A venue painted floor-to-ceiling in pink is not the kind of place you’d expect a grime night to take place. But that was the setting for West London rapper Jelani Blackman’s headline show in Manchester on May 13.
The 250-capacity Pink Room at YES was only half full by the time he took to the stage at 8:30pm. But that didn’t stop him or the crowd, who were suitably hyped from the support act – local artist J Chambers, bringing the “sound of the 016” and proving that rap sounds pretty decent in a Manc accent.
Blackman was not phased by the turnout. In fact, he thrived in this intimate gathering. This is surprising considering Jelani’s diverse list of collaborators features heavyweights such as Burna Boy, Brian Eno and Gorillaz.
Chatting to the crowd in between most songs, Blackman is irresistibly charismatic. His lyrics are honest, socially conscious and often personal, touching on heavy subjects such as racial inequality in the confrontational “Tricky,” or the more light-hearted “Bubblin,” which is simply about having a good time.
Most of Jelani’s tracks are underpinned by heavy drill beats and that kept the mostly student crowd moving through his short but energetic set. But it’s his inherent musicality that really shines through – he’s a trained saxophone player after all.
With a range of samples, natural flow and a silky baritone voice, Jelani brings a cool sophistication to the grime scene and it’s no wonder he’s attracting the attention of the musical elite.
At one point, he abandoned the stage, bouncing through the dancefloor with the crowd wrapped around him.
“That was one of my favourite times I’ve ever done that,” he said when he returned to the stage.
The crowd’s clear favourite however was “Hello”, which has 1.8million views on the COLOURS Studios’ YouTube channel. All phones were in the air for this one and it even got a well-deserved pull up.
As the satisfied crowd left the venue, the white floor was a sticky mess – a good sign that no one had been able to stand still all night. And with the Instagram-ready, pastel-coloured venue now looking a little grubbier… Yeah, that’s more like it.