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Jelani Blackman pauses, as if deep in thought. He searches for a metaphor he’s happy with before smiling and, almost with a hint of embarrassment, asks: “Do you remember when the first Avengers film came out? Did you watch it?”
We’re talking about his vocal style, and what a style it is. His timbre is pitched somewhere between Ghostpoet and Future Islands’ Samuel T Herring on the list of ‘Men who have very deep voices indeed’, yet it’s equally at home with a soft croon, an impassioned cry or furiously spitting bars. When every note sounds like you’ve poured your heart and soul into it, people may wonder how you get into that sort of headspace in the studio and, somehow, that’s where The Avengers come in. During the film in question, The Hulk is asked how he controls his anger and responds, “I’m always angry”, before unleashing fury.
“It’s not the most highbrow film, but it crystallised in a second exactly what I felt whenever I wrote anything or whenever I made music,” he explains. “It’s not like I switch it on; it’s always there. Everything else is the opposite; everything else is the mask.”
We’re speaking while Jelani is in Bali, on an escape from London that’s half-holiday, half-writing retreat. 2016 saw the release of his debut EP, ‘1-4’, and he’s about to release the follow-up, entitled ‘5-8’, and needed to temporarily escape the capital’s hustle and bustle. His EP titles are deliberately clean and simple - a tactic he’s employed while he works on fully realising his sound.
He could have a hard time settling into a particular style. In his relatively short career, Jelani Blackman has guested on grime tracks, put out a jungle-inspired mixtape, and worked alongside production duo Sylas. His calling card, ‘Twenty//Three’ (nearly three million Spotify streams and counting) is a haunting slice of early hours introspection that evokes The xx as much as it does the neo-soul of Maxwell.
The ‘5-8’ EP shows a clear progression from ‘1-4’, and Jelani has his first London headline show (at Corsica Studios) on the horizon, but he’s already looking further ahead. “The focus before the end of the year is the next couple of songs. I’ve got a couple of things I’m excited about”. If his upward trajectory continues, then we should be very excited too.
WHERE: West London
WHAT: A smörgåsbord of atmospheric night-time soul, post-dubstep and grime
GET 3 SONGS: ‘Twenty//Three’, ‘Not You’, ‘One More Time’
FACT: Before Jelani had even put out an EP, he’d worked with Brian Eno on the Sylas track ‘Layer’, even sharing studio time with the Suffolk production maestro.
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Words: Joe Rivers
Photography: Sophie Mayanne
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