On the album cover for his debut mixtape, Mafeni is at home, literally and figuratively. He’s wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants; one foot is on the sofa, his left hand grips a gamepad, and the right covers a side of his face. Above this picture, the title of the mixtape stands out, gold letters on a black strip.
2016 was an excellent year for music. So great that some random person tweets about how great it was every fortnight, and thousands of people concur like they did two weeks before. That year, Rihanna dropped ANTI, Ycee had the streets popping with “Omo Alhaji”, and Mafeni released Enjoy. As the title suggests, the songs and the themes they address are mainly laid-back, with the artist just rapping honestly about the things he was feeling and experiencing: “Um, at the time I was just vibing. I was 19 at the time, hanging out, being sad, being happy, chasing girls, all that stuff. And Enjoy was my way of capturing that time period. Making it helped me be more comfortable with me, so I’d hope it’s done the same for someone else.” True to his vision of capturing life as he saw it, the album touches on various subject matters. Love, fashion, parties and drugs, everything gets a nod.
The opener “See U Soon” is a straight rap banger that explores feeling pressure to fit in and be “accepted” before deciding to be his true self and focus on chasing cash. “Alice”, on the other hand, has a slower tempo, focusing on the existential. On this track, he contemplates growing older and the responsibilities that come with age: “Running out of time/Something’s on my mind/Why can’t I be young forever?” “Television” highlights the versatility of Mafeni’s artistry as he combines singing and rapping seamlessly while pouring his heart out to his lover. The intense emotions he feels trickle out through lyrics that evoke emotions. When he describes his woman’s drama and how she’s tweaking while being dressed in all black, the scene is set in your head: two lovers, one confused and excited at the newness of this type of love. The outro confirms this: “Wonder what you breathe/Pray to God you never leave/I ain’t never met a girl/Who can do these things to me.”
And speaking of songwriting and lyricism, perhaps the most outstanding feature of the project is Mafeni’s ability to tackle serious thoughts and feelings with everyday vocabulary. For an album that presents itself as relaxed and at ease, there’s a deceptive depth to his view of the world, a depth that reveals itself with each new verse. The second verse of “In A Strange Mood”, the album’s fifth track, stresses this ability to use simple words effectively: “Never question God, but I do question religion/Do you preach for the people or to benefit the system?/And my mama don’t like it when I go against the grain/But I look out my window all I see is the pain.”
Unlike the randomness of its lyrical content, recording Enjoy was more organised, with his work ethic emphasising the effort that went into making a stellar body of work: “I used to record mostly on Sundays, and days I got off work for about six months. I think we managed 15 songs overall and then released nine of them. Spent the week writing and going to work, and Sunday recording. I was working with KSto a lot at the time, but he moved to NY. DOZ and Le Mav sent me a few beats as well. Then I would go on YouTube from time to time. I recorded the whole tape at Sparemonkey studio, which really helped me learn how to project my voice.”
Five years later, Enjoy has stood the test of time and is still a fan favourite. The comforts Mafeni hoped his mixtape would bring listeners has wrapped our ears with an embrace of impressive cadence and flows, and he couldn’t be more pleased. When I ask if he has any favourite songs from the tape, he answers in the negative: “I like all of them tbh, can remember the events that inspired them pretty vividly, so I can’t choose. I feel content and grateful.” He has expressed his intentions to make a new project soon, signalling the breaking of a new stage in his career. But as you wait for the next, why don’t you time off to listen to his first again? Put on a T-shirt and sweatpants, put one foot on the sofa, and enjoy.