A couple of years ago, Laith Al Husseini felt as though he were living two different lives.
During the day, the Palestinian-Jordanian talent was a fastidious medical student in Amman, while at night he stalked stages across the region as popular hip-hop artist The Synaptik.
Such a lifestyle became increasingly unsustainable.
Speaking to The National after the release, last week, of his new album, Al Qamar Wal Moheet (The Moon and the Ocean), Al Husseini recalls how balancing the hedonism of a music career with the strict discipline and moral codes of medicine resulted in a fraying mental state.
Something had to give and it arrived when Al Husseini graduated from medical school in the summer of 2019.
While his colleagues furthered their careers by finding internships in hospitals across Jordan, Al Husseini moved to the Palestinian city of Ramallah to focus on his music career.
“People would ask me why I moved here,” he says.
“As well as wanting a new environment, the place is inspiring as there is an extra margin of freedom because everything in Palestine is in limbo.
“There is more space to do what you want because authorities are focused on different things. When I moved here I just went all in and lived my wildest dreams, so to speak.”
A life in full motion
It was an intensive 12-month period, during which Al Husseini performed to crowds in packed venues from Beirut to Berlin, in addition to being snapped up by major record label Warner Music Middle East.
Such a full-throttle lifestyle had its own dangers, however, and Al Husseini’s personal crash happened in 2020. It wasn’t caused so much by the pandemic upending his lifestyle, he recalls, but in realising it was an existence that was essentially hollow.
"It's hard to explain how deeply I dived right into the lifestyle. I got a lot of tattoos and lost a lot of weight and I just became this different and darker person," he says.
"All my life, I wanted to be in the music industry because I wanted to stand out, be famous and be loved. But then once you are in there, you realise the nature of some of the people involved and the different values they have. Ironically, I finally made the internal journey to becoming The Synaptik and I didn’t like what I became.”
Al Qamar Wal Moheet is a document of that self-discovery and acceptance.
Brooding and at times haunting, the album finds Al Husseini refining and stretching his sound.
While his 2018 debut Om Al Mawjat stayed true to his trap hip-hop aesthetic, the follow-up is a richer work, with dollops of RnB, dark ambience and inventive vocal delivery ranging from colourful rapping to an anguished croon.
Almost every song, Al Husseini says, acts as a signpost from that internal journey.
“The first song of the album, Ela Al Manara, was written back in Amman and the chorus almost acts like a prayer for strength because I was leaving home, my parents and my sisters," he says.
"I was about to move Ramallah and this was a prayer hoping that I can be helped by the universe."
The resolution of his quest is found halfway through the album's startling title track.
The song is carried by forlorn pianos and the gentle taps of a hand drum, and Al Husseini laments the time spent chasing a dream that was ultimately unsatisfying.
"I am expressing the disillusionment and how reality arrived to smack me in the face," he says. "I definitely felt like something shattered and this was the end of that particular journey for me."
The next chapter
The song may have been placed in the middle of the album for sonic purposes, but it also serves as a metaphor for how life goes on.
For Al Husseini, it meant re-evaluating certain notions.
Where previously, he blamed the medical profession for inhibiting his creative life, he realised it was the anchor allowing his music career to flourish, without him losing himself along the way.
It is for that reason Al Husseini began his internship in January in a Jerusalem hospital, with the goal of opening up his own clinic.
"The medical world is much simpler and straightforward and has none of the toxicity and dishonesty the music industry has,” he says.
"My chest and conscience no longer weighs heavy. I just feel that I found the right balance between the two worlds and I made peace with that."
In addition to helping him write a career-best album, Al Husseini's new-found Zen has also resulted in him being more open to new opportunities, one of which is collaborating with Egyptian rapper Felukah. The two have worked together on a series of songs that they will perform in a London show commissioned by Shubbak Festival and cultural organisation Marsm.
They are set to perform the new songs, Nefsi and Allaya'teek – which also come with music videos shot in Egypt – at Camden’s Jazz Cafe on Friday, October 22.
For someone whose material is intensely personal, Al Husseini says the collaboration with Felukah, who lives in New York, was ultimately rewarding.
“It took us a while at first to see what we had in common because we come from completely different backgrounds,” he says.
"But we are humans and artists in the end. We have the same struggles that creatives go through in trying to be true to yourself and not lose yourself.
At the end of the day, it really comes down to integrity."
The Synaptik and Feluka perform at the Jazz Cafe in London on Friday, October 22. Tickets cost £21 ($29) and are available at shubbak.co.uk