Exclusive Premiere: Bengaluru Soul/Hip-Hop Artist Lojal’s Sublime Debut ‘Phase’
Featuring guest spots from rappers Hanumankind and Banrap Lyngdoh, the Manipur-bred producer, singer and guitarist is strikingly genre fluid
Less than a year ago, Manipur origin artist Martin Haokip was in the midst of what he calls “some levels of depression” and was a “dysfunctional human being” for a few weeks until he decided to create one track each day in his home studio setup in Bengaluru. He had just moved from Shillong to the new city in order to take his art seriously.
The resultant debut album Phase is released under the moniker lojal (pronounced “loyaal”) on Pune label Maaya Sound, comes across as ever-morphing snapshots in which Haokip and his band address their struggles through eight tracks of experimental hip-hop, soul and R&B. Also performing live in Bengaluru as lojal – and previously with seven-member lo-fi R&B band Our State O’ Mind (OSO’M) in Shillong – Haokip says Phase has much more “produced elements” and their live set aims for even bigger arrangements. He adds, “To convey the arrays of emotions/feels and thoughts that exists in the art, lojal is not just a band or one person, but whatever music requires it, to be your own best medium between the universe and self.”
As far as expectations go with any kind of record that is informed by hip-hop, Haokip says that listeners shouldn’t go in hoping to hear a pop record either. “Don’t even try listening for structures, the album is a mess, but that’s the phase, that’s my headspace at this moment,” he adds. Songs like “Apex Of This Life” presents soul-bearing rap that’s confessional at times, while “I’m Gone (You’re Home)” recalls cutting-edge musicians such as Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino and Bon Iver, offering thoughts on burdensome living. The title track features chilling inner monologues about suicide, but it’s juxtaposed by cool, head bob-friendly grooves. A lot of Phase is ephemeral (“Not My Fault,” “9” ft rapper Hanumankind) and downcast (“Let Down,” featuring rapper Banrap Lyngdoh) and solidifies lojal’s diverse sound (“Happy” pairs gentle guitar harmonies with a horn section).
Despite the emotional outpouring, Haokip says making and releasing Phase — with producer Nisthula Murphy — wasn’t all cathartic, because “there were moments that really hurt to think or write about.” He, however, adds, “I believe we should learn to express our hearts better.” Haokip specially counts “I’m Gone (You’re Home)” as one of the more difficult tracks, but it offered a breakthrough in what he wanted “the rest of the project to sound like.”
Up next in March, there’s a music video for “Let Down” and launch gigs in Mumbai on March 8th (at Above the Habitat) and in Bengaluru. Haokip adds, “lojal will also be touring before the end of the year. I’m constantly working on adding more dates and putting out more music and we also have album merch coming.”
Stream ‘Phase’ below.