Humble, gracious, considered – these are not words you’d use to describe a stereotypical rapper. But nineteen year old Arno Faraji is all of these things, and to top it off, he’s bloody talented, too.
Arno had been making beats for less than a year before he won Triple J Unearthed High. Since then, he’s collaborated with big names like Remi and Sensible J, cruising from success to success. When I ask him how it feels to gain traction in the industry so quickly, he answers honestly:
“It was definitely overwhelming at the start.”
He describes going from juggling music with his final years of high school to performing to 20,000 people at Triple J’s One Night Stand, “It took a lot of adjusting,” he says. “But I’m grateful to have gone through it.”
Despite his whirlwind-like entry into the industry, he approaches his performances with ease. At his upcoming Hills Are Alive appearance, he tells me “You’re gonna see a lot of people yelling and having a good time.” He’s bringing big energy and good vibes – expect a lot of crowd interaction, he says.
‘Vibes’ are a recurring theme with Arno. On Soundcloud, he describes himself as a ‘vibes guy’. His creative process, as he describes it, is guided by intuition:
“If I go into the studio, or wherever I am, and I feel a specific vibe, like, this is happy, Imma make a happy track for it… sometimes it’s just how I’m feeling, sometimes it’s how I want to feel, or sometimes it’s how I want people to feel. It usually comes down to the vibe.”
He lists his influences as Childish Gambino, Smino and Chance the Rapper (he generously laughs off my inability to pronounce ‘Kaytranada‘). Childish Gambino’s work has been pretty political recently, I note. Is Arno influenced by politics at all in his work?
“Political stuff is real political, you know what I mean?” I can practically hear him smiling.
“I’m tryna go in correctly before I actually address it straight up on a track.”
“You don’t want to say the wrong thing”, I offer.
“Exactly,” he says. “But politics is a big part of music, and I appreciate all the guys like Childish Gambino who think about things like that in a way that you can digest it so easily.”
“They’re not trying to preach it, they’re just showing you another lens through it, and I think that’s really dope. I hope to do that one day in my music too.”
When that day comes, Arno will undoubtedly have something profound to say. His rap is repeatedly described as intelligent – lines like, ‘And I know she conscious, that’s why she use me probably/ She’s not used to space but she’s a Venus mami/ In a goddess body and I’m only human’ ebb with eloquence.
“Have you always been good with words?”, I wonder.
“I’d like to think I was… my English teachers would probably like to disagree, though.”
“On a basic level words haven’t been that hard for me because I feel like I’ve been expressing myself since I was really young. I just really know how to say how I feel.”
That comes across in his recent single, ‘things change‘, a track about love and letting go of relationships. ‘things change‘ has a different tone to the bulk of Arno’s work, I observe, it feels much more reflective, more personal. Was that intentional?
“Yeah… this early in I would really like to hit different feels and pockets – to experiment early, so that if I do something like ‘things change’ again, no one’s gonna be like ‘aw, I didn’t expect that from Arno. I’m just trying to explore all my waves first, and build up on that.”
He describes his tendency to release music slowly as a strategy, so he can avoid being pinned down to one specific sound. I’m impressed by how considered all his choices seem to be – for an artist so young, he has a lot of self awareness.
“I feel like there’s been a shift in rap and hip hop recently where rappers who were traditionally seen as ‘macho’ are being a lot more vulnerable and self-explorative in their work,” I suggest. What are Arno’s thoughts on that?
He’s grateful for it, he says.
“Seeing someone else do it, it gives you the confidence to do it yourself,” he explains. He hopes ‘things change‘ can inspire other Australian artists who are trying to be vulnerable, to break free of the rap ‘macho’ vibe, if they want to.
Finally, I ask him, “What does ‘vibe’ mean to you? Is it a feeling, or more like an atmosphere?”
“It’s both”, he says.
“You can walk up to somebody, or you can see something really dramatic happen, and you feel that tension in the air – that’s a vibe. Or you can walk into a room filled with your friends and you can feel what’s happening, that’s a vibe as well. It’s an atmosphere, your feelings towards it, and the response.”
Got it. He wishes me a great week, and we say goodbye. After the interview, I have another listen to ‘Destiny’s‘, letting the smooth, spacey vibes dictate the rest of my afternoon. If this is what the future of Australian hip hop looks like, I think, bring on the 2020s.
Grab tickets to see Arno on tour with Cosmos Midnight here.
You can catch him at Hills Are Alive Festival here.
Check out his latest tracks here.