Jesse James Solomon – also known as JJ, 'lionel jesse' or as Jesse From SE is a man of mystery in the UK rap scene. He’s a loner as a rapper, with no one quite capturing his ability to make relatable and real rap music, while maintaining an artistic and poetic standard.
Originally from South East London by way of Woolwich, Jesse first got onto my radar through Boiler Room freestyles and the release of his debut EP JFSE. The EP was a little rough around the edges but it was a nonetheless promising debut from an unknown artist. Around this time he was showing he was extremely well connected for such a newcomer, being a member of indie artist King Krule’s more hip-hop based crew, Sub Luna City, as well as being in Street League with the then under the radar Suspect OTB. Walking the line between two very different genres of music while also establishing his own artistic identity, jesse proved He was staying very lowkey but managing to get his name out there in an (even then) oversaturated scene.
What stuck out to me about Jesse even on his first project was his calm, laidback delivery and incredible lyricism – what he lacked in energy he made up for in pure content in his bars. It’s a tried and tested rule of UK rap though; the less a rapper has to shout, the more he has to say, whether it was Giggs when he first came out, Nines, Skrapz or Joe Black or even earlier rappers like Monkstar. It was mumble rap in a very different sense of the term, but these rappers will always go for quality over volume and pull it off well. If you’re a fan of this style but prefer a more laidback and less violent perspective, Jesse is definitely an artist you’ll rate.
Jesse was impressive as a beginner but he also proved himself to be a talented songmaker, with impeccable taste in production and a good instinct for collaboration.
suspect x jesse james solomon - son of the ends (2017)
‘Son of The Ends’ is a banger featuring Suspect and the fact that it’s sitting on SBTV, with no availability on any streaming services is a crime. Suspect and Jesse have an undeniable chemistry – while Jesse is understated and calm, Suspect brings his typical flair and gives a hyped performance no one in the UK is matching. Over an airy, spaced out beat, the two shout out their ends and make for an incredible banger in the process.
Wiki - elixir (ft obongjayar & jj) (2018)
Elixir is a personal favourite of mine despite being a feature on another artist’s song. Jesse (as JJ here) kicks the song off and delivers one of his best verses. He adds some essential contrast to Wiki’s lyrical hype and Naija artist Obongjayar’s soulful and catchy hook. Lyrically he’s on another level, juggling rhymes around in a way that often seems unappreciated nowadays. He manages to flip words, reference the Lion King and give us some gems in a short 16 that I had on repeat for weeks when it first dropped. The closer to his verse is packed with metaphors, as he says
‘Pack inside my Rizla, man, I ain't rapping like Twista
I spit that inner city, the wind and the way it whisper'
jesse james solomon - city lights (2017)
City Lights is a more typical song from Jesse, as he reflects on his life in the city. The song is insightful and tells a story of where the city life takes him. Over a dream like and haunting beat, Jesse darkly tells us that he ‘spits these stories for the lost souls that got froze in time, the good yutes that never got home’. Every bar is filled with meaning and intention, as Jesse gives you that meditative music.
jJ'S LOWKEY NATURE MEANS THERE ARE PLENTY OF SONGS OUT THERE THAT MAY NOT HAVE TOUCHED STREAMING PLATFORMS, OR HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE RIGHT MUSIC VIDEO TREATMENT. BUT IT'S NOT JUST HIS BIG TUNES THAT'LL MAKE YOU A FAN. it's also the hidden gems that you might not know.
jesse james solomon - before patrick (2015)
If you listen to any song today though, you’re going to have to go for the hidden gem on his Soundcloud. Before Patrick is a loosie he posted up named after Arsenal’s old player Patrick Vieira. The song is a chill vibe, with a simple but bassy, washed out beat. Filled with hypnotizing percussion and vocal loops, Jesse shows you what he can really do when he’s in his element as he flows in perfectly in the pocket. Lyrically the song is filled with the hardest rhyme schemes, wordplay and vivid imagery that keeps you hooked to Jesse’s words.
A2 - FILL THE VOID (FT. JJ) (2019)
Jesse's most recent appearance was on A2's last project, all spill. returning as jj, jesse fits very easily into a2's wavy and subdued vibe. the two rap about trying to fill the void, and make up for the darker parts of their lives over some hyped up 808s and some very subdued synthetic piano chords. jj and a2 have some creative chemistry and clearly have a similar approach to music, allowing jesse to step in and deliver what seems to be one of his most personal verses as he talks about relationships, his life, and decisions he's made all while keeping up his cocky rap brags that stop his music from getting too dark or too preachy.
a2 also deserves an honourable mention for the song and for a great project.
JJ’s last project, (EP? Mixtape? Album? Who even knows these days) released summer last year but flew under the radar for a lot of music fans. It’s a great listen though, where he really realized his potential as a lyricist. You really hang off of every word on this album and while it’s not much longer than the JFSE EP (only a light 6 tracks), Jesse’s clearly an artist that focuses on quality over quantity, both in his delivery and his output. his voice is even more laidback, the production has improved, and he's let go of a few gimmmicky traits he used to rely on for his first project, making strata easily the better of his two projects.
I think the best thing about this project is the fact that Jesse is able to capture moods on his songs – whether it’s the steely, ice cold beat on ‘Goat Talk’ allowing Jesse to get his bars off or if it’s the pitched down, soulful vocal loops on ‘Never Knew Me’ that close the project out and provides a soft and muted backdrop for Jesse’s musings on life.
My favourite tune is ‘Under The Sun’, where he delivers every cold bar with a calm and infectious confidence that gives the song some real replay value. With a catchy, and wavy chorus from kadiata, this song is just one good tune on the playlist. It’s got a chill guitar based beat and a headnodder rhythm and it easily finds itself in my list as one of my favourite JJ songs.
Overall Jesse James is an artist that you can rely on for a good vibe when you’re chilling. He’s got depth and lyricism, as well as a real instinct for anything from a quick 16 to a fully crafted song. And it’s worth noting - he’s been quiet for the most part recently, but hopefully we can see some more music from Jesse from SE before the year is up.