The Dublin-based hip-hop artist is one of the most exciting new prospects from Irish rap's recent rising wave. Luke Morgan Britton finds an artist ready to stay grounded, regardless how far his superb debut 'Stride' takes him
“It’s therapeutic, but also a way of inspiring myself for the future,” Dublin-based rapper Jafaris tells NME of working on his debut album ‘Stride’. Real name Percy Chamburukahe, the Zimbabwe-born hip-hop artist is one of the most exciting new prospects from Irish rap’s recent rising wave. Having dropped his debut EP ‘Velvet Cake’ back in 2017, his first full-length looks set to introduce Jafaris to those outside of Ireland and, by his own admission, is a clear statement of intent.
Despite his breezy production and upbeat demeanour, ‘Stride’, out Friday (March 8) is a loose concept album centred around a very contemplative theme, with Jafaris looking back on past hardship, expressing gratitude for his growing success, while also showing caution towards the future. Look no further than ‘Time’ a self-love anthem, with its resolutely optimistic hook: “Sometimes the thing you need is just some time for yourself / get up, go out, go find your peace”.
“I was going through a lot at the time of starting to write this album, including neglecting my relationships,” he tells on NME on the phone just a fortnight prior to its release. “It reflects upon that but also where I’m at now. Things seem to be working out and I’m finding myself. Everything is becoming more tangible. I can almost touch what I’ve been dreaming of.”
‘Stride’ also sees Jafaris preempting those clichéd trappings of fame, which would usually come off as a bit presumptuous for an artist still finding his footing, but in the case of Jafaris, you recognise the sincerity and pure motives. “It’s about foreseeing that danger of becoming a person that you don’t want to be, of letting ego getting the better of you,” he explains.
It’s about striving to stay grounded whatever happens, Jafaris adds. “I don’t know if it’s inevitable that you lose yourself for a second when you achieve fame and fortune, but if that was to happen, [with this album] I have something to look back on to remind me that I said I would never be that kind of person.”
As the title suggests, ‘Stride’ takes steady steps forward for the Dublin native. “There’s a huge difference, not only because of the sonics but also the process too,” he says about the jump between this record and his earlier EP. “My whole way of making music was different at the beginning.”
Jafaris’ musical beginnings date back to 2016 when he became involved with Dublin’s Diffusion Lab, a “music production hub” that helps with developing emerging local artists and has played a part in the careers of homegrown stars like Hare Squead and Soulé. While their input has been invaluable for Jafaris so far, he says that ‘Stride’ sees him rely more upon his own instincts than previously before.
It is, Jafaris says, a record that’s “100 percent everything I’ve wanted to say and how I’ve wanted to say it… There’s been a big jump in terms of creative control and I’ve grown as both a person and artist.”
While ‘Velvet Cake’ was born of Jafaris’ “love of neo-soul and old-school vibes,” he admits to liking to “change up my style” a lot – and the strength of ‘Stride’ lies in this diversity and versatility: from the mile-a-minute rap of ‘Invisible’ to the smooth and wide-eyed ‘Ghost’, which sounds a bit like Chance The Rapper rapping over ‘Take Care’-era Drake.
While he’s inspired comparisons to everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Anderson .Paak, Jafaris takes nods from across the board when it comes to his influences. His album incorporates elements of Atlanta trap and West Coast rap, melding them with breezy Afrobeats hooks and soulful R&B touches.
“I’m in this hugely experimental space right now,” he notes. “I jump a lot between things I like. If it feels right, it feels right and it doesn’t matter its genre or tempo… I’m just going to write something that feels good.”
“My live shows will probably the first time I’ll have seen a show like it” – Jafaris
Jafaris saw Dublin as an obvious setting for his first playback of ‘Stride’ because “the whole album is influenced by my friends and family. It’ll be cool for them to hear certain songs”, and he’s never shy in voicing his affection for his home. On ‘Keeping Brothers’, he shouts out “the little city of Dublin”, while he recently posted on Instagram about his aims to “show the world [that] there’s a lot of talent and passion on this small island”.
With acts like Rejjie Snow and Hare Squead breaking through at home and abroad, Irish hip-hop is thriving at the minute. In a past interview, Jafaris noted how Irish acts often get “more attention from outside Ireland than Ireland itself”, but stressed how this is beginning to change. Now, he recognises that the success of his peers has paved the way and opened doors for him, causing many to sit up and take notice when they may not have before.
Despite being proud of his roots, it’s hard to pinpoint a precise influence of Dublin on Jafaris’s own music – at least in a purely sonic sense. “We take a lot of influence from the US and the UK. It’s all about taking inspiration from the outside world,” Jafaris explains. However, he adds: “We do make use of our local accents, though, and the culture that we were brought up in. In terms of what I speak about in my music, some of the slang I use, the references I make, that all relates back to my life in Dublin.”
With a background in both acting and dance, Jafaris has ambitious plans to reproduce ‘Stride’ in a live setting, ones that combine all of his talents. “It’s the first time I’ll be doing a show like this, probably the first time I’ll even see a show like it,” he teases. “It’s going to mix music, theatre and visuals, all on the same stage. I want people to get something from the visuals as well as the music – a way of getting fans to turn up to the shows, turn off their phones and pay attention to the message.”
What’s next for Jafaris though? Well, he’s already finding himself and telling his story through his music, now he’s keen to see where the music takes him after this. “I want to work with different minds,” he says. “And, because the album’s so widely spread with different sounds, I’m hoping that I’ll stumble upon one that’s uniquely Jafaris, where I can say, ‘That’s me. That’s nobody else.’”