Ikey Reigns Supreme; All Hail King Jaffe, Hip-Hop’s New Highness

ikey jaffe

Apart from maybe Run The Jewels, the most exciting thing about hip-hop for me last year was Ikey. He only released a single track–a debut of sorts–but it was a perfectly chosen debut to serve as the gloves he came out swinging with. Initially elusive as all get out, the now-DC-based, mostly Nigerian-raised emcee seemingly had next to no online presence. As far as I can tell, he still doesn’t have a Facebook page, but that undoubtedly contributed to what made he and the ferociously calculated “Timbuktu” so damn enthralling. I listened to that track over 100 times, easily, before the new year hit. I couldn’t get enough. But amidst the everyday chaos of my excessively busy daily routine, I kind of lost track of Ikey, and in turn his subsequent output.

Fast forward to this week when I’m greeted with a new track, one I immediately assume is the long-awaited successor to “Timbuktu,” especially given its title: “The Return Of King Jaffe.” I listen through it, then I listen through it again. And again. It’s everything I wanted in post-debut Ikey and then some. It opens with a beautiful, soulful sample of Oswald D’Andrea’s “Stop Pour Deux” and quickly starts biting after exploring the beat a bit. It appears to pick up right where “Timbuktu” left off, especially considering the savage turn that track takes around the 2:15 mark. “The Return Of King Jaffe” is succinct at 2:40, with no extraneous filler; no bullshit. Its flawless production by Sparkz perfectly accentuates Ikey’s delivery, with a kind of orchestral vibe that some might consider a throwback to Pharoahe Monch’s legendary, Akira Ifukube-sampling “Simon Says” from 1999.

In regards to the new single’s title, Ikey jokes with i-D, where it recently premiered: “It’s kinda dedicated to James Earl Jones. I used to rock a dope fur hat back in the day that kinda looked like the hat James Earl Jones wore in Coming to America. Since I’m African, people used to call me King Jaffe. I dropped a project, Coming to America, back in the day, too, so the joke just stuck.”

Following five or six spins of “Return Of King Jaffe,” I was hit with a bit of a gut punch as I came to realize I somehow slept on an entire 9-track EP that was released earlier this year, one that “King Jaffe” nearly served as a bonus cut to. Part of me was disappointed in myself for having missed it, but most of me became rabid as I immediately cut out every other thing demanding my attention to stream 40 minutes of Ikey output, including another go at his inaugural joint, which serves as the third track on the EP. I also noticed, after minimal research, that the EP’s title track began floating around online as far back as February 2013, via music video. How I never caught that is beyond me.

Ikey’s Green Card EP is one of the best hip-hop releases of the past few years. The production and effort as a whole is far more diverse than I could have anticipated. Whether it be the hypnotic and ethereal aura of “Olodo” or the sultry and glamorous sample foundation that layers within “Theone Song,” the EP is constructed beautifully, with a precise and meticulous vision. It has some great guest features that flow seamlessly, plenty of surprising melody, lots of African influence, and Ikey’s delivery–cadence and all–is on point throughout; an unrelenting fire. He has the impressive ability to turn on a dime from a welcoming lightheartedness to a full-on, intimidating lyrical assault, never jeopardizing the organic flow of those transitions, as would be easy to do in almost any instance.

The EP’s penultimate track is a beautifully scored poem–written and recited by Ikey’s friend Judah, aka Elmanium–that at first comes across as jarring and appears an odd choice of an inclusion, yet it should quickly click for the listener as it serves its purpose well as an interlude of sorts.

“I wish I could teach the children why they should dream with no limits, get them to comprehend why it is possible – not just see that vision, made in the image of a creator. We are creators. The future is sitting right at our fingertips and all we must do is take it.”

“He’s always given me inspirational words like that so I felt it’d be dope to have him drop some of those on the EP,” Ikey explained to me this morning. It gives credence to the overarching convictions in the content, as Ikey originally shared with Complex, “Since everyone is looking for that one come up, I felt like they’d be able to relate to this theme. Everyone is chasing a dream.” He also revealed to Complex on another occasion that “Olodo” is a “rags to riches story about setting your own goals and aspirations versus letting others set them for you.”

Clearly, as countless artists have proven for decades, personal experience often serves as the best source material for powerful, evocative results in any form of art. The release’s cover image–which immediately brings to mind Old Dirty Bastard’s iconic Return to the 36 Chambers welfare card–only adds a visual emphasis to the genuineness and sense of relatability found on Green Card.

I won’t make the mistake of allowing my attention on Ikey to slip again. Few artists enter the ring with such poise and confidence and the material to warrant it all. Ikey hasn’t disappointed yet, and while he’s certainly set the bar high for the fate of his own future follow-ups, as of now he seems wholly consistent with the talent and potential to continue delivering top-notch confirmations. The fact that he seems to be quite scrupulous and selective with his work further ensures we’re only seeing quality output as well. Ikey backed this notion up in our email exchange today: “I’m definitely a perfectionist. I’m usually working on material hours, even days at a time, looking for ways to perfect it, especially with my projects. I try to make sure it doesn’t get in the way of releasing the material on time though.”

Ikey is a name that’ll soon be prominent and inescapable in the hip-hop realm, and I’m excited to see the New York native’s inevitable evolution and anything he puts his name on from here on out.

Long live King Jaffe.
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Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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