JaySwifa traverses Columbus, his own musical past on 'Timeless'

Andy Downing

Timeless, the new instrumental album from JaySwifa, serves as both a tour of his musical upbringing, as well as a swing through his Columbus hometown, a tour best evidenced by lively album track “Morse Rd.,” on which Swifa recreates the chaotic energy of the North Side stretch of roadway.

“It just has that feeling, that business of Morse Road. There are cars everywhere. People can’t drive,” said JaySwifa, still best known to many for his role in Columbus rap group Fly.Union. “It’s Kroger. Guitar Center. Sam Ash. Northland Mall. It represents my whole early upbringing.”

“Morse Rd.” aside, though,Timeless is generally a comforting, if high-energy, listen, Swifa constructing soulful, warmly nostalgic beats that often serve as headphone-aided escape amid the chaos of 2020— a cocooned feel that mirrors a creative process the musician adopted long before COVID hit.

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“I spend a lot of time creating music in the dark by myself anyway, so once quarantine hit and everything settled in … I just had more time,” said Swifa, whoreleased the album on streaming platforms last week. “Some creatives can’t do nothing right now because they’re not out talking to people. They’re not out at happy hour, eating at restaurants. So it’s just like, ‘I don’t have anything to write about. I don’t have any inspiration.’ But, me, it’s actually the perfect storm. Living in this chaos is when I start to ramp up.”

While crafted solo, Swifa said he wanted the music to project a full-band feel, and tracks are laced with drumlines that snap like rifle shots (“Marching”), swooning, intoxicated horns (“AYB (At Your Best)”) and strutting, broad-chested basslines that had this writer leaning a little heavier on the throttle during a rare recent crosstown trek (“Practice?”).

“I’ve been collecting samples since I was 11, so I’ve just been going on my hard drive and finding stuff,” said Swifa, who assembled his deep library of samples via old-school crate digging, as well as gathering samples online from sites like Blogspot. “A lot of my beats have horns on them, and I kind of just kept pushing that way … because everybody loves a live band. I try to sound like a live band with just one person.”

Starting off in music, Swifa absorbed everything from the Pharcyde, Wyclef Jean and J Dilla to Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine. “And all of that is still in my brain, somehow,” said the musician, who is still experimenting with ways to synthesize the varied sounds in his head.

Other early fascinations are more distant now, though. As a teenager, Swifa said he was obsessed with landing a label deal, though he’s now grateful that one never materialized, which has allowed him a necessary creative freedom as he’s progressed through his career. 

“When I was 15, I would send stuff to out-of-town labels, and as I got older I was like, ‘I’m so glad I didn’t sign a deal at 16 or 17,’” he said. “I knew I had more originality as far as writing, and songwriting for me is even more important than just rapping. If you write a song, it can take you anywhere.” 

Even Morse Road.