bLAck pARty’s ‘Hummingbird’ Is An Ode To His Favorite Music Era — The ’70s

Jaelani Turner-Williams Jaelani Turner-Williams is a contributing news writer for Okayplayer with…
bLAck pARty's 'Hummingbird' Is An Ode To His Favorite Music Era — The '70s
Photo Credit: Donovan Johnson

bLAck pARty spoke with Okayplayer about his new album Hummingbird, collaborating with Childish Gambino, why music peaked in the ’70s and more.

If bLAck pARty could have his way, he would’ve been a product of the 1970s. You can gauge it in his influences and aesthetic — from the musician being an Al Green devotee (his favorite album is I’m Still in Love With You because it not only has some of his favorite Al tracks — like “Simply Beautiful” — but it was also released in bLAck’s birthday month, October) to his third album, Hummingbird, being a sonic nod to The ‘Me’ Decade.

An Arkansas native, bLAck pARty (born Malik Flint) has made Los Angeles his homebase for nearly a decade, where he’s signed to Donald Glover’s Wolf + Rothstein imprint. It was 2014 when Glover caught wind of bLAck pARty through his co-production on Kari Faux’s “No Small Talk,” which he later remixed on his seventh mixtape, STN MTN / Kauai. Since then, bLAck pARty and Glover have built a trusted relationship as friends and creatives, with the 30-year-old contributing background vocals on “Have Some Love,” and additional production on “Me and Your Mama” from Childish Gambino’s 2016 album Awaken, My Love!

Flying solo again on Hummingbird, bLAck pARty exudes indie cool, whether slowing things down on the guitar driven “On My Way,” or giving a stream-of-consciousness freestyle alongside Saba on the trippy “KEMET.” On new single “I Love You More Than You Know,” he even taps Childish for their first collaboration together, with the Atlanta star channeling his inner André 3000 and rapping about his father’s death. On Hummingbird, bLAck pARty takes his previous mellow offerings — Mango and Endless Summer — and deepens the energy, a testament to paving his way through Arkansas’ DIY music scene. In the fall, bLAck pARty will take Hummingbird nationwide as a supporting act on Sabrina Claudio’s Based On A Feeling Tour.

To celebrate the release of Hummingbird, bLAck pARty spoke with Okayplayer about becoming a first-time father, the multigenerational impact of ’70s music, and getting Childish Gambino to rap again.

What have you learned about yourself since becoming a father? Do you see any parts of your son that make it seem like he would be interested in becoming a musician?

I’ve learned a lot about myself. I feel like I’ve learned how to be more patient [and] how to better utilize my time. When [my son] was a newborn I was finishing up this project, so he’d be up at all hours. That’s the thing — babies, they’re up at any hour of the night. It would be like 3 AM and I’m like, “Oh, you’re fussing? Come hang out with me in the studio.” He’d pay attention while I’m mixing records on Pro Tools, or I’ll take him to the music store with me and he’s just looking around and super into how I play guitar for him. He laughs and stuff, so it’s just certain things [I see] and I’m like, “Yeah, you’re definitely going to be a musician.”

I’m guessing that was the same for you as a child since some of your family members are also musicians.

Yeah. My mom was a singer when I was younger. She still sings but I remember being three or four in the studio. I think it’s just being in that environment for so often and just being drawn to music in general, made me want to do music. I feel like the same goes for my son. Him being in the studio all the time with me, I feel like he may be drawn to it as well.

Your favorite artist is Al Green who, like you, is also from Arkansas. What about his music resonates with you?

It’s a certain soul — that classic Memphis sound is so distinct and unreplicable. I can’t name an artist that makes music that feels and sounds exactly like Al Green, like on a worldwide scale. He was able to mesh the soul of the music — and the sound that was hot at the time — with how real his songs felt. It’s just a unique experience, and it’s a sound that both reminds me of back home and of LA. Al Green can be the soundtrack of LA or even if you’re in New York — it gives the city a different vibe because it’s classic soul.

Although you’ve lived in LA for almost 10 years, are there any aspects of the Arkansas music scene that you miss?

