jawnino, the Masked London Grime Savant

jawnino, the Masked London Grime Savant

By Tobias HessMay 03, 2024

His face may be blurred, but jawnino’s lyricism shines with spotless clarity. The masked London grime savant has been bubbling up since 2019’s “It’s Cold Out” launched him as a chronicler to watch. “We was seven man deep in the Honda Accord/ Or maybe the Lex', what's next?/ Sent a Bitcoin on BBM to my еx/ Apologies for the mess/ Hopе you're well and your family's blessed/PS I couldn't care less,” he raps, flexing his writerly chops. He’s a lyricist with his eye toward the sky and the ground, merging the macro with the micro with graceful finesse. And his music — at once pugnacious and desolate — has the ghostly echoes of Burial, who decades earlier painted a similarly ghostly vision of 21st-century Britain.

On 40, his debut album with New York label True Panther, jawnino expands his scope by linking with New York tastemakers like MIKE, as well as Surfgang mastermind evilgiane. He also builds on collaborations with co-conspirators from the London scene, tapping Jesse James Solomon and James Massiah for features. That far-reaching collaborative network lends itself to the record’s sound, which is sonically adventurous, but always executed with undeniable style. Be it the trancey spiral of album closer “40wave,” the reflective melancholy of “Wind” (ft. Cold), or the DnB propulsion of “Lost My Brain,” there’s a throughline here, an undisputable method to the madness.

The number 40 refers to the fact the human mind can only accept 40 of the millions of signals that pummel it at any given moment. With that in mind, jawnino’s lyrics become less reportage than part of a philosophy in draft. Sights, sounds and details are not so much part of a story, but glimpses into his 40, quick flashes of sensation which give us a peek into his world.

The world will be seeing more of jawnino in the months to come. Though he remains largely veiled himself — opting to don a mask when performing or to blur himself in videos — the London rapper is making strides in his career. Having performed in London’s prestigious ICA, Somerset House and Barbican Centre, and with an album release party sponsored by Nike on the books, it’s clear the world is watching, even if we can only see bits and pieces.

PAPER spoke with jawnino in the days before his release, to explore his theory of 40, his cross-Atlantic collaborations, and what’s next from here.

The record title harkens back to an idea you've toyed with for a while: that we can only accept 40 of the millions of signals our brain receives at any given moment. Tell me about how this exploration of subjectivity showed up on the record?

This tape is like a collection of things I’ve seen and experienced over the last couple years so I tried to capture that and exhibit it through this tape for everyone to get a better glimpse into my 40 and hopefully change theirs for the better.

This is your first full-length project. How did you approach putting together a longer listening experience?

I didn’t really have an approach to making something longer tbh. I kinda just kept making stuff and then put a bunch of them that sounded good together. I guess the only thing that was really thought about like that was the remixes

Sonically, the record feels like an expansion as you weave in strains of dance music, trance textures and trap and continue to explore and expand the boundaries of grime. What were you listening to and what was inspiring you as you honed the sound of the record?

Around that time I was listening to a bunch of stuff like Gregory Isaacs, Dav1d, pretty v, Morrissey, babysosa and a lot of Yeat. I really liked the sounds he was making in his music. Also, a lot of what he was saying was super relatable.

You collaborate with MIKE and evilgiane on the record, among many others. There feels like a really rich back-and-forth between American and British artists in the scene right now. Tell me about connecting with them and what the collaboration was like.

I’m a fan of both of their catalogs so it was a blessing to have them both involved.

Both of them are doing stuff I haven’t heard before in “rap” so everything aligned naturally and I’m honored to have them both come through and do what they did on the tape.

You generally hide your face, be it via a mask or blurring it out in video. I saw in an interview that in "real life" you consider yourself open and friendly, but with music, you feel compelled to remain anonymous. Tell me about that decision. I'm curious if you made this decision for primarily artistic or personal reasons? Or both?

Kinda both tbh. I think since that interview, I’ve been a bit more free with it, but I like creating new identities and masks for each thing I do. There’s so much to play with the face.

What do you hope this record will do in the world? Do you have plans to tour with it?

To be honest I’m just happy to have it out for everyone to listen to. It’s stuff I’ve been making for a minute now and I like listening to. So I’m happy everyone can do the same and hopefully it can take me and my friends to some cool places around the world.

Photography: Che Richards