Raps From Down the Rabbit Hole

Cover Photo from Jahi's IG, taken by Felege Gebru

Review by Yasmine Hassan

Despite his enigmatic social media handle (@whoisjahi), it’s not too hard to spot Jahi around campus. Hailing from New York City, he’s a sharp-dressed guy equipped with an equally-sharp tongue and a perpetual air of laid-back chill. Between spoken word open mics and Brown Cypher guest appearances, he’s commanded a distinctive artistic presence since his freshman year, but lately, he’s been bubbling up even more on the College Hill music scene. This autumn alone, he’s opened at the Bodega Beats x DAP live show at the Spot Underground in October, and spit bars for Brown’s notoriously silly, sexy, funky supergroup, richard.

Undeniably disarming cool vibes aside, he’s a pretty private person, but his latest EP, HOME4THESUMMER, is heavily steeped in personal experience. And as it turns out, it’s inspired by the kind of story that a lot of us can relate to. Obviously, he describes his intentions best himself.

“I wanted to capture a moment in time. This project is about the experiences that come from leaving home to achieve your goals. With this comes trials and tribulations, love found and love lost, and somewhere along the way you mess around and find out you started knowing yourself. But the craziest feeling is going home, where you can finally see how much has actually changed since you’ve been gone. I am forever grateful that the people that love me are still there for me, and knowing that they’re proud of me is one of the proudest achievements that I can attain. Something I’m especially proud of today though, is what I now share with you, 3 songs, under 15 minutes, and the chronicle of the most formative season of my life.”

Sonically, HOME4THESUMMER feels like a dim, smoky room, thick with the heady smell of incense. It is the kind of album that makes you just kind of sit and reflect--the kind of jams I know I’d want to listen to on a train home, thinking about life and love, catching flashes of my still reflection in the darkened windowpane. Romanticism aside, there is a lot to be said about each song individually. There are only three, but they each reflect distinctive elements of JAHI’s style.

The first track (and the first stop on JAHI’s adventure, naturally) is Providence Station. It starts off slowly, with ambling piano phrases punctuated by old-school upright bass. Within a few bars, smoky saxophone riffs begin to lazily unwind across the track, overdubbed by mellow, reverb-heavy background vocals. The piano relaxes into a cohesive pocket groove as the sax continues to noodle… and all of a sudden, JAHI is there.

When you hear him rhyme, the first word that comes to “ease,” referring to the unbelievable ease with which he spits complex lines, drops unorthodox vocabulary, and crafts double-take-inducing metaphors. Listening closely, his direct references to familiar places and experiences will pull more than a few heartstrings. It’s no secret that people tend to relate their lives to the music that they listen to, but it’s a completely different experience when music manages to relate itself directly to life. “It’s kind of funny how far from heaven Providence is,” he professes, and he isn’t wrong. Providence Station’s soundscape conjures up visions of walking on a nippy autumn day in a big city, leaves tumbling as the world quietly bustles by in the background.

After a brief vocal interlude, the Internship continues with the same moody, smoky feel, but it marks a definite departure from the train station. Here, he clears his throat and immediately sheds his usual laid-back vocal stylings; everything is markedly darker and grittier, with a more aggressive beat and overall aesthetic. Having heard this first at the Bodega Beats show, I can say that it makes for an awesome live show. It could be because of the dark, aggressive vibe, but it also be the painfully relatable chorus--“I been out here grindin’, but I ain’t gettin’ no money.”

As soon the second track comes to a close, the dense groove of Rockaway Beach starts all at once, and JAHI is finally home. There’s a catch, though. “I been away for too long,” he admits, “And I won’t be home for too long”.

The production on this song is probably the most impressive on the entire EP, complete with ad-libbed background vocals, quick-paced percussion, beautiful live instrumentation, and plot-driving sound clips. After the beginning section, he manages to convince you to go down to Rockaway with him. Just as with Providence Station, this track has a lot of visual power. The progression of time is audible; you’re being brought along for this trip, passing time on the beach until the sun sets. And then, the layers fall away, and the second section of the track is all ocean waves and violin and reverb and magic.

Whether this was his intention or not, JAHI’s HOME4THESUMMER evokes really strong imagery; it feels personal, visual, and visceral, all at once. It offers three starkly different windows into time: before, during, and after his time spent under the Providence summer sun.

For all of those reasons, I sort of wish it went on for longer. We get to see three disparate sides of JAHI as an artist, but more than anything, they make you want to see all of the shades and nuances that lie between. For me, this EP feels like a lot of different things--like missing home, like nostalgia for summer afternoons on John St., like late nights spent wandering the East Side. Most of all, though, it feels like getting a taste of something that only makes you crave a little bit more. It represents separate slices of an adventure that, because it feels like I’ve experienced my own parallel version, piques my curiosity to hear the cohesive, fleshed-out story arc.

But these themes transcend the strange duality of the liberation/intense grind of that first summer on your own. Really, HOME4THESUMMER is about, well... just that: going home, and how we all change while we’re away, and how it feels to try and pick up where we left off, and the emotions that come with all of that.

Now that summer has come and gone, and autumn is almost over, it’s hard to say where JAHI will go next. Wherever it may be, though, I doubt that I’m the only one who is eager to see what kind of stuff he has up his well-cuffed sleeves.