‘What We Call Life’ is Jordan Rakei’s most vulnerable and intimate album to date. Its lyrics concern the lessons that the New Zealand-born, Australia-raised, and London-based artist learned about himself during therapy, a journey that began two years ago when he started reading about the ‘positive psychology’ movement. These themes manifest on songs like lead single “Family”, which Rakei says is “the most personal” he’s ever been with his lyrics. “I wanted to hit my vulnerability barrier and be really honest. It’s about my parents’ divorce in my mid-teens but still having love for them no matter what,” he explains.
With so many artists being influenced by his style, it would be very easy for Jordan to stay in the same musical lane; but, as in life, he is determined to move his music forward. Such introspective subjects are a departure from Rakei’s last album, 2019’s ‘Origin’. Raising big questions about the way that technology and social media interferes with our sense of humanity, ‘Origin’ received praise from The Observer, Mixmag, Complex, and GQ, earned an unexpected shout-out from Elton John, led to a collaboration with rap legend Common, and saw Rakei give a show-stopping performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series.
No stranger to collaboration, Rakei is closely associated with friends and collaborators like Loyle Carner (with whom he co-wrote, produced and performed on “Ottolenghi” and the Jorja Smith-featuring “Loose Ends”), Tom Misch and Alfa Mist. He has also joined Chic’s Nile Rodgers for a writing session and recorded with Terrace Martin, producer for Kendrick and Snoop Dogg, and Herbie Hancock. There’s also his tight relationship with the South London dance music scene orbiting Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section clubnight and label, with Rakei adopting the alias Dan Kye, most recently to offer up an exclusive track for Bonobo’s ‘Fabric presents’ mix and to release his full-length, ‘Small Moments’ album in November 2020. He also recently covered Donald Byrd’s “Wind Parade” for the Blue Note Re:imagined compilation, and earlier this year showcased work from his creative community alongside some of his favourite tracks (including his own covers of Radiohead’s “Codex”, and Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should've Come Over”) in his mix for the esteemed LateNightTales series. He continues to offer up production tutorials and behind-the-scenes insights into his creative process with his fan community on Patreon.
With previously sold-out US and Australian headline tours, as well as performances at iconic venues and festivals – including Glastonbury, Pitchfork Avant-Garde Block Party, Sxsw, Montreux Jazz Festival, two sold out nights at Ronnie Scott’s, and a DJ set at Fabric (under his Dan Kye alias) – Jordan played a triumphant sold-out stop at London’s Roundhouse in 2019. In April 2022 he will embark on his biggest UK and EU tour yet, ending with a massive headline show at London’s 5000-capacity O2 Academy Brixton.
On ‘What We Call Life’ Rakei dives deeper into his sound world, merging electronic with acoustic, and rugged grooves with ambient atmospheres, to create something richer, more detailed, and more textural than before. Rakei, already a practitioner of meditation and mindfulness, was curious about the potential of using therapy for further self-discovery. During the process, he began to learn more about his behaviour patterns and anxieties, and addressed his long-standing irrational phobia of birds – a fear often associated with the unpredictable and the unknown, and something explored in the album’s creative direction and visuals. “As we worked through it, it made me realise I would love to talk about the different lessons I learned from therapy in my music: about my early childhood, my relationship with my parents and siblings, becoming independent in London, being in a new marriage, understanding how my marriage compares to the relationship my parents had”, Rakei says.
Artwork was created by Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based visual artist Justin Tyler Close (who has worked previously with the likes of Laura Marling), who resonated with the themes on Rakei’s album. The image was created in a remote photo shoot, with Rakei sending images over the internet that were projected onto a sheet and photographed by Close. The melancholic images reflect the title of the record, a question that Rakei would sometimes ask himself during a period of his childhood in which he suffered a great deal of anxiety: Is this what we call life? Rather than accepting defeat, the title is today a commentary on the more happy, confident, and assured person and artist that Jordan Rakei is today.