Words by:
Photography: Jessie Crankson
Stylist: Zachariah De Melo
Styling Assistant: K28 & Astride

In the dying days of 2023, a couple of nights before the Travs Presents: End of Year Party, London rapper Jawnino ordered a takeaway. “Ever heard of…” he drops the name of a UK fast food chain. “Never go there.” Soon after eating the aforementioned takeout he began to feel queasy, but – food poisoning be damned – soldiered on to make the free event anyway. The gathering represented a coming together of the capital’s brightest underground MCs, and Jawnino wasn’t about to miss it. “It was family settings – I had to be there.”

Watching the set back now, you’d never know Jawnino, who keeps his identity firmly under wraps, was feeling under par. Cyphering to a packed crowd alongside friends and grime up-and-comers Babydoom, Kibo, M.I.C., Renz and Duppy, it’s Jawnino’s turn that intensifies the energy to boiling point. A brief, Flu Game-reminiscent performance saw him, at one point, spit over a flip of the Sonic the Hedgehog theme, the crowd echoing the “run a man down with the kicks, run a man down in the whip” line right back at him.

JAWNINO wears: Cap and Jacket: Aug, Cardigan: Zucca, Coat: Comme Des Garçons Homme Plus, Jeans: Junya Watanbe, Boots: Stylist’s own

Coming up in a new generation of young London MCs, Jawnino has made himself known in the underground UK rap circuit for his brawny, coolly delivered freestyles. Like many of his peers, including M Huncho and CASISDEAD, Jawnino has opted for anonymity, his face usually obfuscated by digital manipulation. Jawnino’s tracks, however, are wholly recognisable, effortlessly bringing together bass-driven grime, jungle, gauzy cloud rap and dream-pop, while his flow is enticingly nonchalant, delivered as naturally as his calm, raspy speaking voice.

Growing up in the London district of Wandsworth, Jawnino has always been a quiet observer. “I’ve just never really been a shouting person,” he laughs, dressed in an all-black tracksuit with shades on. The rapper’s school days were defined by a wide-eyed love for grime, which coloured many of his interactions with his classmates. “We had this tutor that no one liked in school,” he says, windowed grills gleaming. “When he left the room one time, we played Next Hype by Tempa T through the projectors. I got detention for a week or something!”

“If you do something weird, it’s gonna take a little while for people to catch on”

Between 2010 and 2014, however, one grime crew stood above all others in his estimations: “Boy Better Know. Anything to do with BBK.” Little did he know, he’d end up meeting the trailblazing collective’s co-founder Skepta a few years later, in 2016. “He announced that he was doing a party in Hackney with JME and Stormzy, and my friend and I decided to go,” he says, recalling the memory with a smile. “We spoke to him about grime for a while. I can’t remember what he said but it was spiritual.”


JAWNINO wears: Blindfold and Trousers: Aug, Shirt: Raf Simons, T-Shirt: Comme Des Garçon Homme Plus

While this encounter surely helped feed his rap ambitions, it was another meeting a year earlier, with JP NTN, a.k.a. Babydoom, that set in motion a sequence of events that led to Jawnino’s first proper released material: a collaboration with JP for 2019’s Ghost in a Shell. “I first saw JP rapping outside a McDonald’s in Croydon,” he remembers. “He started freestyling over the Rhythm ‘N’ Gash beat, and I said, ‘Yo, this guy is fucked!’” The pair decided to take on the London map, freestyling for whoever would listen, before JP declared his ambition to make their ideas more concrete. “He said, ‘Let’s make a group out of this’ and we started making actual moves,” Jawnino says. “Then he took me to this guy’s house in Croydon who had this dusty computer that had Cubase on it.” Armed with a hunger to create, they would get together for regular recording sessions. JP brought along Croydon rapper Essem (also known as S’M NTN), spawning the NTN collective. As Jawnino and JP began to see modest but heartening success on SoundCloud, with tracks such as Ghost in a Shell, it caused him to step back and re-evaluate how he viewed his craft. “I started to take [music] more seriously,” he remembers. “Once I did, it became more fun at the same time.”

Later that year, Jawnino released his 2019 breakthrough solo single, It’s Cold Out; a hazy grime and synthwave-soundtracked lap through his state of mind at the time. On the track, his impulsive writing style catches him in a cycle of learning and “soul searching”, set to a similarly topsy-turvy synthline and undulating bassline: “1-0 win, top bins, top draw/ It’s not a beautiful game anymore.” Of his lyrical practice, he admits that “a lot of the time I just write what comes to mind and then when I’ve read it after, a whole other meaning comes to life”.

