JABZ: Discovering UK Rap's harmonious future star
Every once in a while you discover the sounds of a new artist who instantly grabs your attention and makes you dive full of excitement straight into their back catalogue to eagerly wrap your ears around all the unheard gems you've been missing out on. For me, this happened when I was first introduced to the sounds of 20-year-old rapper Jabz, but rather than laying back and listening to hours of past albums and undiscovered hits, it turned out that my amazing find was only 5 songs deep into a music career which at the time had only spanned a mere 8 months.
Having had his handful of freshly released songs playing on loop for weeks, I reached out to Jabz and we sat down for the first ever interview of his newly launched career. The London-based rapper is an incredibly humble guy, not a trait which is evident in every rapper who calls the UK scene home, but whilst his respectful and well-mannered nature envelops our entire chat, Jabz is openly buzzing for the journey ahead and as he embraces a growing reputation and the countless opportunities which are undoubtedly set to come along with that, he's also incredibly focussed on achieving his goals - "I just wanna get as far as I can. I wanna reach the top. I wanna be up there."
Having lived in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Jabz relocated to London a couple of years ago to attend St Mary's University currently finding himself in the middle of a Business Management degree and splitting his time between studying, completing assignments and making that absorbing music which initially caught my attention back in August 2020. The move was a big cultural change for the then-teenager as he made his way in the Big Smoke and whilst he openly admits a career in music was never really on the cards, Jabz quickly found himself surrounded by a group of new friends who brought a creative side out of him. Having played various instruments in church as a youngster, including some time spent playing the traditional Scottish snare drum before his recent move to uni, it was actually a part-time job that pushed him to take the leap of faith and try his luck in the music game.
"At my workplace I met one guy that made music and he took the leap that I was scared to take," Jabz explains. "Making music is scary cos there's so many people out there and so much talent out there. You put something out and get judged and that's a harsh reality but it's up to the people whether they feel you can make music. It was scary at first but meeting people along the way really helped me put myself out there."
With technology helping us to consume more music than ever before, the word algorithm has become increasingly important for new artists. If things are going well then the algorithm on streaming services like Spotify can push your music to potential new fans across the globe and on this occasion a playlist tailored to my own personal music preferences by a computer algorithm was exactly how I was introduced to this bright new talent.
As the world was about to enter the most difficult phase of recent modern history with the Coronavirus pandemic, January 2020 saw Jabz decide to share his first song online whilst locked away in his bedroom. "It was coming up to the lockdown period," he recalls, "Before that I was writing, but I was writing in my [iPhone] notes and I never really sang, so I bought a £50 mic set from Amazon and just started experimenting with it." Like many artists though, Jabz wasn't happy with his initial recordings and had to keep trying out new things until he found what worked for him. "I didn't like it," he reminisces, smiling as his mind wanders back to those first solo vocal sessions in his university dorm room, "There were so many things I was writing and it just wasn't sounding right, but I have a friend who has some friends in the music industry and she told me to just keep going until I find my sound and that's what I did."
"Around January I posted my first song 'Desires' on SoundCloud. That was a big jump but since then I've been shown a lot of support and love from my friends and family and it's encouraged me to put out more and invest in better equipment."
Given the melodic sounds of Jabz's vocals, which are often accompanied by on-point harmonies, his hard-hitting name, more commonly associated with brutish boxers than well-tuned wordsmiths, seems ironic when listening to his musical offerings thus far, but as he explains, "My name's Josh Abe and everyone already knew me as Jabz, so the name just stuck. I'm quite a gentle guy, I'm easy-going, so I feel like the music goes with my persona more than the name".
What initially caught my attention about Jabz's music was the previously mentioned harmonies. At times, in particular during his song 'Pressure', they're hauntingly beautiful and they really help create a sweet-sounding musical package that woos the audiences ear into multiple repeat listens with a warm welcome in comparison to other much more intense and bullish forms of UK rap that have been grabbing headlines across the last couple of years in recent years
"If you listen to 'Desires' it has no harmonies or anything. It's a feedback thing," he reveals, revealing that he takes advice on creating his sound from his closest circle of friends in the most Gen Z way possible, adding, "I listen to what my friends have to say about my music. I put a little preview in the group chat and one of my friends was like 'try holding the note a bit longer' so I tried it and it worked. I've been in choirs in school so I had a bit of knowledge of what pitch to use to match the main vocal; ever since I've just been experimenting with harmonies and they work so well."
"One thing about me is that people don't really know that I have a bit of a voice - it's not something I tell people, so when I released 'Desires' people in London were like 'Wow you can sing and make music', so the reactions were all really positive and every time I post a song it's a better reaction than before and that's exactly what keeps me going."
Nafe Smallz and M Huncho are two rappers at the forefront of the melodic rap wave in the UK and Jabz certainly has similar sounds to the well-respected pair in his own music, albeit with a unique twist, and it's that personal flavour that's helping him to forge his own lane. "I get that a lot actually," he laughs, reacting to my lofty comparisons, "I do see the similarities, but I like the way I can set myself apart, bring something different, have the harmonies involved and I'm trying to show the music scene here's something that can become popular."
Whilst his musical peers in the UK scene are an inspiration, all the tracks we've heard from Jabz so far have seen him rap over American beats and he proudly credits the likes of Atlanta's Money Man and New York star Lil Tecca as big inspirations. Even though plenty of the music he consumes is created across the Atlantic, the homegrown roots of this rising star shine through in his engaging sound and it's the realities of modern British life and those of his fellow pandemic-battling first year university students that are currently shaping Jabz as he begins to make a mark on the music world. "Right now I've just been writing and because of my uni assignments I've been restrained in what I can do with my music. Lately I've just been writing when I'm walking cos I'm always thinking about lyrics and flows in my head, so as soon as I send my assignments off I'm back into the studio and recording all those songs."
"If you'd asked me a year ago 'Do you think you'll be making music or singing?' I would've said no. It's something that I look at and I think 'Ah that's a life, if only I could do it', but I actually surprised myself."
Having battled against the odds and managed to launch a music career from his bedroom amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, Jabz has already proven that he's got the self-belief it takes to achieve his goals and make it to the top. Even though the immediate future of the world might seem a little uncertain, one thing you can absolutely guarantee is that you'll be hearing a lot more from this future hitmaker well into 2021 and beyond.
Follow Jabz and keep up to date with his story on Instagram