JELEEL! seems like a performer first. Scroll through social media and you’ve likely come across the 27-year-old rapper from Rhode Island doing a backflip at his concerts and deadlifting fans without breaking a sweat, sending crowds into a frenzy. He is a walking adrenaline rush ready to give you a vocal and physical showing, a rapper who writes his songs in all caps, stylizes his name with an exclamation mark, and perpetually lacks a shirt.
JELEEL!’s rise comes at a time when rage music is a legitimate subgenre in Hip Hop. He fits among popular post-SoundCloud rap stars like Jasiah, Yeat, Cochise, SoFaygo, and Destroy Lonely, who use the screaming tactic to get their fans to let loose and not care about how wild they look doing it. He hasn’t been famous for that long, but how he got here is a familiar story among his class: he got popular on TikTok off the shouty “DIVE IN!” and then signed with 10K Projects, home to Trippie Redd and Rot Ken. With the momentum he had in 2022, HipHopDX crowned JELEEL! as one of the rappers who got next in 2023, just a month after he announced his debut album REAL RAW!
In interviews about the album, JELEEL! takes a literal stance about the concept. “REAL RAW! is real, raw energy. JELEEL! has no additives. I don’t need anything to feel complete,” he claims. “I’m high off life. I don’t need to do any drugs; I don’t need to sell out to be someone. I’m real, and I’m raw.”
As suggested, REAL RAW! is a 30-minute jolt of feel-good punk and pop energy, drawing influence from early 2000s alt-rock and wrestlers like Jeff Hardy who took things to the extreme. Nostalgia gets you talked about in the mainstream, where JELEEL!’s daredevil aesthetic will no doubt make people into Nitro Circus attend his shows. For someone who doesn’t do drugs or alcohol to get hyped, JELEEL! has charisma and magnetism that it really wouldn’t matter if all his songs sound the same. His draw is making drug-free versions of songs that have been done before, which may very well hold him back. REAL RAW! is a hybridization of melodic Auto-Tune and hype rap that often feels rehashed with little originality.
REAL RAW! is an album made for the 20-something and younger listener who taps into Rolling Loud every year and thinks Yeat is better than Kanye. The song lengths are around two minutes, some even under that mark, and they transition from one to the next with little differentiation. It’s a streaming-friendly album you pre-game to before going out because you want to bring the mood up. With JELEEL!, it’s all about big explosions, high-octane action, and fast cars. He transmits his personality into the record, blocking out negativity and what people think about his singing or rapping.
The best moments of REAL RAW! are when he’s made undeniably catchy songs that you know will sound exciting live. “SHOTS!” with Denzel Curry is headbanger music, equipped with “Jeleeeel!” ad-libs and Curry’s livewire verse. “MAN OF THE YEAR” is the boost of confidence you need the moment you wake up. “THOR!,” “FEELS GOOD,” and “RIDE THE WAVE!” are the festival songs that’ll go off the moment CO2 jets from the stage and the bass drum hits, opening up the mosh pits for more mayhem.
But the problem with creating tracks zapped of structure, and delivered with JELEEL!’s charisma is you’re prone to making music without thinking about who its for. He may have mastered the art of getting lit, but there’s rarely any heart in his lyrics, rapping generically and simplistically that you expected more effort. “JUMP JUMP!” is a pretty awful song about making people jump when he arrives in the room. “CONFETTI” sounds out of character for JELEEL!, collaborating with New York’s Chow Lee for a ratchet drill song about sex. In other songs, he uses lazy comparisons like “I’m a big boss like I’m Rick (‘Hughhh!’),” “I’m the king of the throne like Bowser,” “All black, like Venom,” and “Got a bag then I burned it like a furnace” that isn’t clever but rather so straightforward that there’s no way his fanbase would forget them.
When JELEEL! points inward and reveals a bit more about himself, you get songs like “JELEEL YEAH!” A standout from REAL RAW!, it’s the first song where we actually learn about him with a hook that tells a story about how he’s so cool and how he gets that loot over a dreamy beat. “TAMALE!” displays his Nigerian roots with a dancehall flow, which deserves many playbacks at a sound clash. Sometimes on REAL RAW! you wish JELEEL! would get really raw and personal, sharing his uniqueness through vulnerability. An underwhelming debut has put him in a box as another artist born from the internet, who borrows too much from his influences and reinvents very little. Maybe the energy he packs in his songs could be used to get better at his craft.