After some months off the radar, Southampton’s most technical white emcee joins SOuthside to discuss personal influences, the hip hop scene in Southampton, and the interrelation between mental health and music
Jamb - birth name James Lamb - restarted his journey in the music industry early last year with independent label F DAT. Within the first six months he had supported The 4 Owls, played at Bournemouth 7s festival and appeared on Voice FM radio - to list just a few of F DAT’s early ventures. It’s been no easy ride, however, and - as we discuss with Jamb in this interview - “it’s a funny old game”.
The F DAT CEO has struggled with his mental health, meaning his label’s output has been inconsistent. As the 26-year-old gets back into producing content after a practically dormant winter period, Jamb contemplates whether the future for him is in music or not. He comments: “I went from being a ‘yes’ man...and then, from that, I’ve sort of taken a step back a little bit and [I’m] just thinking about where is it really gonna go and, like, what’s the target? Like, what’s the ambition?” Could we be seeing the beginning of the end for F DAT?
Rocking the mic wasn’t Jamb’s first career endeavour. Born in Newcastle, Jamb’s family moved to the South coast when he was still a child. Jamb attended the University of West England (UWE) in Bristol to study a BA in Law, but dropped out before graduating. “Law just wasn’t for me. I was bigging up criminology - it was quite interesting - but it just wasn’t really resonating with me that much and, like, I was too busy on going out and having fun and all that sort of stuff”, he tells.
The European Commission composed a report late last year that ranked 190 European cities on their cultural centricity and creative output, ranking Bristol in 4th place of all UK cities. Bristol also placed 4th amongst “large” cities, those with a population between 250,000 and 500,000, across the entirety of Europe - falling behind Florence, Karlsruhe and Venice. “It’s very cultural”, says Jamb. “Very like, uh, afrocentric and reggae-oriented and [there’s a] good dub scene there and there’s a definitely a good hip hop scene there and [it’s] a big arts capital, where Banksy originated...That’s when I learned a bit about myself in terms of what I actually want to do and where I want to be from an entrepreneurial aspect.”
A friend of Jamb’s took him to see MF Doom supported by The 4 Owls in Bristol for his 19th birthday back in 2012. In 2019, after a mere 3 months with new firm F DAT, Jamb supported The 4 Owls himself at The 1865.
“My love for hip hop definitely developed more as I was [in Bristol] but I didn’t really start, like, ‘rapping’ necessarily until I’d left Bristol - but it for sure influenced me.” The city of Bristol may have had an impact on Jamb’s sound, despite the creative not taking up the mic until some years later. He continues: “Coming from Newcastle as well… I'm a bit of a mismatch of people I guess, like my accent’s a bit messed up. I’m just an amalgamation of all sorts of accents.”
Jamb actually credits his beginnings in emceeing to the open mic scene in Southampton. On how he first picked up a microphone, he explains: “Girl that I was with at the time, she said like ‘you should do open mics’, sort of thing. She was probably just fucking sick of me spitting to her in the bedroom, like...now that I think about it I’m like fuck, yeah.” He says “I was DJing a bit before then and would do certain things, but I never really thought about going on the stage or emceeing until that point really. The open mic scene definitely brought me out my cage.” Jamb talks of the open mic environment in high regard - he attributes the birth of his love for rocking crowds to the reception he earned in open mic events, which boosted his confidence to start recording. “I think it’s just quite convoluted, though”, he adds.
“There’s like so many different jams, so many different musicians, and that’s why Southampton’s a bit of a weird city in that sense. Like, there’s a lot of talent, but...venues are a bit of an issue. There are venues that are good for hip hop and good for gigs like that, but they’re just not supported as much I think...there’s not enough like ‘in between’ venues,” he explains. “The Four Owls did The 1865 which was banging for them, like, it was a sold out thing and that’s like one of the biggest gigs I’ve seen in Southampton in terms of hip hop, and there’s been stuff at The Loft as well but other than, like, the O2 Guildhall which is a ‘big’ venue there’s not many ‘in between’ venues...it’s just Pre-Bars or The Stable.” The Joiners, which NME crowned as Britain’s Best Small Venue in 2015 and was the venue of Jamb’s first gig, still only holds 200 spectators.
That first gig for Jamb came in late 2017 with Wreckless Records, for which Jamb himself was the de facto leader. Nearly 30 months later, Jamb questions whether the ups-and-downs of an independent musician’s lifestyle are worth it: “It’s so easy to get caught up in not only the positives and the pros that you get, but also it’s so easy to get caught up in the hate that you get. Out of 9 comments and there’s 1 bad one, you’ll focus on the bad one.
