Marching Orders

23 April 2012 | 11:45 am | Bryget Chrisfield

More N'Fa Jones More N'Fa Jones

One spin of Babylondon, the latest EP by N'fa Jones, provides further evidence that the masterful rapper/singer/songwriter/producer belongs on the world stage. But when you ask him what the highlight of his past year was, he mentions another of his babies. “My son,” he answers in a heartbeat. “I had a son – well, that's why I was based in France and Switzerland – and he's just come out, just arrived in Australia now. So I've been pretty happy for the last few days. I was pretty miserable for a few months, but I was just trying to look at it like, 'Well, if I was in the army I'd have to go off and do things,' or, you know, 'if I was an offshore rigger or something I'd have to go off for a month', so let's just deal with the pain and set up shop. So, yeah, my son's pretty much the highlight. Music's great, but it's just a thing and my son's real,” he laughs fondly as if calling up a mental picture of bubs. “He's pretty awesome.” Unsurprisingly, the wordsmith has to spell out his son's name: “A.Y.O, hyphen, S.O.L.E.I.L… 'Ayo' in the West African language means, like, 'dealing with joy' and 'soleil' in French is the sun. So the combination of that feeling of peace, just forgetting everything when you're lying in the sun – that kind of feeling is what his name means.”

Before he spent time based in France and Switzerland, Jones was in London for “just over two years”. Souvenirs include a habit of sporadically dropping 't's and the playful observation on England's capital he's used as EP title. “I lived with my bro down towards Wimbledon,” the rapper elaborates. “It's a bit boring out there, but it's a pretty good thing for my bro. My father's there and my cousin's there and my aunties, and they kinda wanted some family time… I had a great music [project] called No Fixed Abode, which was pretty crankin'. It's a pity we were there when there was such a financial crisis in the music industry, because there was a lot of interest but people weren't able to financially get behind it… At the end of the day I was broke, so I missed out on a bit. But all around London we gigged a lot, a lot – played loads of really great parties with a pretty intense band with a guy called Son Of Kick, who's pretty famous in his own right now.” No Fixed Adobe also comprised Paul Stanley McKenzie (aka PSM), the drummer from Gorillaz Sound System, and Gibbs King, who was Roots Manuva's keyboard player.

“Son Of Kick he was – actually whenever I see ANY of them, they're all always like, 'I don't get it. Why didn't that shit blow up? That was insane!' I'm like, 'Yeah, I dunno. Whatever. Everyone's doin' all right now,' and he's like, 'Yeah, but that was AMAZING!' [laughs] And I go, 'You know, I dunno, it's just timing, man. It's timing'.”

If it's all in the timing, Jones must be on a conveyor belt of ill-timed career moves. His previous (criminally overlooked) Cause An Effect set didn't blow up either. The title track's rhyme, “Throw your hands in the sky with me/Put 'em up like a dirty cop told you to freeze,” remains one of this scribe's all-time fave chorus demands. Once this opinion is shared, Jones sounds floored: “Oh, wow! Wicked.” On why this 2006 solo debut didn't make Jones a star, the flow-master reflects, “I guess I didn't do enough of the online sort of stuff. I needed to get my 360 on, you know? And I just wasn't really – I'm not really developed in that side of things… But I've improved now. I dunno, I don't think about shifts anymore. I used to, I think that was the problem. I just get on with it. If people get into it, they do, if they don't, it doesn't matter to me so much anymore.” Provided he's still able to do what he loves? “Yeah, and even if I'm not. Well, that's all right,” he confesses. “I'm ready actually just to chill out. I was gonna open a café in Switzerland for the rest of my days before I got called about doing this EP.”

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It was during a brief stint back here in December last year when Jones had a conversation with Dave Vodicka from Rubber Records that the opportunity to work on an EP knocked and, “it felt right”. The rapper's relationship with the label dates back to his former creative life as frontman with 1200 Techniques. Jones was fresh out of high school when he met DJ Peril, who went on to become the group's turntablist/percussionist. Jones remembers the band was signed “almost by accident” although they'd “been working hard for years”. “There's always a goal of wanting to get somewhere but, the thing is, I think with us back then it was like that bridge that hadn't really been built yet, you know? Although a bunch of crew were working really hard, no one was giving anyone a chance to move forward – no radio, it was all new. So we just didn't expect that we'd end up getting to cross that river and be that new sort of musical life that could exist, I guess. People like Hilltops and Drapht and Sixty have, like, just gone beyond where we were. The chance to do that was amazing 'cause it didn't exist before.”

You'll also clock Jones's credit within the collective of “creatives” known as Run For Your Life – recent recipients of the 2012 Hilltop Hoods Initiative. Featuring production team J Smith & The Dutch, the rotating roster of artists showcases 20-year-old Melbourne MC Remi Kolawole, who will support Jones at his upcoming show. The resulting $10,000 grant has allowed RFYL to shoot some videos and Jones is mega enthusiastic about this material, particularly a song called The People, which he describes as “one of the greatest songs in the world right now”. The MC is certainly taking an interest in Kolawole's career path, establishing himself as a mentor of sorts just as his 1200 Techniques bandmates did during Jones's formative years. “I was lucky with 1200 that I had Peril and Kem [Kemstar, 1200 guitarist] around, because they were older and a lot more like, 'Nah, fuck that! They want this from us'. And I was younger, so I'd be like, 'Oh, really? I couldn't see that!' When you're coming up, you don't know because it's like a new language you're still figuring out. You assume everybody has the best interests, you don't really think about, 'Oh, this person's done this a thousand times. It's really about them getting an extension on their house, it's not about me in my career doing well, you know?'

“Remi's had some interest from a couple of majors and I told him, 'You're gonna go to this meeting in this amazing office and you're gonna wanna be a part of it, but just remember, right: you're doing fine without that and you've gotta work out what you want and, if they're gonna team up with you, what do you want from it? Forget about the building, forget about how nice the couch is and think about what the actual work would be, and what's gonna happen, and just make sure you enjoy the music you're making and that you like it, whether or not you end up with a major and on a big sort of push, because you've gotta just love what you're doin' to work on that level.' And that's kind of the whole view of everything everyone's doing [in RFYL] is: whether this music blows up or not, we're all happy anyway.”