- Words Miriam Balanescu
Rapper Jelani Blackman shares his musical firsts with Notion, from seeing Dizzee Rascal with his mum to playing his first gig at the Tchaikovsky festival.
Hailed as one of the most exciting rappers around (Notion named him one of our Ones To Watch for 2021), Jelani Blackman has rapidly been making his mark on the rap landscape. His versatility as an artist sees him challenging racism and inequality in one track (“Tricky”) then flipping to fun and hardcore nights out in the next (“Foolish” with L3).
The artist grew up in Ladbroke Grove, and the issues troubling his community often seep into his songs. Blackman’s first taste of music was at church and his wide-spanning subject matter and blend of grime, R&B and soul have put tabs on him as one of London’s hottest rising MCs.
A 2020 joint project with Ghetts and Fraser T Smith landed him in one-to-watch charts for the year, and his catalogue of collaborators includes Brian Eno, Big Zuu, Wolf Alice and Burna Boy. Among his supporters are Annie Mac, DJ Target, Rickie and Melvin, and Maya Jama.
Blackman is also enjoying returning to playing live, hitting up Brighton’s Green Door Stoor, playing alongside the Gorillaz at the O2, and booked for festivals All Points East, Love Saves The Day, Boardmasters, Sound City and more. He will also be headlining at Bush Hall.
This year also brings a simmering new single, “Bubblin”, from the artist, and much more to come. Notion caught up with Blackman about his musical firsts, from starting out on the saxophone to going to Dizzee Rascal with his mum and more.
First song you ever made?
“Under The Radar” when I was still called Shifty lol.
First song you released officially?
A track called “Fuego” with a band I was in at sixth form.
First CD or record you owned?
First time you realised you wanted to be an artist?
A sixth form Motown band trip in Italy was the first time I really thought I would be happy if my life was being able to make music and play in other countries.
First gig and first festival you went to? And the first festival you performed at?
First proper gig I went to was Dizzee Rascal, was so young still had to go with my mum haha. First festival I went to was Bestival. First festival I performed at was the Tchaikovsky festival.
First time one of your dreams came true?
When I went back to Italy for a festival a few years after the Motown trip to play my own music.
First instrument you owned?
First time you felt like giving up?
During my first record deal.
First time you felt starstruck?
First time you heard your song playing somewhere?
In Patty and Bun and that’s it lol which is mad cos it seems to happen to other people with my tracks constantly, gym, pub, radio, etc. I’m just never in the right place at the right time.