Jeleel Yussuf, the musician better known as JELEEL!, is fresh from a visit to a massage therapist, during which he almost fell asleep. He’s feeling pretty relaxed. “My muscles are tight,” he says, dozily, Zooming in from the passenger seat of his car. “They hurt but I needed it – I’m trying to take care of my body.”
Sure enough, the 26-year-old is deserving of a break. On top of being a fast-rising musician, Yussuf is also an athlete. Gymnastics is a massive part of his routine on stage, and he’s back-flipped into the crowd more than once during a set, quickly becoming a trademark. Since releasing his debut album, Angel from Heaven, to some success in 2019, Yussuf has become a viral fixture on TikTok by posting genre-bending music that mixes hip hop with punk and emo to anarchic effect.
“I arrived in Los Angeles four years ago, and I was pushing the Jeleel agenda on Instagram like crazy,” he says of his come-up. “I’d be outside on Melrose screaming my name and ripping my shirt, making videos. There were times where I’d try to sneak into radio stations and pull up on Zane Lowe. Finally, TikTok worked and my music started to pop, but it wasn’t easy at all.”
Since then, Yussuf has become renowned for his theatrical antics, but his music ultimately cuts through all the noise. “One big room full of bad bitches /I’ma call that Clubhouse /Nah, nah, Baby Phat with the ass and the buns out,” he raps distortedly on recent single CLUBHOUSE! ft. Mike Dimes, against a growling bassline. Gloriously uninhibited, there’s something undeniably joyful about Yussuf’s energy and experimental sound. Either way, he knew he was destined for something big.
“My mom even told me,” he says. “She was like, for you, it’s gonna be a little difficult to get there but you will, and it’ll last. People are still like, who is this guy? Is he a TikTok artist? But that’s okay. I’m just going to keep going.”
In the run-up to Yussuf’s new single STONE COLD dropping on 26th August, get your 100% fill below. And don’t be alarmed if he refers to himself in the third person – this is JELEEL!’s world, and we’re just living in it.
10% Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you now based?
I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, which is the smallest state in America. My parents are immigrants from Nigeria. I did go to Nigeria for a little while when I was a kid, but then came back to Rhode Island and went to college in Maryland. I moved to Los Angeles after I graduated.
20% What emotions and experiences influence your work?
Music is very spiritual to me, so when I’m creating and feeling something, it always depends on that. I pray a lot, too, and I think that helps. Jeleel is a very emotional person. Now when I say emotional, I’m not saying sad, I also mean happy. I can be fired up, I can be mellow. I’m still very emotional – I just have different moods.
30% What’s a piece of advice that changed your life?
That none of this is real, to an extent. You don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow, so you can’t beat yourself up. Whatever happens, happens. No pressure.
40% What’s the most pointless fact you can share about yourself?
That I rip my shirt on stage. But that’s not really pointless, it’s liberation. I’m expressing myself. I guess I like to read and do gymnastics. Are those pointless facts?
50% What do you like about gymnastics?
It feels good! I like feeling mobile and not worrying about my body. I want to be able to do flips at my shows.
60% If you ruled the world for one day, what would go down?
World peace and everybody ripping their shirts.
70% What is a bad habit that you wish you could kick?
I definitely need to be more organised.
80% Name one thing you like and one thing you hate.
I like working out. Working out sucks sometimes, but you like it because you look good after. I hate when people project because they’re in a bad mood. And I hate envious people.
90% At what point in your life did you realise that you will be able to do music for a living?
When I was 22. I was trying to be an athlete and play basketball, but it didn’t work out. So I was like, you know what, I’m gonna do music. The first song I made, I felt it in my heart. I was like, I’m going full throttle with this.
100% What do you think artists can do to help save the world?
Just be themselves. I feel like artists try to flex too much, show all their jewellery and rich lifestyle. I still drive the same car, nothing’s really changed. People are starting to know me now but I still do the same thing I’m doing. And artists need to get out there – it’s not always about being in the studio. Go hiking or something. There’s a bigger world outside of the music industry, be a human being! And I also feel like artists need to have fun. Make fun of yourself sometimes. My fans love it when I have fun.