Words by:

New Era’s ‘Now Playing’ campaign meets rising musicians across the UK and Europe, in an homage to its deep roots in streetwear and music, and as a celebration of emerging, exciting talent. Rap artists A1 x J1 are the latest to join the roster alongside Afro-Italian hitmaker Epoque and French rap talent Tedax Max.

The alchemic success of rising British rappers A1 x J1 reflects an increasingly dynamic rap landscape, where two teens from Coventry and Kent can log in and lock on to stardom.

Meeting on the Houseparty app during the first lockdown and bonding over their love of music, Phineas Waweru (A1) and Joshua Somerkun (J1) have been on a stratospheric ride: a breakneck speed trip through the charts with six hit tunes including No.2-hitting debut Latest Trends, features from Aitch to Tion Wayne, viral TikTok moments, arena-busting gigs and a forthcoming European tour.

The 16 and 18-year-olds have the chemistry down: a mix of collabs and co-signs with energetic nods to nostalgia, their fresh takes on classic R&B bangers-gone-by for Don’t Lie with Nemzzz and Night Away (Dance) with Tion Wayne, and a twist with Mabel on her breakout tune for Deal or No Deal. They ride the TikTok wave that uplifted peers like Central Cee, with their freestyles and feel-good energy dominating the For Your Page.

Given that co-signs have been so key to A1 x J1’s career too, New Era brought the duo together with their chosen talent, London-based up-and-coming rapper Cain, to do some studio sessions and work on a track together. Here, we catch up with the pair to discuss their New Era collab, what inspires them creatively and a year of ‘pinch-me’ moments.

© Courtesy of New Era

We know you guys met in the first lockdown on Houseparty. How true to life were your URL and IRL selves, and what were your first impressions of each other?

J1: Well the biggest surprise was the height difference! A1 is obviously still growing [laughs].

A1: That was hilarious when we first met.

J1: We chatted everyday for a long time about music, our inspirations and plans. When we met in real life, the chemistry was there. We never doubted the connection.

What did you connect on, and what new music or artists did you bring to the other?

J1: We have always had similar music interests. With big artists it’s like Dave, Stormzy –

A1: J Hus, for sure.

J1: We’re really into what Kidwild is doing and he’s crazy young.

A1: JB, too. I’m always on my phone and on TikTok and Snapchat, checking what’s next.

© Courtesy of New Era

Streetwear culture is so ingrained in rap and hip-hop worldwide – the New Era cap is a great example of this. What was your relationship to the brand before the collab?

J1: I remember suddenly deciding as a kid I had to start wearing caps. It was the thing. A New Era cap was obviously the one – my first cap was white and had a dark green undervisor. Nice, classic.

A1: New Era is always present in culture. It feels natural to do this collaboration because it’s a brand we wear. We always want to be authentic.

Co-signs have been a key part of your success, which is intrinsic in the history of rap. Tell us about some of your high-profile supporters and how they’ve helped you get to those biggest moments.

J1: Well Stormzy is a great example. I met him in real life recently. It was just crazy. Other people in the game like Tion [Wayne] and Aitch, too. When you’ve listened to them for so long as a fan, and then having them not just acknowledge you but help you out, is crazy. It’s just… whoa, all the time.

A1: We did the track with Aitch [Latest Trends] but he has been one of our biggest supporters for a long time and continues to be. We FaceTime and he checks in, gives us advice. He’s our brother, man.

J1: These guys tell us to just consistently keep our heads up. Don’t let anyone else change you but be open. And be nice.

© Courtesy of New Era

What’s been the big ‘pinch me’ moment of your career so far?

A1: When we performed at Wembley, in front of 80,000 people. We brought out Tion. Mad, man. We’re going on tour with N-Dubz which is crazy. I used to see Dappy on TV and wanna be like that.

You’re now giving back to future talent with this project. Why do you think it’s important for new artists to pay things forward?

J1: [For this project] we got in the studio with Cain. He’s just sick, man. A1 introduced me to him and I was so surprised by how young he is and how much talent he has. Cain reminds me of A1, actually! They have that same strength in melodies.

A1: He’s from my area. He’s sick, just sick. And sick he’s releasing his own track.

J1: It’s always going to be important to bring people up behind you and help people along the same path.

A1: The tables can turn, you know! Keep the gate open. People can easily be on top of you who are coming behind you. You want to keep helping each other out. The industry moves fast.

J1: For us the industry feels like a friendly place, and it’s good to keep that up.

Find out more about the project and shop the collection here