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Jelani Blackman Blends UK Grime and R&B In His New EP

The Average Joe EP sees the rapper reflecting on his life: what it's missing and where it's going.

The first thing that will strike you when pressing play on this EP is the impossibly deep baritone of Jelani Blackman's voice. Apparently he makes it higher when speaking normally in order for people to hear him. The rapper, whose lineage combines Ireland, Sierra Leone and Barbados, just did a surprise drop of his new 5-track EP Average Joe, the follow-up to 2018's LockJaw EP. Blackman was born in London and grew up in the golden era of grime music—the influence of which has left its stamp on every single track though his vibe has more of an R&B lean.


Lyrically, Average Joe is a heartfelt album that reads like a diary. Blackman clearly uses his art as a method to sort through his feelings and his life rather than to imagine or create new worlds. A running theme is a sort of nostalgia for things he never knew, lamentations for people and places he's aware he's missed out on. Second track, "Brixton", is a kind of simultaneous love-letter and break-up note to the city he was born in but separated from—along with his father—when he was two. He doesn't know the city at all, and it doesn't know him; yet it is an integral part of his identity. Much of Average Joe explores Blackman's ideas about identity, race, gratitude, self-love and patience.

Jelani Blackman - Brixton (Official Video) www.youtube.com


The music, however, is a little more hard to pin down. Some tracks have dark, heavy-hitting beats that feel like the late hours of a party you should have left long ago ("Cheers") while others sound like a blend of early 2000's Timbaland and a bedroom piano session ("Nobody's Son"). Every track has an element that hits at some electronic manipulation that pairs well with his voice, giving a bit of a modern edge to something that sounds somewhat ancient.

Average Joe, dropped via Blackman's own label 18 Records. Stream it below and listen for yourself.




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Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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