Choruses that Cry Out for a Crammed Venue
Back in 2013, fifteen-year-old Jean-Luc Uddoh was completing his Junior Cert exams when an RTÉ news crew arrived at his school with cameras and a mic. Here was an opportunity to flex his talents as a rapper to the nation, spitting rhymes down a news microphone, held aloft by journalist Emma O Kelly: ‘I’m burnin’ up the paper / call it incineration / I’m talkin’ bout my Junior Cycle / yeah my tribulation’. There weren’t many Black Irish teens rapping on TV in 2013 – let alone on the Six O’Clock News – and the moment captured a burgeoning, creative energy in its genesis.
This year, O Kelly tracked Uddoh down and was delighted (but not surprised) to find that this student who had made such an impact all those years ago was now, at aged 22, a socially conscious rap artist, using his way with words – and politics degree – to inspire and mobilise for Ireland’s Black Lives Matter movement. He was instrumental in organising and speaking at the first Irish protest that came in the days following the murder of George Floyd, and found himself becoming something of a spokesperson for the protest movement. ‘Our togetherness in diversity is something to be celebrated,’ he said in a statement following the protest. ‘And we’ve shown that we’re committed to […] being: not a racist country but an ANTI - RACIST country.’
And so, at the end of a year of turbulence, heartbreak and jubilation for Irish hip hop, JYellowL has released 2020 D|Vision, a collection of fifteen songs that tear down the semantic barriers between the political and the personal.
Opener ‘2020’ is dripping in atmosphere, a gentle introduction to his fluid flow – part rap, part poetry – tenderly dancing above a tinkling, sparse piano ostinato. It’s smooth yet energetic, suave yet honest. ‘When I had to make a livin’, man, it left me empty / cause my vision wasn’t 2020 / I tried to make a livin’, evidently / but now my vision is 2020’. JYellowL signals his arrival proper with equal parts bombast and grace.
On ‘Doesn’t Feel Like’, JYellowL addresses racism head on, drawing on personal and public examples. The H&M ‘controversy’ – which saw a Black child dressed in a hoodie with the text ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ printed on the front – was a ‘vulgar way for publicity’. Racist corporations, societies and the insidious othering of Black people are discussed. ‘News outlets, we need you to deliver news,’ he says later. ‘We need to know who’s dying when we’re sitting in our living rooms’.
His energy, intensity and stamina is clear. The quick-paced lyrical flow of single ‘JeweLs’ is Uddoh showing off, and he’s right to. Similarly, ‘Quote UnQuote’ pairs a darkly pensive beat, with a break-neck flow, and a chorus that begs for a crammed venue desperately trying to keep up. There can be no doubt about his capacity for nuance, for lyrical complexity, or delivery.
2020 D|Vision is a mission statement – a commitment by the artist to keep making noise. Here, the personal is rendered political – and vice versa – and the weight of being a young, Black activist in 2020 is felt. Most of all, this is a portrait of a young man, finding his voice and learning how best to use it.
To purchase 2020 D|Vision, visit: https://idol.lnk.to/2020DIvisionTW
Published on 8 December 2020
Andrea Cleary is a freelance music and culture writer based in Dublin.