Jelani Blackman’s sonics are just as refined and full of feeling like the man behind it.
While most contemporary artists have the tendency to pick a moniker and edify their artistic persona around a fictitious character that is only a portion of self, Jelani doesn’t hide behind riddles or metaphors. He presents himself to the world with his god given name, and all of his songs are written and narrated in the first person.
“Some people make music that is explicitly speaking to other people. My music has always been really me having a conversation with myself.” – he shares in the beginning of our conversation. – “Monikers, sometimes, not all the times, are reflective of you at some point in your journey and of you as an artist at a certain stage. If you chose to have a moniker, then that becomes you as an artist – and you might be a totally different 5, 10 years down the line.”
From first listen, Jelani invites you to rise far above the nebula of day-to-day existence, sit down, open yourself to the sensory pleasures of diving into oneself and navigate through the motions to the commando of his voice. Alternating from harmonies and melodies to ease tension, to spoken word and rhyme to raise it back up, Jelani makes full use of his vocal range to flawlessly fill and accentuate the voids of instrumental, in a deep snarly groove.
This isn’t an artist that you’d be able to box into a category, but that was never his intention.
Love and the lack of thereof have given us numerous heartache-fuelled songs in the past, but one must highlight how his previous life experience grants depth to his music.
His debut single release Twenty // Three all the way back in 2014, set the blueprint for this artist, who stood out for is for his unique, vulnerable edge.
“I was at a point in my life where I was feeling very abstract, in a very dark and negative place.” – He pauses – “I didn’t truly understand what it meant about me at that time. Looking back at it now and listening to that song, I can understand that I was trying really hard to make people not engage with me. I didn’t even realise that I was doing it while going through it. ”
Words are a funny thing. A combo of perfectly fitting syllables has the power to ignite our emotions to their rawest state, but to truly connect with them; one must always consider the context they were brought into existence. It’s enriching to see a young male artist willing to go there and share it with the world, without an ounce of hesitation. Also noteworthy from his back catalogue: the dramatic chorus in ‘Sincere’, ‘Submarine’s scenic lyrics, dark piano keys and strings combo, and to mellow it out I suggest lending your ears to ‘Try’.
Okay, hold up. I have no intention of making you dwell into your own existential crisis here. Quite the contrary. What you have seen so far is only a fraction of what this artist has to offer. In conversation, he would finally explain the riddling meaning behind his EP titles ‘1-4′ (2016) his and ‘5-8′ EP (2017).
“These are just songs, and not my identity just yet. ‘1-4′ is the first collection of songs that I have made, and ‘5-8′ is the second collection of songs that I have made, that’s why I decided to give them numbers.”
His old views of facing the world might be what got him to this point, but he’s done testing the waters. There isn’t going to be ‘9-11′. During his solid four years of development since Twenty // Three surfaced the web, you can listen to Jelani maturing as an artist, both in production quality and songwriting. It is only when you truly know your craft that you’re capable of taking it to another completely different direction.
His return this year builds on the style he developed throughout his previous releases, but with a completely different tone, and in a full-colour HD.
His new single ‘Go-low’ ft North Londoner’s New Age Musik is a bass-heavy energic summer banger that is meant to be played as loud as physically possible.
Playing at the inaugural All Points East festival earlier this month, I believe that he is ready to flirt with the limelight again. When asked about his future plans he merely replies – “Now that I have started I have no intention of stopping.” – he pauses – “Just know that it is coming.”
Words by Catarina Ramalho