Birmingham youth worker by day and rapper by night, Jimmy Davis talks to Alison Jones about overcoming a heroin addiction to embark on a musical career.
Jimmy Davis is a rapper who marches to his own beat. Lyrically he spurns themes celebrating violence, hedonism and materialism in favour of songs with more of a social conscience.
He also refuses to adopt a faux American or cockney accent, preferring his own unadulterated Brummie tones.
And he is not the type to sit back and assume that making meaningful rhymes trying to address injustice is enough.
“I think it is quite easy as an artist to slip into that mentality of ‘well I am spreading a message through my music so that is good enough’.
“I am not a saint by any means. There’s constant reminding yourself that there is lots to be done and it is not just about the music.
“Act local, think global has always been a bit of a motto of mine. Make an impact within your own community but think about the bigger picture globally.”
When he is not recording or performing, 32-year-old Jimmy works with young people, providing sound engineering and writing sessions.
An organisation called Concern Universal, which works with some of the world’s most impoverished communities, also invited him to become an ambassador, fundraising through gigs and giving talks.
“Its work is something that resonates with me very deeply.
“I see myself as having a big impact and influence over young people because, at the end of the day, they are the future.
“If we can try and instil into them a bit more of a positive outlook and try to change some of their own ways, I see there being a little bit of hope for the next generation.”
Jimmy was born in Kings Norton but currently lives in Acocks Green – one of a dozen addresses he has had within the city. “I’m nomadic, it must be in my roots...the hobo instinct,” he says.
He also knows what it is like to be a troubled teen. When he was younger he started smoking cannabis which spiralled into heroin and crack cocaine abuse in his late teens and early 20s.
“It was borne out of just associating with the wrong kind of people, not really wanting to listen to anybody. It was a way of being accepted.
“It started off with cannabis. We were uneducated when it came to that sort of stuff. It quickly spirals from something you do occasionally to something quite destructive.”
He had always been close to his mother, who had raised him after his parents divorced when he was five. But after he left home and she moved out of Birmingham, Jimmy found himself on the streets.
“I was homeless and sleeping rough for about three nights. It wasn’t a massive period of time but I wouldn’t want anyone to be sleeping rough for one night.
“My family were a bit fed up and decided to step away from it all.”
But they never gave up on Jimmy and it was his older brother who finally stepped in when he reached rock bottom.
“There was a period when I was smoking crack cocaine as well.
“The way I got out of it, to be honest it was feeling completely ashamed. My older brother found out what was going on, took me back to the bedsit I was living in and saw everything. It was just a complete feeling of shame.
“He said ‘That’s it. We need to sort this out’. From then on I had really solid support from my family.
“I’ve always been a strong willed person, quite tenacious. You have got to be in the music industry. I was fortunate that my mum had moved down to Devon in a village of about 15 people, so I just went down there and did a week of cold turkey.
“When I came back I’d go to a clinic and have acupuncture and natural forms of treatment.”
After this Jimmy started to get more involved in music. He had been a drummer since he was 13 and had done some DJ-ing but was taken under the wing of the artist Red Staar – Jermaine Maynard-Roberts.
“We formed a duo and worked together for five years. We are still best friends now. He encouraged me, developed my confidence. He believed in me.”
Jimmy studied music technology at college but always wanted to be a performer.
His second album Existence Is The Sound Of Love will be released on Monday and on Sunday he will be at the Glee Club, headlining with Nizlopi’s Luke Cocannon.
Fellow artists and DJs have praised Jimmy’s eloquence and passion, while videos for his singles have revealed his comedic prowess.
Ed Sheeran, whom Jimmy has supported at gigs, described him as “Brum’s finest”.
“It is a little bit incomprehensible when you see someone championing your music but, yeah, it is fantastic.
“I’m just pleased there are people out there who aren’t scared to play music on their shows which perhaps won’t be accepted by the mainstream.
“The dream has always been just to be able to earn a comfortable living from music, help as many people as I can and bring about as much positive change as I can.
“As long I can keep doing those three things I will be a very happy person.”