Growing up, West London’s Jevon internalized the enduring effects of a nomadic upbringing; rootless, weighed down by generational curses and the lure of street life, he was in search of something deeper. At a creative crossroads, Jevon began what would be a life-altering peregrination through his familial past, travelling to Brazil to awaken a part of his identity that had long been dormant.
On his debut album, ‘Fell In Love In Brasil’, Jevon is the bridge between worlds. Within it we find universal themes of peace and reconciliation, a restoration of faith in the land, a dialogue between old and new generations and an assimilation of both historical and personal. While necropolitical wars rage on in Brazil, with Afro-Brazilian working-class communities ostracised by the elite, Jevon shines a light on the defiant spirit of the ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Jevon propels Brazilian music from the fringes to the mainstream. This isn’t standard UK rap fare: entwining funk carioca – known in the west as baile funk - samba and bossa nova, Jevon incites his own hybrid rhythmic rebellion; the essence of Brazil imported in full, HD technicolour with field recordings adding a layer of unvarnished authenticity to the auditory experience.
From the riotous carnival number with a dark undertow, ‘Cocaina’ to ‘Ghetto Cinderella’, a 2021 revamp of Carlos Santana’s ‘Maria Maria’, to the conscious rap of ‘Heaven’s Calling’, Jevon runs through a full gamut of emotions and moods without relinquishing his gritty realness. Where diasporic works can feel disjointed and dislocated, ‘Fell In Love is Brasil’ pulses with reverence and respect for its source material.
CLASH spoke to Jevon on the eve of his new release as part of our newly-launched digital #PLTFRM series, spotlighting global talent breaking down barriers.
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‘Fell In Love in Brazil’ was recorded over three years, it was gestating for a long time. How does it feel to finally have it out in the world?
It’s surreal. That’s the only way to describe it. It hasn’t really sunk in yet to be honest. It’s been a long time coming, and I put so much of myself in this.
You’ve been quite open in the past about your upbringing and transient home life. Tell me a bit about your origins?
My home life was quite different to most. It’s been very good and very bad. It started off rough; rough as you can get. I saw what street life was about through my Dad - he was a true hustler. A lot of the hustle in the culture is glorified, but I saw it from a different perspective because I saw it through my Dad’s eyes - that’s why I talk from a perspective of a child growing up in my music. My Dad is an amazing man. I’ve learnt a lot from him and I wouldn’t change anything, but seeing what I’ve seen growing up has really made me look at life differently.
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Some of your formative years were lost to the streets…
Absolutely. My Dad tried to keep me away from a lot of the bad stuff, tried to distract me and keep me focused on football, but kids are impressionable and they’re not silly, they’ll always pick up on things. I remember vividly one day my Dad saying: “I’m fed up with this life.” That’s when we moved to Coventry. During that time, I was misbehaving and acting out, I was hanging around the wrong people. I had to toughen myself up because I was a target. When you have nice things, when you have chains, you’re a target. That was the point when I realized I had to go out alone. You lose a lot of your childhood to the streets.
For those that don’t know, you’ve produced for next gen UK rappers: your work with Pa Salieu is frequently referenced, as is your production across Nines’ ‘One Foot Out’ album and XL’s 2017 ‘New Gen’ compilation. How would you describe the transition from a producer helping craft their vision to honing in on your own?
When I’m producing for artists, I put myself in their shoes and understand their vision and help bring it to life. My job is to make the best record I can for them. Creating my own body of work was confronting and I’d sum it up as a spiritual journey. I had to step inside myself and ask myself: What do you want to talk about? What direction do you want to take? Being a producer is about managing your inspiration.
Tracing your earlier material your production has always been a highlight. It’s not geared towards the mainstream per se; it’s idiosyncratic. For example, take a song like ‘Paranoia’ which sounds like a peak-Timbaland cut. From a producer’s perspective, where do you find your inspiration?
So many producers have inspired me! I was always the guy reading the credits on the album sleeve. I take bits I love from all my favourite producers and put them into a blender. I love nostalgic sounds like Timbaland, he’s a clear influence on me; Kanye is a big influence in terms of sampling; I love Pharrell’s use of chord progressions, it’s left-field and you can always identify a Pharrell beat. I’m drawn to old school 90s RnB production.
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You spent your formative years in Coventry. There’s a renascent wave of rappers coming out of Coventry and the Midlands that differs from the talent coming out of London. What’s the scene like there as someone whose been immersed in it - is there a sense of a tightly-woven community?
Yes and no. I moved to Coventry at a different time to when Pa Salieu was there and I saw it in a different light. When I moved to Coventry, there wasn’t a large demographic of black people there that I knew of; there were pockets of Afro-Caribbean communities which birthed a community of musicians but it still felt separate.
