Anglo-German Hip Hop duo JollyJay and H-to-O are infectiously charismatic, instantly likeable and not what you’d call your typical Hip Hop outfit. Their laid-back demeanour and air of nonchalant slacker cool is a distinguishing feature in a genre where artists often try too hard to portray the hard-faced mobster. Theirs is a more carefree Hip Hop image but between their witty sketches about bunning zoots, chasing girls and boisterous carousing are also some more abstract, poetic strands which lend a credible depth to the duo’s content. Their Hip Hop credentials are also just as solid, especially after JollyJay’s participation and subsequent victory in two rap battles for Don’t Flop, a respected UK-based league.
In addition to their musical endeavours, the pair are also budding filmmakers and to mark the release of their debut album this July, the pair, in typically avant-garde fashion, documented a fascinating journey in Red Bull’s feature film 39 Days in which the duo, along with their team of musicians, pitch the album to members of the public (most of whom are unaccustomed to Hip Hop) and use the money from these sales to fund their journey from their home in Berlin to their final destination of Casablanca. This not only embodies the true ethos of the independent musician’s hustle but also signifies the duo’s enthusiasm in reaching out to new fans spanning countries and cultures, proving that music, whether Folk or Hip Hop, is a universal means of human expression. Quality Hip Hop acts are often praised for their loyalty to Hip Hop’s fundamentals and yet their fan bases are often confined to esoteric circles, but with JollyJay and H-to-O, you get the feeling that their aims go beyond these stuffy confines without ever pandering to the dominions of popular taste or a major record label, hence their aptly named Free Wear Foundation t-shirt slogan Don’t Let the Label Label You.
Their debut album entitled Scattered Colours on the Rubiks Cube is in keeping with the duo’s spirit of individualism and in it you’ll find a smorgasbord of UK Hip Hop treats infused with an essence of the continent. The duo’s itinerant lifestyle (the two having lived between the UK and Germany) means their lyrical content is not culturally specific to either country; an attribute that distinguishes this release from pretty much anything else out there. Album features also include French emcee Amalgam, UK collective MP3Dom and Californian artist Loose Logic as well as some top-class production from German DJ/ producer Doe Diggla, adding to the album’s pool of diverse international talent. The album is equally rich in clever sonic textures and instrumental layers but maintains the raw beats and clever multisyllabic rhyming essential to the duo’s Hip Hop background. Female guest vocalist Bajka, who has also worked with Bonobo features on some tracks including the sun-dappled “Chapter of Summer” which is lovingly laced with her warm, fluttery tones. The duo evidently have an ear for good music given the album’s plethora of genre-crossing sounds which range from acoustic jazz riffs, jangly electro sounds and an eccentrically natty harmonica sample in the impressive track “Killing Time”, which also features Bajka’s gorgeous vocal work.
In addition to harmony, there is some equally clever lyrical interplay and witty call-and-response dialogues between the two emcees, particularly in the final verses of “Creative Prison”. The song begins by lamenting the way a young artist’s creativity is stifled by the exigencies of modern life and eventually turns into a dialogue between the two emcees, in which they dreamily ponder the absurdities of life, such as how “quirky mishaps are [life’s] only perfection” and why “a tortured man on a cross is our symbol of hope.” The two emcees complement each other in a charming way but at times it is hard to distinguish them due to their samey and predictable cadences and inflexions. In terms of flow and delivery, “Bangalang!” is a standout track that switches up the album’s generally laid-back tempo, chilled vibes and jaunty narratives with an edgy dissonant organ riff and some harder-hitting verses, including one blisteringly rapid-fire verse from MC Amalgam in French. The album could do with more acerbic, electric sounds in like this in favour of gentler, acoustic-led jazz samples and meditations which though pleasant, become a tad unexciting after repeat listens. “Big Cypher”, the album’s posse cut, is a track that will set the spines of the underground Hip Hop cognoscenti tingling, especially given the exciting array of features which includes Moroccan emcee Hoofer and UK emcee Dweller. Unfortunately however, H-to-O’s verse on the track ill-advisedly follows JollyJay’s and this flattens the duo’s persona a little as they both end up sounding very similar. This is a recurrent flaw in the album and the emcees’ vocals, though packed full of lyrical punch could do with greater contrast to one another to ensure they shine through more as individuals. That said, accusing them of being remotely bland would only be mean-spirited and if anything, this is a flaw that could very easily be tweaked.
In essence, “Scattered Colours” is the perfect antidote to the manufactured, conveyor-belt dross of the turgid UK urban scene. The album ditches any adherence to a standard formula of saccharine love songs, inane dance numbers and second-rate attempts at conscious tracks, and instead opts for a refreshingly honest and bold mix of laissez-faire attitude with solid production values to give an overall polished, yet inherently underground feel. Though not without its flaws, “Scattered Colours” is sure to put a smile on your face, whether it’s the jazz-inflected riffs which carry you away into a gentle reverie or the lively lyricism of the two emcees that elicits a giddy rush of satisfaction within you. Definitely a neat addition to anyone’s music collection.
To find out more about JollyJay and H-to-O and their various exploits, visit their website: