Jaboukie Young-White’s All Who Can’t Hear Must Feel is a confident and assured debut. It’s a series of mini-movies, each song capturing a sound, mood, or tone. The stylistic diversity on the album runs the gamut from rap to house, from pop to alt-soul. The production is thick and multi-textured, with undulating beats, ghostly multi-tracked vocals, and skittery bass. The lyrical content is a diary’s worth of emotions, attitudes, and feelings.
On the second track, “not_me_tho”, the rapper strides with likable swagger, batting away nemeses and detractors, imparting some hard-won wisdom, saying, “Everybody got high hopes / Dreaming you climbing the rope / Whole time, you being choked.” He then says, “Not me tho / I’m a free hoe / And when you climbing the rope / You realize there is hope / You ain’t gotta choke all alone.”
But Young-White isn’t interested in merely boasting about his romantic or artistic prowess. Though one would expect a comedian to put out a comedy record, All Who Can’t Hear Must Feel isn’t a novelty comedy album. There is wit and humor, of course. But this project is an emotionally candid work of art that not only explores modern queerness but struggles with mental health. When trying to sum up the album to The Hollywood Reporter, Young-White pointed out the record isn’t “musical comedy, but there are some jokes in there”. He dubs the album a “dramedy – it’s a musical dramedy”.
There’s a poignance in how he allows his vulnerability to shine in the music, even when some brash bravado is present. In the tense “Incel”, the singer lays bare his emotions, daring his listeners to face his honesty when musing, “Been alone for a while / All by choice, no incel / Won’t get too descriptive / Just upped my prescription.” He devastates his audience by admitting, “Tired of existing / But fighting to exist still / Launch a lazy kick at the nothingness.” It’s the duality that he brings up: being tired of existing and yet fighting to exist that illustrates the seeming push/pull that his emotions and mental health pose.
In his comedy, he describes his approach to mental illness, saying, “I’m going to joke about my experiences. That’s just how I process things. For me, the greatest part about people joking about their specific experiences with mental illness… is the feeling of recognizing yourself in other people.” Similarly, his generosity in sharing his struggles means more representation of an issue still shrouded in misunderstanding.
Though he has built an impressive resume and profile – including a hilarious stint on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah as a correspondent – All Who Can’t Hear Must Feel is a one-person show. Largely self-written (he shares writing credits with his brothers Javaughn and Javeigh on a couple of tracks) and self-produced. He explains, “I probably could have pulled some weight and tried to convince a bunch of really cool people to work on my album,” but his artistic goal was to create a self-contained chronicle of his musings and thoughts. Along with the confessional lyrical content, he draws seemingly disparate musical influences and sounds into the record, highlighting his diverse and eclectic musical taste. So, even though he’ll spit verses on several rap tracks, there are other occasions on All Who Can’t Hear Must Feel in which he’ll croon, sometimes in a tight tenor, or as in the buzzy, industrial funk of “GONER” he drones, his voice a hypnotic drone. In “Cranberry Sauce”, he adopts a Prince-like sensuality.
Though in recent years, queerness and rap have intersected, the history of LGBTQ representation in the genre is still complicated. Jaboukie Young-White is part of a queer rap renaissance that sees peers like Lil Nas X, Frank Ocean, Chika, Big Freedia, and Mykki Blanco court mainstream success. Though he integrates his sexual identity into his lyrics, they are merely part of a larger tapestry of topics, issues, and concerns he’s interested in addressing – though he does admit that the boasting “26” is a sly rebuke to Buju Banton’s notoriously homophobic “Boom Bye Bye”.
In the propulsive “Hit Clips Pt I”, he urges in a howl, “Gays and girls throw your middle fingers up / They talking sh*t but they man wanna f*ck.” And in the canny house homage, “BBC”, the rapper spits hilariously profane lyrics that simultaneously pay tribute to the carnal rap of legends like Lil’ Kim or Foxy Brown but flips it with wittily explicit queer lyrics (“I came in his ass and his jaw / He spitted / Shame, shame, shouldn’t have swallowed / Hate long lost siblings” or “Tossin’ my salad like he toss a Brewski”). The clever wordplay, creative use of metaphor, and engaging storytelling prove that he’s equally adept at applying his perceptive talents to music as he does to comedy.