J hus performs onstage with burna boy

J Hus performs at London Stadium on June 03, 2023 with Burna Boy.

(Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns)

5 Takeaways from J Hus’ ‘Beautiful And Brutal Yard’

The British-Gambian rap artist has a lot to say on his long-awaited return album. Here are five takeaways.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’sJ Hus with a new album. For well over a year, fans had been waiting for the inventive British-Gambian rap artist to follow-up his acclaimed sophomore full-length, Big Conspiracy. J Hus had even threatened to quit music and performing altogether after Big Conspiracy leaked a few days prior to its release date, but several live show dates and features meant he’d walked back those threats. However, he went on a hiatus from releasing new music, even pump-faking fans with a tracklist for an album titled The Ugliest, early last year.

There was an expectant, if slightly cautious, response to the rapper stating earlier this year that he would drop a new album in the summer, but the cynicism began to thaw as soon as “Don’t Say Militancy” ads started popping up across London. In late May, the drill cut “It’s Crazy” dropped as the lead single, followed by the uptempo Afrobeats single, “Who Told You,” with Canadian rap superstar Drake. J Hus’ third full-length, Beautiful And Brutal Yard, was finally released last Friday and, at nineteen songs spanning over an hour, it’s the longest album of the rapper’s career yet.

J Hus clearly has a lot to say, here are five important takeaways from the first few listens.

The Multitudes of J Hus

At the end of the opener, “Intro (THE GOAT),” a friend urges J Hus to “show them who you are, the one I know before the music.” It’s a precursor to the authentic, sometimes exploratory, manner J Hus portrays himself on Beautiful And Brutal Yard. While it’s impossible to claim that the rapper has ever been inauthentic, there’s a notable change in tenor and part of that is down to the fully self-controlled circumstances around the making of this album. On B.A.B.Y, it’s evident that Hus is working without any external stakes beyond his own preoccupations. The hiatus means that he’s had nothing but time to dig into his person and offer intriguing insights into the experiences that have shaped his perspectives.

“I was tryna walk before I crawl/When you know yourself, you stand tall,” he says on “Comeback,” which is essentially a brawny gangsta rap track but it’s elevated by the interiority of his observation—an example of how he operates across many songs. In typical J Hus fashion, there are purely libidinous songs, but listeners are also greeted by slightly jarring moments of romantic vulnerability, including the Jorja Smith-assisted “Nice Body” and “My Baby.” B.A.B.Y threads together the multitudes of J Hus, combining the bravado of his game-changing debut, the introspection of his sophomore, spots of tenderness, and more discoveries into a striking whole.

J is for Jallow

“I had to play dumb just to blend in/Then go to Africa for spiritual cleansing,” J Hus rapped in the final line of “Deeper than Rap,” the closer to Big Conspiracy. At the time of its release, that was his most significant reference to his roots. While he never shied away from being known as a young man of Gambian descent, this was a marquee moment of pride and it has now opened the path for him to embrace the West African country’s culture even more loudly on wax. Beyond the nominal shout-out on “Militerian,” there’s the penultimate track “Come Gully Bun (Gambian President),” where Hus raps a significant portion of his lyrics in Wolof, a widely spoken language amongst Gambians. He’s joined by Boss Belly on the track, who approaches his raps in the same lingual manner. J Hus is no longer blending in and Africa isn’t just a place with spiritual significance, it’s now simply a part of who he is.

A Tracklist Loaded with Potential Summer Bangers

J Hus is one of the best hit-making rap artists anywhere in the world. From earlier mixtape hits “Dem Boy Paigon” and “Lean & Bop” to album era smash songs like “Did You See” and “Must Be,” every new project release spawns summer playlist staples, and B.A.B.Y is no different. After all, as he says on the album’s final track, “Playing Chess,” he grew up listening to 50 Cent and Michael Jackson, two vastly different artists from two different eras who captured the ears of millions with instantly memorable and eternal hit songs.

J Hus’ music is also wildly different from his inspirations, but his catalogue has its fair share of seminal bangers, potentially adding more to the list with his new project. The Drake-assisted single, “Who Told You,” has been heavily-memed and is a viral global hit, a veritable candidate for Song of the Summer in the UK and beyond. More songs are bound for success, depending on fan reactions and Hus’ own post-release—he could go in any direction. “Militerian” with Naira Marley already has a music video, and its raunchy playfulness should find a space in DJ party sets across the black diaspora. The ‘23 Bonnie & Clyde cut, “Nice Body,” could find appeal with lovestruck listeners, while the groovy rap highlight, “Massacre,” definitely suits sun-soaked settings, as does the aptly titled “Palm Tree.”

The Absence of a Notable Collaborator & The Prominence of a Formerly Fringe One

Late last year, British-Ghanaian producer JAE5 said that he wouldn’t be working on J Hus’ next project. It was a surprising statement since he’d served as the primary collaborator and executive producer across the rapper’s previous albums, with their relationship dating all the way back to the 2015 mixtape, The 15th Day. Filling that spot on B.A.B.Y is TSB, the in-demand producer who’s worked with Dave, Headie One, NSG and more, and also produced four songs on Hus’ sophomore, as well as co-producing “Spirit” off Common Sense.

In addition to executive producer duties, TSB co-helms twelve of the nineteen songs on B.A.B.Y and (alongside multiple contributions from P2J) he’s hugely responsible for a soundscape that’s alternately gorgeously and menacing, perfectly accentuating the dynamic range of J Hus’ voice as a rapper who dips into gruff melodic sequences. The music is lush and imposing, refining the hybrid style and musical variety Hus projects are known for. JAE5’s absence is conspicuous because he’s not in the credits, and definitely not because there’s a drop off in sonic quality.

The Added Pomp of Guest Features

For the first time in his catalogue, J Hus recruits more than four guests on a project. B.A.B.Y features eight artists and they all add some pomp to the tracklist in a variety of ways. A Burna Boy feature in a Hus project is now a given and, thankfully, he doesn’t treat his appearance on “Masculine” as standard fare, delivering a wonderful hook. Naira Marley’s blasé charisma is fitting for the full circle fare of “Militerian,” two pioneers of afro-swing being lewd and taking pride in their African heritage. Jorja Smith plays the sensitive foil on “Nice Body,” Drake undeniably adds to the commercial appeal of “Who Told You,” Popcaan adds to the ominous edge of “Killy,” while both CB and Villz are gleeful accomplices on the gangster chronicles of “Cream” and “Comeback,” respectively. J Hus surrounds himself with collaborators that don’t pale in front of his blistering charisma.