jakub | July 14, 2023

J Hus – ‘Beautiful and Brutal Yard’ review: a triumphant summer blast


It’s not a drill, J Hus really is back. After three long years of fan speculation, faux album teasers and hype: the genre-splicing east-Londoner has returned for his third studio album. The only surprise is that Hus is back in the building at all: he’d cementing himself as one of the UK’s most talented new artists before promising to quit touring (since walked back) and going quiet in an era that rarely allows for down-time.

The BRIT Award-winning emcee’s 2016 debut EP ‘Playing Sports’ was brief but promising, and his 2017 Platinum-selling Dave collaboration ‘Samantha’ and debut mixtape ‘The 15th Day’ were dollops of Afroswing-glazed pop-rap, potent enough to cause property damage. Then came debut album ‘Common Sense’ in 2017, which scooped up Best Album at the NME Awards, and the record has since been ushered into the UK rap fan’s unofficial Hall of Fame. A stint in prison in 2018 put pause to his rapid ascent, but his second record ’Big Conspiracy’ in 2020, Hus’ second LP was trim, to the point and soulful in all the right ways. The silence since, however, has been deafening.

Fitting, then, that ‘Beautiful and Brutal Yard’ opens with ‘The GOAT’, status-affirming sonnet where Hus reminds fans of his legacy as if he’s delivering an episodic Netflix recap. “They know I’m a goat, they know I’m a dog, they know I’m a thug/If I got my nose in your business, you know it’s a snub,” Hus raps. “My bredrin bang it for me, I call that love. We grew up rough, had to carry stuff, nearly broke down, had enough.” Transitioning into a motivational conversation with a friend, Hus is prompted to reveal the real him behind the cameras and fame. It’s a reminder that Hus doesn’t speak too often, but that when he does, the world listens.

Executively produced by UK hitmaker TSB, whose credits include Stormzy, AJ Tracey and more, his third album is a 19-track voyage into the brazen, boundless and sometimes bleak frontier of the Black British and Gambian experience. It pulls together disparate threads: on ‘Massacre’, which boasts a smooth Afrobeat backdrop, Hus subverts expectations with slick-talking flows, street sermons and the odd romantic passage or two. It’s a bit all over the place lyrically, but isn’t that why we love him?

Lead single and Drake collab ‘Who Told You’ firmly takes the spotlight. With lab-cultivated levels of charisma and catchiness throughout, Hus and Drake toasts to the world’s boldest three-and-a-half-minute party: “Who told you bad man don’t dance? Who told you gangsters don’t dance? Even with a wap on my hip, I dance bad man, take another sip and dance”, they purr. ‘Militerian’ renews the record’s party ambience, recruiting British-Nigerian singer Naira Marley, the song wonderfully caps off the trilogy of P2J-produced hits before the tropical ‘Palm Trees’ kicks in.

Late standout ‘Come Gully Bun (Gambian President)’, featuring rapper Boss Belly, takes us to their homeland as the two emcees flex their linguistic muscles and storytelling skills over minimalistic production. Conversely, ‘My Baby’ – a track listed on the rumoured tracklist for ‘The Ugliest’ project – is a welcome dose of throwback thug luvin’.

There’s some fan-service, mind. First teased by JAE5, Jorja Smith and J Hus back in 2020, loved-up drill cut ‘Nice Body’ finally gets a full release; Smith’s vocals provide melodic solace for the track’s string and hi-hats-filled cocktail. Dancehall dynamo Popcaan joins Hus for ‘Killy’, which is furnished with a cold-blooded, club riddim and almost certainly will become a fan favourite.

There’s only a few missteps. Burna Boy-starring ‘Masculine’ feels somewhat undercooked compared to the duo’s previous tracks, 2021’s ‘Play Play’ and ‘Cloak & Dagger’, which featured on Burna Boy’s ‘Love, Damini’. There’s the odd lyrical blemish (‘Fresh Water / Safa Kara’) muddled motif (‘It’s Crazy’), and the occasional by-the-numbers beat (‘Alien Girl’), too.

‘Beautiful and Brutal Yard’, however, is an elongated, yet joyous return from J Hus. Splintering the sonics between drill, dancehall, Afrobeat and hip-hop, he allows himself to explore more musical terrain than ever before, while the rapper channels his lyrical potency, struggles and romantic pursuits into one unified portrait.

Details

J Hus Baby

  • Release date: July 14, 2023
  • Record label: Black Butter Records





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