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Jaal: Harnessing the Highs and Lows

From the highest point of Berwick’s Wilson Botanic Park, Jaal looks over Melbourne’s South-East suburbs where he started his rap quest and talks us through his new album YOU ONLY DIE ONCE.

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Jaal and I are heading up to the top of a hill in Berwick’s Wilson Botanic Park. He pounces up the incline like he’s rocket-propelled; I’m stumbling behind, in a slobber-knocker wrestling match with oxygen. Exhaustion squashes me like a littered Pump bottle,  as he drinks in the scenery of this serene haven. His smile grows like the flora around us, making gains in the gym of spring. I bench press a sigh of relief in between heavy breaths, beholding the park bench in front of us. 

“I really need to work out,” I exclaim in a self-deprecating setup. Mental aerobics spin this acknowledgment as a way I can defer attention away from being unfit, by making a mockery of it. Jaal however, wasn’t in on the bit. He unleashes encouragement, morphing my anxious armor into a realistic ambition with a simple “You can do it, bro.” 

Hope is a driving force in Jaal’s life. He extends it to me through his encouragement, and he offers it to the world with his art. It’s what makes him one of Australia’s most promising rappers, and with every song, he provides an update on his quest to become the best he can be. Discography highlights like ‘Foes’ find him unphased by those who don’t believe in him, focusing on his goals as he flows in the atmosphere of hypnotic flutes and head-bop-inducing drum patterns. Others like ‘Fiji’ find Jaal utilizing a mellow rap-sung cadence, guiding you into a future where you can finally relax as if he were a hip-hop soothsayer. When exploring Jaal’s discography, his drive becomes contagious, and it’s like he appears as an apparition in front of you, so you can journey together on a quest to maximize your potential.

Looking at our surroundings in the park, Jaal describes being here as a “full-circle moment.” To our right is a view overlooking Melbourne’s southeast suburbs where he grew up. It’s where he found his love of hip-hop, skateboarding the streets to the sounds of legends like MF DOOM. It’s where his sister’s stint as a rapper inspired him to grace the microphone, accepting the mission of “finishing what she started.” This park served as a place of solitude for Jaal and his friends away from their neighborhood; a slice of nature they’d access after hours, finding joy in the form of conversation, and maybe smoking a little something. It would later become the setting for the cover art of his compilation project Nylotic, where he bid farewell to his old pseudonym NYTLCK, and introduced the world to Jaal. 

Reflecting on these memories, Jaal explains that he “takes what he can from them, and keeps it moving.” They now serve as landmarks leading to his new album YOU ONLY DIE ONCE, the catalyst for our bench-dwelling discussion. It’s a recap of Jaal’s many quests, exploring both the world around him and the winding pathways of his soul.  Songs like ‘WHEN IT RAINS’ find him in an abyss of adversity, drifting through a hazy fog of synths. His soliloquies start as lighter flickers amidst the unknown, before becoming a vibrant beacon with the bar “Seen a lot of shit, I don’t let it phase me.” Accompanying moments revel in the peace and motivation he gets from human connection, late-night lurking through braggadocio with D3JA and c00kie on ‘NOIR’, and wielding a wordplay-smelted sword in a friendly competition with Mali Jo$e on ‘GUALA’’.  “This album is about the highs and lows of life, there are moments where I’m feeling great, and there are moments where I’m feeling the fear of being an artist and struggling with relationships,” he tells me. “It took three years of work to create this project, and now I want it to serve as a reminder of the fact that everything we go through is beautiful.” 

 Jaal’s appreciation of both the good and bad in existence is what spawned the album title’s flip on the way we view mortality. In the past, we’ve heard rappers like Drake chant out “YOLO”, which became the catchphrase attached to moments of spontaneity for a whole generation of music listeners. Jaal finds the alternative of “You only die once” to be more of an overarching mantra, reminding him to aim for the best, whether he’s kicking it with his crew, or exploring the nooks and crevices of his emotions. “I hate the saying ‘you only live once’ because in reality, you live every day,” he explains. “As far as we know, the truth is that we only die once, so we have to try the best we can until that day comes.”

Even in trying the best he can, sometimes Jaal’s trials & tribulations best him in battle. He can be heard howling “Feel the pressure, try to take away the pain,” on the song ‘MOVING MOUNTAINS’, the title of which references the struggle in trying to alleviate the gargantuan presence of struggle. Gazing around the flora that fills the gardens, he cites it as a place he often returns to as a place of meditation when the demons manifest. He also has voice notes on his phone, serving as reminders that even hurt can become a harbinger of beauty. Reminiscing on rough periods is what allows him to navigate the abysses of adversity on ‘WHEN IT RAINS’, and eventually, mountains shrink down to the size of mice. “I view everything I go through as a lesson, and I energy from both the good and bad,” he says. “I think that brings about optimism and gives me the confidence that everything is going to work out. You have to remember that nobody can be you, better than yourself.” 

Harnessing the lessons of hardship culminates in the album’s closer ‘YOU LIVE EVERYDAY’, which for my money, is the best example of Jaal’s hopeful aura yet. It pulsates with peace, set to the tone of some soulful saxophone that feels like the sun beaming down on you. It reminds me of Wilson Botanic Park, with its flowers flourishing in frenzies and bustling walkways, filled with the friendly greetings of those basking in this sanctuary’s beauty. The song says goodbye to the grip of turmoil and willfully keeps on keepin’ on. Here exists the core of Jaal’s hope, and through the priority of living every day, it only becomes stronger. “I want to be remembered as a beacon of light, always having a good time and remaining optimistic,” he proclaims. “Most of all though, I want to keep pushing boundaries and always believing in myself, so I can become someone that inspires people to have aspirations of becoming an inspiration.”

Follow Jaal here for more and stream the new project ‘You Only Die Once’ here.

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