Jafaris reconnects with God on his spiritually engaged debut album.
“I’m an avid believer of what you put in is what you get out. So the more I’m on this spiritual journey, the more I’m getting closer to God and the more I read my Bible and stuff”
On his debut album Stride, Jafaris asserts his position as one of Irish hip-hop’s most sonically daring players. The young rapper has always had the star quality – that’s evident to anyone who has glanced at his videos on YouTube, bore witness to his wild live shows, or just spent 30 seconds or more in his engaging presence. But full-length musical projects have a way of separating the real talent from the showboaters. And so I’m happy to report that Stride is a glorious boogie wonderland that welcomes warm R&B, enriching gospel, sexy neo-soul, barbed trap rap and catchy electronica to Jafaris’ musical party while showcasing his versatile skills on the mic and highly personalised lyrics.
Teaming up with music production hub and label Diffusion Lab, Jafaris had widescreen plans when he started recording the album about a year ago. The Dubliner’s previously released Velvet Cake EP had been a short collection of unconnected songs. This time he wanted to create a more cohesive work with stronger themes and more nailed-down narratives.
“I didn’t really want to go that route – to just make a couple of songs and put it into a playlist,” says Jafaris, sitting opposite me in Diffusion Lab’s office, overlooking a building site that was once Central Bank. “I wanted to make it a conceptual album that means something to me in the long run.”
A breakthrough in the LP’s development came when Jafaris stumbled upon a video of a religious sermon online that inspired the title. The word “stride” encapsulated his yearning to do everything and please everyone, even if it was to the detriment of his own spirit.
“It literally correlated with where I was at life at the time,” he explains. “Stride really allowed me to slow down and take time for myself and take time for my family and friends. These are the concepts that started popping up into the album. I started writing about my friends and my relationships and ups and downs and procrastinations. And then it just started taking shape into foreseeing a future that I obviously don’t want to be the case – letting all this fame and popularity and praise take over me in a way that would change my character. I wrote in that narrative and it came out to be what it is now.”
Hearing that Jafaris cruises the internet for Christian teachings won’t be a surprised to anyone who has heard the spiritually engaged Stride. His early musical exploits occurred in churches, where he’d perform gospel hymns. But much of that ended when Jafaris found himself drifting from faith. Or, as he puts it, having been indoctrinated into religion from an early age, “I left it so I could find it for myself.”
“I detached myself from that for a long while because I just stopped caring about Christianity and God and stuff like that,” he continues. “I went through that process of being a normal guy who obviously doesn’t believe in God or whatever to finally experiencing it for myself and actually having it change my life. I’m an avid believer of what you put in is what you get out. So the more I’m on this spiritual journey, the more I’m getting closer to God and the more I read my Bible and stuff. That all will come out when I write songs. I feel like that’s why there’s such an aura of it because that’s where I am. [Religion is] very heavy in my life right now. I can’t detach myself from it.”
Whether it’s been 2Pac’s calls to ‘Hail Mary’, or Chance The Rapper’s optimistic preaching, or Kanye West’s assertions that Jesus still walks, Christianity has long been a key element of rap music. Jafaris brings his own deft perspective. God’s Not Stupid is about a real chat he had with another artist who was plotting a hedonistic life of fame and riches before reconciling with his lord right before death. (“You know DMX did it,” Jafaris remembers the artist telling him. “He left, did the whole world thing, and came back to God straight away. I’m going to do that before I die.”)
On closing track Ghost, he probes death and the idea of wasted potential. “Someone said it me… how much potential is in a graveyard and people never got to live out their full purpose and they never got to do what they were here to do.” That thought inspired him to consider his own demise. “As soon as I got the beat, and I was in church at the time, I started writing. I wrote the whole song while I was waiting to go home. It was literally me just speaking about everything that I think of myself, everything that people think of me and I’ve heard people say about me. I don’t want to die or anything and I don’t want to speak it into existence, but it’s like yo, I better put in 100 percent right now while I’m still alive because there is no second chances after you die.”
Production on the album was led by Diffusion Lab’s Chris Bubenzer and Marcin Ciszczon, with the artist himself working in close proximity with the pair. The beats are a rich stew of influences, satisfying Jafaris’s eclectic appetite and furthered by his ability to quickly switch from rapping to singing. He admits he’d been passive in the past when it came to bringing his own ideas to the beat making process but became more verbal with his collaborators during the recording of Stride. “I’m still learning on how to articulate myself in the studio as well because I’m trying to learn how to produce now. I’m taking it slow but trying to learn as much as I can.”
Jafaris’ ingenuity is being rewarded. Stride was met with the enthusiasm it deserved. In the build-up, he was featured in international publications like Fader and NME, holding him up to audiences not always accessible to homegrown Irish rappers. But Stride is a work that will outlast its promotional cycle, blazed by a star who seems well prepared to outrun the rising hype bubble.
“I think in Ireland, we shout about putting Ireland on the map. For it to be me that’s in the position where people outside that are very prominent are looking at Ireland through my music, it’s an amazing position to be in. I definitely don’t take it for granted. It’s just me personally, I don’t look at these things and get super excited. I’m just like, ‘Yo, that’s blessed’ and keep trying to move forward.”
Jafaris plays the Button Factory on Friday May 3, €15.45
Words: Dean Van Nguyen
Images: Jose Armang Galang
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