Jeshi empowers universal credit users on his equally hedonistic and heartfelt debut album.
What is it like to grow up in a country where the government treats young people so perversely? Where the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen? Where mental health issues are on the rise and people are vilified for living off benefit schemes to keep their family’s head above water? Thanks to Jeshi’s ‘Universal Credit’, the world is about to find out.
Jeshi isn’t the first artist, nor the first rapper to provide a glimpse into living in an austerity fuelled broken Britain. Slowthai’s debut album similarly depicted the hardships of a working-class upbringing for so many in the country and the demonisation that comes with this. Like Thai’s 'Nothing Great About Britain', 'Universal Credit' feels like a decade-defining moment; a moment where we can find solace in the music made by someone who's lived through austerity to become a successful artist. It’s a scathing portrayal of modern Britain which brings the challenges experienced by millions in the country to the fore.
The album starts with a nauseating skit, immersing you in Jeshi’s hedonistic lifestyle. Bus announcements are collaged with the muffled bass of a club, broken bottles, and a prompt phone call from a universal credit customer assistant. Its dizzying effect causes Jeshi to be sick and establishes the repetitive lifestyle that’s led to him needing universal credit, although, at this point, he is yet to admit it. The preceding quarter of the album sees Jeshi living out this denial, partying into the depths of the night (Sick), running his nose with substances (Killing me Slowly), and simultaneously swallowing his pride (Another Cigarette).
‘Coffee’ delivers some rest bite from this full-throttle lifestyle. The Walthamstow native gains consciousness on Tev’n and Fredwave’s harp-laced, idiosyncratic boom-bap beat, and concurrently relays vignettes of growing up in East London. ‘Hit by a train’ seeks empathy for the self-destructive lifestyle Jeshi voices over the first few tracks. The psychotic synthesizers and industrial drums manifest the feeling of a heavy bender, which the rapper plays out in a maniacal style.
On ‘3210’ and ‘Generation’, Jeshi continues to disassociate from the tribulations reality faces him. ‘New Hues’ sees the artist contemplating becoming a “better person”, or someone the country thinks he should be, but the album then starts to empower the rhetoric around universal credit. ‘Protein’ is a triumphant cut, assimilating Obongjayar’s novel voice into the emotional subject matters addressed by Jeshi. His most revealing lyricism comes on ‘2mums’, where he expresses the vulnerabilities that arise being a boy brought up by a young, single mother and Grandma, whilst simultaneously illustrating the immense respect he has for them.
At face value, the album seems political, but it simply voices the concerns of so many living in Britain currently. Jeshi strives to liberate universal credit and the stigma attached to it, reassuring users that a dependence on benefits isn’t necessarily their fault, and rather the consequence of a government who have failed them.
Written by Liam Cattermole