As he releases his debut mixtape No Retreat, No Surrender, the Essie Gang producer makes our latest mix and gets introspective about his inspirations
Jordan Christie, known as J Rick, is part of the south east London collective Essie Gang, a group of artists and friends – “the boys,” as Christie puts it over the phone – that also includes rappers Octavian and Michael Phantom, and videographer Armin Druzanovic. J Rick plays the role of producer and live DJ for Octavian, and has worked alongside the rapper on hits like “Party Here”, “Hands”, and “Lightning”, which ebb and flow with rippling melodies and crystalline synths; the two met at the BRIT School, whose alumni includes Amy Whinehouse, King Krule, and Adele, and moved in together shortly afterwards. “All the mandem would roll through,” J Rick says of the household that would go on to spawn Essie Gang, stressing that it was never their intention to form a rap collective – they were, first and foremost, just a group of friends.
Essie Gang’s rap stars have had a meteoric rise over the past few years, but during that time, J Rick has been quietly working on a mixtape of his own. No Retreat, No Surrender, released last Friday (September 27), is the product of two years’ hard work. Its title means a great deal to J Rick: ‘no retreat, no surrender’ was the mantra of his uncle, the late, legendary boxer Errol Christie. Christie’s post-boxing career was just as notable as his achievements in the ring: he was a champion for black activism, and his 2010 biography, No Place To Hide, was a spotlight on racism in boxing as well as 1970s and 80s Britain. Christie’s face appears on the cover of No Retreat, No Surrender, and audio clips from his life and career are interspersed throughout the mixtape.
No Retreat, No Surrender has allowed J Rick to step out into his own, and its distinctive, genre-defying sound is a testament to his versatility. From the uplifting, feel-good “Change” all the way to the dark yet ethereal sounding “Close”, it’s a debut that’s pieced together with meticulous care and offers an exciting new perspective on the sounds he’s previously showcased. Following the mixtape’s release, J Rick put together our latest Dazed Mix, which includes tracks by DaBaby, Young Thug, and Skepta, and we spoke to him about his creative process, his family life, and the problem with artists who sound like a ‘factory preset’.
I’ve been bumping your Dazed Mix all week! Who are some of your favourite artists at the minute?
J Rick: I listen to bare music bro, I don’t really listen to one type of music. Young Thug, obviously, I’ve been banging the Young Thug ting recently. Post Malone, his new album is hard still. I like Baby Keem as well, Rosalía. Obviously Michael Phantom, the gang and that.
You and Octavian have made plenty of music over the years. When did you first feel as if you could make a career out of music?
J Rick: I’ve always known that!
You’ve got that self belief in yourself! Do you believe in self-actualisation, where you can put yourself somewhere if you picture it hard enough?
J Rick: Nah. Me personally, I think that’s a load of bullshit. That’s what very fortunate people tell themselves, rather than admitting they got lucky.
How do you think your creative process has changed since you first started out?
J Rick: It’s always changing man, times are always changing. It depends what mood you’re in, where you’re at in your life, where you’re making the music – if you’re making the music at home, it’s obviously gonna be different to in the studio. Sometimes you feel like shit, so you’ll be making slow music, you get me? If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again, that’s not really a creative process, (that’s) like a factory preset sort of ting.
What do you mean by that?
J Rick: The UK scene, that’s what it encourages people to do, do you know what I’m saying? A lot of rappers – and that’s why I only work with certain people – have just heard another rapper do something, and thought, “Oh, I could probably do that,” ripped it off, changed a little thing, and next you know, he sounds exactly like the other guy. And you’d be surprised, bro, some of the people who get these top tens, number ones, they’ll just be making the same songs over and over again.
You only like working with certain artists, but on this mixtape, there are a lot of tracks that don’t have guest features and are made just for you. Why do you think that’s important?
J Rick: When I make music just for me, I can do whatever I want. There’s no rules as to what I’m trying to make, there’s no guidelines, I can just do whatever feels right – and what feels right is obviously gonna feel different at different times.
“In our industry, there’s a lot of falsehood. I feel like there’s a lot of people who like to give off as if they’ve been through it, but they’re full of it” – J Rick
There’s clearly a level of quality that you uphold for the people you work with.
J Rick: Yeah, 100 per cent. I fuck with certy people, you know what I’m saying? I’m an artist as well as a producer. When I go into a session with another artist, a lot of artists, especially in London, would go into that session to get played beats – they’d pick their beat, and then just record on the beat.
Whereas you prefer to go to the studio to work with an artist and create something together from scratch?
J Rick: That’s what I always rated about producing. Ryan Leslie, Dr Dre, Kanye West – they’d have a video of them making the beat actually in the studio. Music is all about moments. It’s not a moment when you go to the studio, play through all the beats you’ve ever made in all your life, and hope that one bangs. I don’t want to be too harsh, but I think it’s kinda shameful. That’s how you create. As a producer, if you’re not producing music with the artist, it shows a lack of confidence. There’s no point in me travelling to a studio when I can just send you beats from home.
“No retreat, no surrender” was actually the mantra of your uncle, Errol Christie. What does this mean to you?
J Rick: Where my family is from, it wasn’t no hunky dory shit. Lots of people come from situations and locations where shit’s kinda easier for them. My family has faced a lot of racism, and a lot of prejudice, just for being where they’re from. When my uncle died, that mantra, it took on a whole different meaning, bro. When you see someone that you always see as strong – physically strong – and see him fucking dying… yeah, it’s wild bro, it’s fucking crazy. In my culture, we have open casket funerals, so when someone dies, they have the body in the front room of their house. Everyone goes to their house, and the coffin is open. Everyone that I know who’s died, I’ve seen their body.
I feel like in London, in our industry, there’s a lot of falsehood. I feel like there’s a lot of people who like to give off as if they’ve been through it, but they’re full of it, man. Certain characters and personalities, they’re not even from the ends, they’re not from any sort of rough background, but that’s the character they play in their media platform, and they use that to make more money, (even) though they’re already from a well-off place. There are people who are actually from places where there’s not a lot of opportunities, and when they’re trying to make opportunities for themselves, shit’s made hard for them.
Sonically, you’re not really confined by any genre. What’s most appealing to you about making tracks that are so different?
J Rick: I just find it so boring making the same music, bro. That’s all it is. It’s not fun making music that’s easy to do. If you’re making one sort of sound, it shows. At the grassroots level that I’m at, I want to make sure I can make the most certy music I can make before people start jumping on it, so that I can be that guy who has been doing the certy shit from before.
Are you happy with the final product?
J Rick: 100 per cent, man. Sometimes I listen to it back and I’m like, “How the fuck did I make this?” I’ve been working on this (mixtape) since before even “Party Here”. I wrote a whole tracklist, and then ended up changing the concept of it, so track by track I ended up replacing the entire album.
Is there anything you’ve got planned for the future?
J Rick: We’ve just started working on Octavian’s new album, and then as soon as we’re done with that, I’m gonna start working on a second mixtape.
J Rick’s debut mixtape, No Retreat, No Surrender is out September 27