Artists to Watch in 2019: Arno Faraji
When Perth teenager ARNO FARAJI became the first hip hop artist to win Triple J’s Unearthed High competition in 2017 it was undoubtedly a groundbreaking moment for the genre in this country. It was also a moment – you would have to suspect – that had the potential to burden the then 17-year-old’s career with pressure of unreasonable expectations. Imagine being told that you were the future, the fresh-faced prince of a newly revitalised genre sitting at the forefront of a new wave of Australian hip hop – all based off some demos you’d uploaded to the internet after only a year of making music. Luckily, in 2018, the trailblazing Zimbabwe-born producer-slash-rapper transcended those expectations – and did so with effortless style.
It’s a style which has been on shown across the pair of beyond-his-years singles he released in 2018: ‘Bless (What It’s Like)’, his collaboration with Remi and Sensible J, and the more recent ‘things change’, which arrived alongside news of his management deal with Sydney tastemakers Astral People, a roster which, boasting the likes of Milan Ring, Winston Surfshirt and Cosmo’s Midnight seems the perfect home for Faraji’s brand of stylish, dance-inflected hip hop to grow.
His warm and infinitely inviting music, which Faraji describes as “wavy” or “vibe music”, sits in that sweet spot somewhere between Chance The Rapper‘s infectiously playful but contemplative raps, KAYTRANADA’s house-leaning productions and the sly, nimble bars of Goldlink. Like Chance, the focus for Faraji is on imparting a sincere and undiluted sense of joy through his music. Tracks like debut single ‘Destiny’ swell with a generous spirit, like it absolutely has to share its groove with you because it can’t resist the impulse for much longer. This spirit, like Chance’s, has the power to affirm via its own faith in self-affirmation (“Vibin’ on myself, I can’t trust fake energy / Yeah I’m hella ill, I swear that it’s my destiny”), to revitalise the soul through music.
The optimism is both outward- and inward-looking at the same time, Faraji using his songwriting to turn moments of insularity into moments of exterior life philosophy, flipping what would, in other hands, normally be something sad or melancholic into something else, something a little more emotionally nuanced by simply looking beyond himself.
On the blissed-out ‘things change’, he applies this trick to the idea that nothing in life is stable and is always subject to change – including “good relationships” – and then turns this realisation into a lesson about how empowering it can be to accept life’s inevitabilities as they come – and the calm that follows.
And when, as on ‘Bless’, his tracks follow this multi-part structure of finding and then coalescing into a final groove, this joy takes on a different form: that of a young artist spontaneously discovering themselves, blooming in real time as you watch on. It’s all remarkably impressive for an artist at the very birth of his career, let alone for someone of Faraji’s age.
Arno Faraji is still the future of Australian hip hop. But he’s not the only future – he’s one of many, which is kind of the point. That said, he’s a particularly bright future for the genre in this country, and at only 18 years of age he seems to have already found a particularly singular lane to occupy in this expansive scene, as Arno comes closer and closer to perfecting his effortlessly cool brand of “vibe music” with each release. And, besides, if he does feel the weight of all those expectations, it doesn’t show.
Photo by Jackson Heeley
Words by KYLE FENSOM