Britain’s Hottest New Rapper Jimothy Lacoste Plays Off Brexit Fears and Normcore Nostalgia
He raps about eating healthy meals, not doing drugs, and feeling "hella English." Meet Jimothy Lacoste, Britain's new cult star.
Jimothy Lacoste is mundane; deliberately so. The north London rapper’s signature track, Getting Busy! is an ode to being boring. “It’s amazing how good you feel/ When you’ve got a schedule and you’re eating healthy meals,” his voice drawls over the zippy synth-filled beats he makes on his laptop. “Life is getting quite exciting.”
Over the past year or so, Jimothy (real name Timothy Gonzales) has grown in status from YouTube oddity to cult star in Britain. At major music festivals like Reading and Leeds last summer, thousands of teenage fans moshed along to his mild-mannered anthems like Drugs, which combines the sentiment of a government health campaign with the swagger of a London rude boy. To a sparse drum machine beat: “You’re getting wrinkles, you're looking dry/ Baby take it easy, stop getting high.”
His homemade, low-budget videos amassed hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube before he got a record deal. He is championed by cool-kid publications MixMag, Dazed and i-D. Adidas posted his face on billboards across London. And now he’s signed to music label Black Butter, the home of DJ Khaled, pop star Jess Glynne, and Wiley, the “Godfather of grime.” Jimothy is going to be getting genuinely exciting.
It might seem to contravene the codes of credibility that a kid who espouses the benefits of eating four oranges a day, who takes cold showers “for my willpower,” and who styles himself like a posh version of Arthur the cartoon aardvark (corduroy trousers and a neat button-up shirt is his signature style) recently sold out his first UK stadium tour. But Gonzalez’s brand of boyish self-parody is bang on trend.
The same sense of irony has been playing out on TV, too, where our current national hero is Danny Dyer, an actor-cum professional cockney caricature lauded for calling former Prime Minister David Cameron a “twat” on live national television. Dyer’s latest exploit, this week, was upstaging his reality-star daughter (first name: Dani) at the launch of her new book, by revealing to The Sun the details of their colonic irrigations: “You’re sitting in a surgery with someone putting a tube up your a*** and you think, ‘What am I doing?’” So dear is Dyer to the nation’s hearts that in January the BBC granted him his own TV show, Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family, in which he cavorted about Tudor palaces in pantaloons and a codpiece, to trace his rather tenuous connection to the ancient British monarchy.
In times of acute uncertainty, it feels safer to retreat into comedic, idealized visions of our past than to consider our present, in which Britain seems to be falling blindly out of the European Union. Last summer, during the football World Cup, the song Three Lions, by comedians Baddiel and Skinner, resurfaced as a kind of unofficial British anthem. Its lyrics, celebrating England’s one and only World Cup victory, in 1966, were already nostalgic when the track was released in the 1990s. In 2018, the lyrics seemed ever more appropriate; they allowed us to hold on to the “glory days” of football, the so-called “national game,” and so convince ourselves that the nation itself was unified. From the football terraces to the royal palaces (Prince William tweeted some of the lyrics) people chanted, “It’s coming home, it’s coming home,” and for a few hot summer weeks, English people bathed in a nostalgic display of false national glory, knowing that this would likely be the country’s last summer as part of the EU.
“Rocking Burberry socks, now I’m feeling hella English,” raps Jimothy on his latest track, Getting Burberry Socks. The fashion brand, like Jimothy himself, has built its riches on Brit nostalgia, with advertising campaigns that feature male models dressed as Beefeaters—the Queen’s official guards—in fluffy black hats and postbox-red jackets; in others, young lovers in ruffled shirts prance around England’s green (and pleasant) land like fantasies from a Brontë novel. And those fantasies have turned into huge profits: the luxury brand made £173 million (around $225 million) last year, mainly from foreign customers.
As Burberry asserts its Englishness to the world, so too does Jimothy in the Burberry Socks video. Dressed in a 1990s-style Burberry check puffer jacket, he strolls about New York city flashing the St. George’s Cross painted on his belt buckle and repeating “English, English, English,” in the faces of commuters on the subway, who, like true New Yorkers, pay him no attention. If this loutish display sounds spookily like something far-right activists Britain First might do, that’s the point. Gonzalez is making fun of those who voted for Brexit on the belief that Britain is a fearsome world power, better off alone than as part of the EU. When Jimothy chants, “English, English,” no-one listens, just as when vociferous Brits shout about “Taking our country back!” By now, it feels like the EU is so tired of the screams that it merely shrugs its shoulders and replies: you’re welcome to it. Through retro styling and retrograde chants, Jimothy is figuratively “taking us back” to the past. You can’t help but laugh at the bleakness of his efforts: What does it mean to be, “hella English,” anyway?