There was a music scene, but it was different to what I was hearing in London. The energy was different, they moved different in Coventry. As time went on, the community became more diverse, which was helped by the University; it became a multi-cultural hub. Musically, it’s been interesting to see the sounds that resonate in Coventry, and how it differs from London and the rest of the UK. London may be the Capital, but it doesn’t always define the rest of the nation.
The UK is experiencing a Golden era in terms of black music. I’d compare it to black music coming out of the US in the 90s: you had Def Jam, Rocafella and No Limits - we’re in that era now. In America, rap was a New York thing and London has a similar energy. Southern rap became a huge thing and was contesting NY rap. Andre 3000 could rap too! Look at Young T and Bugzy going crazy, not only in the UK but in the States as well. We’re breaking out.
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‘Fell In Love In Brasil’ feels like a turning point for you; a very personal passion project that sees you reconnect with your Brazilian heritage from your Grandfather’s side. What was your relationship like?
My Grandfather (from my Mum’s side) was initially the family figure I knew the least about. He’d split from my Nan and they were living separate lives. From what I remember of him, he had the most infectious laugh, he was always happy. He would call me and we’d talk and he’d reprimand me for not visiting. He was a big music fan; he met my Nan at a Bee Gees concert backstage!
He left me his vinyl collection and that’s where this story began.
Music has a way of continuing legacy. What a wonderful thing to inherit – to link your past and present. What was your Grandfather listening to?
João Gilberto and Marcos Valle were the two main artists. I got to work with Marcos on the album. His records were so complex. My Grandfather loved Marcos Vale, so getting him on board felt extra personal. Marcos was like Stevie Wonder in the way he explored different genres; soul, jazz and funk-inspired Brazilian music. The funk scene in Brazil was huge.
Initially, I was going through these vinyls to sample but the Marcos Valle vinyl really surprised me because it was recorded live - it had a different energy to it. It was then I thought I had to go to Brazil. I could get session musicians over here but I knew I needed to experience the real thing because their playing off a different rhythm in Brazil.
Did you feel a nagging sense that you needed to connect these parts of your ancestry because you’re a Father yourself? Did that alter your perspective in anyway?
100%. I was going through so much personally at that time, this was a chance to find myself. I had to go inside myself so I could be the version of myself my kids needed.
When it comes to music, I can express myself; in day to day life I keep a lot of bottled up. When I went to Brazil it felt like home; I saw people who looked like and me and I reconnected with myself again. It was a huge confidence builder for me because I doubt myself a lot. In Brazil, I was focussed on music and exploring, I wasn’t focused on expectation. Going back home made me realise where I’m going.
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‘Fell In Love In Brasil’ is a triumph. It ties these disparate worlds of UK Rap and RnB with baile funk with finesse and originality. These genres are all about rhythm. If you had to pinpoint what is it about these Brazilian genres that appealed to you as an artist on the frontier of UK Rap, what would it be?
I don’t know if this intentional or by accident, but I’ve noticed that with Baile funk and grime, they sound similar in rhythm. It’s bouncy and it gives me old school grime vibes. When I delved deeper, I found Miami bass which is influenced by the berimbau; a ritualistic Old African percussive instrument. The rhythm in the berimbau when they train for Carioca is the rhythm you hear in Baile funk, which has an off-beat on the third bar. It gives it a different rhythm. It’s all mathematics, and Brazilian musicians play to a completely different rhythm.
Baile funk has more in common with dancehall because it’s built from sexual energy; the kick drum will cut through in a carnival. In Rio, in the favelas, they have block and street parties all the time. The energy is unlike anything I’ve ever felt.
Tell me about the collaborators and features on this record and what they bring to the table. You’ve mentioned Marcos Valle but there’s a mix of contemporary regional Brazilian talent and UK talent on there as well…
On the track ‘Forest Fire’, there’s a Brazilian MC and producer called Rincon Sapiência, who really brought it to life. There’s an artist called Tessa Pavilach, better known as Hoodlem, who co-wrote that track. She’s amazing! Initially I had Nao in my mind when recording that song. As time went on, I realized it sounded more like an Intro. So, when I got to Brazil, I knew I had to expand on that track and it was one of the first songs I completed in Brazil.
Daniel Ganjaman, this Brazilian producer, helped produce the record and source a lot of the local collaborators you hear on the record. He’s the Dr Dre of Brazil.
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You’re a filter for these young musicians, and because of you, they’ll now be more accessible to the west and will go onto collaborate with artists here…
That was my goal. I felt a responsibility to give these local musicians a platform. They can go now go and work with anyone. They are so unique: they can produce, DJ, write and direct, they just the need resources. I also have to shoutout J Warner who was one of the first artists I worked with in London on the ‘New Gen’ album. His voice is amazing and we immediately clicked.
Your record shines a light on Latin-American communities in London, and other area codes in the UK. Did you feel this diasporic expression was underrepresented musically and socially when you were making the record?
