As young, media-savvy creative types, it’s hardly surprising that many rappers muse about technology on their records. However, few of them provide much in the way of truly new insight; at best we get someone lamenting how disconnected we’ve become due to smart phones, and at worst we get MCs bragging about the flurry of activity in their DMs.
Luckily, Atlanta-by-way-of-Nigeria rapper-singer Daye Jack has been steadily offering an alternative with contemplative bars that explore both where we’ve taken technology and where it has taken us with nuance, sophistication, and a keen awareness of how to blend both genre influences and vocal cadences to elucidate his ideas. Jack, who studied computer programming at NYU, has released a trio of projects since 2015, 'Soul Glitch, Surf The Web', and this year’s 'No Data', that are cumulatively one of the most compelling probes into the impact of internet culture we’ve seen thus far.
“I think the future is taking us away from looking down and looking out into the world instead, having the symbiosis where you’re living your life without having to feel like technology is something that takes you away from your it,” Jack said. “To have you enjoy moments and not have to look away from them, I think is where we should go and where we’re headed.”
Jack has been saddled with the genre-blender label, but his music is more fluid than that. He’s as facile and compelling on gargantuan, hooky pop songs like 'Kick – Door' and 'Casino' as he is spitting serrated bars with Denzel Curry on 'Raw'. He cites OutKast’s 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below' as a formative record for 'No Data', and that album’s blend of heady, experimental pop and funky, cerebral hip-hop is undeniable. Early 2000s music played a major role in shaping not only the sound of No Data, but also the record’s primary theme.
“I really wanted it to be a representation of the music that I was listening to in the early 2000s because to me the whole album is almost like a throwback in a sense,” Jack explained. “If I’m going to give coming-of-age lessons to a younger self, which is what I wanted the album to sort of be, then I wanted to make music that that younger self was listening to.”
The album is uptempo, infectious, and digitally-powered, with chunky synths layered on almost every track, and even Jack’s own personalized AI who appears on the intro and outro (when playing live, Jack triggers SIRI voice samples through a MIDI pad controller). But for Jack, who cites near-future sci-fi films like Her as major influences, the record’s goals are more pointed than just to muse broadly about technology.
Jack envisions 'No Data' as somewhat of a prequel and a sequel to 2015’s 'Soul Glitch', a darker record that he said encapsulated his struggle to find a path and decide whether to pursue music or programming, while also feeling the internal pressures that come from social media and ever-present technology.
“It’s like someone whose gone through 'Soul Glitch' and feels more comfortable about themselves, and a little happier, trying to talk to the kid before 'Soul Glitch' and saying, ‘Yo, don’t take this all too seriously',” he said. “If you’re really obsessed with trying to fit in and are obsessed with how you’re going to dress and act and all the insecurities that come with the digital age then you’ll get into a place that’s very similar to 'Soul Glitch', with extreme loneliness and sadness."
If that sounds complex, fear not. Jack’s witty lyrics and incandescent choruses help develop this concept in a way that’s always engaging. Over the course of making 'No Data' he worked with producer Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Eminem) – even getting to sit on a session with he and Dre – and also signed to super producer Max Martin’s camp. Martin taught the former bedroom artist about how to make his songs more broadly appealing without compromising the message.
“After sitting in with [Martin and co.] I was kind of just taking bits and pieces from their style, and then what really flipped the script on me of songwriting was ‘Can’t Feel My Face,’ the Weeknd song, [which Martin co-produced]” he said. “I was listening to it and I was like, ‘Yo this is a song about coke, but I can listen to, it gets played on the radio, my mom likes it, everyone loves this song.’ It’s still a song that’s very real to the Weeknd and his fans, and then it accesses this whole other world of people who are hearing him and can get into his story without diving crazy deep.”
'No Data' features both Jack’s most concise songwriting to date and a thoughtful, resonating message about how our paths to happiness will never be found through screens, no matter how advanced they are becoming.
“I think what I want people to take away from 'No Data' regardless of age is that if you’re going to enjoy your life you’re going to need to do it as an independent thinker, and you need to love yourself and accept yourself for who you are and spread that love to other people,” Jack said. “And I think the main thing is that with more technology the process doesn’t get easier, no one is going to answer the basic innate human questions as to who you are and why you’re here and what you want to accomplish.”
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Words: Grant Ridner