“Drake really opened the door for Rap to get that vulnerability.”
Hip Hop singer SADBOY shares with us his upbringing, his blinding work-ethic and of course his percussive and deeply atmospheric tunes.
- Episode transcription
- SADBOY’s Spotify playlist featuring his songs from this episode and his five tracks to save from Armageddon.
- SADBOY‘s forever home online.
- Vox’s short on Afrofuturism.
- Alyssa Jerome’s short on Neo Soul.
- Destiny’s Child Lose My Breath.
- Felix Howard in Madonna’s Open Your Heart video.
- Real Talk – Black Boys Don’t Cry (Mental Health with Black Men).
- Me Him Us – Mental Health campaign for Black gay and bisexual men.
- Lil Nas X music video for Holiday.
- In the Key of Q composer Paul Leonidou’s online home.
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You can find us on Twitter and Instagram and join the community over on Facebook.
With the queer audience, I feel like we influence hip hop. Like we control that that realm, even when it comes down to like little pieces of slang that they use in their songs, like the world does not spin without the Black Gays.
I'm Dan Hall. I'm a gay man and I love my music. However, I've spent my life translating hetero normative content into my own story. So I'm speaking with queer musicians from around the world who mirror and inspire my queer journey. Welcome to In the Key of Q.
And this week, I'm delighted to welcome SADBOY.
My music is what I consider Afrofuturism and inside takes you on a journey to outer space to be what I like to call 'In Orbit'. I'm always out in orbit, in space, in my spaceship.
I listened to a lot of different sounds as a kid. So like bouncing with my father, bouncing me between House music and Hip Hop, and then my mother giving me into the world of, like, Neo Soul and like RnB and my sister introducing me to Pop and then to digging the Internet and then discovering the whole world of Electronic. It really sucked me into a space where I like, 'I like this vibe. But if I do it, I wanted to be edgy with my own cadence and style.'
And the quality of the production is amazing. When people listen on headphones, it's almost three dimensional.
I think it just comes to me like in that process, it just comes. I don't know how it comes to me, but it just clicks. And I think another thing, too, that has a big deal with my sound is my father, because he was a producer. And if you played my production and you played his production, it sounds very similar.
Did he actually teach you to produce?
I just watched him all the time. I just watched. As I got older, I started going through, like, all the things around in the house. And I discovered that my mom used to sing in a girl group. And my mom, she asked like this, she has this husky, low tone and I love it. It's like real is real gritty. It's a little bit similar to my voice, but it's a little bit deeper. And I just held on to that. And then I really wanted to do music, but my parents told me to stay in school and really focus and-.
That must have really difficult hearing that. Hearing a D.J. dad and a girl group singer mum tell you not to go into music!
They were like, 'We want you to have a career first and then you could come back to music.' So I made sure I got my career in tech. And then once I was settled in that I was like, OK, I'm coming for my music.
SONG: LEDs 3.24
Let them know that you care and give a damn about me
When you could give it to the world baby
Let know, let them know that
You can't replace me
Me and my sister were like Pop kids, so like if the TV is on TRL or like or if it's on '106 & Park', like we knew the choreography to 'Lose My Breath'. We knew the choreography to Britney Spears's 'Slave 4 U'. I want to know how we learnt that because there was no rewinding back then and there was no on demand where we can watch that or a YouTube. But we learnt all of those dances.
My sister makes fun of me about it. But as a kid my goal was to be a backup dancer for Britney Spears. I always wanted to do that as a kid. That was my dream job between like five and like eight.
I totally, totally get that. When I was about 13, Madonna released a single called 'Open Your Heart' and the music video for that had a 13 ot 14 year old kid in it, a guy called Felix Howard. And I just fantasised that I would become Madonna's best friend. And then the following year, she'd asked me to be in the music video.
The things you make in your head as a child. And you're just like, 'Yeah, this is the goal. Don't know how I'm going to get there, but we got to get there.'
And what were your experiences like growing up as a young queer boy?
