It's rare to discover an artist genuinely immune to comparison. But, now and then, an act emerges that is quite unlike any other you've seen before. 20 year-old Welsh rapper and singer Jenna Louise Dickens, AKA Jayelldee, redefines the restrictive boundaries of being a British female solo artist.
With a distinctive vocal, a distinguishable rap flow, 100% writing credits and an inimitable sense of style, Jayelldee cites such diverse influences as Slipknot, Aaliyah, Thin Lizzy, the Sex Pistols, Elvis, Queen, Nicki Minaj and poet John Agard. Boasting a punk aesthetic with a hip hop soul, this multi-faceted, multi-talented musician is one of 2012's most enigmatic prospects.
Working with Al Shux (Jay-Z, Tinie Tempah), D&B legend TC, Magnetic Man's Benga and Sub Focus, Jayelldee's sound is bittersweet, bold and brilliant. Her multi-layered lyrics reference a troubled relationship with her estranged father, growing up as one of the few mixed-race kids in Cwnbran and the sudden death of her friend when she was 17. Dark, pensive in places, it's not all doom and gloom though; displaying a sharp sense of humour, an acute ear for melody and the ability to evoke a range of emotions with her tone and wordplay, tracks like the Alice In Wonderland inspired 'Queen Of Hearts' namedrops everything from Rolf Harris to the Welsh film 'Twin Town' with its 'pretty shitty city' line. Musically, the grimy 'Revenge' shifts between dubstep and D&B, while 'Broken Halo', with its skewed bassline and tempo-twisting drums underpin the 'White lines underneath my tires/ Dark lines underneath my eyes', as Jayelldee contemplates life during a night time drive. Taking a break from bass, 'Heartbeat' may be stripped back but it's the antithesis of ballad, instead it's a ballsy, poignant look at inner struggle.
Cumulatively, the tracks form a cohesive, credible and accomplished EP; there might be echoes of those she admires here and there, but it is ubiquitously Jayelldee. "I'm quite emo at heart," she grins. "I loved Slipknot because it was really passionate love songs set to really aggressive, powerful music. Everyone thinks they scream about Satan, but when you listen to the lyrics, they're really quite beautiful. I'd like to do that sort of thing; the sentiment of Adele but with beats byBenga."
Born in east Putney to a Welsh mother and Jamaican father, Jenna and her mum moved to Cwnbran when she was three years-old. From an early age, one of the few people of colour in the small town, she was bullied for being mixed race. "I really hated living inWalesback then," she admits. "There were a lot of skinheads in the area so when I was younger I got spat on, kicked and called a n****er. It's better now in Cwnbran though, people are generally a bit more accepting," she points out. It was also, in some ways, the making of her, particularly as a musician. "That's why I'm so weird I guess, I think if you feel like a bit of an outsider the option to just go for it is right there," she laughs of how her eclectic dress sense began to reflect her artistic tendencies from an early age. Shaving her hair and dressing moreCamdenthan Cymru, Jenna Dickens stood out far from the crowd. "It's like, 'Well I feel isolated so I might as well be as weird as I can be'."
Hooked on the idea of music after seeing Da Brat's 'Funkdafied' video co-starring Jermaine 'JD' Dupri (the inspiration behind her own acronym), she rebelled against her mum's garage, jungle and R&B records by getting into Queen, 2Pac and Aretha Franklin. Seeing non-white people on MTV was a revelation to the 8 year-old. "I could relate to those people singing on TV rather than the people that were around me. I watched MTV and read Kerrang! and I got into music that way. The only powerful black and mixed race women I saw back then were singers and rappers." A couple of years later she attended a music workshop in Cardiff, taking with her a box of vinyl of jungle and blues records to DJ with and her first song 'Bad Dad'. Local musician Marcus, who she still works with now, was impressed by the 10 year-old's tenacity and talent, and encouraged Jenna to further pursue music.
Whether painting, writing poetry or making beats on a battered PC, Jenna's creative streak continued through school and college, before she went onto Newport University to study Art. However, after her best friend Gemma, committed suicide, she decided to leave in the first semester. "I just though, f*ck it, life's too short to be painting by myself in a room. I've got to do music."
Travelling to London whenever she could, Jayelldee began networking over MySpace, making her own connections with writers and producers including Bless Beats (Wiley), Biff Standard (Kylie) and Fraser T Smith (Adele). A chance meeting with an A&R at Mercury saw Jayelldee begin to streamline her songs and a sound; returning to Wales for a couple of months to complete her demo, the 19 year-old went back to Mercury with the new tracks and was signed on the spot. Jenna is busy crafting her debut album. "I like doing eerie music, I like emotional lyrics. I want it to bring stuff from the past and mix it with the future," she says of her punk-dubstep-hip hop ethos.
With a look as distinctive, interchangeable and dynamic as her sound, Jayelldee is truly one of 2012's most exciting, innovative new acts. In the immediate future, she will be releasing the EP, 'Queen Of Hearts' ahead of her official debut in 2012. "I can't compare myself as an artist to anyone else, I don't think; it would feel rude because that'stheirthing and I want to havemything," she insists. "I want to be described as an artist who stands for anybody who feels a bit weird and like they haven't got a voice yet. That's what any good movement is; punk, grunge, emo, rap… a movement that speaks to a new generation of teenagers. I want to feel like I can do something that has meaning and that I can feel proud doing it."