If you suffered from an electricity outage late last week, blame Jeshi. He performed so electrifyingly that it could have collapsed the National Grid according to Chris Kelly, who gives us the full report from the rappers sold-out live show at Oslo…
The east London rapper has become the introspective voice of UK hip-hop, delivering a cutting edge slice of social commentary. Not afraid to tackle a wide range of societal subjects ranging from knife crime, the class system, and the national pastime of benefit bashing. Under the hazy backdrop of drug-fuelled wooziness, the mundanity of unemployment, self-sabotage, depression and anxiety. There’s a LOT to unpack with Jeshi. In that unpacking, you will find relatability and a mirror to the hardships of life on the benefits system. It’s a rarely seen grainy reflection of generation austerity.
These are desolate times, hand-to-mouth existence becoming the norm for much of society who fall deeper into the depths due to the cost of living crisis. With Jeshi’s thematic underclass observation narration filling the void, has he inadvertently become the voice of his generation, ‘Generation No Hope?’.
Following his nonchalant crash onto the scene six years ago via the five-track EP ‘Pussy Palace’. He has maintained the pace with a steady flow of releases, including the highly acclaimed ‘Bad Taste’ EP in 2020. Featuring Brit and BBC Sound of Award winner Celeste on the track ‘30,000 Feet’. Unsurprisingly, his potent lyricism and penchant for genre moulding led to Slowthai and Vegyn co-signing him.
This creative partnership resulted in him jumping on Slowthai’s ‘Bet ya a £5er’ tour. And in 2021, fans were gifted with a collaboration with fellow genre-defining artist Vegyn. On the off-centred house hip-hop hybrid, ‘I see you sometimes’ and the criminally short ‘I Don’t Owe U NYthing’.
With an already solid back-catalogue, fans were crying out for that debut album drop. This landed late last month in the form of ‘Universal Credit‘. A perfectly timed social analysis, named after the UK’s welfare system, reflects an unflinching sign of the times. It is not all sombre storytelling; He skilfully swerves the soap box preaching and offers snapshots to happier nostalgia-filled days of ITV’s kids show Art Attack, Blockbuster Video and tearing his room apart to Limp Bizkit.
Hot on the heels of ‘Universal Credit’, a sell-out headline event was announced at Oslo in Hackney. I spent the days before the show fully immersed in the album. I drew comparisons to The Specials, whose depictions of rising tension and social deprivation in the 1980s with ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘You’re Wondering Now’ had become totems of a period when the country was falling apart under Thatcherism. The parallels were striking, and I wondered if the album’s standout tracks ‘Generation’ and ‘Hit By a Train’ would become time capsule tracks for future generations.
When show day arrived, I was hyped to see him perform in the flesh for the first time. I arrived at Hackney Central station, saved from the public embarrassment of getting lost, cussing my phone as I struggled to follow instructions to the little red pin drop. The venue was impossible to miss, conveniently positioned to the side of the station’s entrance.
Since Oslo opened its doors in 2014, it has become a notable hotspot for live music. I was excited to see what it had to deliver. Even before entering the venue, the dedicated smoking area at the front offered a solid vibe. I already missed the support acts due to my negative trait of always being late. I decided to soak up the buzzing bar atmosphere and grab a bite to eat. Between munches, I hedged my bets on what his show openers might be. Plot spoiler, I lost the bet.
I headed upstairs, and upon entering the live music room, a familiar sensation struck me as my feet stuck to the floor. I smiled. It had been a hot minute since I experienced the warm embrace of a music venue dance floor in its magnificent sticky glory.
The space was a small and dark but intimate setting. There was no queue at the bar, and drinks were cheap, not just for London prices but for anywhere given the current climate. The room filled up quickly, brimming with energy and anticipation. Having missed support acts, Ray Laurel and Crash Tracy, I wondered what the sound quality would be. However, I wouldn’t have to ponder for long as the lights dimmed and Jeshi suddenly ran onto the small stage colliding with the mic, ‘Killing me Slowly’ was the show opener.
“London, what you Fu*ckin’ saying?”
The crowd were unifying and hyped. Next up was ‘Hit By a Train’, Jeshi took off his jacket, and we all knew it was about to get serious. The crowd had already impressively recited lyrics.
“Who’s on Universal Credit?”
Members of the crowd shouted out.
“Did you get in for free? I wanted you lot to get in for free.”
Several heads up the front excitedly exclaimed yes.
“So, I made my album whilst I was on Universal Credit.”
There was a colossal woohoo and round of applause.
His engagement with the crowd was humble and warm-hearted.
Both he and the audience relished every second. He bounced across the stage, grabbing phones and spilling lyrics into their social media Livestream feeds.
Except for ‘Hues’ and ‘Violence’, he treated us to every listing from the album. When Fredway graced the stage, joining him on ‘Another Cigarette’, things got wild with Jeshi jumping off into the crowd. An impromptu mosh pit placed him at the centre. I was never more indebted to the stickiness of that dance floor. The other standout moment was his touching rendition of ‘Two Mums’.
“Sick of seeing men treating you bad
Deserve all the shit that you ain’t had”.
As Jeshi announced that his mum was in the audience, we witnessed an incredibly poignant moment, proclaiming his love for her. Having become a mother myself last year, I felt an overwhelming surge of emotion and had to swallow the lump in my throat.
The show was close to closing when he dropped the tsunami vibe of ‘Protein’, as the room swayed and gave an impromptu sing-along.
The set finally closed with ‘3210’, remixed by British producer Ross From Friends.
Before dashing off the stage, Jeshi led with an off-the-cuff chant of American Rock band Wheatus’s 2000 anthem banger ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, which crescendoed the evening.
After the show, he greeted fans for a vinyl signing and invited everyone to join him at his after-party drinks. Before heading off, I chatted with him, and we shared a moment over our identical Basquiat crown tattoos. I congratulated and thanked him for his exceptional performance.
Jeshi delivered a night I will never forget. Creating tight-knit togetherness during a tumultuous socio-political period, when many of us feel a sense of bureaucratic abandonment, was truly a momentous moment.
If you have not checked the debut album ‘Universal Credit’, I highly recommend that you do. Available on all streaming platforms and in the nostalgic spirit of Art Attack, ‘TRY IT YOURSELF’!
Words, photos & video: Chris Kelly
Chris is a freelance music journalist and feature writer with a focus on emerging and established artists, subcultures, the art world and mental health. Chris has multifaceted expertise as a media and creative specialist working with your favourite brands and helping them to embed themselves within the culture through strategic and entertaining content for brands, businesses and organisations.