Featured Artist: Jehst (February 2019)
For February we take a look at everyone's favourite postman (or so the publicity stunt went) Jehst, also known as Billy Brimstone or The High Plains Drifter. Those who know Jehst will be familiar with his unique flow and intricate, abstract wordplay that has influenced a number of rappers since his emergence in 1999. His independent label, YNR, has also developed a reputation as one of the most consistent in releasing high quality UK hip-hop from the likes of Micall Parknsun, Kashmere, Cappo and Confucius MC to name just a few.
Born in Kent, but raised in Yorkshire via Sussex, Jehst began building his reputation on the streets of Huddersfield. Never a stranger to the area, he has consistently supported and collaborated with rappers and producers from the region that would possibly be otherwise ignored due to the dominance of rappers from London in UK hip-hop. Jehst is also known in the region not just as a rapper, but also in the graffiti world as a founding member of the crew Full Scale Burners as well as a member of The Chemical Souls, both coming out of Halifax.
After moving to London for university, Jehst subsequently dropped out when offered a record deal and the chance to start his own record label. The label would become YNR Productions, co-founded with another rapper from Leeds by the name of Tommy Evans. One of the first releases from the label would be Jehst's debut EP Premonitions in 1999, an eight track cult classic that was hailed by critics and fans alike for its poetic vocals and forward-thinking production. On the back of this came a collaboration with Task Force on the track Cosmic Gypsies in 2000 that resulted in a long-time asssociation with the, at the time, more established record label Low Life Records run by Leeds rapper Braintax. A series of singles on Low Life followed as well as a couple of EPs as part of the seven strong group Champions of Nature alongside the likes of Lewis Parker, Supa T and Profound. The label would also release Jehst's next long player in 2002's The Return of the Drifter, effectively a collection of previously released tracks, containing a whole host of classic tracks like High Plains Drifter and People Under the Weather.
Further collaborations with Harry Love and Evil Ed helped solidify Jehst's reputation as a rapper in UK hip-hop before the release of his debut album proper Falling Down in 2003. This album saw Jehst's complex, socio-political lyrics on full display and brought features by a number of long term collaborators in Klashnekoff, Lewis Parker and Usmaan. 2005's follow up, Nuke Proof Suit, continued in a similar vein, in particular the title track with its satirical look at how the war on terror was dominating the media. The releases would keep coming with the 2006 album Underworld Epics that showcased more of Jehst's production abilities and introduced UK hip-hop fans to a new breed of rappers such as Micall Parknsun and Sir Smurf Lil'.
Although continuing to perform live, the releases dried up as Jehst focused more on establishing his YNR label and pushing its roster of artists. This meant a number of collaborations on the albums of these rappers, but fans would have to wait in 2011 before they heard another full length Jehst release in Dragon of an Ordinary Family. The publicity for this album was launched by a viral marketing video campaign in which a supposed Jehst fan recorded footage of the rapper appearing to work as a postal worker. The album proved to be a return to form for a rapper who at no point had chosen to stand still and let the scene pass him by. It would, however, be another six years before his most recent release in 2017 would be made available. Billy Green is Dead took on Jehst's intelligent lyrics and knack for narrative to deliver a concept album around the character of Billy Green inspired by a Gil Scott-Heron song.
The fact that Jehst has taken his time between releases shows the level of thought process and depth that goes into each recording, which has resulted in his distinctive sound. His career reflects a considered and well-timed approach, rather than a flooding of the market. With his own label, he has not only enabled a means of control for his personal creativity, but also created a platform responsible for perpetuating the careers of many up and coming or established artists. YNR, as well as High Focus Records, has helped solidify the status UK hip-hop and ensure the future of the scene beyond the careers of their founders.