We still don’t know what’s happening after the current Brexit deadline of April 12. After failing three times to push her withdrawal deal through, Theresa May is now begging EU leaders to extend Britain’s deadline again, to June 30. Amid the uncertainty, at least we’ll have Danny Dyer acting drunk and rambling on TV. At least we’ll have beer and beige meat snacks, grey skies and relentless football chants, even when we’re losing.
At least we’ll have Jimothy.
Jimothy’s first video, Getting Busy!—released on YouTube in 2017—begins with a command to “watch and listen in good volume to hear the dirty bass,” and continues with the same type of well-executed homemade charm that has become Gonzalez’s signature. The camera starts at his feet, in a pair of Adidas Samba sneakers. From this, we can tell that Jimothy is a cool kind of kid—he appreciates the sleek, 69-year-old utilitarian shoe design. He’s an astute man of the people.
Then the camera moves up, shakily, to reveal something a little surprising—Jimothy’s in bright red, straight-cut cords; the kind that a privately educated finance bro might wear at the weekend. You know the type—the more Pimm’s they drink, the more ruddy their face gets, until eventually it exactly matches the color of their trousers.
Into the trousers, Jimothy has tucked a neat, blue-and-white striped cotton button-up shirt. His braids are freshly twisted, his eyes shielded in black cat-eye sunglasses. The camera spins shakily around his face and Jimothy starts skanking, and flexing his index fingers in time to the beat. “What am I gonna do on Monday, Monday?” he asks, his upmarket London voice slurring over plonking synths, using slang from the streets where he grew up: “Boy I'm finna/ Get yes paid.”
Jimothy’s class is difficult to pinpoint—and that is what seems to mystify most of the journalists who write about him. They can’t work out why he shoots his videos on council estates, and bus stops, yet has a distinctly upper-class accent. Why he wears affordable trainers with Burberry gilets worth thousands of dollars. How he was raised in Primrose Hill, one of the fanciest parts of London, but emphasizes in interviews that his mum was a single parent, relying on state benefits.
What they often do not pinpoint is that Gonzalez is playing on established tropes—those of the UK Garage scene. UK Garage, or UKG (not to be confused with garage rock) is a style of music that originated in Britain’s inner cities the early 1990s, along with the spread of pirate radio stations. Taking influences from jungle, house, and R&B, ramped up to a rapid 130bmp, it normally features MCs toasting lyrics over the top in area-specific British slang. Although its popularity faded for much of the 2000s—becoming seen as a sort of cuddly comedy uncle to its more serious successor, grime—the genre has had a mainstream revival in the past few years, with artists like Craig David and The Streets returning to huge acclaim and sold-out shows.
Like many urban music styles, UKG is about aspiration. It’s about wearing the brashest designer clothes you can—think Moschino print pants and matching bomber jackets, Burberry check bucket hats, D&G crop tops, and gold Fendi belts. It’s about drinking Moët and Hennessy, and driving a Bentley—or if you can only afford a Peugeot 206, it’s about pimping that out with a fat subwoofer and blue LEDs.
When Jimothy wears a bright yellow jumper with LACOSTE printed on it, a Burberry gilet, or Prada trainers, he’s showing he’s UKG. It doesn’t matter whether he’s got money—he’ll find a way to look flash. “Dressing like a rich guy even though you’ve got no money is fun,” Gonzalez told Loud and Quiet magazine, while being followed around expensive clothes shops by one of its journalists. “No-one in my family has money. But when I was dressed like a rich guy, I just felt amazing. I felt amazing.”
His video Fashion takes the “rich boy” act further, parodying all the cliched excess you’d expect from a standard hip-hop video. Jimothy dances beside a big white Bentley, hands in the air. He wears a fake fur coat and crystal-encrusted sunglasses, and is flanked by two model-slim women, who nod benignly as he boasts that he is, “looking like a million pounds.”
But instead of throwing dollar bills around, Gonzalez makes computer-generated £20 notes rain from the top of the screen in a pixelated blur. Instead of popping champagne in a hot tub, Jimothy is seen stealing a cheap bottle of prosecco from his local Sainsbury’s supermarket. A zebra appears at one point. And again, Jimothy’s dorky cords take a starring role, this time in red, blue and yellow versions, as the rapper shuffles about the set, swinging his arms round and round like the blades of a windmill. If 1980s wonky-pop trio The Human League remade the Blurred Lines video, I’d guess it would look a bit like this.
