BIMM x DIY: Jelani Blackman by Caleb Allport

3rd August 2021


Earlier this year, we announced our latest partnership with DIY magazine to celebrate our #MusicMadeUs campaign. As part of this new partnership, students from across our colleges interviewed artists and industry professionals in collaboration with DIY and through the lens of Music Made Us. They also received guidance and mentorship sessions before the interview with DIY’s journalism and editorial team.

Here BIMM Institute Manchester’s Caleb Allport interviews rapper Jelani Blackman about where his love for music came from, his ‘turbulent’ career, and the “big things” that lie ahead. 

Regardless of what 2020 threw at musicians and the wider industry, some still managed to break through the unprecedented, gig-less wall hurled in their path. Jelani Blackman has had an unforgettable twelve months and his journey leading up to now has a lot to say for itself in shaping the eclectic artist that we see today.

Raised in Ladbroke Grove, West London, Jelani’s relationship with music began at an early stage in life. Speaking from “the studio” via Zoom, Jelani explains that “being in the park, spitting bars with friends and learning the saxophone when I was 9 was where my musical experience started.”

At the time, Jelani was surrounded by an explosion of new sounds, which would set the foundations for a diverse palette in his bed of musical influences. “There were lots of different things going on at the time. There was a lot of grime. I loved R&B because it was the height of that era as well,” Jelani says. “My mum loved Jazz and Classical, so it was a lot of music that all came together to form what I wanted to sound like.”

Although music has always been prominent throughout Jelani’s life, it was only up until fairly recently that Jelani recognised his musical ability had the potential to become a full-time operation. “Because [music] is so second nature to me, I hadn’t really thought about it as a career. Around five years ago was when I first thought ‘treat it like a job,’ and from there, things did start to change.”

2020 saw a meteoric rise for the West London rapper. His hit single ‘Hello’, released in August of that year, saw it premiere via a COLORS session, soon followed by an appearance on Charlie Sloth’s Fire in the Booth. This buzz resulted in a continuance of momentum towards the appreciation for Jelani’s craft.

The month prior to the release of ‘Hello’ welcomed the single ‘Tricky’; a track containing a direct and uncompromising delivery of lyrics that highlights racial injustices within the UK, accompanied by a powerful music video to prove it. “As I’ve become more aware of the things I actually care about and I want to comment on,” Jelani says, of how his relationship with music has helped him open up to voicing his beliefs, “[music] has been a great platform for it.”

Refused to let my own personal journey be defined by anybody else’s idea about what my journey should be.

Often described as a ‘turbulent’ career, Jelani’s musical journey hasn’t always been plain sailing. Jelani states that in his time of struggle, he “refused to let my own personal journey be defined by anybody else’s idea about what my journey should be. That was the only thing that kept me going.” Although proving necessary, his hard-line attitude came with its own difficulties. “It factored into the turbulent times, but it also meant that when other people would have cracked, I’m gonna keep making music, regardless of whatever the situation is.”

Now, however, fast-forward to May 2021, when Jelani dropped his latest single ‘Pattern’. Describing the headspace he was in whilst making the new record, he offers up: “Music as an industry is different to music as a craft. The deeper you become involved, it becomes hard to separate the two. As valuable as the numbers are, the essence of making [music], is about doing things that you feel at the time,” he says. “‘Pattern’ is similar to some stuff that I did earlier on, but it felt like that’s where I was at. I always wanted to have a tune out for summer like it. I never had it before and for quite a few years I’ve been frustrated by that for being the case. It was really satisfying for me to get that out and be like ‘this is what I want’. There’s other music around [‘Pattern’] which I’m also excited about.”

Having produced a diverse, gripping back catalogue over the past number of years, Jelani’s development has seen him go from strength to strength. A long-term passion for creation in accordance with a raw set of emotions and his lack of fear towards stepping out of the comfort zone of conventionalism is proving to pay off.

When discussing what the future has in store for the Jelani, he declares that “big things” are ahead, before highlighting that his future lies within creating “a true reflection of what I want my music to be.”

Our Music Made Us campaign is told through the students, graduates, journalists, experts and passionate people who have been shaped by this creative outlet. Discover their stories here.