Pink Siifu & Ahwlee on Owning the Neo Soul Lane w/ New B. Cool-Aid Album
Pink Siifu and Ahwlee are B. Cool-Aid, and this ambitious hip-hop duo are committed to resurrecting the spirit of D’Angelo’s Voodoo sessions. The two spoke with Okayplayer about their new album Leather Blvd.
“It was like, bruh — this lane is wide open. It isn’t too many n***as still making neo-soul music!” explained Pink Siifu on what inspired the smooth-like-butter sound of Leather Blvd., the new album from B. Cool-Aid — his ongoing collaborative project with producer Ahwlee. “It felt like that whole lane was ours for the taking.”
Leather Blvd. more than lives up to the Birmingham, Alabama-born artist’s lofty ambitions. Sitting somewhere between Sun Ra’s Sleeping Beauty, D’Angelo’s Voodoo, and Common’s Electric Circus, it’s an immersive neo-soul, psychedelic rap album that introduces us to the conceptual world of Leather Boulevard. This is an escapist utopia where the “Black dollar circulates”, while a cocktail bar (the Honey Dew) and hair salon (So Soft) are rapped about by Siifu in an evocative style that makes you feel like you can actually smell the incense and purple roses inside.
A revolving cast of collaborators (including Liv.e, Butcher Brown, Kamilah, Big Rube, Quelle Chris, Jimetta Rose, Ladybug Mecca, and Fousheé) help bring Leather Blvd to life, with hope tending to be the idea that prevails. “Everything gon’ turn around someday” spits an optimistic Maurice II (FKA JON Bap), featured on the Leather Blvd. highlight “Can’t Go Back.” Yet there’s also a noticeable lust in the air, with erotic politician Siifu’s raspy croaks on “If You Can See Me (4U),” and his loose, flower power-era ideals of “I don’t want to think / I wanna do,” so clearly designed to inspire lovers to lose their inhibitions.
Speaking in a permanently stoned, laidback Cali drawl, a laughing Ahwlee agreed the ultimate goal was to create baby-making music. “This new music is so funky it might create a baby boom. We need some more B. Cool-Aid babies. There’s probably some already out there!” B. Cool-Aid have been working on Leather Blvd. since finishing up 2017’s BRWN. They're taking their time with its follow-up, having only put out the 2019 EP Syrup and a few scattered singles since. “This technology makes you think everything has to be instant, but true mastery of the craft takes time,” the Long Beach-born producer added. “To create magic, sometimes you’ve got to sit with the music. Patience is a virtue.”
The laid-back nature of B. Cool-Aid is at odds with a lot of Pink Siifu’s solo material, which might use a fidgety backdrop of heavily distorted punk guitars to muffle raw screams about “white boys trying to rob us” (see “SMD”). On albums like NEGRO and GUMBO, Siifu can’t decide whether he wants to start a bloody insurrection or play in peace with his two daughters, with the pursuit of chaos tending to win out. However, Siifu admitted working with Ahwlee, a producer with a distinctively mellow sound, has put him in a place of serenity and made him just as confident singing as rapping.
“When I get into my solo shit, it’s more about family and what’s fucked up in America. But when we are doing B. Cool-Aid, I am thinking about a whole lot of happy shit; from beautiful women to Black people owning their land,” he said. “Ahwlee just makes me feel happy, period. Before every session, we catch up and talk, just on some friend shit. Since we started making music together, I’ve spoken to him about every single one of my relationships; dude became my therapist."
“B. Cool-Aid doesn’t shy away from real shit, but we don’t put our problems in our music too much either. It is about escaping from them.” Butting in, Ahwlee offers a tempting call to action: “Leather Blvd. is the place where you can get it, even when you can’t afford it. It is what America is supposed to be.”
To celebrate the release of Leather Blvd. (which drops on Friday, March 31st), we caught up with B. Cool-Aid to talk about why God is a woman, the childhood joys of hitting up arcades, 2Pac’s secret jazz rap side, and fighting to avoid temptations.
