When the Neo-Soul movement took off in the mid-1990's a shock wave was sent through music. Championed by the musical collective known as The Soulquarians, a reinvigorated brand of R&B, Soul, and Funk were injected into music, but this time with spirit and bravado of Hip-Hop. Churning out quality album after quality album, the collective established themselves as like-minded musical forces. While The Soulquarians didn't remain in tact for an extended period of time, formally, their music planted seeds for young musicians, music listeners, and fans across the world. Those seeds that were planted nearly 25 years ago have sprouted across the world in the music of Robert Glasper, The Internet, Tyler, The Creator, as well as some rather unexpected places - like Brisbane, Austrailia, New Zealand, and London. One artist in particular that has captured the essence of the Neo-Soul tradition is Australian native, Jordan Rakei.
One day while sifting through the explore tab on Instagram, I stumbled across someone promoting a new album, one I had never heard of. That album would end up being, Tom Misch’s Beat Tape 2, which featured an artist named Jordan Rakei on the song, Wake Up This Day, a soulful and tranquil hip-hop ballad. I liked what I heard, so I looked up Rakei’s music, and needless to say I was impressed yet again. Knowing that Misch and Rakei were both based in London, and had minimal followings in the United States for a tour, my chances of seeing Rakei were slim. But, the internet! On most days, Twitter is a cesspool for bad things, but I chose to use the powers of the internet to implore Rakei to come to Philadelphia. Now, I’m sure he didn’t see my tweets, but earlier this year Rakei announced a US tour (his 1st US tour) and Philadelphia was on the list! So, I’m taking credit.
Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, Rakei moved London in the mid-2000’s to take greater steps with his music. Like many Londoners influenced by R&B and Neo-Soul, Rakei’s sound is rooted in the tradition of The Soulquarian collective, namely D’angelo, J Dilla, and The Roots. As a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and vocalist, Rakei’s musical pallet is broad and diverse, using a variety of textures. Following the release of his 2nd LP, Wallflower, and building his fan base, Rakei set out on his first, headlining US tour.
With no introduction or fanfare, Rakei walked to the stage from the side entrance, picked up his guitar and began strumming a high-octave G Major 7 chord, as his guitar reverberated throughout the room in a chilling-lite echo. Rakei began singing, Eye to Eye, the opening track from Wallflower LP. As Eye to Eye began the descent from its climax, Rakei moved from behind his guitar to his piano, striking a single note that would lead in May, a sobering song about the loss of his grandmother. Then, opening with a recorded string arrangement, Rakei’s drummer, Jim Macrae led off Goodbyes with a tight groove on the rim of the snare drum with added smooth, jazz-lite guitar rhythms. As the song waned, the lyrics stopped, and the band played on, grooving as they audience nodded their heads in unison.
Throughout the night Rakei was sure to shoutout his new bassist, and Philadelphia native, Eric Whatley. Whatley, who recently got the call for the gig just days before the show, did more than just fill in, he was the star of the show. Given, Rakei’s Neo-Soul and bottom anchored music, Whatley took each song and gave it the feel it needed. And though Rakei is from New Zealand by way of London, his music is sonically wrapped in the tradition of Neo-Soul music, which has deep roots in Philadelphia. Whatley’s bass playing not only filled a void - Rakei needed a bass player, obviously - but Whatley offered a sonic perspective that made his music feel [more] authentic.
As the night went on, Rakei dug deep into his catalog, and it was obvious that many of the people in attendance had been waiting for Rakei’s debut US tour, as fans passionately danced and sang along to songs like Add The Baseline, Nerve, and Blame It On The Youth, a jazzy-boom-bap-esque song reminiscent of Q-Tip’s production. Closing out the night, as an encore selection, Rakei played Sorceress.