Everyone knew and I like and in high school and stuff like I kind of I denied it a lot. I denied it a lot because people would make it like a thing. And I went to a heavy West Indian school. So it was a lot of it was a lot going on. And I just denied it a lot.
And then, like once like, we kind of got to like prom and like graduation. I was just like, 'I don't care. I don't care. I'm gonna post what I want on social media. I'm going to be with this guy. I'm going to do this. I'm going to do that.' But every everyone knew. Everybody.
I had two younger brothers and they're very like macho. 'Do this, do that'. And then I have an older sister that's like she understood like what I like fashion wise and what I like sonically and what I like to watch. And she just she kind of like held my hand a lot of the time, so and even protected me a lot. So it didn't make it so hard on me being queer as a child.
SONG: LEDs 6.15
Kill the silence with you words now
Give to me raw, dawg!
Show the world, that you been down to ride since the 95
Its a shame that I big you up and you can't return the vibe
Don't be annoyed at the fact that I distance myself
I value my childhood, he taught me a lot how to how to work hard. Even though some people will be like, 'We're calling Child Labour' or my or my dad because he had a cleaning company and like we all got paid money from it. We were cleaning buildings from when I was like in kindergarten and all the way up through and through high school. And then after high school will work with him in college a little bit. And then we got our own official jobs. But yeah, I just learnt to work hard.
You're a young man and yet you produced music technically that is so far advanced of your age. I don't know where you learnt it or how hard you must have worked in order to get this level of expertise. But it's incredibly impressive.
Thank you. I try so much to give quality work. I feel like if it's not, if it's not quality to me, then it should not be touching anybody's ears.
SONG: LEDs 7.41
Damn if you returned the vibe shit would be prefect
I shouldn't have to drift for you to send all these sad faces
I admit I don't like that you became this person
I know you wan't your shine but you show me that you ain't shit
You live another life with me behind these closed curtains
Do you think maybe it's fair to say, SADBOY that there is an emotional honesty in your music that possibly hasn't been prevalent in the Hip Hop scene until recently?
I definitely agree. I feel like as a culture, yes. But especially in a black community, I feel like we're taking the proper steps for like mental illnesses and displaying emotions and being OK with that, because a lot of us are told that we should go to the church instead of speaking to therapists or we just keep things under the rug and keep it moving in with the black community is like sort of like men aren't allowed to display their emotions, is very hypermasculine.
I feel like that's my main point of making this music is kind of like, 'It's OK for black boys to display emotion and to communicate that to their family, to their lover, to whomever, but to be able to explain that and be OK with it.'
So what do you think then that is within you, that is made you do this very difficult thing of swimming against the tide?
I've always been like super rebellious. So, you know, when you have that back and forth, which I parent and I'm like, well, I'm kind of already in trouble. So I might as well say what I feel. Because if I don't say I'm be even more upset.
Because literally if like if I keep quiet now, then I'm not going to get anything. But at least if I keep on going, I might get more shit, but at least I'll get my voice heard.
Yes. I'm just like I might as well say how I feel and get it over with.
So what do you think this need for masculinity, this need to be hard comes from?
I think is just genetically pushed down in us where we have to be tough. And I think that comes from like slavery and stuff. I think is a big thing that's engraved in us. But with this new generation like the Millennials and Generation Z, I think we're on the up of ending a lot of things that stem from the past.
When I was doing research for this podcast, I stumbled across a quote in Sleek magazine that said, 'The mere notion of emotionally charged Hip Hop probably would have left NWA in Public Enemy in a fit of laughter. Times have changed, though, and today's op culture has embraced the phenomenon, allowing it to appear across all genres and styles of music.
And it's people like you doing it.
Yeah, I think as the content from younger people comes out and with us voicing a lot of what we want and what we want to go for, not being afraid to express ourselves, I think it's really big. And I think one of the people that kind of like pioneered for us in Hip Hop is Drake. Drake has opened a door for a lot of us. I know Jay-Z had a couple of moments where he's vulnerable in and that, but Drake really opened up the door for Rap to get that vulnerability.
So is it fair to say then that vulnerability and queerness are really, really quite new onto the Hip-Hop scene?
