Lost Files is a column dedicated to celebrating older projects that might have flown under the radar when they were released. This week, we dig into British-Ghanaian producer Juls' stunning debut and attempt to own the romantic, R&B-flavored side of Afropop – Leap of Faith.
In 2015, Mr Eazi broke into the mainstream consciousness with his single “Skintight” featuring Efya. A sort of anomaly at that point, it was one of the first songs in a new trend that saw mellowed out, slower tempo songs become club hits; a true pioneer of the afrobeats style we have come to know and love. While Mr Eazi was getting the major plaudits for the hit song, the real brains behind it was British-Ghanaian producer, Juls. The soft, bouncy beat was the perfect platform for Eazi and Efya’s singing, all combining to deliver an infectious hit song.
Building on “Skintight”’s success and further collaborations with Eazi and other acts like Teef, Sakordie, and Eugy, Juls released his first project, Leap of Faith, in 2017. The 9-track album was (and still is) a perfect example of the new wave of afrobeats, cementing his status as a trailblazer in a novel subset of a music genre that has undergone so many changes and modifications. Assisted by a solid cast, Leap of Faith was mixed and mastered entirely in his bedroom, reflecting the intimacy that permeates the project.
Leap of Faith is pure afroswing, as Juls prefers to call his music; a mix of afrobeats, soul, R&B, bashment, etc. Here, the beat takes precedence on the songs, with the featured artistes and their vocals taking the back seat on the project. Vibes, mood, aura, ambience – whatever word best describes the feeling you get while listening to good music, Leap of Faith has it in copious amounts. The best part about the quality of music is that it is not an accident, but evident, deliberate attention to detail, balancing the instrumentals and the vocals. The process of selecting the artistes to work with was also tedious. Juls stated that he had a long list before whittling it down to the twelve who eventually appeared on the project’s final version.
The album’s central themes are love and romance, which is apparent from the first track, “My Wave”, with Odunsi (The Engine) and Sona imploring their lovers to feel their waves. The album also features a running dialogue between a woman and a person who sounds like a friend, therapist, and counselor all in one. She talks about her life plans, including trading the showiness and glamour of a wedding for peace and long-lasting marriage. Throughout the album, the dialogue is honest and funny, a testament to Juls’ commitment to cohesiveness on the project. “Early” by Nonso Amadi and Maleek Berry is a mellow club hit reminiscent of “Skin Tight.”
Despite the musical talents on display, one thing is clear from the onset: this is a producer’s album, and everyone else is a supporting act. On “Give You Love”, L.A.X gives a solid fuji-esque performance, but he is overshadowed by the instrumentals, with a sax solo being the standout feature. Melodies are the defining features of “Coco”, “After Six” and “Bad” with Odunsi (The Engine), Santi, Tomi Agape, Kojo Funds, Eugy, and Not3s, respectively providing their distinct voices on the smooth, euphonious tracks. “Mi Luv It” featuring Frass and Aod emphasizes the versatility of Juls as a producer as he provides a soft, Caribbean-tinged beat to accentuate their patois lyrics.
“Temperature Rising” with poet-rapper Kojey Radical is the “black sheep” of the album, as its only track where lyrics supersede the production. Ironically, this does not take anything away from the album’s coherence but adds to the feeling that Juls can stretch the boundaries of afrobeats as far as he wants, incorporating whatever elements he likes to fit his vision.
On “Eji Owuro”, the album’s closer, Nigerian artiste Moelogo does his best Asa and Wande Coal impression, singing in Yoruba with so much soul that you’re tempted to get on one knee, propose to the love of your life, and run away to a quiet island.
As a whole, the album works and works well. The themes of love and romance are deliciously spread sonically, with infused dialogue and the crisp, exciting production by Juls. Producers are the spine and foundation of afrobeats in its current world-dominating version, and we see why with Leap of Faith.