In late 2016, London-based producer, rapper and singer-songwriter Jevon was putting in the work. It was a steady behind-the-scenes grind that typically precedes a rise—one that would later be described as having happened overnight. “I was finishing up on [2017 XL Recordings compilation] NEW GEN in sessions with artists and producers, but afterwards I would always stay,” Jevon tells Apple Music. “Sometimes I’d be in there until stupid hours of the morning making songs. That’s how this all started.” This breakout period (several acclaimed singles and EPs would follow his dazzling lead producer work on NEW GEN) was inadvertently sparked by the passing of his Brazil-born grandfather in 2015.
“He left me some vinyl and I remember taking them all with me to the studio,” Jevon says. “I started making more Brazilian-influenced music. I just knew this is what I need to do. Everyone was waiting on a project from me then but I wasn’t going to rush this.” The influence of these “really rare and authentic” records eventually meant heading straight to the source to create his stunning debut album. “I was hearing the way that they were playing on the records and trying to replicate it on my keys, with plug-ins,” he says. “It was good, but not what I knew it could be. I had to make it right. I realised I needed to go to Brazil. I needed those live players! I was so lucky to play with amazing bands out there and have the chance to work with Marcos Valle—my grandad’s favourite musician. From this album I’m giving all the proceeds to building a studio out there in the favelas. This is really a dedication project.” Below, Jevon talks us through his pledge to family and home, track by track.
“Initially I wrote this set on giving it to [UK soul singer-songwriter] NAO. But I held on to it, and slowly accepted this as the intro. So I took the track—with the original reference [vocal] for NAO—with me to Brazil, and we added percussion. I also included vocals from another song that I recorded with Rincon Sapiênca—he’s talking this mad spiritual s**t.”
“I’m still trying to set the tone here. Touching on my rebellious childhood, my upbringing, and also my heritage. I talk about first landing in Brazil. ‘Sleep is the cousin of death/That’s probably why I’ve got so many relatives.’ That’s still so funny to me. I remember turning up [in Brazil] and I had so many cousins! Even to this day, when there’s a wedding I’m always meeting a brand-new family member.”
“This was the first song that I made when I got to Brazil. The term gringo means foreigner (in English) and that was my nickname out there. My mum tried to teach me the language when I was young but I wasn’t having it. She tried sending me to Portuguese school and I would skip that to play football [Jevon played for Queens Park Rangers for a short period]. I regret that. When I got to Brazil, people would talk to me and I’d understand but when it came to speaking they were shocked. ‘Oh, you’re a gringo!’ So it was just a nickname that stuck with me. It’s about being a foreigner. But really, everyone’s a foreigner, somewhere, at some point down the line. Someone, somewhere has had to move and settle in a new place.”
Girl from Bahia (feat. J Warner)
“Making this with J came so easily and it’s because he’s incredible. He’s honestly one of the very best in the UK. I already had the verses but he came in and hummed out a melody to me. As he was putting it together I was sounding it out. The tune sounded something like ‘save it for the summer’, to me, even though it was this mumbly gibberish! But that’s how I heard it and it clicked. It was one of those lightbulb moments. It’s a really good vibe that we’ve made come together.”
“I was trying to make a song that Pharrell would jump on, basically. I’ve tried my best Pharrell impression, that’s really how this came about. I wanted a song that everyone could sing at their weddings. Those classic songs like [1976 Norman Connors single] ‘You Are My Starship’ was my whole vibe. And for the verses, I was inspired by Biggie on those. I don’t really try and hide where I draw my inspiration from because everything comes from somewhere.”
“Growing up I related a lot to Benny, a character from [2002 film] City of God. Because I have really strong connections with such different types of people, from all over. I grew up in London but then I had to move away to Coventry for a while. And spending some teen years there changed me, too. Benny was being pulled too in different directions, and it was sad. Some of my friends that I grew up with are in jail or dead—that’s also been sad for me to witness. It’s hard, getting away from that life, doing things that you’re not really supposed to be doing. I relate to him so much.”
“This is one of my favourites, it’s a very personal song. Mainly about my dad, and the similarities between us. He’s an amazing man, one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever come across. But there were pressures for a father—especially then—in a society where it was harder for people like us to earn a legitimate living. My dad, being from west [London], was probably looking around at all these people in Notting Hill and Maida Vale thinking, ‘Wow, you’ve got all this money and I’m working so hard, why can’t I get this? I deserve for my family to live like this.’”
“The Gracie Brothers are Brazilian mixed martial arts legends, so I’ve taken that as a concept and based it around my legacy in music. I’m trying to be the UK Gracies! That family goes back in Brazil to like the 1800s but they’re originally from Scotland, which most people don’t know. They’ve left a legacy and gone down in history and I want to promote something similar for the Black community: Build up your family tree and have your name known for something. I’m the head of my tree now and I’m planting my seeds.”
“‘Na Hora’ translated is ‘just in time’ and the whole track references time in some way. Time as a friend but also an enemy. You shouldn’t mess with time, you should appreciate it. For many people that I’ve known it’s been a case of wrong place, wrong time, and they’ve paid the price. The instrumental here is also slightly off-beat as well, but still somehow feels on-beat, too.”
“Brazil is where I learned to kill my ego—it was part of my spiritual journey from spending time there. ‘Na Hora’ is very egotistical and it leads into this one, where I explain how our downfalls usually come from pride and egos. I killed mine but it was a gradual process—slowly understanding what’s truly important. When I had my kids, it all changed. It was humbling to know I was no longer living for myself: I now have little people that look like me and rely on me. It was like an instinct that suddenly turned on in my head. All the stuff that I used to think was important no longer mattered.”
“This is about my grandad and one of my close friends. It began in the studio, when I went to call my friend, before remembering he’d passed away a month earlier. It was a sad one but it was also a happy moment for me. I was still thinking of him. He’s still with me. So I came up with this concept, here, of me being able to call up heaven; play him this riddim, have a chat with him. Like, what would we have a conversation about?”
Fell in Love in Brasil
“This was the first song I made for the album three or four years ago. I haven’t changed a damn thing. I think you can even hear with the vocals, it’s not how I sound on everything else, or how I even sound now. But I wanted it to sound rough, like a demo. I was in two minds about remaking the song but it means so much. I remember, I cried when I made this.”