrote and it just felt like a perfect way to end the album. Particularly as it comes after Breathe, which itself is a heavy, emotional song about loss. It was a natural way to finish on a positive note and try to get people thinking about telling people how important they are to you.

“It was a challenge for me as it’s not something I’m naturally good at. I deliberated long and hard as to whether to even release it at all at times, but I’m glad I pushed myself out my comfort zone and hopefully made a few people smile with it (sorry for any tears!).

“I think it’s also quite relevant in music or other pop culture, when an artist passes away, they are celebrated, their sales increase and they chart again, messages come from all over the world of fans saying what their work meant to them… but the artist doesn’t actually get to hear any of that, which is sad.”

Jake Rosh

S13: The Liverpool hip-hop scene is garnering a solid reputation up and down the country. Like metal, though, it seems quite underappreciated. Why do you think that is?

JR: “Amongst ourselves, we all know how much talent there is round here, and seeing rap artists from London, Manchester and Birmingham really smashing it makes us think we’re not far behind. But for hip-hop in Liverpool it feels like there is a whole infrastructure that is missing, with managers, promoters, labels and what not. There’s so much talent to tap into, but nobody to tap into it, apart from a handful of people who have been trying to push the scene out of their own love for it for a while. So without all that it’s not reaching as far as it should be maybe.

“There’s the age old debate about accents in rap. Some people love hearing different accents and some hate it. Personally my accent’s not that strong, but I know across the country the Scouse accent is like Marmite. But I think it’s deeper than that, and I think there’s a stigma that is attached to hip-hop and rappers, which makes a lot of people instantly turn their nose up at it – probably mostly the generations above mine.

“I’ve felt it myself, when I’ve known people for years and then they’ve found out I’m a rapper and suddenly their perception of me changes for all to see. Their first thought is that I think I’m the bees’ knees and that I rap about getting money, drugs, guns and all that. But then when they actually listen to my music, they realise they’ve been quite oblivious as to what rap can actually be. There’s conscious-rap, emo-rap, grime, drill, boom-bap, G funk, gangster-rap, party-rap, chill-hop, trip-hop and tons more that I’ve probably never heard of myself.

“I guarantee that there is at least one type of rap or one rap artist that everyone could enjoy. At the end of the day, it’s rhythm and poetry (RAP), it can be whatever anyone wants it to be and that’s the beauty of it, what’s not to enjoy?

“I would imagine it’s the same with a genre like metal. For me the first thing that it makes me think is loud, shouting with fast, heavy guitars, but I guarantee there is so much more to it.”

Oxford Drama interview: “Someone once said that we make music for shy people”

S13: You’re a producer as well as an artist. How do you cope with crossing over between the two?

JR: “I can’t imagine not being both. I have complete creative control over my sound, I don’t have to pay for beats or try and convince artists to use my beats. People hear me rapping on my beats which makes them want to rap on my beats, too.

“Something that I really want to do more of is produce for others who want to work with me. The only downside is if I make a really good beat for someone else, I can be reluctant to let it go it as I want to keep it for myself.

“Rap is where it started, but producing just came naturally and has added more excitement and enjoyment to the process for me. If I’m struggling to write lyrics, I can make beats for others or vice versa I can write lyrics to other people’s beats.”

S13: With the lockdown easing, do you plan to play any live shows this year?

JR: “If the opportunities arise then absolutely. I feel like it’s the only thing missing for my release of Hydra, I can’t wait to perform some of those tracks live and really feel people’s reaction to them. I love nothing more than having my music pumped out of gigantic speakers and seeing people having a good time. I’ve spoken with a couple of people about putting some shows on, so I will do what I can to make sure I get on a stage at some point soon.”

Hydra is out now. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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