Every month, “Les Inrocks” invite you to discover a group or an artist that you do not know (yet). Today, Jeshi, a 27-year-old rapper whose songs, narrative and socially engaged, ooze the England of the neglected.
“I would have loved to record an album with Portishead.” In the mouth of Jeshi, 27, this confession is not a vulgar whim. It actually results from a man who grew up as much with pop as with grime, of which he discovered the latest novelties in front of Channel U, this television channel which allowed so many English rappers to be visible. To exist.
“It was a window on the world, he rewinds, the only way to hear different voices and proposals. Personally, it was an opportunity to discover artists who recounted a daily life similar to mine.” To exaggerate, he is asked if Channel U, in a sense, has not played the same role as Top of the Pops for another generation. He nods, makes a small pout, then nuances: “It’s the same ambition: to highlight other forms of music. But where I dreamed of being on Channel U, I don’t think I’m making music for Top Of The Pops.
Strange confession from an artist who says he dreams of being a popstar, able to connect people and bring them together en masse for a concert? Not really : “I especially want to build a discography that reflects my personality, my evolution, my values. For example, I’m not going to force myself to produce happy music just for the idea of being on the radio. My songs should tell a story.”
Jeshi has grown tall
Since his first songs, composed at age 11 with the micro USB of a karaoke game on Nintendo Wii, Jeshi has therefore taken the time to think about his music. It’s no longer just about having fun, or recording your texts on your Sony Ericsson using grime instrumentals. The Londoner, visibly very confident in his abilities, has grown; a few projects have come to lay the foundations of his universe (in particular BAD TASTE, in 2020), while collaborations (Little Simz, Mura Masa, Slowthai) offered him some light. As well as this Colors session, which recounts all of his ambition: the look of a man on a time in crisis, the extreme musicality of an artist who decided that hip-hop had to be confronted with broader melodies, more open, sometimes even more orchestral.
Paradoxically, Rush is perhaps not the best of his songs released so far, not even the most accomplished. But it is undoubtedly one of the most vibrant, perhaps even one of the most personal. “If I had to choose, however, I would quote National Lotterythe last track of my first album, Universal Credit, to be published on May 27. I have the impression that it synthesizes my whole project.”
Some excerpts from this first album have already been released: Hit By A Train, Another Cigarette or 3210powerful single produced by Cadenza (Burna Boy, Jorja Smith), in which Jeshi confronts drill and 2step while managing to formulate a relatively pop subject. “I like the technique, I’m comfortable with the idea of posing on a banger. But what’s the point if it’s just to show off your know-how? What I want is rather to put this technique at the service of great melodies.”
In fact, these melodies are above all at the service of a social, working-class, necessary conscience. Jeshi is this artist who knows he is possibly the voice of the voiceless and who uses his music to convey an intimate story, connected to the most disadvantaged. The title of his album owes nothing to chance: Universal Credit, this is the sum paid by the English government to help households with low or non-existent incomes. A welcome help which, like the RSA in France, is strangely debated.
This is also the idea of the cover: to make fun of the negative comments around this check. ”These beneficiaries are treated like monsters when they just need help. Since the first confinement, it’s even worse… We talk about “universal credit” as if it were a huge check, as if we could live decently with 324 pounds… That’s the whole point of this photo: making the handing over of this money an event when it should be completely normal.”
If we know a certain number of artists who have shattered their revolutionary ideals for a single color – the green of banknotes – we say to ourselves (naively?) that Jeshi is not of this stamp: Generation to Sick, the Londoner seems rather to be one of those who have the ability to open the eyes of their neighbors, to show what is hidden from them, to force them to consider everything in a new way. Starting with this rap which, in a sense, extends without copying the musical ambition of Little Simz, The Streets or Lloyd Carner.
Universal Credit (Because). Released May 27.