“You want everyone to like you I guess, and that’s not going to be the case...If everybody was the same there wouldn't be individuals, and there wouldn’t be the vast amount of artistic talent that there is around. And that’s just facts, man.”
F DAT - an acronym, standing for Frequently Distant, Always Together - has a new EP in the pipeline, unofficially titled “Progress”. On content for the tape, Jamb tells that “It’s a balance between what makes you happy and what makes you money, and that’s why I’m at a bit of a crossroads at the moment.” He elaborates: “the mixtape has been restarted and rescheduled, like, a thousand times, so I’m just gonna say ‘in the near future’. Frequently Distant, Always Postponed. So yeah man it’ll come about at some point, but it’s when I’m happy with it...I’m a bit of a perfectionist with my music.”
In 2018, Jamb was reunited with a long-lost sibling by Brighton-based television production company, Electric Ray TV. On the experience, Jamb recounts: “That whole experience was like a weird experience in itself, cause it was like bringing up lost feelings about my dad and stuff who killed himself when I was young. That’s the thing that brought us together, so that was bringing up feelings about suicide and shit that I thought I could put to bed so that whole situation was just like an anxiety attack. Not just being on that camera but, like, just having to think about the fucking shit I was going through at the time. That was just a crazy situation.”
Jamb outlines: “Mental health’s a weird one because there’s periods where I’ll be in a good place and there’s periods where I’ll be in a bad place, and I’m trying to understand what gets me into that bad place and what gets me out of it as well, and what helps me cope through the bad times. I’m kind of coming out of that bad period at the moment, it’s sort of a weird one because you think you’re out of it and then you start getting dragged into the hole again.”
Much to the idea that ‘creativity stems from depression’, a 2011 health.com article revealed the top 10 professions most likely to suffer from depression, ranking those who work in the arts and music as the fifth most likely group to suffer. An article published last year from The Independent explains that some of the biggest names in music are troubled with their emotional well-being, including the likes of Stormzy.
“I think mental health is just a fuckery, bro...It’s something that’s talked about a lot, it’s something that I’ve used before. I’ve used my mental health, not in my lyrics, but when I’ve been up on stage to then talk about it to other people when I’m up there. I’ve been like ‘I’ve been in this bad place’ and whatever, and people are like ‘yeah, woo’ so it feels good that other people can relate to that, but that’s where I’m trying to work on my lyrics at the moment - to try and get other people to relate to that more...
“...The most resilient people are the ones that pick themselves up when they’ve been in that bad place, and I’ve definitely done that before, so this person speaking now could be completely different in six months’ time.”
Specifically relating the mental health topic to the independent musician’s lifestyle, Jamb shares his experience, telling: “...you can get caught up in your cloud of like ‘ah I’m great cause I’m playing this show or playing this festival or playing this thing’, so when you’re not getting those you can be like ‘ah what the fuck’s going on now’, like, ‘what’s happened in this situation’, so… that’s kind of where I’m at at the moment with mental health.”
He says: “[I’m] trying to find out who the fuck I actually am rather than paying homage to other influences and other people on other things that I think are important to me, so I’m trying to be more real to myself in a sense and then just go from there. Still be working with people with F DAT, we still got goals, we still got ideas, we still got things that we wanna build, but just trying to work out what that’s gonna be, where that’s gonna be, and how we’re gonna facilitate that really.”
Whether F DAT falls, it’s hard to see it being Jamb’s last music venture. And, if it were, it’s hard to imagine what else Jamb might do. Through it all, the creative has found a way to make it happen in the music business. With F DAT’s newest track Salt having been released on Spotify earlier this week, along with a new EP on the way, one can only hope the quiet period was a mere bump along the artistic road for Jamb & F DAT.
When offered to give advice to any new emcee looking to go out there and make their mark, Jamb answers: “If I hadn’t done the open mics I wouldn’t have done what I’ve done so far sort of thing, so I pay homage to that for sure. I say just be persistent, network with people, be naive, make mistakes, learn from it. Don’t listen to anyone that’s trying to bring you down at all ‘cause they’re not in a position to bring people down when they’re in a hole themselves, and that’s just the nature of the game. Be prepared to be resilient and be prepared to have to deal with adversity, and just have fun with it. The best times have been when I’ve just gotten off stage after doing a sick show, and then just chilling with the homies afterwards and just thinking about it. That’s just the best times, bro, it’s fucking great but you just gotta deal with all that bullshittery. It’s a funny old game
“There’s so many things to do with your flow and mix and match it and it doesn’t have to be on time, like, just be you, be creative, and just fucking have fun init. The best times are when I’m just naive and just flowing and just having fun, and that’s it bro.”
“F DAT, baby!”