Get Familiar: Jelani Blackman
He calls his music dark and dancey, with a low and calm vocals. Of course, you can already guess who we're talking about: West London rapper and singer, Jelani Blackman. The genius vocalist was born in Brixton and raised in Ladbroke Grove recently sat down with us to discuss his journey so far. Jelani Blackman's youth was firmly imbedded with soul and R&B music, but he grew up in the golden age of Grime. Both of these influences from his childhood can be heard back in his musical style. Jelani Blackman debuted in 2014 with Twenty//Three. Since this release, he has shown extraordinary versatility in his music, which can go from very dark and real to soulful and calming in one album. He will hype you up but also display how it is to be a young black man in London. After a few singles, he was featured on well-known tastemakers like BBC Radio 1Xtra, Hypebeast, and Notion. He has worked with artists such as Gorillaz, Brian Eno, Burna Boy, and Wolf Alice Jelani showed up recently with a live video of him performing his new song "When You Feel It", a teaser for his long-awaited debut album "The Heart of It" coming out later this year. Get familiar with Jelani Blackman and find out more about his story.
Your music often blends elements of hardness and softness, dark and light. How do you approach incorporating these diverse influences into your music to create a unique and resonant experience for your listeners?
I take everything I am as a person and try to fit that into the music I make, that’s why it’s so contrasted, because I’m a lot of different things. When you can find balance in yourself it gets easier to communicate that in music.
Can you tell us about your musical journey and how your upbringing in London, influenced by soul, R&B, and grime, has shaped your distinctive style and sound as a rapper and singer?
London is a mad city and the energy and music that flows in it creates a unique diversity wherever you go. I feel like it goes through all the genres and so for me it was always gonna be the case that I sung and rapped to encapsulate all of the different vibes.
From "Twenty//Three" in 2014 to your recent work, how has your music evolved in terms of style and themes?
My music is a lot less abstract now in terms of themes and lyrics. But the style musically is almost full circle, it’s more like it was around twenty/three. There’s a lot more harmonic and melodic moments in the album which I’m really happy about.
Your music often reflects the experiences of a young black man in London. Could you share more about the stories you aim to tell?
It’s a very complex position to be in, everything is more nuanced and finding your way in society usually comes with hard decisions and constant awareness of identity. Always knowing that most people have no idea how to relate to your experiences.
Working with a diverse range of artists such as Brian Eno, Burna Boy, Wolf Alice, and Abra Cadabra, how has collaborating with such talents influenced your creative process and helped you evolve as an artist?
It’s broadened my horizons massively in terms of what I’ve had the opportunity to create and styles I then brought into my own music.
Tell us about your latest release, "Feel The Same," and what listeners can expect from your upcoming album, "The Heart of It."
Feel the same is a reflection on how the society and relationships can feel different over time. The times that we’re living in have changed so much post covid, what it means to be a person now is challenging in a lot of ways. I explore a lot of this in the album, the things that are important to me and what I think is important in the world right now.
What message or emotions do you aim to convey through your music, especially in your upcoming album?
Hope, love and frustration.
How do you connect with your audience through live performances, and why is this connection important to you as an artist?
It’s where the music feels the most real to me, it’s like I’m making it for the first time all over again but just with people around me.
In one sentence, describe the essence of your upcoming album, 'The Heart of It'?
It’s full of the things that are important to me, ideologically and musically.
Looking ahead, what are your long-term goals and aspirations in the music industry, and how do you envision your sound and influence evolving as you continue to make your mark in the industry?
I’m always developing and this is album is another stage in the journey. My aim has always been to reach as many people as possible and be successful doing the thing I love. ‘The Heart of It’ is a project that people will remember for a long time.