One has a special place in his heart for Charleroi, the other knows all about big city life with his roots in Brussels and Barcelona. They’re the perfect match and a respected part of the new generation of Belgian hip hop. Their videos rack up millions of views, and the attention keeps growing. Last year they released Double Hélice, which they are soon following up with Double Hélice II. Enter: Caballero & JeanJass!
Hi guys! How did being from Brussels & Barcelona influence you as an artist? And where did you get your names from?
Caba: "Growing up in a double culture resulted in me having twice as much influences in a certain way. I was listening to many different artists, music that my parents played for me or stuff that I discovered when I was a kid in nineties Brussels. That has definitely cultivated me. About my name: it’s just my real surname. Real name no gimmicks."
JJ: "Charleroi or Charlouz how I like to call it, is a very particular village. It’s there that I first discovered rap so I was always going to be influenced by the local scene. It’s more like a big village, everybody knows each other, people are warmer than in Brussels. But it carries a painful history: Dutroux, corrupt politicians, poverty... On a cultural level, it’s a vibrant city with a lot of motivated people though. My artist name came from my first name Jassim and my second name Jean. When my friends found out they were quick to come up with JeanJass, which I hated at first but now it looks like I owe them."
Who were the rappers you looked up to before you started?
Caba: "I had plenty when I was younger but if I should name some: Eminem, Notorious B.I.G., DMX, Busta Rhymes. For the French ones, I’d say: Lunatic, Booba, Psy 4 de la Rime, Nubi, Alkpote, Grosash, Sinik…"
JJ: "When listening to French rap it all started with Mc Solaar for me, then Starflam, Assassin, La Rumeur, IAM, Flunt. I liked their lyricism a lot. When turning to US rap I was more of an East Coast kinda guy: Nas, Biggie, Jay-Z, Gangstarr, Big L and the DITC, Bootcamp and my main inspiration Pete Rock - as a producer, that is."
JeanJass, you’re also a producer and made work for the likes of Lomepal. For how long have you been producing? Did rapping come before or after that?
JJ: "I see myself as a rapper first, because I started that way. Let’s say I’m a rapper who also produces. I love both but I think I can improve more in rapping than in beatmaking. I worked more as a sound engineer on Lomepal’s solo projects."
How did the both of you meet?
Caba: "We were invited to a radioshow by Jeanjass’ cousin Azzili Kakma, he was a friend we both had in common."
JJ: "That was in 2011, I believe..."
Did you just decide that it was time to work together or did that come organically?
Caba: "After our first meeting, we started seeing each other more because we were working in the same studio: Blackared. Working in the same space is what pushed us together. Everything began when we recorded our first song: ‘Yessaï’ which became the first joint on Double Hélice."
JJ: "We were telling each other that a song like that deserved a video clip and that maybe we should to work on an EP together. After that it all just took off!"
What’s the creative process like when the two of you are in the studio?
JJ: "We listen to some beats, indulge on some 'mild narcotics' and then hit the studio! That usually does the trick. One of us comes up with a chorus, flow, theme or whatever and the magic just happens. We mostly work during the night."
In your videos you pull the card of not taking yourselves too serious. Videos for Yessai, Sur Mon Nom and On Est Haut all have that funny touch to them. Is this a trademark for Caballero & JeanJass?
Caba: "That’s right. I would say it’s that Belgian side of ours. Humour plays a vital role in our life and we like to reflect that image in our music."
JJ: "It’s clear that we’re having a good time doing this, but I wouldn’t consider us as ‘funny rappers’. We’re just like that in daily life."
You released Double Hélice last year. Double Hélice II has been teased recently. Can you tell us some more about that?
Caba: "Double Hélice II will have more songs, and we unanimously agreed that it’s even better than the first one."
JJ: "We had 2 videos that did great on YouTube and the comments are excellent. We just made the cover for Double Hélice II with our friend Guillaume Kayacan and it should drop on May 12 (pre-order)"
You also seem to have good chemistry with your DJ. Can you tell us something more about the man?
Caba: "DJ Eskondo, the coolest DJ in the world (laughs). In our team everybody knows exactly what they’re doing. In his case, he’s an extremely skilled DJ and that’s exactly why we wanted him on board. A guy who mixes his tracks like we handle our mics. (laughs)"
JJ: "Eskondo is also the DJ of my group Exodarap, I’ve known him since 2009 and we just never sailed apart. He assisted me at the Goldman Tour, my first solo tour in 2015. He’s also Caballero’s DJ when he’s solo, he plays with a lot of artists actually. You should really check out his DJ sets, he’s a specialist. Apart from his skills as a turntableist and DJ, he’s also a producer. He made the beat for “Mes Jambes”.
Flanders faces a problem in uniting their rap scene, with everyone speaking a language (accent) of their own. Have there been issues in your backgrounds coming from Charleroi and Brussels?
Caba: "There are some differences in our accents but the moment we start rapping that fades away. Also, JeanJass has been living in Brussels for a couple of years now, so he learned how to speak our language (laughs)."
JJ: "My mom is Forestoise, (Vorst, Brussels) so I love Brussels. I feel at home in la capitale, but my heart always remains with the city of Charleroi. The people from Brussels were quick to embrace me because they knew I was stronger than them! (laughs)"
Caba: I’m starting to think that the barriers between languages matter less and less.
We saw you had a good reception at All Eyes On Hip Hop in Ghent's Vooruit, and the crowd knew the lyrics par coeur. Do you believe rap francophone can make it big in Flanders?
Caba: "I’m starting to think that the barriers between languages matter less and less. The world unifies itself thanks to the internet, that’s why I think the Dutch speaking side of our country can appreciate our music."
JJ: "I’ve been a part of the scene for ten years now, and I never played in Flanders before that day (!). They called me “Yan Yazzeuh”, which was funny. It was a great experience and I look forward to playing there again."
Your friend and colleague Roméo Elvis said on 'Lefto in Transit' that he hopes the Belgian sound will be known worldwide in a couple of years, and that we certainly have the talent to do that. What future do you guys see for our rap scene on a global scale?
Caba: "We can already see that Belgian rap is breaking through its borders and all the clichés. Let’s hope we can push that further until people in the USA know about us."
JJ: "I’m on the same train of thought as Romeo. I think we have the talent to take our music globally. When I say ‘we’ I don’t just mean Caballero and me, but the whole Belgian rap scene. It’s up to us to keep grinding and continue the adventure."
There has always been great talent coming out of francophone Belgium. Why do you think big media have only recently picked up on that? Is this new generation of artists (Hamza, Damso, Roméo Elvis, Jeanjass & Caballero) so special or do other elements play a role?
Caba: "I have to say we’re a very ambitious, determined and talented generation but we can’t deny the role that social media has played in exposing our work to more people. And that made traditional media pick up on us."
JJ: "Honestly, I don’t know. But it enthuses me! Let’s say it’s just a coming together of different elements: talent, hard work, context, the internet, etc. We’ve been working hard for years, I believe we deserve this attention."
If you have an exclusive for us, now is the time!
Caba: "I feel like jinxing something: we’re going to broadcast a very specific cooking show on YouTube. No doubt some of you out there will love it."
JJ: "A crazy album is in the works and will come out in May We’ll have 3 guest features on Double Hélice 2."
*Pictures by Guillaume Kayacan.