JAWNINO wears: Hoodie, Jacket and gloves: Stüssy, Trousers: Stylist’s own

Jawino has leaned further into the delirious and exploratory world he built on It’s Cold Out, and hopes the grime scene will branch out in more experimental directions. “I want the ting to move forward,” he says, gesturing with his hands. “It’s gone very stagnant. I think the main reason for that is the producers. Around 2016, I was tapping into so many unique producers like Visionist and Faze Miyake. Now, I’m not seeing a lot of progression.” As grime reached a new peak of mainstream appeal and critical acclaim in the second half of the 2010s, its biggest names moved away from the genre and drill took over. When Jawnino and others who grew up during BBK’s imperial era began reinventing the sound with new influences, there was initial hesitancy. “In London, people are very reserved, so if you do something weird, it’s gonna take a little while for people to catch on,” he offers, diplomatically.

"I love the chaos"

But strength has been found in numbers. As a member of NTN and the future-facing Negropop crew alongside likeminds Ryoko Virgil, Babydoom, Essem, Renz and Chamber 45, Jawnino has thrived off the ideas that have crystallised from regular collaboration with artists who inhabit myriad musical spaces. “There are a lot of sounds in there; we do stuff like jungle and trap,” he says. “But grime is the piece that brings us together.”

At the same time, freestyle platforms like Travs Presents, Just Jam and Victory Lap are creating new alternatives for the UK’s grime underground. Just as their forefathers found their voice on Rinse, Kiss and AxeFM, NTN and Negropop can MC on radio shows, pirate-style, then, on record, rearrange the existing frameworks of grime and UK rap into exciting new shapes. “I feel like there’s a lot more openness now as we’re progressing, though,” Jawnino says. “People are willing to let everything out. I want everyone to do it.”

JAWNINO wears: Hoodie, Jacket and gloves: Stüssy, Trousers: Stylist’s own

This appetite for experimentation is what made his upcoming project, The 40 Tape, possible. He describes it as “melancholic chaos”, the result of moving from his home borough to east London. “In south London, I grew up quite spaciously and there wasn’t a lot going on. But since I’ve been here, it’s been chaos,” he admits. “But I love the chaos.” These urban surroundings have undoubtedly informed his mishmash of sounds. On Lost My Brain, he unites jungle’s propulsive low-end with glowing synthwork, before a full-on trance blowout by Drain Gang affiliate Woesum stuns on 40 Wave. The thudding new wave drums on Short Stories can be traced back to the London bands, like The Clash, played by his father around the house, while Dance 2 deals in thick 2-step and contemplative keys.

A recurring theme across the tape is Jawnino’s fascination with drugs, both as substances and cultural currency. “Needles on the pavement make me think of all the bliss/ I used to flake, but now it’s flizz,” he sighs on the unnerving dream pop of Wind. 265 chronicles his memories of a woman whose life was ravaged by drugs, over sharp strings and distant electronics. “I saw evil, been evil and turned eye/ You saw people and wanted to be just like/ I had to draw the line,” he raps, cutting through a misty offbeat atmosphere that could sit neatly in Dean Blunt’s discography. “I don’t do drugs,” Jawnino asserts. “It’s just my imagination. I’m amazed by drugs in general. I wanna make my own drug, a 40 suite. There’d be no side effects or comedowns, you’re just high until it’s over. Like the drug from Limitless but with no side effects.”

JAWNINO wears: Mask: Custom by Zanky and Lethapa, Jacket: Dries Van Noten, Trousers: Corvidae, Boots and Gloves: Stylist’s own

Jawnino’s practice as a rapper and producer has earned him plenty of euphoric, blood-rushing experiences. In 2023, he found himself on the mainstage at Wireless Festival in front of tens of thousands, after being invited to perform by Blackhaine as part of Playboi Carti’s set. The previous year, he shared a platform at the Tate Modern with boundary pushing sound artist and fellow south Londoner Klein – his most unique live performance yet. “When Klein shouted me for the first time, me and [rapper] Kibo went to her house. She said she had a show with Mark Leckey at the Tate,” he says, growing excited. “So we went down and did a set over drone and noise. Before it, Klein just said, ‘Go out there and do your thing.’ We started doing a capella and laughing because bare people were sitting down again. It was an emotional one; there was just something in the room that day. It was a moment.”

What followed was a short tour of Europe, opening for Klein in prestigious art establishments such as the Barbican and Volksbühne in Berlin, ushering grime into spaces it hasn’t always been welcome. Although Jawnino says he tries to avoid forecasting his future, this experience of taking grime to new places is clearly a motivation for him. “I don’t like making predictions,” he says frankly, as our conversation wraps up. “I just want to keep creating – and hopefully it takes me and my friends to more cool places around the world.”

The 40 Tape is out in the spring