Jay Prince is in the studio. He’s listening to music and playing guitar, possibly working on something new. He spends a lot of his time there, chilling out and just seeing what happens. It’s the eve of the release of his ‘Wonder’ EP, the follow up to 2018’s ‘Cherish’, and he just wants to relax. He spends so much time working and creating that when a release date comes around he likes to take it in and enjoy the moment. He’s relieved that the day has finally arrived and he won’t be spending it checking social media or streaming numbers. Prince is just ready, with quiet confidence, for ‘Wonder’ to be out in the world.
“If people enjoy it, it’s all that matters. If it touches people in a way then I guess I’ve done what I needed to do,” he tells me over the phone in his soft London accent.
We got the lead single ‘BEAMLIGHT’, a Sango produced trap tune with one of Prince’s most impressive flows to date, in early January and it gave fans a taste of what was to come; an evolution in the sound of Jay Prince. But he doesn’t think like that, he doesn’t believe he has a particular sound, preferring to just see what happens naturally when he starts a new project.
“I’ll never know what that means, if I’m honest. I don’t know what having a sound means.
“If you’re just true to yourself I feel like that comes across in art and music. If you’re just being yourself, because everyone is so different, even trying to be like someone else would not be the same. I feel like I’m always working on growing as a person, and that’s where my sound comes from. I don’t know if there’s a name for that, I don’t even know if I do have a sound, but if I do then it definitely comes from me just growing.”
Personal growth is a recurring topic during our phone call. Prince comes across self- assured, but his confidence never spills over into cockiness. You would allow it though, considering he has support slots for Chance the Rapper, Jay Electronica and Mick Jenkins under his belt. Yet, he draws his inspiration from how he’s feeling in the moment when he sits down to create.
“I feel like I’ve changed as a person by just growing every day and being able to express myself differently. I feel like, compared with any other project I’ve done in the past, with this one I’ve been confident in working with sounds that really gravitated towards me and I haven’t been afraid to do it. It comes from a place of fearlessness, you know?”
That fearlessness, he tells me, is born from a combination of working on himself every day and “just doing it”.
Prince got into music in his early teens, but it wasn’t through hip hop or grime, as you might assume from his East London heritage. He described his younger self as very musical and always surrounded by instruments. He played piano and guitar, and still does, and while he grew up around grime as a kid, he didn’t go down that route with his output. However, he acknowledges the impact it had.
“I respect it, heavy. It’s a foundation for sure.”
Despite my presumptions, he told me he never felt pressure to sound a certain way when he was coming up in the UK.
“If I had problems I don’t think I’d be where I am now. I haven’t faced any issues. I just don’t believe in one way. There’re many ways to make music, many sounds and many approaches and it doesn’t have to be one genre. I never felt like I had any issues or pressures or to sound a certain way. That’s always been my approach in general to this and I feel like it’s probably helped me be who I am. I like to just to do things my way [laughs]!”
Perhaps that attitude led to Prince’s eclectic fan base. A group who are loyal to the core and span from Seoul to Manchester and from Shanghai to LA, meaning Prince never had to officially ‘break America’.
“It just happened, man. It just resonated. People from the states just resonated with the music. I don’t know how to really explain that. I don’t really know how people receive music, I just know by the response.”
Before you put it down to the subtle work of a record label giant, he’s still independent and no, it really doesn’t faze him.
“I’m just independent, man. I’m just making music!
“All of that stuff, it’s not really a priority right now. I feel like the main thing for me is to be able to make my art. That’s all I really care about, if I’m honest. Everything else is just not my interest right now.”
What allows Prince that laid-back attitude towards being signed is his team. He surrounds himself with the right people who help him, as he puts it, “tremendously.”
“It’s not always easy to be heard in a time when everyone is putting out so much music. I don’t feel like it makes too much of big difference [having the backing of a label or not]. I just feel like it’s the people who you surround yourself with, on your team, the people who are willing to really take your side. I feel like that’s what it comes down to, signed or not signed.”
We spoke about the evolving music industry and touched on that popular discussion point: is the album format now redundant? Prince has gone down the multiple EP route with two nine-track releases ‘Cherish’ in 2018 and his first, 2015’s ‘BeFor Our Time’ and two eight- track releases ‘Beautiful Mercy’ in 2015 and ‘Smile Good’ the following year. His longest project to-date is ‘Late Summer’, an 11-track mixtape which dropped in June 2017.
Having this year shared ‘Wonder’ and while he’s releasing relatively prolifically, competing with other artist’s outputs is not a priority.
“Because I’ve been making music for quite a while now I feel like I have listeners who really support me, genuine people. I don’t feel like I’m trying to shout out loud so everyone can hear me. That’s not really my thing, simply because I have my foundation and at the end of the day I can write for the people who support me and whoever wants to listen to my music who hasn’t heard it before that’s just great!
“This goes back to having the right team around you, who do what they need to do to have your music heard. I don’t feel like that’s something I need to focus all my energy on. I’m an artist, man. I just like to make art, if I’m very honest. Everything else is just a bonus.”
Prince’s art spans beyond rap. He takes photos, and although he’s never used his work for a record cover, his understanding helps him in his approach with the photographers and directors he shoots with. He sings, which is something we hear more of on ‘Wonder’, and he produces. He has production credits on the majority of his tracks and a big element of it for him is sampling.
“Sampling is a whole other world man,” he tells me enthusiastically.
“I feel like with samples, the beauty in it is the discovery. If you have a vinyl and you listen to a song you just don’t know what you’re going to find, and I feel like that’s the best thing about trying to sample. You just never know what you’re going to hear. Especially if you’re hearing a song for the first time. You could be looking for one sound, but it could be the thing that you weren’t looking for that takes your attention.”
It’s nearly time for Prince to hang up. To get back to the studio where he’ll while away the hours hanging out and working on music until the release of ‘Wonder’, but first he confesses the highlight of his career so far. Expecting some mention of Chance the Rapper, I was wrong.
“I definitely would say, and I know it sounds cliché, but about to go on this tour, man. I haven’t really done my own tour for quite a while, so just to take in how things have come to this point and being able to do a tour off the back of wanting to have done one years ago, how things have progressed over time…
“It might not be a big deal for some, but this is a big deal for me, having this tour coming up. This EP. It’s a just a bit surreal right now.”
Jay Prince plays The Academy 2 on February 27.