There are a couple of images that come to mind when most people think about rap: gold chains, shiny cars and stacks (upon stacks upon stacks) of money. But those who know Jersey City rap group “Enigma?” envision something completely different: six high school seniors with a passion for music over materialism.
Two years ago, Ferris student Ahmad O’Neill and McNair students Omar Lamrabat, Noewal Gaines, Kevin Bonners Jr., Keanine Griggs and Chris Kerr, joined together to form Enigma?. Starting off with just a laptop and $50 microphone, the group only shared their recordings with each other. Now, with a makeshift home studio, their first mix tape, Symbols, and two music videos with a total of more than 4,000 views, Enigma? has started gaining momentum in the Jersey City community.
“Teachers, friends, even people on the street have stopped us to tell us they saw our videos. We’ve had adults telling us that our music is a breath of fresh air and teens telling us that it’s relatable,” Lamrabat, 18, said.
“Yeah, I think it’s because a lot of what we rap about is real life,” Gaines, 17, said. “We don’t rap about crime and murder because we want to, it’s just relevant to most of us, especially because we live in Jersey City.”
Other members, like 17-year-old Keanine Griggs, use rap to “talk about life, in general.”
“I grew up in Downtown Jersey City so my lyrics are about things that I’ve experienced growing up. We all just speak about what comes to mind,” Griggs said.
“Yeah, and we try to stay away from mainstream topics like sex and drugs. We’d rather talk about things that make people think and wonder,” Lamrabat added. “The things we do in school translate into our music. For example, Noewal uses Sisyphus metaphors in his raps, I made a reference to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces once. Just things like that. The more we know, the more we can talk about, and the better our music can be.”
Though Enigma?’s sound finds its roots in 90’s hip-hop, the group agrees that they don’t have a definitive style of music. This is what their name intends to mirror.
“An enigma is a puzzle, and that’s what art is. It’s up to the listener to put the pieces together,” Lamrabat said.
“But, if it had to be explained, you could say our style is an old school variant and representation of where we’re from, Jersey City, not Manhattan or the Bronx,” Bonners, 17, added. “We’re trying to orient our sound around our niche.”
Kerr, 17, agreed and said, “Yeah, we’re a diverse group of kids in a diverse city. We all have different stories to tell. We all have our own sounds and preferable tastes in genres, and when it comes together, it really works.”
“In the end, we’re not just one single thinking entity. We’re six kids with six different styles and I’m confident that the ones we bring to the table are the ones that define us and our city,” 17-year-old O’Neill said.
For now, Enigma? doesn’t have a set plan for the future of the group. This time next year, all six members hope to be in college, majoring in everything from Communications to Criminal Justice to Finance. Still, they are sure that they will continue making music together.
“We all have something else we want to do, but at the end of the day, it comes back to this,” Lamrabat said.