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Britain-to-Bronx Rapper Jamieson Begins to Find Success With SXSW

By Patrick Wall | March 6, 2013 7:23am

MOTT HAVEN — A few years ago, the British-born rapper Jamieson found himself some 3,400 miles from his London home, holed up in a rented room in New Jersey.

Each morning, he commuted an hour-and-a-half to an unpaid internship at a record label in Manhattan, where he boarded the wrong subway trains, glanced the wrong way when crossing the street and produced the wrong coin when asked for a dime.

Jamieson, 30, had come to America to make it as a musician, but he said, “every other night, I would go home and I would just cry.”

Eventually, he moved to a Bronx public housing development, where his commute was shorter. He kept his internship, where he made music industry connections, and finally, after releasing his third EP last year, he performed his first headline show at a New York club and watched his music video appear on an MTV channel in Africa and the UK.

This month, he will perform at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas — a showcase for rising artists.

“When I first came to the country, I was so naïve. I thought…‘I’m going to rap for someone and they’re going to think I’m the next Eminem,’” Jamieson said recently near his apartment in Mott Haven.

Later, he added, “What I thought would happen overnight has actually taken several years.”

Jamieson, born Gordon Jamieson Jr., decided to leave his family and girlfriend in London in 2005 and head to New York, where he hoped his brand of hip-hop, inspired by classic East Coast American rap, would attract a larger following.

Instead, he found a cheap room in Kearny, N.J., a suburb of Newark, which he rented with savings from his old job as a hotel clerk in London.

He commuted to New York for an internship at SRC Records, whose artists have included Akon, David Banner and Asher Roth.

One day, the head of the label called Jamieson into his office for a challenge — a rap battle against Roth, who then was like Jamieson, just another budding white emcee.

Office workers rushed in to watch the two go head to head. Jamieson was sure he had won.

But then, a few weeks later, the label signed Roth. Jamieson, still an intern, later ended up toting around the younger man’s bags.

“That was a low point, musically,” Jamieson said. “But the lowest points I’ve had have been the biggest blessings….I’ve never worked so hard, or been so motivated.”

After a couple years in New Jersey, Jamieson relocated to the Patterson Houses in Mott Haven, where he lives today.

In many ways, the move from the suburbs to The Bronx was like “heaven,” Jamieson said, with the borough’s bustle reminding him of London and its Latin elements bringing to mind his mother, who is Colombian.

But conditions in his NYCHA development are sometimes unpleasant — he has witnessed violent gang fights and shootings outside his window — and money is always tight.

“I don’t talk about popping champagne in a club,” Jamieson said, describing his music, “because I can’t afford to pop champagne in a club.”

In June, Jamieson released the third volume in a trilogy of albums, called “I Came, I Saw.”

Music websites in the US and abroad noted the record’s release and MTV Base, a channel available in Africa and the UK, aired the video for the album’s lead single, "I Get Busy."

Recently, after unsuccessful entries in past years, Jamieson was invited to perform at the 2013 South by Southwest music festival on March 16.

After years of striving for recognition that has only lately begun to trickle in, Jamieson said he has come to realize that “America is not always the land of opportunity."

But, he added, he has also found that, with persistence, it’s still possible to make a home here for your talent.

“A house is built," he said, "brick by brick.”