SassyBlack's Hologram Funk & Electro Psychedelic Soul Is 'Sumthin Special' [Interview + Stream]
Fresh from a trip to North Carolina for Moogfest 2018, SassyBlack blessed Okayplayer with “a heavy dose of hologram funk & electronic psychedelic soul.” The Facebook live stream of her performance at the Okay Space is an appetizer ahead of her Wednesday night set for LPR Presents at House of Yes, where she will be performing alongside OSHUN, LATASHA, Lawlyse, Shasta Geaux Pop and DJ Avg Jo for The HUM.
SassyBlack’s latest run of performances follows the release of her Sumthin Special EP. The five-track instrumental project, which landed on May 15, finds her signature vocals on the backburner as she articulates through original composition and deep sonic exploration. The project, which derived from a monthly beat challenge, is a synth-and-thump driven testament to her evolution behind the boards.
In our exclusive chat with SassyBlack, she breaks down what it truly takes to make Sumthin Special.
Okayplayer: You’ve always had a hand in the production of your music and you have been pretty self-contained, particularly as a solo artist. Where does the do-it-all approach to music come from for you?
SassyBlack: With studying music and everything, I just wanted to figure out how I could sing and share what I was thinking. I tend to do a lot of production on my own. That’s the thing — I get a lot of these thoughts and ideas that I can’t necessarily communicate to another human being all the time. It doesn’t really come in words yet. That’s something I’m still working on, so I’d prefer to be able to create it and show it as an example when I do work with other people or to be able to create it on my own. It just kind of comes from language barriers for me, in being able to explain my emotions or my thoughts sometimes. Sometimes I’m very good at explaining certain things, but when it comes to being creative it can be very difficult for me.
OKP: Where would you say you are at this point in your development as a producer?
SB: I’ve been producing for 10 years, so I think I’m just more at a place where I’m owning it. I think that’s where I’m coming from now after having released all of these projects. I have people asking me to produce stuff for them or compose things. People are really starting to appreciate my production. I never really owned it before but now this is the first layer of some sort of confidence around it.
OKP: What made you release Sumthin Special as an instrumental project, given that your stated intention to record over the tracks?
SB: I have this thing about wanting to release because music is something that helps me with my mental health. It helps me with anxiety. It helps me when I get depressed. It helps me when I can’t even say what I’m feeling. That is why sometimes I don’t rap or sing over anything. Sometimes I just want to let that emotion live. All of those tracks are from a couple of years ago. They’re actually from the point when I was beginning to feel more confident as a producer. They were a part of this beat per day project I was doing. I did it for about three years, but I did it in January. I would make a beat a day and put them up on SoundCloud. I had some friends that I brought into the mix of it, but it was mostly just me really trying to own being a producer and own my sound. To not be afraid of that and to explore my sound. I think that’s why the music sounds more confident. Since then my production has changed a lot. Mostly because I’m a person who is evolving. I wanted to play more with that. I’m very much known for my singing and my voice. I love that, but
I’m very strategic and I like to think things out ahead of time. I really want to be able to compose and produce and work with other artists. It’s kind of a give-and-take because I never want to give up beats. It’s very hard because I’m very particular, but I want people to be able to hear the different levels of what I do and be able to hear my voice in other formats, instead of just me singing. Every beat that I’ve put out as an instrumental, I already have something on it. I just haven’t recorded it or added the final touches to it. Sometimes I just want you to hear the production and hear my storytelling ability through my production.
OKP: People seem to recognize the healing benefits of music as music consumers. Can you talk about how that works for artists? What does the music mean to your health and well being?
SB: I think it’s incredibly important. Everyone is a consumer and we can be really judgmental – really critical of people and what they’re going through. ‘I don’t like this new album. I don’t like this new beat. Why did they do this? Why did they do that?‘ Most people don’t ever take any of the steps necessary to make music, and most people, then, don’t know the pressure of what it is like to release music and put yourself out there like that. It is not required for everyone, but for me it is. I have to release it. If I don’t, it builds up and it doesn’t feel good to me as a person. I’m sharing as much as I do for my own personal growth. I think, as a practice, it makes people more human to other people to release. People are super critical, but artists are even more critical of themselves. More critical than anyone else could be. Outside opinions only amplify that. I don’t think people realize how difficult any of this is. Then add on the fact that it’s done in some cases for mental health purposes.
Consider how mental health can shape the kind of music that people are receiving and have access to. It’s a much bigger conversation. On one hand, it would be great if people could be more considerate of those things, but at the same time, it takes away the magic. People overvalue and undervalue artists. Overvalue them – like put them up on a pedestal but so high that when they fall down it could destroy them. They undervalue them like, ‘You don’t deserve my money. I’m not gonna buy your CD and I’m not gonna go to a show, I’m going to get it for free.‘ So even though the music could be freeing for them, they don’t see any kind of value in terms of supporting the people making it and realizing that this is their livelihood. That this is what is keeping them alive. It’s a whole different conversation, but people feel like they should be gifted the things that others work really hard for.
OKP: Do you feel the value that people have attached to you as a vocal talent has begun to transfer to your work in the production space?
SB: I started premiering some new beats and stuff last year. After I did New Black Swing I had a lot of people compliment me on my production. I worked really hard to emulate a sound while incorporating my own sound, as well. A lot of people complimented the production over the lyricism. I had intentionally made the lyricism so chill because the theme of the music—channeling New Jack Swing—I wanted the vocal to be really simple and I really wanted the production to really shine through. I had a lot of people compliment the production and I feel like I’m starting to get to a place where that is beginning to match my vocals as a whole conversation. The difference is that I’ve been working on my vocals since I was 12.
Also, when I started coming into doing production, I already had a certain comfort level with doing vocals. Right now my comfort with vocals and production are starting to be at the same level and I think the biggest compliment is when people can see that. When they like what I’m doing with my vocal and what I’m doing with production. I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on my beats. That’s another reason I’ve been releasing all of these projects. I want people to listen to the production. I’m building up how I want my vocals to sound, which is also why I’m not doing a bunch right now. In the end, it can all be this balanced conversation.
OKP: Is the inclusion of experimental, futurist sounds and ideas in your music something that is second nature, or is it active exploration on your part?