For the first time ever, ladies and gentlemen, listening to the radio has made me happy. It’s a rare occasion for me to listen to the radio anyway (I avoid it like lepers avoid loofahs), but was confined in a room with a radio blaring through some tinny speakers, and had to endure the likes of Rita Ora and One Direction before I nearly smashed my head into sweet unconsciousness on the wall. It was around this point that Tinchy Strider came on, talking about being ‘Misunderstood’. He could have been a gangster, or a footballer, but instead he decided to go into music he says. If only he’d known how much pain his music would cause, he might have chosen a more humane profession, like being a gangster, instead. As I looked for some way of turning the volume to lower than mute, I remember thinking how much I would love to reply to him, to tell him he’s strayed so far from the hip-hop mentality that it’s almost satire. But that’s when I realised that I don’t need to reply, because Jack Jetson’s new LP The Adventures of Johnny Strange was dropping soon, and it was the best reply for Tinchy, or any other gangster rapper. There are still some shining stars in the cesspool of UK hip-hop, and Jack Jetson will be shining even brighter after the world meets Johnny Strange.
The Adventures of Johnny Strange is Jack Jetson’s first full-length LP, but anyone who knows his 2012 High five EP will know he’s been making his voice heard for some time now. The entire album is wrapped up with stellar production values; each beat reverberates around your ears to superbly re-imagined soul classics. The Nottingham native drills the whole sound home with his rhythmic flow and a bag full of similes, metaphors and analogies so spot on you’ll find yourself using them yourself without realising. The Adventures of Johnny Strange strikes such a chord because it can inhale soul, jazz and funk and give Jetson the freedom to spout his linguistic gems over liquid slick beats.
The album is littered with references to Jetson’s alter ego ‘Johnny Strange’ and the idea of being two different people surfaces regularly. Perhaps this is why he can play the ordinary guy you can relate to and then talk about taping a girl’s face to a fridge and breaking her ribs. His verbal imagery isn’t usually violent, but the switch between easy-going every-guy and troubled youth is something everyone can associate with. You might remember Jack Jetson’s appearance on Brothers of The Stone track ‘Cartoon Days’. Since then it seems Jack’s been honing his own sound, with the help of top emcee and producer Leaf Dog. For those familiar with Leaf Dog’s output, Jetson’s debut LP will leave you feeling comfortably at home, bringing the same combination of quality beats and razor sharp humour.
In Johnny Strange, Jetson ponders the trivial side of life with a wry sense of humour and a flow that pulls you in like a fast river-current. His skill in forming images in your head is reminiscent of Sage Francis or Braintax, drawing you into a hazy world of vapourizers, micro-dots and caustic honesty. Second track Blue Moon is the strongest platform for Jetson to shout his message, giving him a nostalgic soul sample cut up to let him spit astronomical boasts that could all prove true yet (although maybe not the one about him walking across the moon). The put-downs come thick and fast, as do the boasts, but they’re delivered so tongue in cheek it’s hard to take them too seriously.
Guest spots like Leaf Dog on ‘Stay True’ give you a good indication to new listeners of what’s to come. On ‘Vitamins’, featuring LD’s Brothers of the Stone companion BVA, Jetson puts Britain’s drug culture to rights, injecting a bit of sense into modern day prohibition and proving behind all his boasts is an intelligent emcee.
Of course the album’s not perfect, but it’s close enough to guarantee it will find its way into several of your most played lists. Some stellar wordplay, combined with a unique vocal dexterity makes ‘The Adventures of Johnny Strange’ one of the best hip-hop albums this year. If only someone could tell Tinchy Strider, I might be able to enjoy the radio again.
Review by Ben Graham.