Yours Truly Jai Earns her Wings with Veteran Showing in Debut, 'Monarch'
Evan Dale // Sep 5, 2020
Out from the creative sphere of Nashville’s hip-hop centric underground have recently emerged myriad artists bringing something new to an overarching music scene starved of timelessness and deep-rooted creative range. But what is hip-hop without soul? And what is rap without R&B? The answer, when tethered to a Nashville hip-hop underground that we’re lucky to be experiencing and exploring, is most obvious in the necessary, gorgeously unique aesthetic of Your Truly Jai.
When we talk Nashville – and we do often – a seeming constant is industry-leading quality and creativity as they tend to decorrelate with global reach (yet). There isn’t a city or a scene doing more with less resources than Nashville’s. There isn’t a city or a scene, period, doing what Nashville is doing right now. An inclusive creative community, the Tennessee capital and arguably the South’s next culture capital is churning out high-class, unique, professional, and veteran projects from a seemingly endless mosaic of youthful, up-and-coming names. Where one artist from one city (or five from Atlanta) may pop up in a given run, the well is yet to run dry on a 2019 and 2020 heavy with vibrant, acclaim-worthy projects, audio, visual, and audiovisual. To put it succinctly, Nashville is on fire – the kind of run that starts a new global wave transcending stylistic delineation, and instead encapsulating the wide swath of music, fashion, photography, videography, and social statement. And if anything in particular needs to be said about what Your Truly Jai means to it all, let her tell it herself with Monarch.
The six-track EP – her debut project – feels pulled from so many different keystone moments in R&B’s storied past that it becomes clear that Jai is a conglomerate student of her craft’s history – one that bleeds first with emotional evocation, second with crystalline vocals, and third with keystrokes dancing light-footedly hand-in-hand with funky basslines. And yet, even as the entirety of the 15-minute collection pulls its listeners into a state of reminiscence on classic Southern Soul, on 90’s R&B, and on an early 00’s marriage to rap features (see: Chuck Indigo on One Day), Monarch ultimately earns its wings in its ability to transcend not only era and epoch, but the idea of stylistic delineation as it stood by standards gone by.
Your Truly Jai – as is consistent with so many Nashville artists simultaneously changing the music scene for the better – is a product of the creatively fluent environment from where she comes. An adept R&B soulstress, her role in modern music is to create something new. And Monarch is unlike anything we’ve ever heard, without sidestepping its classic foundations.
Hearing In Too Deep – Monarch’s opening track – for the first time goes one step further in unexpected, professional bliss than her pre-2020 canon. Instead, the opening moments of Monarch mirror in jarring veteran tone the illusive texture and beauty of her collaborative visual project with emerging videography wunderkind, SECK: Time. And that’s saying a lot. Like Time – like SECK – Jai with Monarch transcends her stature, emerging as a refined force of daunting musical range that seemingly skipped the growing pains. From its silky guitar riff, to its wider, organically instrumental foundation, the production alone setting the foundation for Jai is every bit as firm and aesthetically delightful as those produced for most mainstream R&B queens. With its fluttering keystrokes and layered, pristine vocals, In Too Deep is an immersive, emotive, and magical masterpiece that not only encapsulates the attention of anyone listening, but also sets in motion the rest of a project that never falls short of its incredibly high-set bar.
Melancholy yet uplifting; emotionally taxing yet inspiringly bold and powerful, Yours Truly Jai is every bit as conversational in her understanding of the emotional responses evoked by her art, as she is with her understanding of timeless R&B itself. Because, even as the stylistic tone of her musicality rides differing waves in differing directions, it remains tethered akin by the underlining of the place from where it’s born.
Written full of struggle and perseverance in the face of unearthing love, Monarch’s second offering, Searchin’ rides a mellow club beat that pulls its listeners state of mind in two directions – dancing through the pain of difficulties that come with a budding relationship. An interlude – Broken Wing – which is less of what its intermissionary title suggests, and is more of an atmospheric, ambient exploration of Monarch at large, immerses its listeners in a poetic, introspective pool of Jai’s many states of mind while writing and orchestrating the EP. 21 and Done channels soulstress strength of the past and present, for Jai to put forth a powerful anthem of self-reliance and overcoming the negativity of a relationship. Could having come from any decade of the past four, it’s the timeless, necessary showing of musical and personal force that has always made soul music an exhibition space of feminine energy. Layered with Jai’s own range, October is a fluttering vocal display that should soundtrack picnics in the park, drinking rosé with friends. And One Day is a fervent showing of Jai’s ability to turn up the cadence and put together a vibrant hip-hop collaboration with another Nashville star on the rise, Chuck Indigo.
For its short length, Monarch is a long, coming of age tale both personally and creatively for Yours Truly Jai. Reckonings with lost love of the past, hopefulness for love in the future, self-reliance, power, and unending emotionality lay the foundation for a young R&B force to explore the bounds of her range – vocally dominating the project while working in fluid harmony with its Nashvillian respect for timeless instrumentation hand-in-hand with experimental risks.