Words by:
Photography: Louis Flashman

Ricco Komolafe is hard at work. Over the past five years, the south London producer, rapper and instrumentalist has released records filled with fast-paced jazz fusion, skittering, grime-influenced verses and bass-heavy soundscapes, all while juggling day jobs variously as a civil servant, court clerk and mentor for at-risk youth.  Now, he’s just released his debut album under the moniker Rarelyalways – the aptly-titled Work.

“Who doesn’t grind in London?” Komolafe says over a call on an afternoon break from his hectic schedule. “We all have multiple incomes to survive in this city and we all need to live life to make music. Each thing informs the other.”

The pressures of survival and ingrained diversity of London life have certainly governed Komolafe’s creative work. First finding his artistic spark as a child during drumming sessions with his dad, who would moonlight behind the kit at church services in their home borough of Hackney, Komolafe went on to explore the flute and music production at school before landing at grassroots jazz workshop Tomorrow’s Warriors.

“At Tomorrow’s Warriors it wasn’t about your age, status or complexion – it was about your talent and the will to learn,” Komolafe says. “It showed me the power of being heard.” Picking up the bass at the weekly sessions, Komolafe became part of a movement that has since birthed much of the capital’s current improv talent, from saxophonist Nubya Garcia to drummer Moses Boyd.

Komolafe went on to play bass in the fusion group Triforce, along with keys player DoomCannon, drummer Benjamin Appiah and guitarist Mansur Brown, ultimately releasing Triforce 5ive, a 2019 EP that blended fret-tapping guitar riffs with thundering synths. Yet, it wasn’t until he began making music as Rarelyalways that Komolafe harnessed his solo voice.

“I’ve always been fascinated by language – ever since I was at school, if I got into trouble it would be because of what I said, not what I did,” he laughs. “I knew the power of language and the more I began to produce my own music, the more I heard my voice on it like the missing piece of the puzzle.”

Debuting with his Baby Buffalo EP in 2020, and following it up in 2021 with Manic, a collaborative EP with producer and Innovative Leisure labelmate Hanni El Khatib, as Rarelyalways Komolafe pairs his languorous baritone with a freewheeling approach to production. His tracks take in everything from warped jazz horns to fractal grime instrumentals and club-ready basslines. “It all starts in my head with what I want to hear,” Komolafe says. “My end goal is simply to bring these ideas to life, so the method changes and can be very unorthodox.”

On Work, Komolafe wields that intuitive production style to mesmerising effect. Starting with a tracklist of titles before a note of music had even been written, and creating soundscapes largely from voicenotes recorded on his phone, Komolafe’s record blends atmospheric melody with thumping drum programming and raw, lo-fi shards of synth arrangements. It is a confident album, unafraid to feel expressive and almost unfinished thanks to the urgency of
its emotions.

For Komolafe, it is just the beginning. “I’m getting more experimental,” he says, smiling. “The future is what’s most inspiring to me – I’m excited about what might be around the corner and I’m ready to capture it all.” After all, there’s always more work to be done.

Sounds like: Computer-crushed grime instrumentals and warped jazz-rap
Soundtrack for: Bustling through busy city streets
File next to: Obongjayar, Coby Sey
Our favourite tune: Urgent
Find him: @rarely_always

Work is out now via Innovative Leisure