When I think of the early days of grime and UK rap I remember how they were ignored or even ridiculed at times by the UK media. I always come back to the pervasive DIY attitude that served those music communities so well in lieu of an industry helping hand – the pirate radio stations operating outside music’s traditional realms and platforms like SBTV that wouldn’t let the hidden gems of the community go unnoticed.
While Ireland is currently having its own hip hop moment, with Kojaque, Jafaris and Biig Piig being the first footnotes in the international expose on the country’s talents, there’s still a feeling that some of the most boundary-pushing artists are still being overlooked by the outlets at home.
Like the stars of UK rap who were ignored until they couldn’t be, Ireland has its own conveyor belt of talent working on underground platforms availing of that same DIY attitude. The likes of Offica are taking centre stage in this movement, but another exciting, yet lesser known talent is is 17 year old producer Joshua Benjamin or JBJ as he is known to the legions of ‘Type Beat’ fans on Youtube.
He’s the production wizard behind a lot of the tracks coming from Ireland at the moment and the last 12 months has seen him consistently field calls from UK rap and Drill’s biggest stars. If you were tasked at guessing you’d assume he’s working out of one of the country’s musical hotspots. But such is the power of the internet he’s been busting out beats for the world on the daily direct from his bedroom in Navan, Co. Meath (That’s no shade to Navan and our musical compadres over there, we love you).
Making time for a chat over zoom, perched on the chair beside his workstation in his bedroom he brought me back to his childhood to trace the beginnings of a career that now has him attracting attention from the likes of Headie One and Krept & Konan.
“Yeah everybody thinks I’m from England, they don’t really expect that I’m from Ireland”, he laughed, adjusting the frame of his phone.
“So I started in church about 5 years ago, I was playing piano and Prod Solo came to my church sometimes and he introduced me to FL studio and that’s the software I use right now to make beats.”
“Since I play piano it really helps me make my beats. When I play I know that this chord goes there and this sound goes with this… A lot of my beats really bring out something that I would play on piano in church but I wouldn’t realise it because I did it naturally.”
Never satisfied to keep his talents to the confines of Sunday morning worship or his bedroom walls he started looking further afield.
Selling the first beat he made for €25 to his sister’s friend, he later made his own website and was making an income within six months of trying his hand at production. Initially selling beats cheaply to an Irish artist ironically named Fortune, his business brain kicked in and he transitioned from Soundcloud to Youtube and began using the now extremely popular ‘Type Beat’ marketing model.
It proved a shrewd decision as he now charges four figures for his beats and his channel now sits at just short of 7000 subscribers and he’s racked up nearly 1.5million views on his beats across the page.
This was just the start for JBJ though. From there, everything has taken off. Keen to pry out some of the names that have took an interest in the young prodigy, I asked him to name drop a couple. The first artist he mentioned just so happened to be a rapper that was signed by Jay-Z.
“In the UK, Rapman reached out to me, and he used one of my Youtube beats and we have a track out right now for the Premier League Wrap Up. It is sitting on just over 1.1 million on Youtube now.”
More recently he’s probably helped soundtrack a lot of the instagram live stream freestyles you’ve been watching in quarantine too.
“Krept from Krept and Konan, he hit me up and said he liked my beats on YouTube and he wants to use them, but that was over a year ago now so I don’t know if he’s going to use them or not. But other than that Mist who is from the UK, he actually freestyled on my beats on Instagram live and he has a lot of them coming out and we’ve been talking about making beats for him, but he hasn’t confirmed anything yet he doesn’t know when is album is being released, but he definitely gonna put me in the team when that comes around.”
Many experienced adults fall victim to their own ego in a busy music industry. Rubbing shoulders with big personalities and having your favourite artists slide into your DMs can leave you constantly wanting more, but the names don’t distract JBJ, who for the most part still enjoys the same things as any other teenager and is kept grounded by his family and friends.
“I’m treated the same [In school], they don’t treat me any differently. I like the way they aren’t like ‘oh such and such likes your beat’, they just treat me the same. They support me. It’s good, it doesn’t really affect my life like that”, he remarked.
“I’m still an exam year, doing my leaving cert and my mum isn’t really having me going to the UK.”
“I’m trying to build my name here in Ireland and in the UK so when I go there it’s not really a challenge, because a lot of people say because they live in Ireland they can’t make a name for themselves, but I’m trying to prove to everyone that is possible.”
“I’m not trying to be there just yet because the UK market is saturated with producers that are already better than me. Plan is to stay here and then move to the UK and I’ll be on the same level as everybody else.”
Though focused on going to college at Maynooth to study music technology after he finishes high school, he hinted he’ll have a few trips lined up in between lectures and studying. Being quarantined and able to focus solely on music has given him a glimpse of the future.
“I’ve definitely been busier making beats, I’ve been posting every day for the last two months, I’ve been really busy, working a lot”, he laughed.
Taking it day at a time is the best approach for most given the current circumstances when I asked him about the future he was reluctant to get too specific. However, when pushed a bit he kept it very matter of fact showing further signs of maturity beyond his years.
“I just want to have a stable income and I want to work for myself really and have everyone know who I am… To perfect what I’m doing really. I just want everyone round the world to know who I am and feed my family off something I love to do.”
He’s taking it one day at a time, but if his current work is anything to go by the future is looking bright for JBJ.