Jafaris: Stride review – Irish rapper brings his own spiritual message
Hip-Hop & Rap
Rock up, rock up, rock up to the wild and crowded session that is the Irish rap scene, and you’ll see Jafaris floating in his own corner. The rising young virtuoso’s small body of work has already showcased an omnivorous musical appetite, inviting elements of uptempo R&B, smooth neo-soul and slick EDM to his funky stylistic palette. On debut album Stride, Jafaris welcomes comparisons to Chance The Rapper, not just because the record traverses the same colourful, jazzy stylistic universe as the Chicago star, but through the spiritually infused lyrics that feature throughout a set that’s as personal as scrawled diary pages.
Whereas the Christian sentiment that ran through Chance’s much-loved album Coloring Book felt, to me, overly preachy without a sense of human complexity or corruption, Jafaris’s big-hearted songwriting and earnest performance ripples with humanity. No fake faith healers or megaphone street preachers are permitted at this party. Here’s an artist that understands that the best religious-inspired writing doesn’t require listeners to share their beliefs.
Take stunning closing track Ghost, which evokes memories of Dr Dre’s old meditation on the loss of his brother, The Message. Over a translucent sample and gentle piano chords, Jafaris appeals to God to save the soul of a fallen friend before wondering if the apparition skulking him is actually his own ghost – where you draw the border between both men is up to you. On God’s Not Stupid, the rapper refuses to sacrifice his spirit for the promise of riches even as he recalls his parents struggling to put food on the table. The 87-second song certainly could have supported a second verse and chorus, but packing 12 tracks into a lean half-an-hour brings a certain brevity to the project, as Jafaris smoothly shuffles through the instrumentation he’s presented with. Changing up his vocal patterns, he makes modulating his voice from a rapid-fire flow to a soulful croon sound as easy as sliding on a silk shirt.
If nothing else, Stride confirms Dublin’s Diffusion Lab as one of Ireland’s most glorious hip-hop production hubs. The beats are fresh, snappy and gorgeous on the ear, satisfying Jafaris’s huge musical appetite. See how the second half of Found My Feet shifts from thumping electro-pop into a house-inspired jam of bright keys, rhythmically rapped congos and a Thundercat-esque bassline. Jafaris’s trenchant writing doesn’t obscure the fact that most of these songs are party cuts. The title track could inspire 1,000 curb struts around Dublin city; the stuttering rhythms of the more barbed Shanduka bring a welcome moment of tension to break up an otherwise vivacious set.
In a journalistic sense, it’s been necessary in recent years to throw an umbrella over the whole Irish rap scene to capture the surge of ingenuity. But the music is nothing if not pluralistic. Ireland’s stars operate across numerous disciplines – the evidence is an ever-expanding collection of great recordings. In this diverse musical arena, Stride is a unique triumph of open-book compositions and open-ended adventure – a very modern portrait of one man on this island that draws from the oldest tenets of spiritualism and the eternal truths of head-noddin’ hip-hop.