INTERVIEW: J SMXRK | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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‘New year, new me’ is a phrase that many people frivolously throw around as a new year dawns, but for one of the North East’s most experimental hip-hop acts, J SMXRK, his 2019 aspirations of reinvention are serious. After taking a large amount of his early work down from streaming sites, dropping the ‘I’ from his name, and releasing a string of emotionally charged singles, J is finally feeling like he’s found his true musical identity.

“I wanted a new start, my old stuff just didn’t sit right,” J explains. “Not that the music I made back in 2016 wasn’t me, it just wasn’t entirely me. I was so used to sticking to boundaries and guidelines, trying to achieve an aesthetic or making music thinking about what would work for radio or work for listeners. Since taking away all of that stuff, and just letting it be free to an extent I feel my music is much more colourful now, much closer to who I am as a person. Not to sound like a narcissist, but back then I probably wouldn’t have cried at my own music, but now I can safely say that I have. The whole “I” name change thing was to signify the old I in me dying and becoming an X, it’s a reference to Scorsese films; whenever there’s a character about to die you’ll see an X in the background. It’s still pronounced the same [J Smirk]. it’s still the same character, just a different telling.”

I feel my music is much more colourful now, much closer to who I am as a person

His considered output certainly seemed to ‘work for radio’ back in 2016/7, and his now archived debut mixtape Where Do We Go even managed to get some Radio 1 Xtra play, not to mention earning him various festival slots throughout the summer of 2017. However, his previous radio-friendly, pop-geared hip-hop has now been replaced by a much darker sound; his most recent projects, the Hollow Heads & Hearts mixtape and Devil’s Doorway EP, both see J addressing his struggles with mental health head-on. “My new music is definitely still melodic, I’m obsessed with melodies. But the initial performing, recording and writing process is just so much more authentic and real for me now; it doesn’t feel like I’m faking it. I think people will hear that change in the music. What spurred me to write about my mental health was just a need to get the thoughts out of my head. Like a cathartic process. That’s where the song Depression started; just things that I had written in my notes, blurts of me worrying about something or my perception of the world and myself.”

After talking with J for an hour or so, it’s clear to see the passion he has for what he does – to him, the music is a matter of life and death. “All I want from this year is to have a platform for people to listen to my music, I just want it heard. I guess I want to make a change ultimately; if my music can help anyone get through what they’re struggling with, then that makes it all worthwhile. I know if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing with music I’d be close to being dead.”

J SMXRK’s new EP is out now. Keep an eye on his social media pages for live dates.


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