If you’ve clicked this review you probably already know a little about Just B. The Ashington based rapped is widely considered to be one of the best in the North East at what he does. He’s gained a reputation for his razor-sharp flows and brutally honest lyricism that often depicts the worst parts of life in England’s poorest region.
Many would label Just B simply ‘the best grime emcee in the region’. A great title to have, but when everyone comes to expect the same thing of you how do you keep it interesting? You reject that title. You show them you don’t fit into that neatly carved out box. That’s exactly what B has done on this EP.
Granted, he hasn’t dyed his hair black and started making thrash metal. ‘Valley Of The Ash Trees’ still sounds like classic Just B material, just with a little something extra. The five-track project has been entirely produced by the prolific $.O.N.N.Y, featuring four brand new cuts and B’s JDZ Media ‘Spitfire’ freestyle. The pair seem to bring the best out in each other, both wanting to push the boat out creatively. On this EP they’ve melded grime, trap and emo all together in a way that literally no one else could.
“Every time that I spit it’s a spectacle” – Just-B, ‘BobbyHardBarz’
Opener “Villas Returns” sees B adopt a slightly trap-influenced flow mirroring $.O.N.N.Y’s hi-hat sprinkled beat. An influence that’s apparent throughout the project. There’s even the odd ‘Ayy’ ad-lib thrown in for good measure. However, when I say ‘slightly’, I do mean ‘slightly’, $.O.N.N.Y hasn’t turned B into Lil Pump (thank Christ). It’s still that classic B flow that makes him the best in the region. I would say that this is Just B stepping out of his comfort zone, but to be honest, I think he’s comfortable on any vibe. Vitally, he’s good enough to pull it off too.
“No Hassle” brings us to the first of two expertly chosen features on the project. A dream realised for NE-O of NE Dons, collabing with an artist that paved the way for him in terms of Geordies doing grime. NE-O steps up to the plate on this one, proving himself beside, in his words, “the best”. A similar vibe to the opener, “No Hassle” has single material written all over it.
The next track arguably reveals the most surprising side to Just-B’s musical arsenal yet. KV$HNOODLE really sets the tone for this deeply emotive cut, pouring his heart into a beautifully infectious hook on “No Love Left”. So lyrically potent, B raps openly about anxiety, suicide, depression, and drug abuse. This is where the ’emo’ influence I mentioned earlier comes into play. Despite B still flowing with pace and aggression, the beat, the feature and the subject matter all capture that ever-popular emo-trap style. A track that might surprise some, but if you’ve ever spoken to Just B about music it’s quickly apparent that his taste goes much further than grime. He’s also massively into melancholic music new and old, particularly The Smiths and Lil Peep (he has a Peep tattoo on his arm). You can see those sides of B’s influences come through on this project, more so than ever before.
“Who am I trying to be? I can’t be myself with this anxiety” – Just B, ‘No Love Left’
Side note, picking NE-O and KV$HNOODLE as the only features may be motivated by more than B wanting to put on his favourite up and comers. To me, both artists reflect a different side to B’s musical influences. NE-O the straight-up grime and bars side of B and KV$H the darker emotional side that often appears in B’s deeper tracks. A coincidence or a deliberate creative choice – what do you reckon?
“Never forget me roots, hear it every time I step in the booth” – Just-B, ‘BobbyHardBarz’
“BobbyHardBarz” finishes things off with a bang! Full throttle fire, absolutely no holding back, B shows just how hard he can go. This is the kind of track that makes you want to just smash your screen, trash your room, neck 10 pints, quit your job – IT IS THAT HARD. “Fuck being pigeon-holed!” B cries, a lyric that sums up this project in a nutshell. Utterly jaw-dropping.
Fuck being pigeon-holed! ‘Valley Of The Ash Trees’ proves that Just B is more than ‘the North East’s top grime emcee’. He’s one of the best all-round rappers in the country.