Dublin rapper JYellowL has emerged as one of Irish rap’s biggest talents in recent years and the 22 year old solidifies his position as one of the scene’s burgeoning stars in his exceptional and grounded debut.
Ireland might not be the first place you would think of when talking about rappers, but the country’s hip hop scene has been rising in strength, talent and popularity for years now. And not many rappers embody this rise more so than JYellowL (real name: Jean Luc-Uddoh).
Born in Nigeria and having lived in Ireland since he was 14, Uddoh has gained prevalence in the Irish hip-hop scene over the past few years, collaborating with artists including Aaron `Unknown and SIIGHTS and getting his song ‘‘Ozone’’ placed on the FIFA 20 soundtrack along with appearances at major Irish music festivals and opening slots for renowned rap sensations including The Game, Jay Rock and others.
Having released two sonically innovative extended plays (2017’s Bulletproof & 2019’s Me & Me Too), 2020 Division is JYellowL’s debut album and is just as innovative and diverse. Arguably, it is his best project so far and contrary to the title, the album isn’t really a tale about 2020 itself but more one about his personal experiences, his surroundings and tales of wider issues in the world.
On the 15th track album, JYellowL showcases his lyrical prowess and razor-sharp flows over unique, melodic and crisp production courtesy of Dublin-based producer and recording artist Chris Kabs, with each track being diverse and telling its own story.
Highlights include jumpy and fast-paced ‘‘Jewels’’ where he dances on the beat effortlessly, ‘‘Doesn’t Feel Like’’, a slow-paced track with soothing melodic piano cords and a calm riff providing another tranquil dimension to it, in which rapper tackles racism against the black community and ‘‘Mademoiselle’’, my personal favourite in which he maintains a consistent and chill flow topped off by a reposeful French-language chorus from Chris Kabs.
‘‘Ozone’’, a genre-defying track which made it onto the official FIFA 20 soundtrack and the only one from an Irish artist, is also a standout and is ridiculously catchy. It is no surprise it made it to FIFA.
With witty wordplay and clever bars including ‘‘of plugs who charge you for a louder voice like docking stations’’ from the aforementioned Mademoiselle and ‘‘I been cleaning up a long time like old linens’’ from Ozone, the rapper’s lyricism remains top-notch and would give many of his US and UK counterparts a run for their money.
Other tracks including ‘ ‘Neighbourhood Nip’’, a tribute to late rapper Nipsey Hussle and ‘‘Patience’’ eschew important life lessons and values including the value of obtaining a university degree and making sure one stays on a good path. Tracks like ‘‘Call It What You Want’’ and ‘‘Say (Interlude)’’ touch on relationships and romance.
With genuine and clever lyricism and melodic, futuristic and sharp production tinged with R&B, afroswing & trap influences across all tracks, JYellowL doesn’t disappoint on this project and provides a blueprint of success for the Irish rap scene as a whole, one overshadowed by the neighbouring and much larger British rap scene. Indeed however, many British rappers could definitely learn some lessons from him.
This project only reaffirms that JYellowL is one of the Emerald Isles’ most talented and passionate artists and I am sure we will hear more of him in the time to come. It is definitely one of 2020’s best hip hop projects and is definitely a positive thing to come out of the year. You really don’t want to escape such talent!
VERDICT: JYellowL solidifies his position as one of Irish rap’s biggest talents in recent years with this ground-breaking, varied and exceptional debut. 5/5