“I’ve had a lot of time for reflection” – Yusuf Yellow on upcoming EP, ‘What Do You See?’
Last month, Exposed caught up with rising Leeds-based hip-hop artist and poet Yusuf Yellow to talk Tramlines Fest, lockdown creativity and flying the flag for the arts on upcoming EP What Do You See?.
You made your Tramlines debut on the Leadmill Stage earlier this month. I imagine that was a massive vibe for you?
Ah mate, literally one of the best moments of my life so far. Like, it was unreal and such an unbelievable opportunity. Thankfully, I’d spent a lot of time rehearsing to get it as good as it could be and it went down so well. It was great to see so many people come down to the tent and enjoy the set.
It was good to see that on the lineup there was a decent number of young poets and MCs included – yourself, Otis Mensah, Warda Yassin, to name a few, and all very much involved in the Sheffield arts and music scene.
Yeah, definitely. It was great to be at the same festival as artists that I really respect. Otis was a real mentor for me while I was in Sheffield for a few years. It was so lovely to be back in Sheff in general, to see people that I hadn’t seen for so long. It was just a great overall experience for me.
Any particular highlights in terms of performances over the weekend?
I really enjoyed August Charles, Heju and Otis – all artists who I know personally, so it was special seeing them live at the same event. Also Little Simz – man, she was unreal, honestly, just so inspiring to watch.
It’s been a while since Exposed caught up with you, about two years at least, and you could say quite a lot has happened in that time. How did you get on with lockdown and the last 18 months on a personal and creative level?
Mmm. I guess on a personal level I’ve had a lot of time for reflection; that really goes hand in hand with creating for me. My music is really just reflecting on my life, telling stories about my own self-awareness and different personal scenarios. So, yeah, I have to be honest and say that period was really productive for me, but it was obviously difficult at points too. I like to get out with friends and take inspiration from being outside, or sitting down to write in a coffee shop, so at times it was definitely challenging. However, there’s an EP and album already finished, so that’s definitely a good thing to come out of it.
That leads us nicely into talking about your upcoming EP, What Do You See?, which launches on 6th September. Tell us a bit about the themes and inspirations running through the record.
The idea behind the project is me asking both myself and the audience to look a little bit deeper and ask why you do what you do, what do you love, and what defines you. For me, it’s music – art and music has given me so many opportunities in life. I want to promote how art can do so much and hopefully help encourage anyone thinking of taking the first step to do it. I’ve worked with local artists on videos where they speak about what art means to them, so we’re just trying to promote that message as much as possible.
It’s a very important message too, especially after the recent funding cuts to arts subjects at universities. The argument needs to be heard for the arts now more than ever.
Yeah, absolutely. Art offers such a good outlet to deal with the internal struggle, especially if you haven’t got someone to talk to; there are ways of dealing with things through art. What Do You See? kind of shows the deeper meaning what I do, what it means to me. We’ve got a single dropping at the end of July, ‘Blind Man See’, featuring one of my favourite rappers of all time and produced by Zilch, who I met in my first year of being in Sheff. It’s about seeing the world in a different way to the mainstream and staying to true to what you believe in.
And what does Yusuf Yellow believe in? What’s the artistic ethos beneath it all?
Well, for me it’s about expressing my real life and what I believe in an honest way through music, not talking about things that’d make more likely to get on radio or whatever, but just putting out music that’s talking about my life and what’s around me. I see that as my responsibility as an artist.
What Do You See? by Yusuf Yellow is out on 6th September.