LONDON — Like in every other aspect of his life, Jimothy dresses intuitively.
On a recent afternoon at Camden Market in North London, the 22-year-old rapper wore a crisp button-down under a Ralph Lauren puffer jacket, boot-cut jeans and a white messenger bag.
“I got my mum to tailor them,” he said, gesturing at the jeans.
Browsing the stalls, he considered a rack of fake Gucci belts. “I’m buying fakes now,” he said. “Going broke to look rich is very embarrassing.”
When Jimothy (real name Timothy Gonzalez) burst onto the London music scene in 2017 with his viral track “Getting Busy,” his nonconformist dress sense was only part of the reason people kept asking him if “Jimothy” was a comedy bit.
“Getting Busy” is an unlikely ode to scheduling set over lo-fi beats, with Jimothy — then performing with the last name “Lacoste” as a nod to his preppy dress sense — rapping in his now-signature deadpan, singsong style. In the accompanying video, he dances atop a bus shelter, before hitching a ride on the outside of a London train.
“Everyone needs to know,” he said, swinging his legs over the edge of a Camden canal, “is it a joke, is it a joke?” The question used to bother Jimothy when he was younger and “mad egotistic,” he said. Today, although he emphasizes “it’s me, truly,” the rapper accepts some people just won’t get his thing.
“Have you ever heard anything like his music, specifically lyrically, ever?” said Poundland Bandit, the anonymous London-based meme-maker who is a fan. “It’s the purest form of someone genuinely being themselves and having the most fun possible with whatever they create, with no boundaries or fear of criticism.”
There is also a vulnerability to Jimothy’s music that evokes the confessional style of other British artists like Mike Skinner (now a collaborator) and the playfulness of Dean Blunt. He either rejects the tropes of rap entirely or subverts them playfully. While other rappers brag about sex, drugs and expensive cars, Jimothy raps about his ambition to one day earn enough money to shop at upmarket supermarkets and listening to his mother’s advice.
Jimothy has come to embrace being unconventional. He grew up in public housing in the affluent London area of Primrose Hill, not far from Camden Market, and was raised by his Spanish mother, whom he still lives with. His father, who is of Caribbean heritage but was born in Britain, was not around much.
Street-savvy and smart, Jimothy enjoyed unusual freedom as a child. “When I was 12,” he said, “I felt like a big man.” He would explore London on foot, walking to other boroughs up to four miles away. He would also meet and befriend older children online. “I’d message them on Facebook and say, ‘Yo, I like what you do, let’s chill,’” he said.
This precociousness is evident to this day. Browsing the market stalls, Jimothy bartered good-naturedly with the sellers, purchasing a burgundy sweater vest and a counterfeit TikTok sweater. He was charming and thoughtful company, if a little inclined toward sermonizing, whether on the importance of cultivating “severe happiness,” eating healthily or not overthinking things.
Jimothy has dyslexia and dyscalculia, which affects his ability to understand numbers — he wears a digital watch because he struggles to read a clock face — and went to a middle school for children with special educational needs.
There, he was exempt from the pressure to conform to the social vagaries of his peers, he said, but he was also understimulated and overlooked by teachers.
Instead, he taught himself what he needed to know via YouTube. He learned to dance by watching videos of body-poppers and hip-hop, which led to his jerky-fluid dance style. “That was my school,” he said. “Oh, my gosh. I learned more on YouTube than anything. Cooking, how to make friends, how to be confident, how to talk to girls, how to kiss. Everything.”
Jimothy’s lifelong fluency in digital culture manifests itself as a hypersensitivity toward his image and a hatred of visual cliché. When he waves a wad of cash in the video for “Make Money,” he does so because he knows that “with the way I’m dressed,” in a black turtleneck and gold rimmed glasses, “it looks interesting,” he said. But if he’s wearing baggy jeans and a chain, “I’m not flexing no cash, because I don’t look different,” he said.
After leaving school at 16, Jimothy considered becoming a massage therapist. He posted his first two tracks, “T.I.M.M.Y.” and “Getting Busy,” online in 2016 and 2017. He’d only wanted to make music to “play at house parties,” he said. His sister encouraged him to take it seriously.
Following the success of “Getting Busy,” in 2018 Jimothy signed to Black Butter Records, the Sony imprint, although he subsequently parted ways with the label. His fans range in age from millennials to Gen Z teens, but they all share one thing: “They relate to me,” Jimothy said. “I think they relate to me more than they like my music.”
As his profile has grown, his videos have become more high-concept and slick. Last year, he released his well-reviewed debut album “The Safeway” and he has a tour of midsize British venues planned for the coming months. He’s modeled for Acne Studios and Ralph Lauren, and his bedroom in his mother’s flat is full of gifted swag from fashion labels.
Jimothy recently branched into house music and now will use other musician’s beats, something he formerly refused to do. But he maintains that he has kept his bedroom pop ethos, uploading videos to an anonymous YouTube channel, while holding on to control over all parts of his music production.
He refuses to write with external songwriters, apart from his friend Joss Ryan, a writer and producer who first worked with Jimothy on his debut album. “His approach to making music is unique,” Ryan said, “because he was, and still is, very self-sufficient.”
Jimothy defends his uncompromising approach. “If I get in the studio with some random songwriter that some label has put me on, it’s not going to work,” he said, “because they don’t know my life.”
His latest challenge in resisting the pressure to conform, he said, is his fans, and their opinions on his music.
“You’re going to listen to them and think, maybe they’re right,” he said. Sitting by the canal, tourists thronged the footpath behind, and he strained to be heard over the melee. “But as soon as you get into that mind-set,” he said, suddenly animated, the music you’re making changes, and “you’re no longer making it for yourself.”
Jimothy paused. “Obviously, they are your customers,” he said, of his fans. “Customer is always right. But is this a business I’m doing? Because I don’t think it is.”
After all, “business and feelings and emotions don’t work,” he said. “I’m not doing formula music. I’m doing feeling music.”
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