It’s not often that I feel gutted to be missing out on the tour of an artist I listen to, and I didn’t think Drake’s Assassination Vacation tour would be any different. I’ve found before that performances in sizeable venues like the O2 tend not to live up to the billing. But this wasn’t the O2, this was the O3. Such is the aura that Drizzy commands that he’s able to make his God’s Plan lyric a reality, and given the host of incredible supporting acts, his tour had all the hallmarks of a must-see. And so here I was, genuinely missing out.
It already looked like the spectacle of the year, but it was a unique and emotional moment that caught mine and the attention of many others. As Drake proclaimed to the audience, “We’re about to celebrate one of our brothers tonight”, there was a small air of uncertainty as who would be walking out next to accompany him. The minute the melody played, I instantly rushed to disbelief, that there was no way that he could have conjured up the musician we were all thinking of.
And just like that, on comes The Hustler sporting a trademark grin. For those who might be unaware, J Hus is a 23 year old rapper who has been highly rated and hugely influential in UK music. His debut album, Common Sense, was genuinely a bonkers masterpiece to me, full of infectious rhythms and memorable, witty one-liners, and presented himself as a leading light in a new generation of UK artists. It was an upwards trajectory for him, but he was sentenced to eight months in prison last year for possession of a folding knife in public. It was devastating to see it unfold. With a busy summer of festival bangers scheduled to be rolled out, it seemed like two steps back. Seemingly a young lad who had made it out of east London and had gotten himself away from a negative environment, this reinforced the idea that the situation with knife crime is far more complex than what politicians are willing to discuss.
It goes without saying that, of course, justice was served for what he had done. Being an influential role model for many, especially those who currently grow up and share his humble beginnings, he had a responsibility to uphold a certain standard of behaving. No doubt he feels that he let down the community he represents proudly in some way, but there’s a deeper question to this. Given that he most likely knew that carrying a knife was wrong, why did he still feel compelled to do it?
Stardom and status are not a treatment for trauma, and feeling that you have to carry a knife for your own safety in a capital city is deep rooted. In J Hus’ case, having been victim to stabbing in the past, while not an excuse for his actions in the present, show that this is far from a case of carrying a weapon out of malice. Knife crime has too often been caricatured as hordes of young boys carrying weapons in the streets out to do harm, but this depiction ignores the effect of the environment that they are raised in. Even for those of us lucky enough to have not been raised in such environments, the natural response for a young kid having seen family and friends fall victim to knife crime would be to carry a knife for protection. No amount of increased police presence or greater surveillance in these communities will change the long-lasting PTSD that lingers and eventually becomes embedded in these young men and their families, and so the issue must revolve around understanding the pressures that these people face. If J Hus can feel it despite being relatively removed from it all, then you can start to imagine how individuals living in the thick of it experience it daily.
After Drake’s great reveal, there were some that suggested that J Hus is part of the problem and that providing him with this platform glorifies someone who represents the knife crime problem that the UK faces. Although he has served his time for the crime he committed and should be merited for the person he is now, I can understand the position of those opposed to his return to the main stage. There’s case to be made that role models are important, and it could seem bizarre that a young man who has six previous convictions was celebrated and applauded on a mainstream stage. But I truly can’t see the manner in which some people can condemn an individual by their past transgressions and refuse them at the very least the opportunity to grow and be someone better.
There has been increased momentum in the role of victim culture, which narrows people’s outlook to view individuals as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to correlate with ‘victims’ and ‘oppressors’. This binary approach is entirely unhelpful, not only because it wilfully denies the complexities that make up each one of us, but also because it holds people to a fixed standard that is infallible. J Hus, like every one of us, is not perfect, but I’m sure having gone through this experience, he is certainly a better man. I would love it if he used this experience to educate and shape the lives of the next generation, but above all, I hope he finds a way to appease the demons from his past and find a path to peace, so that he can reap the benefits psychologically as well as financially and artistically.
We all deserve a chance to return to our lives, and none will be more memorable than The Hustler’s. Here’s me hoping that he’s here to stay.