Garage might not have the budget or credibility of much mainstream U.S. hip-hop, but it has got a sense of humor. Listen to tracks like The Streets’ Don’t Mug Yourself, a witty play on dating that takes place over a plate of scrambled eggs and fried tomato in a greasy spoon cafe; or Oxide and Neutrino’s Bound 4 Da Reload, which samples the theme music from the long-running TV hospital drama Casualty. These are the sounds of everyday British life that are so rarely articulated in mainstream music. When Jimothy takes a trip to the fast food shop Chicken Cottage; when he dances on top of a double decker bus; when he runs away from cops outside Burger King on Holloway Road (as in the video for his track Getting Carjacked), he’s reflecting our very ordinary lives back at us.
At a time when Britain’s identity feels so in flux, it’s particularly comforting to see such mundane images. Through them we can pretend that Britain is not a nation divided by social class (“everyone” goes to Burger King), and that it will not change after Brexit (red double decker buses will surely survive.)
That’s not to say that his work—or Garage music for that matter—doesn’t translate outside Britain. The success of the BBC comedy series People Just Do Nothing, in which a group of Garage-obsessed mates run a rubbish pirate radio station called Kurupt FM, proves that it can. The show has been picked up by Netflix in the U.S., and Amazon is currently working on an American version that will be set in Las Vegas’ EDM community. Similarly, Jimothy translates, because everybody knows that an English guy rapping over beats he’s probably made on GarageBand is faintly ridiculous—no matter how skillful he is.
“Clothes is there, you might as well take advantage of it/ It's just fun, bro,” Jimothy tells us in a monologue at the beginning of the video for Fashion. His face is multiplied in the frame, so that one Jimothy is speaking to another, in a manner recalling Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, or Abba’s Knowing Me, Knowing You, where the band’s faces appear like specters. Gonzalez puts nostalgic touches like this all over his videos. In Getting Busy! he busts old school dances like electric boogaloo and body wave; he throws 1990s-style computer graphics all over the place, making text appear on the screen and then rotating or flipping it, just because he can. Gonzalez clearly knows his pop history—and takes his video making seriously. He just doesn’t seem to take himself that seriously.
In interviews, he’s often asked: is this a joke? Because, it’s difficult to tell whether Jimothy is a character that Gonzalez plays, or an extension of his actual personality. “It pisses me off when people say that,” he told The Guardian in January, emphasizing the work he puts into writing, producing and making videos. “And then someone says it’s just a joke. So that really, really offends me when people say that.”
Even this could be a double bluff. Gonzalez never seems to break character as Jimothy—not in interviews, nor in his YouTube web diaries, where he talks in particularly earnest, Jimothy-esque terms about how much he admires his mum, and how he loves “dressing like a little millionaire.” He told The Guardian: “I’m just there being me, really. In the videos and the live shows, it’s literally like…my most powerful me, coming out.” I’m still not sure if he’s laughing at himself, or at us.
What’s certain, though, is that Jimothy seems like a nice guy. “If I don’t take you out, don’t take it personal,” he sings on Future Bae, “need to sort my life out, then we’ll get personal.” As Jimothy says, he’s not your “typical bro,” the type to slide into a girl’s DMs late at night. No, he’s going to make some dough, then invite you round to “cook and bake.”
Lovely Jimothy, whose dreams are those of every quiet-living middle class Brit—to settle down with a worthy life partner and shop at the upscale supermarket Waitrose, “nearly every day.” That’s why he’s a poster boy for normcore teenagers; he says what many of them probably want to—that spending Friday nights watching Midsomer Murders re-runs with your mum is probably more fun than trying to have a “mad one” out in town with your mates.
“This is mind blowing to me. I can't come to a conclusion on what I think of this,” writes a commenter on the Future Bae video, posted to YouTube. It’s pretty typical of the reactions Jimothy elicits—wonder, fascination, and confusion in equal measure. People see him as an underdog figure, with laughable lyrics and cheap beats; they also see in Gonzalez a meticulous musician with a slick flow, who knows exactly the game he’s playing.
Britain’s vote to leave the EU is one of the biggest decisions the country has made in decades. It will affect the economy, trade deals, migration, and security, but more than that, it will force us to reassess our nation’s identity—how we define ourselves against the rest of the world.
You know what it’s like when you’ve got a tough job to do, though: procrastination takes over. It’s amazing how clean my house gets when I’ve got a work deadline looming. Suddenly, bleaching the loo seems the most appealing thing to do. Rather than think about our future, we would rather hide under the duvet and dream—of a cozy past that probably never existed.