Updated: Oct 3, 2022
This post is written by Michael "Farley" McFarland - founder of Second Street LLC. Farley has worked at several recording studios in Chicago, and has produced & engineered several works of both his own and others' music.
There's a certain intangible sadness we sometimes feel in recognizing the plainness of life. You ever have a really boring day where nothing happens, and you don't really feel like you made any progress, and then you go to bed unsatisfied? A single day can be, in a word, spiritless. Now, if we pair that with the terrifying fact that a life is simply the sum of all of these individual days... it gets pretty melancholic to think about.
And don't get me wrong: we don't have to feel down all the time... but!... there is something so convincingly human about relating to this universal feeling. I've found that some of my personal favorite musicians aren't the ones who come across as larger-than-life or superhuman... they're the ones who feel the things we feel, in the ways that we all feel them. Their art shows us that we share a certain experience, and showing it through an abstraction (e.g., music) will always be more effective than telling us with the words we may not have.
The word "ennui" is borrowed from the French, loosely translating to "a feeling of weariness and fatigue, resulting from tediousness and boredom." Pretty gloomy, huh? So for the multi-talented 20-year-old Khari Jackson to select a name like this certainly holds some weight.
As a singer, songwriter, producer, guitarist, and self-proclaimed "hermit," Khari Ennui's social media presence exists more as a mood board than it does as the shameless self-promotion we sometimes see in today's age. His authenticity is a breath of fresh air, as if to say that he'd rather figure out his artistry publicly and in the open, rather than doing his discovery behind closed doors and giving the audience a one-sided, manufactured perspective.
There's no denying that Khari is on an absolute tear in 2022, dropping two full projects and featuring several times on the works of close collaborator Hitxion. His prolificness is made all the more impressive when you realize that this is Khari's first full year as an active artist. CH. 20, his most recent offering, clocks in at just under 30 minutes of incredibly heartfelt work.
What Does It Sound Like?
"Wynd" is an instant head-nodder with a slow, lazy trap beat and plenty of open space. Khari's vocals float high above the beat, starting off at a conversational tone, but eventually cascading into a shouty, emotional flow not unlike some early Trippie Redd songs. His transparency is laid out from the get-go, as he repeats the mantra:"presently, I'm see-through." He shows plenty of rhythmic intrigue, able to place syllables in all the right spots.
Khari Ennui's main style is quite experimental, opting for ambient, droning beats and laying them with heavy harmony stacks, akin to IDK's "European Skies." This works extremely well both in setting him apart stylistically from popular trends, but also to let him show off his impressive singing chops. The hazy, lush arrangement in "donotdisturb" benefits from tiny details in the background vocal reverbs and guitar accent tones, made even more interesting by production techniques like phasers and filter sweeps to keep the musical elements constantly moving. Other tracks that illustrate this style are "Sirens" and "Gardens," where song structures like 'verse' and 'hook' act as mere guidelines, as time moves by slowly and pensively, drawing the listener into a thoughtful trance. Compositionally, it just makes sense.
Tapped on CH. 20 is Hitxion, who contributes a standout verse on "Interstellar!" where he never seems to run out of air. Hitxion contemplates a philosophical battle of work ethic vs. determinism, ultimately deciding that life should be best spent dedicating oneself to their individual mission without waiting or hoping for something good to happen. Obviously, this complements Khari's style very well, because this same sense of"ennui" is what he cites as the main reason he's creating art in the first place. The cosmic perspective on the track is thematically bolstered by space-themed bars throughout the track; a very rewarding listen.
While Khari more frequently leans into his silky singing voice, he still raps plenty. "13..." is a great example of a song that is undeniably pinned down by a modern trap feel. Sitting in the pocket of a bouncy 808, Khari and collaborator Frida Ka$hflo trade bars often referencing anime culture, something like a Juice WRLD radio freestyle might have sounded like.
The project rounds out with "Rain," a June single that features a delicate piano and a shuffling rhythm, and "Yurn," which is an ethereal track with post-rock influences.
What Does It Feel Like?
Altogether, CH. 20 is a strong continuation of Khari Ennui's growing expression as an artist. As opposed to his first project 3/18, which relies significantly on acoustic guitar stylings, CH. 20 explores sound design further -- picking more digital, synthesizer-heavy options to compliment his vocals. By virtue of being digital, this means there are significantly more options to choose from -- something that I believe Khari, a demonstrably-strong poet by any medium, benefits from (similar to a painter that is given a more expansive palette of colors).
As a vocalist, Khari Ennui conveys his emotions very effectively throughout the project. By using several layers of vocals (whether they're truly intended to be intelligible vocals, merely mumbled and disfigured background versions, or sometimes just expressive "hmm's" or "ahh's"), he prioritizes emotion over lyrical clarity. Sometimes, having a general idea and simply hitting 'record' is the best way to go. By letting the delivery come naturally, often times artists reach closer to a flow-state which allows us to tap in to one's most creative self.
Khari's lyrics evoke a similar feeling: where expressiveness comes first and syntax comes second. On the impassoined "Firefall," for example, the lyrics read:"silent nights, withdrew ties; sunrise to the skyfall; evening springs renew fire; sunsets turnin' lukewarm; yeah, this shit like cryin' by the tithin' jar; hidden scars still bleed when they see firefall." As listeners, we could try to dissect what this means, but it will undoubtedly mean something different to each person... As I mentioned earlier, music can speak when words fail.
The instrumentals on their own feel reflective, spacey, and almost meditative. Altogether, the album feels like an important step for any person to make as they explore the mysteries of life: questions like "why am I here?" and "who should I be?" Surely, this rings true for Khari as he navigates his graduation, a pandemic, and a new era in adulthood. But, this album surely shows us great promise that he'll have plenty of opportunities to choose from in art.
After his first show at The WC Social Club in West Chicago in early August, Khari is on schedule to appear at The Forge in Joliet on October 9th. For those serious about keeping an eye on the up-and-comers in and around Chicago, he's can't-miss-entertainment.
Feel free to leave a comment or share your thoughts on this project! We at Second Street would love to discuss your opinions.
On The Block...
"Malbec" - Cece Maravilla
The Madison, WI native that first burst onto the Chicago scene full of energy and charisma is back with a bright, lively bop. They rocked a show at Reggie's Music Joint with close friend and co-producer Heartgaze last week. Impossible to listen just once!
"Guerrilla Terrorist" - Tim Perez
This smoky, clandestine tune is riddled with outrageous punchlines as the wordsmith Perez cycles through ever-changing voices over a chiming snare. The kind of music that smacks you across your face; think Pro Era circa 2012. Raw and unapologetic.
"Better You" - Cassius Tae
A multimedia experience in anticipation of Tae's forthcoming Moments in Desire album, complete with a gorgeous shirt design to support the song. A classic soul sample chopped into a positive, inspiring banger about keeping hope in your future.