IRELAND: Off The Record – the Zim-born wordsmith who set the hip-hop scene on fire
By Manon Gilbert I Limerick Live
NO WONDER Munyaradzi God Knows Jonas has been called a wordsmith. When the Shannonside rapper talks, you find yourself wanting to take note of his every thought, his every word.
Born in Zimbabwe, God Knows moved to Shannon in his early teens. With the Rusangano Family, he won the Choice Music Prize for Let The Dead Bury The Dead in 2016, which was the first ever hip-hop record to win the album of the year award.
An architect of the Irish hip-hop scene, he made his solo debut with Who’s Asking Vol. I and Vol. II in 2020.
Two years later, he set the scene on fire with We Move the Needle, in which he incorporated his African roots. Influenced by amapiano, a subgenre of house music that emerged in South Africa in the 2010s, God Knows wanted to move the needle, this time, “for good.”
As he felt he was never thinking about the present, he decided to take a risk – and bet on himself – with an introspective EP.
“I think about having some foresight and being blessed enough to have insight. That means that, more or less, I’m always going to be at the pulse of whatever’s happening in my world. So that’s what made me go, ‘We move the needle for good’,” he says.
God Knows has mentored many artists, including Denise Chaila, and is also the co-founder of Narolane Records. Even though he was “already out there”, he says We Move The Needle almost felt like his debut EP.
“With the history of being someone who made a lot of progressive hip-hop music with some kind of family, I knew I was taking a risk on and betting on myself. I think when you see the success of people like Burna Boy, then you see that I was onto something. It was kind of like stepping into something a little different to what I’d been known for before,” he says.
When he was younger, he fell in love with music after religiously watching a TV show which showcased Afrobeat, a genre that combines West African styles with American funk, jazz and soul.
“It was like an hour of music from all over Africa. I used to watch that show religiously. In that hour, I was getting educated on the different sounds and approaches to music and I would emulate some music videos. That made me fall deep in love with music.”
God Knows has delved into self-reflection and his beliefs, with electrifying energy and vividly honest lyricism. But according to him, some topics are too dark to be explored.
He brings us back to 2014 when he was working on an album with the Rusangano Family.
“We were inspired by something that was going on in the news at the time. I don’t even feel comfortable talking about what the subject was,” he admits.
After listening to the finalised version, he remembers how the room went dark.
“We just felt like ‘Nah, this is not good’. I’m glad that we got it out of our system, but I think there are just some things that should be left alone. Coming back to it, maybe I might dress it up and look for another way to express that same subject matter, but I think being so blunt and direct about it just didn’t work for us as creatives,” he explains.
For God Knows, family matters. And the rapper has a close group of people he looks up to. With some, he even shares his love for music.
For an Other Voices gig, he performed alongside his goddaughters in Newcastle West. A full circle moment for the artist, who got to share the stage with those who made many appearances in his music videos.
“These young girls look up to me and they love my music. They take ownership of my music way more than I would, they would fight and die for the name God Knows, they’re so proud of all of our achievements and they want to see me succeed further than I would,” he says.
He used to take things way too seriously, until a chance encounter changed his perspective.
People often warn you not to meet your heroes. But after meeting one of his, he couldn’t help but disagree.
Speaking of meeting the rapper Giggs, he recalls: “We were backstage and I remember asking his manager ‘What’s the hardest part of doing this job?’ He turned around to me, and said, ‘Hey man, this is not a job’. A phrase that struck a chord with him. “It was a revelation to me, like this should be something we do for fun and it changed my perspective.”
When God Knows loves, he loves deeply. Perhaps, too deeply.
“There’s a quote that says ‘You gotta hold onto people gently, so that when they let go, it’s not going to hurt you.’ These quotes are great when you read them, but in practice, it’s quite harder than it is. That’s a cocktail for disaster when it comes to moving on, embracing and accepting.”
But, as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. After a while, we grow older, and ultimately, wiser.
For him, this translates into associates versus confidantes.
“I think in life you have confidantes and then associates. Associates, they’re cool. You love them when they come, you love them when they go.”
But if you’re lucky, the confidantes are your “ride or die.”
“As we grow older, I think it’s very rare that you do find your confidantes.”
When you see him perform with such confidence, it’s hard to imagine that deep down, God Knows that he is an introvert.
“When you meet me, I’m loud and boisterous. But honestly, my best times are chilling at home, watching anime. I recharge when I’m alone,” he says.
Fans will be pleased to hear that the rapper is back in the studio, working on his next offering – one he is particularly proud of and should release “very soon.”
“I’m currently in the studio right now, working with a lot of talented people, so I’m very grateful. Right now, it feels like an album.”