The rise and rise of Arno Faraji: "This is my thing."
From an unsuspecting Unearthed High winner to one of Australian rap's most exciting names - #FARAJISZN is well in-effect.
All photos by Liam Oz.
Arno Faraji has come a long way. Once a Shenton College high-schooler toying with tropical-tinged beats and rap grooves, he's since blossomed into a heavyweight amongst a stacked Perth hip-hop circuit and one breaking further into national acclaim with every breath, seemingly moving from strength to strength as he continues. In saying that, however, you could pinpoint Faraji's evolution as a musician and rapper from the second he caught commercial attention back in 2017 - he's armed with one of Perth's most creative brains and an incomparable passion for the culture, for starters, and he's got a unique, constant drive to one-up himself in every artistic field he attempts. Faraji has always been on the path to success, the rest of the world is simply catching up.
Since his unexpected triple j Unearthed High win back in 2017, the past 24 months have seen the 19-year-old multi-disciplinary consistently prove why he's a reckoning force to Australian hip-hop. He's able to move between sounds and musical textures at an incomparable rate, yet no matter what sound he attempts, he always wins it over with that unique, distinct Arno Faraji charm. Take the two singles he shared immediately after taking out Unearthed High, for example. 2016's Destiny's swirls Arno's quick-thinking lyricism with a production brimming on the edge of a quick-paced drum'n'bass break-down (a true blend of two of Perth's once-dominant music scenes), while Tree'x, released the next year and marking his first production collaboration with TONTON, adds steel drum melodies and tropical tones underneath Arno's glide. For your stock-standard rapper, finding a bridging point between these two highly-different sounds would be near-impossible, yet it's easily distinct that both these tracks are Arno flexing his versatility muscle; his light-hearted, yet focused vocal glide being what unites the gap.
Since then, he's only come to flourish. Bless, an all-star collaboration with idols REMI and Sensible J, unites bass grooves and house beats with exchanging verses, while 2018's things change and 2019's Scalin' prove further evolution, the latter marking another collaboration with Sydney multi-instrumentalist and production gun Milan Ring. "All things change..." he sings in the 2018 single's hook, and despite the big changes that have come to Arno throughout the years - taking out Unearthed High, finishing high school and signing to Astral People for management amongst the most impactful to him - he's surprisingly still as focused and driven as he was on day-dot.
Sneakers, his second single for this year and the teaser track to a big headline tour throughout August, is - you guessed it - yet another display of Arno Faraji's brilliance as one of hip-hop's most versatile rappers. Above a production that feels like a combination of that classic US trap-rap sound and his unique, funk-edged bass grooves, Arno shows his strengths as both a lyricist and a producer, proving he's a double-threat when it comes to hip-hop - something that not a lot of rappers can say. There's plenty more to come, but to recap what's been a huge rise for one of Perth's most exciting names and cast our eye into the future, we chatted to him in the bustling surrounds of Perth's Yagan Square, with photos by Pilerats' Liam Oz.
Get swept up in Sneakers' dreamy vibes below:
I wanted to start by going back a bit. When you were growing up, you moved from Zimbabwe to Newman, in West Australia’s north, then to Perth, right?
I first moved to Perth in 2005 or 2006, and we stayed here for a few months before we moved to Newman, where we lived from when I was in pre-primary right through to around year eight. I then moved back to Perth, which is when I started going to Shenton College.
What was your relationship with music during this time?
I’ve always loved music, like even the first toy I remember getting – I think I was around three years old, actually – was a guitar. I’ve definitely been pretty infatuated by it for a long time, but most of that was just listening to it as a fan. My parents were always big on stuff like Afro-jazz and reggae – those classic genres – so I had to listen to a whole lot of that growing up.
My sister introduced me to proper hip-hop when I was around nine, just through playing it around the house and stuff, which actually kinda motivated me to actually try playing the guitar seriously.
Your first music releases were putting instrumental guitar covers on your YouTube, which is a pretty big step away from rap music. How did you get into making that more beats kinda stuff?
Those covers were my first taste of proper artistry, but while I was doing them, I was listening to a heap of hip-hop my sister put me on. My friends started making beats when I was in around year nine or ten, and being around them and watching them do it really inspired me to do them myself, so I did.
The transition into hip-hop really just followed what I was into and being influenced by my friends, who were able to teach me stuff and show me cool things. It all just connected well.
What kind of music did your friends introduce you too? Because I know you started listening to the really commercial stuff – like T-Pain – because of your sister.
My friends introduced me to basically everything, from the early Drake mixtapes and Big Sean to classic boom-bap and those really old hip-hop classics; often the most random shit too. Spotify wasn’t really around then, so we had to trade music on USBs.
From here, triple j Unearthed High happened, and you won it right when high school actually becomes semi-important, and you have things like ATAR to be thinking of. How did it feel to be thrown head-first into that?
