Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Josh Osho: Giant Steps

Josh Osho
Josh Osho Josh Osho josh Osho

Having already been dubbed 'a homegrown John Legend or a grittier Seal' and 'a man with an old head on young shoulders,' 20-year-old Lambeth, South London-raised singer/songwriter Josh Osho this month releases his critically-acclaimed debut album "_L.i.f.e" alongside its new offshoot single - the grittily-anthemic and soulfully melodic "Redemption Days," which boasts a rugged US guest-rap from seasoned Wu Tang Clan rhymesmith Ghostface Killah.

Indeed, prestigiously executive-produced by Wu Tang main-man RZA, "_L.i.f.e" - accurately described as “a collection of superbly crafted songs with spiritual integrity and undeniable commercial appeal, underpinned by one of the finest pop/soul voices to come out of the UK in years” - unquestionably makes for one of the most musically-consistent and soulfully-eclectic British debuts of the year. As elements of soul, hip hop, folk, pop and blues all rear their respective heads through a collection of self-penned songs.

Highlights range from the heartfelt inner-city R&B of "Giants" (featuring rising US hip hop star Childish Gambino) and acoustic guitar-strumming of the gentler "Footsteps," to the lightly-tapping percussion of the subtly melancholy "Highlight Of My Day" and the hypnotic, blues-guitar-driven groove and life-lessons of the bittersweet ‘Ebenezer Hotel’.

Born in South London to a half-Northern-Irish/half-Nigerian mother and a Nigerian boxer-cum-ska-musician father, the 20-year-old Josh Osho of today has arguably already had the life experiences of a person twice his age. Originally encouraged by his parents to question and be a socially-conscious thinker, by the age of 16 - following a highly rebellious couple of years - he had nevertheless been kicked out of home by his mother and was sleeping on the streets. A scenario which, one year later, directly led to him being put-up by the authorities in notorious Brixton half-way house The Ebenezer Hotel, from which he then began dealing drugs to get by. Nevertheless, with his new criminal lifestyle being a long way away from the Christian principles instilled into him by his mother and the work ethic inspired in him by his father, after being badly beaten-up one night a by-now-17-year-old Osho finally realised a change had to come.

All of which in turn would eventually lead to Josh leaving The Ebenezer Hotel and moving into a housing association property. Following which, after finally deciding to pursue his fist love - music - more seriously, an artistically-productive meeting with producers Matt Prime and Tim Woodcook would directly led to him recording his aforementioned debut album and ultimately, in turn, a meeting with prominent Island Records A&R bod Darcus Beese (Amy Winehouse/Jessie J), who would sign him to his current record-deal literally just days later.

… Cue an instantly-friendly and talkative Mr. Osho (whose musical admirers range from Kanye West to James Morrison and Wretch 32) on the line to ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis to discuss his impressive new debut LP and the often-harsh, challenging life experiences that inspired it.

PETE: What was the thinking behind you intriguingly titling your new debut album "_L.i.f.e"?

JOSH: “When I was writing the album there was no pre-conceived ideas and no pre-conceived TITLE. I was just literally going to the studio and spilling my GUTS out. But then, with the songs pretty much reflecting my life up to the point, what I was starting to slowly realise was how much actual GROWTH there’d been through the album process itself and how much I’d LEARNT from it. You know, as much as the last five years have been pretty crazy and there have been a lot of ups and downs, the one thing that’s been consistent is CHANGE. So because of that, I just thought it was pretty apt to title the album "_L.i.f.e" as a shortened form of 'Learning Is For Ever.' I basically wanted to get across that, no matter what the experience is you’re going through, there’s always capacity for change, there’s always capacity for learning, there’s always capacity for growth, and there’s always capacity for forward MOVEMENT - however uncomfortable or negative the situation may seem on the surface.”

PETE: So, with the album incorporating elements of soul, hip hop, folk, pop and blues, what did you want to achieve musically?

JOSH: “I literally remember sitting down at the beginning with the two producers who helped me make the record - Matt Prime and Tim Woodcock - and saying ‘By the end of this process I want to have an album that I’m not only proud of but that I feel really CONNECTED to’. You know, I just wanted to go in the studio and follow my HEART. Which to me is the reason why I think we ended up with such an eclectic SOUND. Because, instead of going in with any precise musical angle, it was all about just going with the vibe on the DAY. Like one day I’d go in and we’d start a melody or maybe a lyric idea or a guitar lick, and then we’d just build everything around THAT. And then what to me actually ties everything together and makes it all connect is simply the fact that, though it was never about one particular kind of sound, we did actually go through the same PROCESS for each song. Which was all about just doing it straight from the heart and making it totally honest.”

PETE: By the age of 17 you were living in the infamous Brixton half-way house The Ebenezer Hotel, where you got into drug-dealing and shoplifting. How do you feel that period has now impacted on you as a person and artist?

JOSH: “I think it primarily taught me to understand that, no matter how good or bad things can be, anything can CHANGE. Because like I say, up until my mid-teens, I’d had like a pretty cool upbringing. I’d had a good relationship with my dad, a good relationship with my mum… But then in a moment, as I say, everything completely CHANGED! And while from there things at first kinda just went from bad to worse, once it got to like two years later a completely OPPOSITE change occurred where things started to get more POSITIVE. So in that way it was like the whole experience kinda just took me to the complete extremes of how I existed EMOTIONALLY... So yeah, as both a person and an artist I’d say the whole thing has probably made me a helluva lot more three-dimensional in the way I think AND in the way I interact with my environment.”

PETE: So how did things progress from the Ebenezer Hotel scenario to you being signed at 18 to your current deal with Island Records?

JOSH: “Well, when things started to get a little bit better with my mum and dad, I moved out of The Ebenezer Hotel into like a housing association property so I could just get back on my feet a little bit. You know, I basically needed to kind of just re-focus and move away from the environment I was in at the time. But then, because through it all I’d held onto my guitar, at that point I began to become more serious about writing and singing. So around that time I started meeting different writers and producers and networking. Which is when I met the guys I now call my mentors, Matt Prime and Tim Woodcock. So from that we started work on my album and, once it got to a point where we could start talking to publishers, one of the publishers we spoke to at a company called Stage 3 passed my album over to Darcus Beese at Island... And from there everything happened very QUICKLY! Darcus heard the record on Wednesday, on Thursday he met my management, on Friday he met me... And then the following Monday I woke up to a call from my management telling me he’d offered me a DEAL! Which is why I’m here TODAY!”

Single "Redemption Days Ft. Ghostface Killah" and album "_L.i.f.e" are both out now and released through the Island Records Group


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