Seated at Upper Cup in mid-October, Vada Azeem initially struggled to find the motivation to discuss “In God’s Favour,” the first R&B song the longtime Columbus rapper has recorded and released under his own name, and which surfaced on streaming services today (Tuesday, Oct. 24).
“Nobody wants to hear this song right now. It just doesn’t feel right,” said Azeem, whose enthusiasm for promoting the track has been dimmed . “I have a lot of friends who are affected, and who are closely attached to Palestine. … I don’t even feel comfortable. It’s weird times, man, and I’m just really sad.”
And yet, the idea that this place can be cruel and hard is baked into “In God’s Favour,” a song that contracts a lifetime of love and growth into three minutes and 20 seconds. As the track opens, Azeem's verses recall a couple’s earliest flirtations, while the back end time-warps to some future point after the romance has calcified into something more battle-tested – a stretch Gabriel Garcia Marquez described in Love in the Time of Cholera as the years when the novel’s protagonists “both loved each other best, without hurry or excess, when both were most conscious of and grateful for their incredible victories over adversity.”
“The world gets tough/Baby we can do it,” Azeem sings as the song draws to a close, his voice lightly digitized. “Me and you can prove it/I’ll be by your side.”
“The world is tough, and you get through it not by yourself,” Azeem said. “And I like that message: We’ve been through some things, going through some things, but we’ll get there.”
Though Azeem is best known as a rapper – most recently displaying his lyrical skills on the full-length We Forgot God Was Watching, – he said he’s been singing since childhood. Up until now, though, he has kept the practice a tightly guarded secret, generally deflecting or denying if or when anyone caught him in the act.
“It’s always been private, and I think it’s something where people are going to hear it and go, ‘Man, what?’” Azeem said, and laughed. “And that’s scary, but it’s also intriguing. … I guess we’ll see what people think about it. I just hope people’s girlfriends like it. And I hope I get a lot of DMs from them. Anybody who hated on me as a rapper, I hope their girlfriend DMs me after this just so I can turn them down and tell them I’m married, but then also let them know, your girlfriend DM’d me.”
While the delivery might be different, with Azeem adopting a melodic, mid-tempo croon, there are snatches of “In God’s Favour” that recall every phase of his artistic career, be it the years he has logged as an MC (the opening stanzas could accurately be described as bars) or his late-career emergence as an author of children’s books. Within the song, for instance, Azeem promises to catch the sky were it to fall – a magical act that could have been proposed by the central character in The Boy Who Tried to Touch the Sun, .
“My main thing was making sure I did things I knew how to do,” said Azeem, who described the track as existing somewhere in the sweet spot between rap and R&B. “I never attempted to make a ‘real’ R&B record before because I knew I couldn’t, or at least I wasn’t comfortable enough to make that kind of record. But this little in-between genre, it’s something I feel like I can exist in, and I don’t have to hit runs . I don’t have to be a singer. I can make a record and hold to a specific note, and it sounds okay. Or at least I think so.”
This hedging – and a related, nagging concern that people might not like this – are relatively foreign concepts for Azeem, at least when it comes to music. As a rapper, he’s confident enough in his technique at this point that even if people don’t like a specific song, he trusts his skill and the craft with which the track was created enough to know that it’s good. Coming into “In God’s Favour,” however, this infallibility has been replaced with uncertainty.
“I genuinely don’t know if it’s good or not,” he said. “I could have played it for Rashad and asked Rashad, but I was too terrified to take it to him beforehand because I was afraid that he might tear it down. And if that happened, I would never put out anything like it, and I’d just run back into my cave and keep rapping, doing the thing I know I’m good at.”
In a weird way, it’s the possibility this evolution might not work out, and that he actually could fail, that finally led Azeem to finally make this musical leap. “I wanted to do something that wasn’t easy,” he said. “Something different, something that scares me a bit.”