J Hus

Beautiful and Brutal Yard review | J Hus opts for a dual approach on smooth third album

J Hus marks his return after three years away with an astute, multi-layered album in Beautiful and Brutal Yard.

When J Hus’ Drake-featuring ‘Who Told You’ arrived last month, The Guardian hailed it as “the song of the summer”. Such a take might be more the product of music reviews having to take an emphatic, hyperbolic stance; plus Dave and Central Cee’s massive tune ‘Sprinter’ and the continuing success of Miley Cyrus’ ‘Flowers’ might have something to say about that.

Still, the paper’s music editor and reviewer had a point, and his words were prescient of an album that bears plenty of melodious bops and jazzy flexes, making Beautiful And Brutal Yard a key summer record. An album of mostly breezy sonics, it goes down like a rum and Redbull, a smooth listen that keeps you both relaxed and awake.

If the purpose of Beautiful and Brutal Yard – gleaned from the duality inherent in both its title and the two-folded world on its album cover – was to demonstrate a luscious undercurrent beneath a typically raucous scene, it succeeds. Whilst lead single ‘It’s Crazy’ and ‘Intro (THE GOAT)’ peddling a vexed bravado, for instance, this is something of a smokescreen for an album that’s in fact rather serene. 

Beautiful And Brutal Yard

Once second track ‘Massacre’ begins, with its sun-kissed sound of birds chirping, the curtain’s pulled back and this reveal is largely made. The dextrous rhymes and half-rhymes of “teddy bear”, “anywhere”, “manicure”, “pedicure” typifies the East London’s approach on the album, as he doesn’t so much rap over beats as he does glide with them, dancing lyrically in tandem.

The double hit of afro-swing tune ‘Militerian’, featuring contentious British-Nigerian MC Naira Marley (who, like J Hus, has had a few run-ins with the law in recent years), and ‘Palm Tree’, add to the album’s easygoing pace. The latter tune also embellishes one of the album’s clear themes of sex and salaciousness, as the rapper figures himself as “just sitting here and analysing / How your skin look smooth and tantalising?”. Beautiful and Brutal Yard might not be a typical UK rap or road rap album, but it still makes a point of catcalling. Like Janelle Monáe’s recent The Age of Pleasure this amounts to revelling in a carnal hedonism.

Mind you, there are some strange, lewd references that emerge as a consequence. ‘Fresh Water / Safa Kara’ has some bars that don’t bear worth repeating; the sort that makes you wonder if J Hus and producers E.Y., Levi Lennox, TobiShyBoy included them as a joke or at least left on the album without a final sense-check. It’s nothing to get the man “cancelled”, but “I explode and wash my penis in the sink / Everybody knows that I love usna” is simply just a terrible line.

Among the features, thankfully Jorja Smith and Burna Boy easily make up for this blip of immaturity. The two tracks work in tandem, with Smith’s addition providing an extra level of sumptuousness, and ensuring the album isn’t an all-blokey affair, whilst Nigerian megastar Burna Boy rekindles a boisterousness, albeit over a laid-back beat.

And if this album works in sets of pairs – a Noah’s Ark approach to album pacing – then back-to-back tunes ‘Come Look’ and ‘Cream’, featuring mysterious drill artist CB (who’s also spent time in jail), add a potency. Here, J Hus leans more into the brutal than the beautiful, sometimes a necessary and equally valid approach. (Potter Payper’s Real Back in Style is up among the best albums so far released this year precisely back of its well-directed anger). 

Yet this fiery spirit doesn’t last for long. In fact, there’s a lot in this relatively lengthy record to soak up, one atmosphere laid down by a couple of tracks soon washed over by concomitant tunes; mellowness and ferocity, beauty and brutality. I’ll stop just shy of calling Beautiful and Brutal Yard the album of the summer, but it certainly sets an impressive double-thrusted tone.

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