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  • Writer's pictureShenead Poroosotum

10 Things We Love About: Jianbo

Since unveiling his undeniably strong debut EP Yellow Peril in March this year, it's safe to say that Chinese-Vietnamese-British rapper Jianbo has been making waves within the underground rap community. From providing remarkable tracks such as 'Mongkok Madness', which featured well tuned and refined lyricism and displaying his solid love for 90s Hong Kong cinema through its visuals, Jianbo also makes it known that he wants to be a representative of the East-Asian rap community as that was something he wasn't able to have himself whilst growing up. By collaborating with the multifaceted Henry Wu A.K.A Kamaal Williams both musically and visually, Jianbo has gone as far to rack up hundreds-of-thousands of streams for his intricate wordplay and love for classic grime, hip-hop and jazz cuts.

We were able to catch up with Jianbo to see how he's been since the release of Yellow Peril and where he might be venturing next.

We love how you’re putting down a unique stamp within the UK rap industry.

How did you decide on Jianbo as your name?

Jianbo is a Chinese name. And so, the story of my namesake per se, is actually to do with my mother's surname which is ‘Lam’, and it’s a really great ancient Chinese story. ‘Lam’ means ‘forest’ and there was an evil tyrant emperor and he had three advisors and they tried to advise him to not be such a horrible guy. He decided to kill the first guy and his family, the second guy and his family and the third guy managed to tell his wife to run into the forest because she was pregnant. So, she ran into the first and had a son called Jian Lam. Once he grew up, the emperor became overthrown and the name 'Lam' became a royal name, that’s why a lot of people have that surname in China and Hong Kong today. So, Jian was the first ever original Lam, so that was my name... honouring my spiritual ancestors.

We love that you’re enjoying creating and sharing music.

What’s one thing you love about what you do?

I love the process. I love the fact that because I'm an independent artist, I can just come up with crazy ideas with my friends and sit around the table and then we can meet up again and actually do the idea. I feel like I have creative freedom of my own life.

We love that you’re tapped into film culture, especially with the visuals for ‘Mongkok Madness’ and their accompanying movie-style posters.

How did your passion for filmmaking start?

I grew up watching 90s Hong Kong cinema. I think if we're talking about representation, often the only representation I could get was by films from the motherland, you know? You never see anyone else looking like me in film, so I guess I always romanticised films from that part of the world. With filmmaking in general, I always wanted to be a scriptwriter when I was a kid and an actor as well, two things that I never quite got into pursuing. And when I decided do music as I currently do it, and really hold my culture at the forefront of what I'm doing as well, it just made a lot of sense for me to try and draw from aesthetic references in a lot of ways that help me feel cool about my culture. You have to find things that make you feel cool about your culture. In many ways, I've always loved films and acting and being a bit dramatic. But in the last few years I've kind of realised specifically want to reference.

We love that you’re reclaiming and playfully delving into the stereotype that is associated with the East-Asian community.

How important is it to reflect your culture and heritage within your music?

It's really important. A lot of people often think that it's important, and I agree, but it's important for other Asian people in the community to see it as well. But I'll be completely honest with you, I was born in London and grew up in London. My whole life, to some extent I was half running from my heritage. When I went to Hong Kong, I often didn’t feel like I was Chinese enough or go to Vietnam, I didn’t feel like I was Vietnamese enough, especially being half. I’ve been writing rap tunes since I was a teenager, but I never quite figured out my voice because I could never figure out something that was honest to who I was. This is me making music from this perspective and it’s a story of self-love and self-acceptance. It's helped me with my own personal identity and understanding who I am and feeling more than just accepted. Honestly speaking, I'm gassed to say that I feel like I'm celebrated to some extent by people in certain communities which is something I never used to feel. On the flipside that, I’m equally gassed when I get people younger than me, especially young Asian kids telling me how much they like my music and how it inspires them. And at some point in time, being someone that was young into rap, I don't think I had any heroes like that looked like me. All my heroes would generally always Caribbean or African inside the rap scene. So, that's an honour and a privilege.

We love the combination of rap and grime that you have in your musical DNA.

How has radio influenced how you make music?

Radio in general influenced me massively. My mum’s the youngest of 10 and I’m the youngest of three so I grew up with only older cousins who were significantly older than me. And they put me onto pirate radio like Rinse FM and all these little radio cuts. So, I always had a deep appreciation for UK club music that was played on pirate radio particularly. And that stayed with me, even till now. I’d still say those are big inspirations musically. More recently, I’ve been getting love on commercial radio stations which has been mind-blowing and it’s a way for your Asian mother to see that things are progressing because she doesn’t understand about it, but she understands BBC Radio 1. So, it’s been a journey and radio is just such a big part of my life.

We love that you’re well connected with other likeminded musicians in the industry such as featuring on the cover art for Haich Ber Na’s ‘St. Leville’.

