Urban music DJ and broadcaster J Fresh hosts the weekly Urban Fire show syndicated to more than 50 stations, and now he’s turned producer on his debut The Pineapple EP. We spoke to J Fresh about how he got into the music industry and putting together the EP, including working with Blay on ‘Change’.
You will be out of your comfort zone at times but push yourself, embrace the challenges and make it happen!
Tell us bit about yourself - growing up in Bournemouth, what got you into music? What was the local scene like?
The early days of UK garage got me hooked! DJ’s such as EZ and Tuff Jam and then Heartless Crew, Pay As U Go, So Solid were the inspirations for me to pick up records and start trying to DJ! It was such an exciting and dynamic time for UK music with influences from ragga, jungle, hip hop and then watching and experiencing garage evolve into grime. I haven’t lived in Bournemouth all my life, and I spent time going to legendary raves such as La Cosa Nostra and Sidewinder and grabbing tape pack and vinyl to feed my love of this music.
You have a weekly show called Urban Fire as well as a residency on Charlie Sloth’s BBC 1Xtra #ClubSloth. How did you get your break in radio?
I started off on community and local radio stations simply helping out where I could and learning my apprenticeship from the established radio presenters and DJs. It’s the natural progression from working hard and wanting to develop to then slowly start appearing on shows. I look back now to the very start and think how different I was then and how I still had so much to learn - I never think you should stop wanting to learn and grow - but it was a great starting point for me and taught me so much!
As things progress, I moved to Bournemouth to present my own weekly hip hop show on a legal commercial radio station, and this then developed into me becoming “head of specialists” which saw me look after a team of dope and diverse presenters. The hook up with Charlie Sloth came around very naturally. I’d interviewed him (thanks to Jay Forster) shortly after he began working at BBC Radio 1Xtra around 2010-ish - even then he was humble ,driven, talented and a passionate guy - I can’t speak highly enough of him. Over the next few years our paths crossed many times, the relationship develops organically and then he asked me to provide some mixes for his show. This developed into a mix residency, providing regular content for his award winning drive-time BBC Radio 1Xtra show as part of #ClubSloth.
I’ll always be extremely grateful to Charlie, and his team, for reaching out and involving me in his world.
What have been the biggest lessons to be successful in radio over such a sustained period?
Firstly working hard. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to do something correctly- make sure you do it right and to the best of your ability. It’s important to want to develop and grow - to listen and absorb from those ‘above’ you, but also remain true to who you are and be respectful to all who you come in contact with - no one owes you anything. You will be out of your comfort zone at times but push yourself, embrace the challenges and make it happen!
Over time you have to adapt and evolve - be open to new music and not be afraid to break artists and fresh records. You need to be open minded to how life and the world around you has changed - from technology, to how listeners interact with you or how people digest radio. Most of all you need the passion, the drive, the desire and excitement to do it. Without the passion - it’s pointless.
You’ve interviewed the likes of 50 Cent, Jeremih, Wiz Khalifa, Kano and Skepta. Who have been your favourite artists to interview?
This is always impossible to answer!!!! Getting to sit down one-on-one with an artist who you rate and to get a true insight into the world and how they operate is a blessing. Each interview is truly unique and throws up interesting situations - its hard to pick “who’ was the best?” I tend to look at timing - for example I interviewed Tinie Tempah three days before ‘Pass Out’ charted - from our chat then, to where he is now, and what he continues to achieve, is so so sick - and inspirational to see!
Kano was a guy I had been trying to get hold of for a proper, proper interview for a long time. To chop it up with him 10 years on from the legendary Home Sweet Home and on the cusp of huge success with Made In The Manor was dope - everything seemed to come full circle. The fact that I still had the running order sheet from the final date from his debut tour in 2005 (I opened the show for him) really, really surprised him! When someone so legendary and pivotal to this music that we love recognises your depth,its humbling.
You’ve released your debut project as a producer, ‘The Pineapple EP’. What are the songs about and when did you write them?
The Pineapple EP features Blay, Don Jaga and Strive. It contains three tracks encompassing different sides of hip hip/grime - ‘Change’ is grime, ‘SoHigh’ is what I call a ‘wavey track’ and ‘TopperTop’ is a trap/drill cut. I’m in the studio a few times every week, always working, - the whole project was fluid - I’d made the tracks towards the end of 2016, already had the artists I wanted to appear in mind, and it came together nicely. They killed the record and were passionate and on point from the get-go. Dope artists and dope friends.
You worked with Blay on 'Change'. What did they bring to the track?
'Change' is a record that really came together organically - I always find that gives the best results. I'd built the record and was thinking 'who would this really work with?' and instantly thought of Blay - he was my first choice for it. We actually live close to each other now, he came through the studio laid down his vocals in almost one take and it just flowed. Even sat there in the control room I was gassed hearing him on it and we were both edited about the results!
What are your hopes for the EP?
I don’t have specific goals with the EP as such - it forms part of the bigger picture of building and establishing myself as a creator of music within the UK game, whilst also giving a platform to artists who appear on it. Its important to me that we all ‘win’.
Tracks from the EP have been picked up and supported by heavyweights of the scene like DJ Target, Logan, Teddy Music, Twin B and had rotation on Radio 1, 1Xtra, Capital Xtra, Radar Radio and more. It’s cool to make records with talented artists that resonate and theres been a lot of positive energy and kind words around the whole project. Feeling blessed out here!
Last year you were an ever-present touring Europe and playing UK festivals. What have you got coming up in 2017?
My DJ diary is varied and exciting, taking me all over the UK with guest bookings. As summer creeps us - that’s always an exciting time - we touch the festivals both here and abroad and hit islands like Ibiza, Ayia Napa, Corfu, etc. Production-wise away from the EP, I’ve wrapped up a few remixes that will be dropping over the next month or 2 as well as plenty of free uploads ready for the club circuit via my SoundCloud. As mentioned, I’m constantly in the studio creating and reaching out to the right artists who I think we would make some dope music together - so expect plenty more fully original material from me too.
Finally, if you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, when would you go back to and what would you say?
Watch the video for ‘Change’ on YouTube below. For J Fresh news and tour dates go to jfresh.co.uk.