The Clash Between Quantity & Quality In Black British Music ⚡

Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography via Wireless

Watching J Hus freestyle and preview music on his Instagram Stories is an interesting exercise. With no clearer sign as to when he will release his long-awaited third album, these snippets offer an exciting but infuriating update on our favourite Militerian. Exciting because of what’s to come, but infuriating because we don’t know exactly when. A young artist who’s blessed us with albums as pivotal as Common Sense and Big Conspiracy, altering the trajectory of Black British music along the way, Hus has earned the right to take his time with his music, but that is increasingly seeming to not matter in certain circles of online chatter, AKA Twitter.

With everyone and their nan seemingly an authority of all things Black music these days, impatience is bordering the irrational, with some starting to question Hus’ work-rate, his passion for his fans, and the merits of his catalogue so far. The fact that he’s largely been away from the scene since 2020 is the crown jewel of the argument, while his contemporaries remain active in some form. It’s actually mind-boggling that the man who gave us “Lean & Bop”, “Friendly” and “Did You See” is having his credentials doubted, but I digress. This opens an enticing debate about the merits of quantity over quality when it comes to music and whether fandom allows for the latter. Attention spans are smaller in the modern day and an insatiable need to be instantly pleased for fans is being projected onto artists. Can we charge it to the game? Perhaps, but it's deeper than that.

Knowingly or unknowingly, we tend to place expectations on artists that work only for us and not the artists themselves. Quantity is almost a prerequisite because if other musicians can regularly deliver, then there’s no excuse. Headie One, for example, has released projects every year since 2017, each varying in quality depending on who you ask. The same can be said for an artist like K-Trap, who has been active each year across the same period. For some fans, this is the barometer of what an artist owes their fans, but that is not the portion of all artists who, for whatever reason, need time to provide the truest musical version of themselves. Hus’ catalogue is the epitome of quality—from his 2015 mixtape, The 15th Day, to 2018’s Big Spang EP, he hasn't put a foot wrong in his vision for his own music. Therefore, fans shouldn’t rush the process for the sake of their own instant gratification and recognise that artists of a certain calibre need time to map out their music in the best way possible. We can wait a few years if the result is a flawless one.

For further context, Hus has only one less project than peers like Dave and Stormzy, each with five since their respective arrivals onto the scene. They don’t drop every year—even Little Simz drops every other year, on average—yet J Hus seems to hold the corn for not giving fans what they want immediately. Maybe because he means so much to us, he’s held on a pedestal unlike other artists? Or maybe because those artists are present by appearing on features and active outside of music while Juju J keeps to himself? His aloofness shouldn’t be a stick for people to beat him with, especially when he’s been providing timeless bops since day one, essentially earning the right to come and go as he pleases. Inversely, if he succumbed to the pressure and consistently released music that wasn’t seen as being up to par, he’d be hung out to dry by the same fans. You can’t please everyone, so why try?

Outside of Hus, the scene is very much still consolidating itself across the board and needs quality bodies of work to strengthen the movement, the same way our cousins in the USA have been releasing incredible albums since the 1980s. A multitude of projects year in, year out is all well and good, but if they’re simply throwaway, what function does that serve? There needs to be a method to the madness and a purpose in your moves as an artist or the product will be lost in the ether. But the beauty of the scene is that there is room for it all; for musicians who want to release frequently, and those who prefer to take their time with it.

There is no wrong approach to making music, but it is a process—one that doesn’t come as easily as it might appear. It’s fluid and may involve whole periods of stopping and starting from scratch, which may well be the case with Hus. And while no artist is above criticism, the process should be respected more by fans before they begin to criticise. Everyone’s idea of quality is different, but it should never be compromised in the name of quantity. The sooner we accept this, the less antsy we’ll get when we watch our favourite artists preview music that may or may never come out.

Posted on May 24, 2023