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Off The Rails In Bangkok: Jam Baxter Talks 'Mansion 38'

Friday, 10 March 2017 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Critics generally tend to split British MCs into three camps: street-oriented grime artists, boom bap-obsessed backpackers and, for want of a better word, the mavericks.

If you were to judge London rapper Jam Baxter on content alone, he’d undoubtedly fall into the latter camp. His tracks are dense and abstract, tackling themes like mortality with a morbid sense of humour that’s entirely his own.

But what makes Baxter truly inimitable is the nonchalance with which he presents this material. His laid back confidence stretches his appeal beyond the small pool of UK hip hop purists. He’s even performed on leading youth broadcaster SBTV, proving that even gruesome insect imagery can play well when delivered with swagger.

At first glance, Baxter’s new album, ‘Mansion 38’, brings a whole new set of mind-bending metaphors to untangle, but much of it draws from genuine experiences. For one thing, Baxter went completely “off the rails” when writing and recording the bulk of the project in Bangkok.

“We’re talking cocktails of pharmaceutical drugs and liquor,” he says. “To be 100% honest, I don’t remember writing a lot of this album. I have precious few memories of the writing process. Artistically, I wouldn’t say I regret any of it. I’m a person who’s historically prone to these kinds of weird phases where I take things in a surreal, fucked up direction. It made me quite trigger happy with how I wrote and, as a result, everything flowed quite well.”

Baxter’s decision to make the album abroad was characteristically spontaneous. Coming off the back of other projects, a sudden slump left him feeling creatively paralysed. The solution was to team up with renowned producer Chemo, who’d moved over to Thailand with his wife.

“Sometimes I’m at a phase where life gets crazy and I move around a lot,” he says. “I get into different routines and habits every few months. I’ll hit one where I’m just stagnating and the environment is not aligned in the right way.

“I never stop writing, but I felt I needed to go somewhere else to make sure my output was good as it can be. From a producer’s standpoint, Chemo knew how to get the best out of me again. I wanted to work closely with him in his studio so I basically just moved. When I got there, he’d just send me stuff from the other side of town while I was in this haze. It’s a bit weird – I’d write 24 or 32 bars in my apartment, pass out, wake up and not remember any of it, then finish a track and send it back.”

The album’s title refers to the tower block he occupied in Bangkok, while the record’s diverse array of sounds reflect the disjointed existence he lived there. But whereas Baxter’s last album, ‘…So We Ate Them Whole’, was a deep and introspective affair, his new tracks are more penetrable. Chemo’s ability to flit between everything from booming trap to vivid EDM proves invaluable, with Baxter often switching up his flow and changing direction at the drop of a hat.

“Chemo would send me a batch of beats and I was, like, ‘How will I rap on this?’ It’s off-key and in different time signatures and shit,” he says. “I’d just find a little pocket in the beat and go from there. Sometimes it’d be the other way and I’d send him stuff and he’d make beats to a brief. We worked day to day – sometimes he’d be flipping jazz samples and other days I’d get something completely different in my inbox. It’s not like the days where I’d smoke bare weed and listen to boom bap 24 hours a day. I kept a real open mind and pushed my style further outwards. Chemo’s approach helped me improve my style of writing, and hopefully I’ve helped him as a producer.”

Baxter is an unquestionably fascinating writer, even when he’s not engulfed in a fog of drink and psychedelics. There’s a duality to his lyricism. Even Brains, his catchy single depicting a brain salesman, is simultaneously an extended metaphor on the futility of life due to social conditioning. In other words, Baxter doesn’t play by everybody else’s rules. His intricate wordplay and lyrical scope suggest the ‘maverick’ tag should be considered a compliment rather than an insult.

“I don’t plan overarching themes to records – they just pan out that way,” he says. “I like certain types of imagery and have a certain way of talking about things and that just makes its way onto the album. When you’re living in London living a hectic lifestyle it’s hard to stop and step back and take a look at things. I like to analyse and work out how I feel about something. Transplanting yourself on the other side of the world gives you a whole lot of perspective. Weirdly, it was actually the best way for me to put my thoughts together.”

'Mansion 38' is out now on High Focus.

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