It was wild. It was something I’d always wanted, like being in high school I’d always be like ‘yo, it’ll be so cool if my music started taking off’, but it was so hectic being thrown into it. When it happened, I went into the exams that followed just for participation basically, because I felt like enough had happened in my life to start taking music seriously. I still had a commitment to do my exams of course and I wasn’t going to drop out or anything, but I was definitely more focused on what I wanted to do afterwards, which was music.
I know your mum wasn’t too keen on you focusing on music though.
Yeah, it was very early. Jumping headfirst into music seemed so risky and kind-of scary to them, and I knew they were worried. They wanted to me to focus on that classic pathway – high school, into uni, into a full-time job – and they knew music was a risky career choice, plus there’s a chance that you might not even make it, even with those signs of success early on.
They were scared, but I felt like I had enough behind my back to get me there. I knew I could do it and make a career out of hip-hop, so I went straight for it.
Are you now 100% dedicated to music now that you’re out of high school and don’t have exams to focus on?
Yeah, 100%. There’s been a couple of milestones I wanted to tick off before I 100% dedicated myself to music, but I’ve got there. Like, when I met my booking agent, I was like ‘yo, I can really do this and make a professional living through shows’. Then, when I got my management, that was the extra step – I felt like I could 100% do music full-time when that fell into place.
What effect has being able to dedicate yourself to music had on the music itself?
It’s changed my music and my approach to music a lot. Beforehand, I had to juggle my time between studies, my music and life in general, and my music wasn’t progressing as fast as it is now because I didn’t have time to do that, you know? Now that I’ve got heaps of time to just focus on music, and it’s definitely better.
How does your mum feel about it now?
Look, it definitely took a bit of convincing to get her on board. She was like ‘yo, this is cool and all, but you’re still gonna do school right?’ which is when I had to break her what I guess is the bad news. She’s always been supportive, but she’s just had her fears when it comes to doing music full-time. Now, she – and the rest of my family – see the vision and the future, and are giving me a good support system.
One of the big things that came after Unearthed, was working with Remi and Sensible J – who I know are two very big influences for you, and two people very dedicated to their craft. What were some of the things you took away from working with them, that you’ve been able to apply to your own work?
They gave me a lot of advice on taking your time with music, and not rushing it – which is something I’ve had a problem with in the past – as well as being authentic, which is a big thing. Their music sounds really raw, and you can tell they’ve put so much time and energy into it – and that’s something I’m trying to do now.
On top of that, another big thing that’s becoming more apparent now is that when they make music with someone, they don’t just dive straight into the collaboration. They want to take the time to get to know who they’re working with and what they’re about. That’s something that I’ve really taken in, especially as an artist still relatively new to collaboration. You want to talk to the people you’re working with; get to know them and share knowledge with each other. It makes sure what you’re doing isn’t artificial.
I know you grew up producing all your own stuff, but now you’re working with other artists on production.
Yeah. All my early work and much of what I do is just me on production, but with some of the newer tracks – like Scalin’ – I’m working with artists like Milan Ring, who’s in Sydney. Oh, and Blessed with REMI and [Sensible] J of course.
What are you taking away from these artists when you work with them?
I feel like you can always learn something when you work with someone – everyone has something they can teach you. When you’re first entering the music scene and working with other people, you realise that some of them make music really fast, or really early, or this way or that way. Everyone handles their craft differently, and everyone has something they can teach from their time doing things their way.
You’re touring through August, in what’s your first headline tour. What are you doing to elevate your live show to make it headline-worthy?
Yeah, it’s wild how much I have to do. I have to play more music, and I’ve been really trying to build on talking to the crowd and having that communication. From supporting other artists over the years, I’ve really learnt how to handle filling in the time when you’ve got a full hour to play and how you can use this time to hype up a crowd and talk to them – so you don’t have to necessarily have an hour’s worth of music.
I’m not worried. I’ve done big sets before. This is my thing.
And there’s also Sneakers, your new single.
The concept is pretty self-explanatory for that track, I think. I produced it last year when I was trying to fill in gaps for a tour when I realised I didn’t actually have enough music to last the whole set. I made a couple of tracks, but this is one that survived a few listens over that time, and one I keep coming back to.
I recorded the first verse and the hook last year, and then I jumped back in to add a new verse this year – not that you could really tell, if I didn’t just say that. It’s one of those tracks I have a really good feeling about. I think that might be because it’s a track I’m personally quite close to, in the sense that I produced all of it and didn’t use any samples or anything like that. It’s all just me, in the studio, and the hours that I put into it.
From there, what else is on the horizon?
I have a project. I’ve been working on something that I want to release in the next twelve months, preferably this year though. I have the tour, and a lot more music as well. Also merch; I’ve been touring for a while, and everywhere I go I get asked about merch, but I don’t have any – that’s something my management can do though.
Arno Faraji's new single Sneakers is out now. Catch him on tour this August, and at Grapevine Gathering Perth this December.
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