On ‘Pink Lemonade’, Jammz Proves The UK Underground Reigns Eternal

Words: Son Raw
Photography: Trinity Film

UK music, or more accurately the discussion around it, can thrive on novelty. As soon as a scene establishes itself as a dynamic presence across the country, with whispers of international touring for top DJs, it seems inevitable that someone will declare it “dead” while positioning themselves to hype up the next big thing. Thankfully, there are exceptions: D&B continues to carry on hardcore and jungle’s spirit, constantly reinventing itself for every new generation of ravers enthralled by high-speed breaks; garage, of course, will never die—an evergreen source of dancefloor anthems—and the desire for house music is faster and ruder than the global standard.

Now, with Pink Lemonade, Jammz continues to make a case for grime, not only as one of the UK’s great musical survivors, but as a thriving sound that stays true to its dark, energetic, experimental roots. First coming to most people’s attention during grime’s last big media push circa 2014-2017, Jammz was a constant presence on the defunct Radar Radio and on labels like Local Action, releasing bangers that resonated among fans looking for uncut bars and DJs looking for club-ready material, in equal measure. Just as impressively, he’s been producing much of his own music ever since his debut, following in the footsteps of scene veterans like Wiley, Dizzee and Skepta on the buttons, with instrumental projects like Free The Riddim living in DJs’ crates and across countless sets. It all adds up to a deadly, and complementary skillset, the intensity of Jammz’s verses dovetailing with his stripped-down production. This synthesis serves him well on Pink Lemonade, but the album also highlights significant artistic growth, as Jammz takes the opportunity to flex his lyricism and production in service of more personal songwriting—an approach perfect for long, winter walks and extended transit rides.

Nocturnal opener “The Flavour” sets the mood, with mournful bells, vocal chops and sparse percussion soundtracking an autobiographical, extended treaty about Jammz’s come-up and mindstate. There’s no mistaking the song as anything less than uncut grime—Dizzee Rascal’s “Just Sittin Here” is a clear antecedent to Jammz’s scene setting but, sonically, we’re a long way from 2003, much less the more club-centric side grime Jammz tears down on a project or a single. Instead, the song’s skittering hi-hats and ultra-filtered kicks are a perfect example of how grime has internalised trap and drill’s technical innovations without losing its own distinctive sonic approach. Not quite a drumless devil mix nor a pivot towards accessibility, “The Flavour” is a mission statement, re-centering grime as the medium for storytelling and musical exploration it has always been, for core fans.

That’s not to say that the album doesn’t go hard, as Pink Lemonade also features plenty of tracks destined for instant reload status in the rave, complementing the more personal material. Take early standout “Fi Reel”, which sees Jammz spitting yard stylee over heavyweight kicks and bass, effortlessly switching things up with the type of bashment-inflected flow you’d expect from Riko or Killa P. “Raiden & “Tyrone”, meanwhile, sees Jammz going back-to-back with Nottingham’s Mez with an effortless chemistry born out of sharing countless radio sets. “Don’t Try”, finally, speeds up the tempo to remind us that grime has always strayed from its usual 140BPM tempo in an album context, emphasising a different set of rhythmic possibilities while still leaning on a minimalist sonic palette.

The LP’s most interesting moments, however, come when Jammz uses the album format’s longer play time to stretch out and explore unexpected topics. Take “Outrage”: sonically, the tune calls back to grime’s iconic squarewave basslines, and at first listen, Jammz is barring out as expected. Scratch beneath the surface, though, and you’ll find a thoughtful look at how online cancel culture doesn’t translate to IRL interactions. If grime’s stock concerns have become predictable over time, though sadly no less urgent, this song examines a very modern and universal problem as refracted back through how it plays out in the ends, resulting in a banger with something new to say.

Elsewhere, Jammz’s maturity is highlighted through a tryptic about interpersonal relationships: “Forgive Me” is written as an apology those he’s wronged and stepped away from while growing up, avoiding the rap cliché of hiding a boast amidst the mea culpa to instead focus on sincere regrets. The flipside of this dynamic gets explored on “Last Laugh”, a biting riposte to fair weather friends, before pivoting towards an ode to loyalty on the acoustic guitar-flipping “No Questions”. These second-person songs are all ambiguous, their targets veiled in secrecy, but this only serves to make Jammz’s words more relatable, inviting listeners to reminisce on similar situations they’ve gone through themselves.

Throughout it all, Pink Lemonade maintains a cohesive aesthetic throughout: dark with the occasional splash of brightness to keep the proceedings interesting. Along with his own beats, Jammz assembles a murderer’s row of contemporary producers, from Jack Dat and Killjoy to J Beatz and Milennium Beats, cannily expanding his reach without watering down his sound. That Jammz is loyal to the OG grime sound is no surprise—the man named his label I Am Grime, and even when hopping on remixes or exploring adjacent genres with producers like Roska, the results saw him injecting these collaborations with grime’s energy, rather than trying to cross over. But what Pink Lemonade ultimately strives for is a dynamic where “crossing over” is pointless: independently released, it harkens back to the days of 12’ records in local shops rather than faceless streaming, bridging the gap with a full Bandcamp release for the heads while also reaching out to casual listeners via standard DPs.

Equal parts banging and thoughtful, energetic and reflective, Pink Lemonade is a portrait of an artist stepping up not only for himself, but also for the entire scene he represents. Just as importantly, it offers grime an opportunity to continue establishing itself outside of the boundaries of the media’s hype cycle, without making any concessions to the mainstream.

Posted on December 06, 2022