JELEEL! may be the most athletic rapper that we’ve ever seen, but that’s not what he’s striving to be remembered for.
I came to this conclusion after our interview almost two months ago, when the Rhode Island native exclaimed his excitement for his forthcoming debut album, promising everything from “Afrobeat JELEEL!” making an appearance on the album to the assurance that the trademarked backflipping is not going anywhere, no matter what heights his career advances to.
On REAL RAW, JELEEL! not only delivers on those promises he made to me, but solidifies himself as a trailblazer of pop-trap, experimenting with an amalgamation of intercontinental soundscapes and never loosening his grip on sporadic energy. The 17-song album sits at a tight 30 minutes, with sequencing that rivals that of a proper DJ: starting off hot and aggressive with “THOR!” through “JUMP JUMP!” before simmering into inspirational ballads during “FEELS GOOD!” and then rejuvenating the rage with bangers like “JELEEL YEAH!” and “KANE!” towards the end.
It’s no mistake than many contemporary rap albums act as padded compilations, meant to inflate sales rather than introduce audiences to an artist. JELEEL! grapples onto the ladder with poise and has clearly never thought of letting go. His recognizable inflection spears through any and all of the belligerent instrumentals from the likes of Working on Dying, TRGC, FaxOnly, CONNIE and many more.
The best part about any song is knowing that it’s great, but not being able to exactly articulate why it is. That is how “REAL RAW!” feels, from start to finish. Differing vibes bounce off of each other, as transitions in between tracks go from seamless to jarring — and it serves to make the experience as surprising as it is satisfying.
The whole album feels like one giant highlight reel — the way a debut album should be — as it’s clear that JELEEL! has a lot of stylistic nuance to show off, and he did just that. Maybe the most pertinent example of this is the persona-ridden presence of “TAMALE! (FEAT. JALEEL!).” No, that’s not a misspelling of Abdul Yussuf’s stage name. Rather, it’s playing off of who people assume JELEEL! to be. Sure, he might be doing gymnastics on your For You Page, but he’s got enough vocal arrangements in his pocket to make a dozen different iterations of JELEEL!
You never know what JELEEL! you’re gonna’ get, but rest assured that “REAL RAW” will give you enough from JELEEL!’s artistic arsenal to last you a lifetime, and then some.
Listen to ‘REAL RAW’ below!