Back in May, Jay Swifa hosted a listening party for his debut album and it seemed like it was finally his moment. Fans—young and old—packed the eastern tip of Blockfort, a newly-opened Downtown art gallery at which the artist himself played DJ.
Swifa, born Jonathan Tribune, is mostly known by his fans as a producer with a talented ear for rhythm and a remarkable ability to mix synths and samples with an array of beats—from high tempo EDM to stripped down boom bap hip-hop. The title to Jay’s June-released musical work is called Enigma, and it’s only appropriate that it assume such a name.
The opening chorus to his song “Dystopia” repeats the message, “You made me change my mind. I had to go my own way,” which only makes sense considering he had to dig out a new path in music after Fly Union, the hip-hop trio he was formerly a part of, unceremoniously disbanded in 2016. For the 34-year-old, it was a major setback.
“Honestly, the group was split and I was devastated and frustrated for a while and depressed,” he recalled over drinks at a Near East Side bar just across from where former group member Iyeball used to live. “I wasn’t doing music for a while. I was just kind of running around doing stupid shit,” he continued while admitting the height of his downest time was in 2016 after he returned from living in New York City for a short time. The mix of Jay losing all of his music to a hard drive crash and a lack of musical direction had his plans for a start over in jeopardy.
“I was couch hopping and wasn’t moving like I’m supposed to and wasn’t taking shit serious,” he said. “I just had a realization one day, I woke up like, ‘This ain’t me.’ I remember the exact day too. I lost the key to the spot and I ended up having to sleep outside and I woke up like, ‘What the fuck are you doing, man?’ It was a real moment.”
“After that I started to keep my head up and look forward,” he continued. “I started to have a better relationship with my son and a better relationship with my parents, so I snapped out of it and learned from it.”
Eventually it would be music that would steer him back into positivity. His production for former Fly U group member Jerreau was the start. He laid the instrumentals for the hit single “Really Got It,” a song that was posted on Instagram by LeBron James who danced to it in a video. The instance ended up being the center of a Dre Beats-directed video for the track, which has been viewed on YouTube over 4.6 million times and was set in Columbus.
The success wasn’t necessary for Swifa to return to music, but it was a big confidence boost for him. “It just let me know that alright, I definitely still have joints that people love if I just keep working harder,” he said. Subsequently, the experience helped lead him to his new venture of starting a career as a solo artist. It’s a path he took and hasn’t looked back since beginning the journey.
The product of a wide array of musical inspirations, from The Pharcyde and EPMD to Wyclef Jean and Amy Winehouse, the North Linden native’s newest work is a mix of hip-hop, EDM, house, and a soupçon of soul. Released via his brand new label, Fresh Produce Records, Enigma is a journey into Swifa’s past and the prelude to his sonic future.
“I really had a chance to sit down and study music before I put it out. I was kind of retraining my ear and thoughts and how I write stuff, changing stuff around,” he relayed. “It’s definitely always something I wanted to do, I just wanted to come with the right stuff to do it. It took me a minute and I didn’t want to rush it.”
Blockfort would be a major test for Jay Swifa. He played his debut solo project in full twice to a crowd—mixed with family and friends who have known the musician since he began making beats professionally and a newer crop of younger fans, who know of Swifa’s prowess from the Fly Union days and random in-shop performances at Sole Classics and the now-closed Milk Bar Boutique during Gallery Hop.
The other element driving the event and his return to music was doing his thing in-front of an audience. It’s something he hasn’t done for three years. “I really miss performing,” he said. “That’s the main reason why I wanted to come out with a solo project. I’m really excited because I have hella energy and I’ve been wanting to get back to the stage.”
Forthcoming for Jay Swifa is Frontstage Fest (August 11), which he’ll be co-headlining with The Sidekicks, who also call Ohio home. It’ll be his first big opportunity to prove to his hometown that he hasn’t gone anywhere. He just needed some time to figure out how a solo career would work out, and the reassurance that Columbus was still waiting for his next move. Luckily for everyone, he chose to keep the beats and vibes going.
For music and more information on Jay Swifa visit soundcloud.com/jayswifa.