First impressions play a vital role in a musician’s career. Some will opt for hook heavy earworms, designed to implant themselves in the listener's subconscious. Others will aim for a more physical approach, composing beat driven bangers, exclusively designed to make you dance. Then, there are those who invite the listener in, like an open discussion: no gimmicks, no earworms, just some simple intellectual stimulation. This is what makes Hamilton rapper and producer Emay so special: from the first song on his new album Ilah, you feel like you’ve been invited into a conversation.
Emay, real name Mubarik Gyenne-Adams, was born in Montreal, though his parents had emigrated from Ghana. He spent most of his childhood in Brampton and North York, eventually relocating to Hamilton as a teenager. It was there that he began to work on his music, blending a hip hop backbone with elements of indie rock, African, emo and more.
Ilah is a stunning collection of politically and existentially charged songs. “I think the main thing I want people to take away from [Ilah] is the point that our experiences tend to shape our realities,” says Gyenne-Adams via email to Radio 3. “I really wanted to emphasize the point that history is what creates the present, and subsequently the future.”
The album contains twelve self-produced tracks, each providing a healthy dose of thought provoking lyrics that contain equal parts pop-culture references (including Aladdin and Trainspotting) and political discussion. In a way, it reflects the modern mental zeitgeist: a mind attempting to understand itself by its accumulative experiences, no matter what they may be. "I come from a past of not being allowed to ask questions and not being allowed to express myself, so I developed in a way where I seek out more freedom, answers and progression," he said. "This is important in one’s personal life as well as political or social because if we lack empathy and don’t try to understand other people’s experiences, then progress becomes a lot harder, especially in situations where there’s a disparity of power."
While Ilah is cerebral, it is also beautiful, at times sounding like a muffled soundtrack to a foreign film, or a long lost trip hop album. His lyrics never alienate, instead allowing the listener to take something new with each listen. "The album begins with abstraction, confusion and ambivalence, and then gradually becomes more concrete as it goes along," he explains. "I become more convinced with certain ideas and more disillusioned with others as my experiences in life ripen."
Listen to Ilah here.
See the video for "Bakkah: The History of Humankind" below.