I was conscious about my influence; I was conscious about how I could shine a positive light on my Brazilian heritage. As a Dad, I look at everyone else as someone’s else’s child. Especially because I come from a specific demographic, I come from a demographic that most people won’t make it to a certain age. When you’re in that place, you live a lifestyle that isn’t realistic, and you promote a lifestyle that isn’t healthy. There are people that look like you, that will receive your work and be led down a path they shouldn’t be led down.
When I was making this album, I was conscious that people would be looking up to me, and that they could do this shit too and do it better.
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I feel this record is your quest for a kind of home. Often when you live between nationalities, it’s hard to find a sense of belonging. At present, are you comfortable embracing every part of your identity? Is it an ongoing process?
It’s an ongoing process for me, and I don’t think it ever finishes. I would like to go to Africa, that’s the Motherland. I still need to delve into my culture there, so I understand myself better as a person. You can identify yourself more when you know your history. As a father and as a human you can never stop finding more knowledge to improve yourself.
What tracks from the album would you recommend as an entry point to the world of Jevon? For someone who hasn’t yet heard your music, what songs would you put front and centre?
‘Gringo’, would be my first. It’s a great intro track because it’s about not understanding the native language, but being able to communicate through music. We might not understand each other, but we can dance together, we can vibe together. There’s another meaning behind that song. I’ve always felt like a foreigner because I moved about a lot, I was always felt like a bit of an outsider. ‘Gringo’ was the nickname they gave me in Brazil.
‘Cocaina’ is very personal but I made it in a light-hearted way. I heard a Gucci Mane lyric the other day: “I had to laugh to stop me from crying”. That really struck a chord with me. ‘Cocaina’ is my Dad passing his demons on to me and his Dad passing demons onto him. I’m talking about family curses. But I wanted to be ironic about it. When it comes to mental health in these communities, it’s a sign of weakness. We don’t talk about our feelings; we don’t share our experiences or show our emotions.
‘Heaven’s Calling’, is another personal one. I talk about a friend who had passed, and it was birthed from me recording one day and then calling him but completely forgetting that he’d passed. It was a reflex. That was a moment when the grief hit me and I’d never experienced that before. I had to go to a vulnerable place to write this song and I let myself unravel a bit. I‘ve been dancing with death my whole life.
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You touch on death and the afterlife in your short film; it’s full of these rich, dreamlike sequences that sees you traveling between spiritual realms, ripe with Brazilian iconography. What are the themes at play here?
Artistically I wanted to make something visually gripping. The short film didn’t have the biggest budget but you don’t need the biggest budget to make gripping art. That’s an important message I want to convey to artists coming up.
I wanted to portray the reality of Brazil; that people over there are struggling. I wanted to portray a message that I am with them and this is my gift back to them. It was me giving back to my community. It was a very intense film to produce - so many things happened, forces were working against us, but we persisted and everyone delivered.
I shouldn’t say it but the suited gentleman you see in the ‘Na Hora’ and ‘Gringo’ segments - these snarling men are a visual representation of Bolsanaro.
The political climate in Brazil is so fraught right now, it predates the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro but his rise mirrors the autocracy of Trump. That’s a crazy backdrop to have…
It’s wild! When I first went back to Brazil, I met this activist, this woman of colour who was identifying all the corruption in Brazil and she was a force to be reckoned with. She was murdered. She was assassinated! She fought for LGBTQ rights; she was a fierce advocate against discrimination which really defines Brazil today. I remember vividly the day before, when everyone was roused by her, and the day after she was murdered, the confidence in my people was at an all-time low. The spirit left them. She was so special.
I started researching Bolsonaro and the far-right movement growing in power. I was talking to older musicians, and they were giving me the 411 on him. Brazil is such a beautiful paradise but it has a dark history. It is very segregated and the favelas are full of people of colour. Brazil is an incredibly diverse country, but it’s not reflected in the media.
My hope is for Bolsanaro to watch it, and have some nightmares!
I truly feel ‘Fell In Love In Brazil’ will stand the test of time. What do you want the record to achieve in the long run? What do you want your listeners to walk away feeling?
I would love them to appreciate my journey; I found myself in Brazil. This is very much a passion project for me and it wasn’t about proving anything to anyone other than myself and my kids. My kids just need their Dad. I spent three years making this and they deserve my time now.
Between me and you, this could be last album I make. I will forever be chasing the feeling of finding myself like I did on this record. I feel like if I create again, I might be chasing something I don’t want to be. I realised I wasn’t trying to be a superstar. At the beginning I wanted to be bigger than Kanye! At the end, I realised this was the therapy I needed. The record set me on the right path of what I want to achieve, and that is quality control in the UK from a development standpoint.
I wanted to make a classic record; the format isn’t appreciated as much as it should be. The culture recycles, and it becomes repetitive. I remember the happiest times I had was connecting with a body of work, an album, and taking the time to consider every detail. That’s what I achieved with this record.
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Listen back to part of our interview with Jevon broadcast on Clash Radio Show on Rinse FM here.
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