I miss how DIY it is, because it’s more challenging than being a musician in LA or New York. In LA or New York, you just have to catch a wave, essentially, and everybody will be attracted to it. In a place like Arkansas, you’re building everything from complete scratch. You’re having to build relationships with the venues — like, there is no Live Nation to hold your hand through none of that. You have to do everything from scratch — from promo to booking DJs, and it’s based mostly on the music. If the music’s not good then the public won’t support it. I miss that aspect of it. It felt more raw, less industry. It just taught me to be more hands-on.

On your previous albums you featured a handful of indie artists. But on Hummingbird you collaborated with Saba, Jean Deaux, Kari Faux, and even Donald Glover. What made you want to open up the collaborative pool?

Because I don’t do enough features, even for other people. So, this was my moment to be like, “Alright, let me gather some features of artists that I also admire and actively listen to.” That was really it — like, “These are the type of people I’d listen to if I was in the car and if you were, as a listener, riding with me.” I just use that as a segue to bring people into my world.

When you create do you think about music that you would want to drive to?

Absolutely, I spend a lot of time driving. Especially if you live in LA and you need to get anywhere, 10 miles is going to take you 30 minutes, so you’re gonna have to fill that time and that space [with music]. You can only listen to the radio so many times before you know every single song. Sometimes I make playlists depending on the trip, so I keep that in mind when I’m creating music. I try to make things that essentially become a soundtrack to your voyage, whether you’re driving or you’re walking. There’s plenty of times where I’ve been walking or skating around, and I need my headphones on to listen to music. 

When listening to “Soakin” it gave me a strong disco feel. It seems like ’70s funk and soul is making a resurgence in contemporary music. Is there a specific era of Black music that has made an impact on you? 

The ’70s. Sly and the Family Stone, Al Green, Stevie Wonder’s records from that era. This is wild to say but I feel like music kind of peaked in the ’70s. That’s when technology, human innovation, and human revolution were all happening at one time. We got some of the best music we will probably ever get in that time period from the 1970s and 1980s.

In the past couple years, some artists have made socially-conscious music. Do you feel like it doesn’t really hit the same as the ’70s?

No, because life is just more lit than it was in the ’70s. We have a little more freedom to do certain things that we weren’t necessarily able to do as a people in the ’70s. We’re not currently in a war that’s drafting citizens. The ’70s was a wild time. They were shooting college students back then. If that happened now — if police were shooting college students on campus — it would be a riot. But back then, that was a Wednesday. The music hit harder because people had no choice but to express themselves through this medium. There was no internet, there were no blogs — it was either you journal about it or you express yourself in some art form.

 

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You’ve been signed to Donald Glover’s Wolf + Rothstein label since the release of Mango, but “I Love You More Than You Know” marks your first collaboration together. How did that come about?

First off, Donald is the one who encouraged me to sing instead of rap when I met him in 2014. That’s just honestly a long time coming, because we’ve worked together more on production. I did production and background vocals on Awaken, My Love!, but we never got the chance to sit down and actually work on a song together until this point. When I was working on this project I sent records over, and this was the record he had picked. I was honestly surprised because he hasn’t rapped as much as he used to back in the day. To get a rap verse and then it being this deep was pretty profound. 

I always hear that he’s one of those people that has to listen to the album first, and then he’ll pick what song to be featured on.

He’s a Libra first and foremost. I’m a Libra too, so we’re picky about what we’re interested in. I’m not gonna hop on a record just because somebody throws me some money — I actually have to be invested in that record. I feel like it’s the same way with him. He doesn’t want to hop on any record just because — he has to actually enjoy the record.

How does it feel to look back on “No Small Talk” being Donald’s introduction to you?

It’s funny that you ask that because I haven’t thought about it until recently. I’m like, “Damn, it’s been a long time,” and honestly that was a cool time period in my life, because it was my complete entry into being a real musician outside of my home state. “No Small Talk” was my first major placement.

I think that Hummingbird is your best album yet. I hear this new sense of confidence and trust in yourself. What would you attribute to this?

I think a lot of it was comfortability. Like, being comfortable, being uncomfortable, if that makes sense. My previous two projects were more me figuring it out, whereas this project is like, “I learned this on the first one, I learned this on the second one, now this is applying everything I learned.” I kind of look at the first two projects like my college era, and now it’s like, “Alright, we’re out of college, we got a real job now.”

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