JeanJass (1988) is a rapper and producer originally from Charleroi currently working, together with rapper Caballero, on the follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2016 collaborative album Double Hélice. Now residing in Brussels, the Polo-wearing wordsmith, whom we interviewed for our upcoming edition’s feature on local Polo obsessives photographed by Lisa Lapierre, confesses to never really having left Charleroi behind. Here, in an intimate and passionate local tour, he takes us from quarry to hairdresser to cultural institution, illustrating to perfection why Charleroi is one of the most progressive and promising city in Belgium today.
This area code will be included, alongside nine others, in the next edition of Thiis iis Belgiium, out 29th November. Pre-order the book here and get a 75 track CD-R with our favourite Belgian cuts.
I was born in Brussels, in Laeken to be precise. Moving to Charleroi was purely coincidental; my father had gotten a job in the region so moved our entire family there. I relocated back to Brussels in 2008 for my studies, but Charleroi remains my true home. Most of my friends are Carolos, as well as the guys from Back in the Dayz, my label. Charleroi is more familiar to me too – it’s cosy. When bumping into people on the street, they actually take time to talk and listen to you. And, ironically, it was only after I left Charleroi for Brussels that I felt more Carolo than ever. I could never forget my roots, because after all Charleroi is the place where I first got introduced to rap music.
It was only after I left Charleroi for Brussels that I felt more Carolo than ever.
I went to school in the centre of the city, and spent my afternoons at the Kiosk in the Reine Astrid Parc. That’s where I started rapping, with a crew called Nomad Hur, which means ‘free nomad’ in Arab. They invited me in the studio for the first time, and booked me for my first shows with my crew Exodarap. I must have been about 15 years old at the time. Then, following years of freestyles at the Kiosk, we got to perform at Couillet’s youth centre. That’s where it all took off, basically.
I have the impression that, over the last decade, Charleroi has gone through some sort of renaissance, thanks in no small part to the success of the – shamelessly named – Brussels-South airport. Independent, small businesses have been popping up due to the spike in tourism the city has enjoyed. But Charleroi’s renaissance isn’t just commercial. Culturally, things have been happening too. Cinemas and theatres have been getting renovated, and an increasing amount of concert venues have been inaugurated, firmly establishing themselves on the country’s artistic and musical scene. There are three concert halls that, for me personally, are truly top-notch, with Eden (1 Boulevard Jacques Bertrand) being, without a doubt, right at the top. They have an ambitious and motivated team, the venue is beautiful, the acoustics are perfect and it’s accessible, bang in the centre of the city. It’s really a place you should check out.
Then there’s Rockerill (136 Rue de la Providence), which is probably the most talked-about place in town at the moment. They have a capacity of several thousands of spectators, and book big names such as Laurent Garnier and Grand Master Flash. My agency and label Back in the Dayz also hosts a yearly festival at Rockerill, L’Usine, with quite an impressive line-up of hip-hop and electro acts. Le Vecteur (30 Rue de Marcinelle) too is a place to check out. I once shot a clip there. They have a small cinema theatre in the basement, where residencies are held and I carry their team in my heart as I believe they’ve succeeded in moving mountains with limited means. My friends and I used to hangout quite a lot at the quarry at Mont St. Marchienne too. It’s a place that’s quite hard – and even illegal, I think – to access, but we managed to make a hole in one of the fences. It was our own private beach, completely surrounded by rocks and hills, cut off from the rest of the world. But if breaking the law isn’t your thing, you can find peace and greenery in the Parc de Monceau.
In terms of restaurants, I could name a dozens but two that immediately come to mind are Chez Georges (54 Route de Châtelet), the best Greek snack bar in town, and Chez Julot (6 Avenue de l’Europe), a traditional Italian restaurant where you can get a plate of homemade pasta for as little as 12 euros. For drinks, a beer at Le 34 (34 Rue de Marchiennes), originally a metal head dive that offers cheap beers in an intimate setting and that’s without a doubt one of the most convivial places in Charleroi, is a must. And if your mother needs a haircut, send her over to Nady’s (27 Boulevard Audent). She’s a friend of my mum’s and her hair salon is the best in town.
All photography Thomas Ost