The way back with Jai Carey

After a five-year absence, the Columbus rapper is finally writing and recording with an eye on releasing a new project sometime in 2021

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Jai Carey

Jai Carey said that he’d experienced depression before, but never as heavy as the weight that settled in following the passing of his grandmother, who died in January 2015. 

“That type of depression was new, because I’d never really experienced death in that way before,” said Carey, who initially explored these heady emotions on songs like “Famous Last Words,” a track off of the Project Housing EP, from 2015, on which the rapper wrestled with suicidal thoughts. 

After the release of the EP, Carey pivoted, attempting to literally work his way out of depression, juggling multiple jobs as a means of creating constant distraction. Then, following the birth of his son three years ago, Carey immersed himself deep in dad life, which pushed music even further into the rear view. Before he realized it, more than five years had passed in which he’d written fewer than a half-dozen verses, this after creating songs almost daily for the better part of 20 years.

“I wouldn’t even call it writer’s block. The depression was just making it where I had no interest in music,” said Carey, who started to reemerge beginning in September, participating in weekly online rap battles as a means of shaking off accrued rust. “Around that time, I started going to school again for sound engineering, which went hand-in-hand with getting back deep into music like I had been previously. … And with that, I think I started getting inspired, like, ‘I’m going to show [my son] anything is possible.’ And I can’t do that if I’m not following my dreams. I wanted to set an example for him.”

Carey said that he’s entering into this new go-round with a different mindset than the one with which he previously pursued his craft. “Before, the focus was on the art, but it was also, ‘Yeah, I’m trying to live being an artist, because I’m making music, and I want to live off of making music,’” he said. “Now, I’m cool with businesses being my primary source of income, and I can just go out and create, because that’s what’s in my heart. And my son can see that and say, ‘Cool. My dad’s handling business, but he’s also doing what he loves to do.’ … There’s more of a legacy I want to create now, where my son can look at the music and be like, ‘My dad did that. And I’m proud that my dad did that.’”

In the early months since again picking up the mic, Carey has focused on redeveloping skills and establishing a routine, carving out time each week when he can focus on rapping, which he described as a mental adjustment following a stretch when the hours not spent either at work or with his son somehow felt unproductive or selfish. 

There’s also a subtle evolution taking place within the verses that Carey has crafted in recent months, which he described as more personal and less enamored with showcasing wordplay or flaunting his vocabulary. The rapper said this shift has been driven in part by COVID-related shutdowns, which left him with less access to the external tensions he might have explored in the past, allowing more time to delve inward.

“When you’re forced to spend time with yourself, that changes things a lot, because it gives you time to confront things you normally wouldn’t confront, or to look at aspects of yourself you normally wouldn’t,” said Carey, who envisions releasing a larger project at some point in 2021, a venture he recently started in earnest, collecting beats from producers such as J. Rawls and Jack “Tha Audio Unit” Burton. “I went through [phases] where people were like, ‘Oh, he’s the super lyrical guy.’ And, ‘He’s the freestyle guy.’ Now I feel like I’m settling into a different part of me being me, where people can see Jai for Jai. I’m not afraid to step up and be myself.”