IJALE chats his new mixtape, a wholistic approach to music making and the changing structural landscape of the Australian music industry.
Naarm based artist IJALE is a master of creating his own sound. Jerry Agbinya began to release music in 2017, and throughout that short period of time, has established a sound that is truely singular, effortlessly encapsulating both his key influences and also paying homage to hallmark genres of black excellence including jazz, soul, R&B and hip-hop. What’s created is a concoction of gorgeous percussion, ambient electronic textures, groove ready bass lines to create a multi-faceted, expose in contemporary Australian music. IJALE’s presence on the local rap scene began in 2020, with his debut EP, ‘Wildly Desperate Sounds’, an amalgamation of gritty inspired tracks with vulnerable, ballad moments. As his name grew, and lockdowns ravished Australian creative spaces, he took the time and space away to create his debut, full length mixtape, ‘OTTN (On To The Next)’.
With the lockdown era, IJALE set his sights on purely creating. Through lockdown, inner turmoil and self-exploration, an 18 track mixtape was born. The sonic collage of tracks presents as a series of extremely personal vignettes that truely paint a picture of the creatives incredible mind. The track list is diverse in sound, while remaining uniquely coherent via IJALE’s powerful and expressive voice. What results is a cathartic work, one that challenges his internal battles as he works through previous relationships, racial unrest, patriarchal masculinity, new love and self love.
To get to know ‘OTTN (On To The Next)’ even better, we chat to IJALE about having a wholistic approach to his artistry, how context impacts art and the changing structural landscape of the Australian music industry.
IJALE, congratulations. How’s the energy?
I’m really happy the project is out. I can’t lie. I’m really proud of the work. It was hard leading up to it, because you always try to manage your expectations. You don’t want to get carried away too much in how you think it’s going to be perceived. Now that it’s out I let go of that, and I’m really happy the way people are receiving it.
People like a heap of different songs on the tracklist, which is great because people are picking out ones I didn’t necessarily expect them to. It’s cool that people are gravitating towards different things.
Before the release, were you having second thoughts at all?
I definitely had second thoughts. I drove my partner crazy. I was making her listen to mixes, she doesn’t know anything about music engineering. That’s standard for me though. I always think my music is going to be perceived like trash, but it’s something I’m actively trying to get better at.
Do you think that comes from how involved you are in the creative process? Both producing and running top lines?
Definitely. I think it comes from not being open enough music early enough in the process. This changed a little bit this time around, as I was working with more people, so people did hear demos and ideas. That gave me more confidence. When you do everything from top to bottom, and don’t have a team that’s helping with the music curation, it’s harder to know whether things are good or not.
I feel like the music industry side has also been extremely well received of this project. The Australian music industry probably wouldn’t have been ready for a project like this 5 years ago. Do you see some of the project’s success as a testament to changing of the guard in representation in Australian music?
I think it’s what I wanted. One of the expectations I wanted to manage was that I wanted to be in line quality wise with the people that are putting on for diverse Australian music. The reception for that is great, despite its still being early days. It’s nice to see the industry community say nice things. The “us vs them” mentality is hopefully changing. I hope that now everyone in Australia is trying to change the conceptions of what Australian culture and rap is.
The music industry is so diversified now. To find incredible music like yours, I don’t need some big, established authority or power structure to show me it.
It took ages to get me to position my music in the right way. There was a lot of anger about that. There was a lot of self inflection or questioning. Was my music good enough? Do I need to move overseas for people to understand my music? I think with the quality of music increasing across the board, it makes it easier for everyone. It makes music fans overseas want to be up to date with what’s going on in Australia.
You used COVID to grind. Which ended up you making writing this mixtape. How did you overcome the feeling of making music being or feeling forced? Or do you work well under a strict structure?
There was a part of me during this time that used grinding as a means of distraction. I was going through so many different things, losing work, moving house. I had just gotten out of a relationship that also wasn’t helping. I was going through an unfortunate period of luck. I was looking inward and wondering why so many bad things were going bad at once. Music was a way for me to look inward. The grind helped me feel like I was moving forward in a type of way.
You said the tracks a series of ideas, but yet they’re all still extremely correlated and tight for you? What makes this not an album? What would define an album?
I called it a mixtape because if I wanted to make an album I’d define that straight away. I’d make a specific kind of vibe and sound the whole way. It’s funny that you say cohesive because my biggest fear was that it wasn’t. I feared it wasn’t centred enough in one sound. It was the first time I had other producers in for it too, rather than me doing the whole thing from top to bottom. I felt out of place, that I didn’t have 100% sonic control, so that’s why I called it a mixtape. That doesn’t mean that I don’t look back on it and see it as a full body of work though, now that it’s out and I’m not holding onto it so tightly.
I think the album and mixtape thing act as closer descriptions than the names given them credit for. I used the mixtape term to give myself freedom creatively and not move so seriously, lie the Lil Wayne and T.I mixtapes back in the day. Mixtapes connote the idea you do things off the rip. There’s more freedom in that sense.
