Yusuf Yellow’s music is a study of subconsciousness and a performance of self-consciousness. Guided by instrumentals that could be easily applied in lucid dreaming and meditation, Yusuf flows through time and space, makes his way through crowds and distinguishes himself from them. With his pen, he chases a cloud of existential answers, wisdom and peace of mind, which, as soon as he grasps, he shares with his listeners from his spaceless radio station, Yellow FM. By narrating his direct experiences, summoning his alter-ego and employing scenarios, the lyricist reflects on authenticity, masculinity, intergenerational trauma, existential angst and the power of creativity, especially as expressed through rap.
Although it appears that he has only just introduced himself in the local music scene, the quality and quantity of his work reveal his ambition and commitment to this art form. His Soundcloud account provides further evidence. In the last eight months, Yusuf Yellow has released two music EPs (Kiiro and Sunflowers), one poetry EP (Back to heaven) and seven singles, including a freestyle and a collaboration, all sharing a consistent and coherent sound and vision.
When performing his raps, Yusuf appears humble and genuine, never mistaking arrogance for confidence in his demeanour. His live show paints vulnerable landscapes in real-time and makes space for the audience to contemplate their feelings and beliefs as they emerge. Before stepping off the stage, Yusuf makes sure to address and build rapport with listeners. It is not uncommon to feel emotionally refreshed and more connected to oneself as a result of this experience.
The following conversation is part of a series of interviews with Sheffield-based poets, created in collaboration with Otis Mensah.
How would you describe your work?
I struggle to fit my music into a genre as my flow often changes depending on how I’m feeling and what I’m creating. However, experimental hip-hop and poetry might be the closest thing I can tie it to. Transferring from only writing poetry to now only making music has given me a compulsion to tell stories in each song that could be powerful even without a beat. Artists such as Loyle Carner, Frankie Stew, Jessie James Solomon and Mike Skinner are huge inspirations, as they often tell stories with a very reflective and easy listenable approach which is what I aim for with my own music.
How do you choose the themes you work with?
My songs and poems are a raw reflection of the way I see and feel the world around me, which I transfer into a mellow hip-hop flow. I feel like this leaves me vulnerable because anyone that really studies my lyrics would have a deep insight into the obstacles I battle with most. The themes which reoccur in Sunflowers and Kiiro are as follows: relationships, dealing with toxic masculinity, anxieties, self-awareness and self-love. However, a single or project that I make won’t ever be one predetermined theme. The goal of mine that I deem most important is to find peace within my mind. Writing without restrictions can sometimes get me closer to achieving this.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m starting to work on two new projects. They are each with different producers that bring very different styles to the table. The styles of music will be a mix of profound, personal storytelling on slow/atmospheric hip-hop beats and some more chilled/easy-going stories on mellow and happier beats. At the moment I’m also playing many shows around Sheffield with my friend Oscar Blakey, aka Lost Oz, on the beats, performing songs from my last two projects and testing some of the new unreleased material.
Who, what or where should be better known in Sheffield?
Firstly, The Washington on Fitzwilliam Street has been massive in my development as an artist throughout my first year of performing. They’re massively supportive for local artists and have set me up with numerous support gigs and a free venue in which I play my own gigs.
S1 Artspace in Park Hill is a fantastic organisation; I recently played there for an organisation named Resolve Collective. It provides a facilitative location to allow artists of all ages to create and connect with one another, which drastically helped with my confidence as a performer.
The Sheffield University Poetry Society provide memorable open mic poetry nights at the Green Room on Division Street; on attending one of their events I performed on a stage for the first time in front of an unfamiliar crowd. They are such a welcoming group – I was so shy and nervous but they provided me with lots of encouragement. There are some outstanding places and opportunities for up-and-coming artists in Sheffield – I feel truly fortunate to be a part of this city.
What would you change about the city?
Besides the weather, over the time I’ve spent here there isn’t much that I’d really like changed as there is so much for which I am grateful. However, a location that would allow specifically hip-hop artists to showcase their talents, collaborate, and engage with some of the bigger names in Sheffield would be beneficial. Artists who potentially do not know where shows occur or struggle to communicate with artists for whatever reason may find it easier to progress with an establishment that can provide them with guidance.
Catch Yusuf at one of his upcoming shows:
8 October – The Washington, with MOAN, Jay-T, and DanimaL
26 November – West Street Live
See Facebook for more.
- Words by
- Raluca de Soleil