Do the tracks on your Spotify playlist ‘Jianbo’s Late Night FM’ have any sort of significance to you whether it be through that particular artist or track?

It's a mixture of the two to be honest. I definitely love to shout out my friends because I feel like some of my friends make some brilliant music. I love Haich’s music, huge respect to him. I actually I booked him for a show about six years ago, but he’s coming up, so I've always been a big fan. With the playlist, I like to showcase a bit of what I listen to and some off cuts that I feel like you might not expect from me. But I like to support my friends and their work, so I just try to give people a slice of my life.

We love that you’re not afraid to speak your mind.

What did you want us to make with the title ‘Yellow Peril’ for your debut EP?

The point of it is to make you feel uncomfortable. Because the whole thing is uncomfortable for everyone involved. And the premise of ‘yellow peril’ was this idea that people, particularly men from East Asia, were going to come to the West and that you should be afraid of us because we're going to take over and destroy things. And I guess for me it was like, ‘yeah, you know what? You guys should be scared cause I'm coming for all of you!’ Like in a funny kind of way, obviously. But you know, I read Malcolm X’s biography not that long ago for the first time and it really impacted me because he talks a lot about reclaiming language. I guess in some ways I just wanted to come out and be shocking and have a hint of controversy in this whole thing. I know that to some extent, the way I look is not necessarily typical for rap music and instead of trying to, as I’ve done my whole life, shy away from it, I’m being the complete opposite and being brazen about it. Especially in the context of a post-COVID environment, which was probably the most challenging environment for someone of this ethnicity to have gone through. It was the most racist period of my entire life. It was an extreme reaction to an extreme situation.

We love that you’ve excelled within your music journey so rapidly.

What was your initial reaction to seeing your music blow up?

It still blows my mind to be honest. I think at some stage I was doing this pretty much just for myself and I was the sort of person who's just made songs in my bedroom at 3AM in my boxer shorts. I was never really thinking of playing these tunes and being on radio. I can’t even believe that people actually listen to my songs. That sounds like a stupid thing to say but yeah, it’s a crazy process. I’ll tell you when it hit me and when it felt real. I went to this Asian wholesalers where Asian families go to buy products for their Chinese takeaways called Wing Yip in Croydon, and I was taking some photos because the building looked cool. This auntie in an SUV with her children pulled up and she rolled down the window and she was playing ‘Mongkok Madness’. She was probably like 45 or 50-years-old or something and she said “Wow, popstar!” but in Cantonese. I was just like, 'Oh my God! The aunties are hearing me, this is going somewhere.' I’m still humbled and amazed at the process of things. And I’m trying not to get blinded about what people are saying and rather I’m just focused on taking every step. The project isn’t finished and the best for me is definitely yet to come, I know that inside.

We love that you’re working with other Asian creators in the scene.

How did your connection with Henry Wu/Kamaal Williams form?

This is actually a funny story. So, my mum sells dumplings and I’m always promoting my mum’s dumpling business on Instagram. She does frozen dumplings and delivers them herself but sometimes she gets me to act like a store for her because we don’t live in the same house. So, sometimes people come to my house, and I sell them through my bedroom window. Like maybe 20 bags of dumplings, I’m not even thinking much about it because my mum is just telling me to do it. Anyway, Kamaal/Henry Wu came by maybe three or four times, and I didn’t know who he was. I used to be like, “There’s your dumplings for ya!” One time I was in my room making music and my friend was like, ‘that’s Kamaal Williams,’ and I was like, ‘really?’ So, when I gave him his dumplings I said “Hey, I like your music by the way, I’ve been listening for a while.” And he was like, “Swear? What are you guys doing right now?” And I said, “Making some music.” and he said, “Do you have a keyboard? I’ll come in right now.” Then I showed him the music video for ‘Chinatown Alley’, as it hadn’t come out yet, and he was like, “Wow!”. Then we went to Din Tai Fung which is a Taiwanese dim sum restaurant. He was all like “I want to be your manager…” and I was like, “Dude, who’s your manager? You can’t be my manager if you don’t have a manager!” And eventually we just became friends. We hung out and that’s how ‘Mongkok Madness’ got made.

We love that ‘Yellow Peril’ did so well and that you’ve still got momentum.

What’s next for Jianbo?

I've got a new music video coming out which is the sequel to ‘Chinatown Alley’ as it’s going to be a trilogy. So, a three-part series with quite a linear story inspired by anime with a simple narrative. In ‘Chinatown Alley’ at the start, I watch my sister get murdered and by part three I have my vengeance. We’re trying to make it funny so it’s going to be more slapstick. I’ve got some collaborations coming but I’m not going to speak on those. There’s a lot more to come from me within the next few months and next year especially. So, yeah, we’re keeping busy.

Listen to Jianbo's Yellow Peril EP here!


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