It’s similar with what Tyler, The Creator has done this year. He released a mixtape, an obvious mixtape, but because of how big an artist he is it’s been pocketed in and marketed as an album. The same way a Drake album flows now, it’s so diverse in sonic qualities.
100%. Tyler is saluting the whole DJ Drama mixtape series, which is huge in terms of underground music and the way hip-hop has been thrust into popularity. That how music was most easily found on the early internet. With Drake as well, I feel like “If You’re Reading This Now It’s Too Late” definitely felt like a mixtape to me, with how sporadic the drop was, and he was really anti-marketing with it. They’re both examples on how mixtapes turn things on their head, both how music is released but also how an audience is expected to receive it.
When did the idea of the music eventually being a project come into the creative process. Was it established from the start or did it come late in the piece?
It started as a project, when I started to collate things I had finished but I didn’t quite like. There were tracks I wrote before the pandemic that I had put down that I didn’t look at for a bit. I brought them to the table with my team because they were done, and I hadn’t deleted them. That helped me at the time feel like I was working, despite going through a writer’s block with production and writing. As they dissipated after a while I started making more beats, and from there I would pick the beats that I just knew had to be made songs out of. After a while that started driving things. Then the gaps started to fill in, and the puzzle pieces came together.
How important do you see that self producing is in you being able to create your own personal sound. Do you think it’s a feature that’s now integral to you creating and developing your currently singular vibe?
I agree. I believe it also has something to do with my need for control. A lot of the detail you’ll hear in my produced tracks are intricate and atmospheric, because I’m 100% immersed in trying to make a world or dimension. I think it helps me make things that are unique. A lot of the producers that do just that, have styles that you know are them. That helps me be unique, but also makes it easier to get ideas across. If you know things and how to describe things without using terms like “poppy” or “snappy” you know exactly what you want. It’s a time saving thing, and also a money saving thing. I didn’t have the money to get my tracks mixed or mastered aha.
How did having other producers involved allow you to reach a new creative freedom?
A part of me needed the validation that other people wanted to work with me. When you do things for so long, you question whether anyone even knows you’re there. It was good to work with people and have different sounds. It challenged me to write things that were unexpected to me. There were certain tracks, like two of the interludes, made by beatrush, who makes these really textural kinds of beats that were perfect for story based music. That’s why I used those to add to the narrative of the project.
You hinted at moving back to your dad’s place having an initial negative reaction, but also you hinted at a silver lining to that. How did that context inspire this project?
Moving back to my family home and being there for a period of time allowed me to come to the conclusion that this was reality. It was where I’m at. I wrote Mi Goreng where I was Ok with it, and I could take the highs with the lows. I began to reconsider who I was and what I was doing. I get to spend time with my little sister, and I don’t think I would be able to get to know her, or spend time with her in this stage in her life if I wasn’t here. Having a place to be, and not worrying about the roof over my head, was such a privilege.
I think that the best thing about this project for me, is that it’s so perfectly balanced. There’s upbeat stuff, there’s introspective stuff. You layer heavy introspection over quite beautiful music. Was the balance a conscious part of your creative process or did it naturally come out?
I think I tend to go towards heavy themes. I don’t have the life as a rapper to talk shit. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be comfortable with it. I write about things I often think about, and because I’m living a life somewhat similar to the life my listeners are living too, that’s why it connects with them. The music side of it, I just like to challenge myself by making immersive music. I pride myself on gripping someone with an instrumental.
There’s also lots of that Zimbabwe influence on the record. I wanted to ask, did it take a while for you to learn how to integrate your cultural heritage into your music? I notice that some artists really have to come to terms with it.
Before I took on the name of my middle name, as my musical pseudonym, it felt like a mask. Back then I wasn’t too confident with the music, because I wasn’t confident in myself. I went into it with almost an MF Doom type mask, I was pitching my voice down alot, and doing a whole lotta weird shit. When I started to look into my culture and heritage, and what made my people unique, it was already in the music. The percussion, the polyrhythms, the mixes between other popular styles, and hybrids. When I started to figure out where I sat, whilst using my new name things really started to click. Even though things sound pretty broad, I’d love for people to recognise that’s an underlying lane that influences me.
What do you think made you break out of the old artist name to the new more personal artist name?
It just felt like it was time. I was starting to think about how to present my music. I was watching people who I really looked up to, like Sampa the Great and Kwame, and they are really vocal about who they are and what they sand for. It helped me with the confidence to do the same on my own way. Also, the reception of that, of their individuality. It seemed to be celebrated. After I went to Nigeria in 2018, it just clicked, this is it. Now.
What’s been the most rewarding thing now the record is out?
I’ve had a few men reach out about how they’ve responded to the challenging of toxic masculinity and patriarchal masculinity. I was really afraid to touch those subjects, for whatever reason. To have other men reach out and resonate with those themes, made me feel the thing I was thinking arent happening in a vacuum. That the conversation is being had in other places. I didn’t quite know how subjects like that would hit people. Also things that I had tried for the first time were hitting for people, like Sage where I’m singing.
Words by Parry Tritsiniotis
INSIDE THE WORLD OF DISPOSABLE VAPES