The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
I guess leather has this toughness associated with it. Was that part of the thing that inspired the title?
Pink Siifu: Making this album, we definitely learned a lot about leather. It’s so Black and durable. It has this fucking toughness and looks so beautiful; it’s a perfect comparison to what B. Cool-Aid is! With this project, we wanted to show our love for Quincy Jones. We’re not running away from loops or samples completely, but this record was about creating more arrangements from scratch [just like he did]. It’s about going to the next level.
Ahwlee, I love how your beats are always driven by such nostalgia. Your solo song “Coin-Op” has the energy of a hot summer’s day, where you should be at the park but you’re inside an arcade getting lost amid all the intergalactic synths.
Ahwlee: Absolutely, bro. That “Coin-Op” beat was tapping into some of the happiest moments I ever had: getting out of school, heading straight to a laundromat, going to the arcade to play "Marvel vs. Capcom" with my boys? Beautiful. I try to draw back from that zone; that’s where my creativity comes from.
What made Siifu the right MC to pair with your sound? Why do you guys work so well together?
Ahwlee: Just seeing the different ranges he goes in. He has this fearless approach to making music! There’s not many cats left who are willing to push the envelope, or to sweat. A lot of the music right now is focused on one thing, or it is just rappers sharing pain, pain, pain. It’s a pain economy… the pain Olympics and shit. We can still make songs that touch on the dark things, sure, but rappers should bring you back from the brink too. We need more songs that are fun! Siifu understands that balance better than anyone. I fuck with his adventurous spirit as an artist, period.
Siifu, I love how you rap on “Can’t Go Back”— it reminds me of 2Pac in that "Gridlock’d" movie, where he’s rapping about life being like a traffic jam at the jazz club. On this song you refer to God as a She, is that something you believe in?
Pink Siifu: First off, that’s my favorite 2Pac movie. One thing about Pac is he had a whole jazz side that never got put out. When I saw "Gridlock’d" as a kid, it’s what made me want to get into poetry. Pac does open mic shit? Wow. It inspired me. So you are right, my energy on “Can’t Go Back,” and “We Good at Leather Tht Leather This” too, was tapping directly into that “life is a traffic jam” energy.
I feel like everything on earth is kind of feminine. I’ve had that energy ever since middle school. When I took DMT and tripped with my ni**a Ahwlee? I seen’t some shit! I saw some beautiful Black ass Amazonian women who were the size of skyscrapers. I thought: oh yeah, this is God! It was confirmation.
On “CRAXY,” Siifu talks about being a sex addict since the age of 12. Can the music industry make it harder to resist those temptations?
Pink Siifu: I want to slow down! I got babies now. Not even babies, I got two daughters. That song and “Diamonds” is me figuring all that shit out. N***as got to separate the sex from the women sometimes, you know? I am not a monk! N***as ain’t perfect. This music is my place to try to figure all these things out.
“Cnt Fuck Around” has this bar about watching out, because America is hunting down Black men. Is that how it feels right now?
Pink Siifu: It never stopped, ever since the formation of this country! My big homie, every time we get off the phone, he says: “You be careful out there! Don’t let the cops stop you from moving, but keep your eyes open.”
Maybe people associate the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” with murderous white Christian cults. Are you trying to flip that? And what’s your biggest hope with this album?
Ahwlee: We’re making the kind of Kool-Aid you should be drinking. It’s brown Kool-Aid, not that other shit. With this album, I want something immortalized in wax. You put it on the shelf and it sits among your other favorite shit. It’s there with [D’Angelo’s Voodoo] and can be something for the kids to learn from.
Pink Siifu: This new shit is for every generation, literally. Jazz fans will love it as much as rap fans. If you like good music and instrumentation, you will love this! We feeling a nice groove with this one. On Leather Blvd., we want to put n***as in a new world, type shit. Come visit!