Yeah, I think is really, really new to do that. And that's why I feel like especially from the queer community where we're very much we're going to be strong through everything. But, you know, I feel like even with us, we still got that sore spot where we're like, 'OK, maybe I need to take the walls down a little bit so I can, like, breathe.'.
I would say it's like a force to kind of protect. We're always on defence to protect ourselves.
So you can even see it in our walk. You can see it in our demeanour, in our faces and everything. It's a defence mechanism which is slowly coming down with a lot of us when we're having more conversations. But it's changing. It's changing a lot.
I think that's quite a normal reaction, though. I mean, certainly I think when people I feel people are looking at me strangely, I got to look on the street because I'm holding my partner's hand. I you know, my immediate reaction is to be more open and more gay as a kind of political defiance. You know, if you're going to disapprove of who I am, then I'm going to make it more visible as my way of saying it's really none of your business.
Yeah. I mean, that's just a simple thing. But I'm just like, 'They're going to talk regardless because of the way that I walk or the way I turned my head'. It is always going to be something. So I just might as well go out with a bang.
Now, one of the things I love about doing this podcast is I'm finding and really discovering new genres of music that I wasn't necessarily across that well before. And I really would not have thought of Hip Hop as being particularly queer genre.
With the queer audience. I feel like we influenced Hip Hop. We influence Hip Hop with like even being behind the scenes with like fashion. Like we control that that realm, even when it comes down to, like little pieces of slang that they use in their songs, like it might be from like five years ago. The slang is that the terms are created by the black queer community. But we're still in the mix of the culture. The world does not spin without the black gays. It just does not when it comes to fashion, music, everything. We kind of we're like the first to jump on everything.
So why do you think then you are not at the front? Why are you still in the background influencing but not from stage centre?
With the black queer community we don't push each other up a lot. I feel like once we start supporting each other, that's what we were going to win. Like, I see a lot of us doing collaborations with each other. A lot of us are starting to become friends with each other and hang out and do different things. I think it is bubbling now. But before there wasn't like a big, like group of people. You'd be like, 'OK, we're going to do this all together and we gonna make it to the top.'
SONG: TWO NIGHTS, PT 2 14.30
Why you fuck around with me like this?
You hit me on text message
You ask me if I'm missing you
I reply like sure I do
You reply like sure you do
I'm always trying to spend time with you
You never make time for me
I'm always trying to figure out why you got me here too?
Wanted those Two Nights to be with you…
I think for our community, the only ones that are really like pushing forward is MNEK, and he does a lot of background work, too, but he also comes to the forefront every now and again. And Lil Nas X and that's that's pretty much who's like those are like our main two at the moment right now.
SONG: TWO NIGHTS, PT 2 15.22
I wanna fuck with you
Know that two can play that game
I won't sit here and be lame
You can play me out like pool
But I'll never play to the rules
Do you feel SADBOY that your own queer identity is an important part of your music, is it important for your audience is to know about it so that they can properly interpret the music that you're creating?
I feel like in the music I try to not give away pronouns because I want it to feel universal. I just wanted people to feel emotion more, though, than it being a he or her. I just wanted people to feel comfortable to listen to my sound and to enjoy it.
But when you see me on a stage it's giving 'gay boy from New York' that does choreography. And he's going to throw his head a certain way and move his body, that's like that's me. I'm even in the picture is like it gives that so.
And I think that's a really good message to give and to put out there.
Because all around the world, our shared queerness gives us a common bond. We can be from different countries and have different skin colours and different backgrounds and be different ages. But we do have this shared experience of knowing pretty much from Year Dot what it's like to not quite fit in.
Yeah, I don't quite fit in at all.
And I, I really do think that that is a genuine, huge bond. There are lots and lots of problems with being gay and lots of problems with being queer. But as a benefit, that's an amazing one; to have a commonality with so many people around the world. That's just wonderful.
And I think it really helps you with being a chameleon, like you're able to fit in and different in different spaces. Like I can be in my gay world. I can be in the everyday world. I can be in the in-between or like it really makes you be a chameleon where you can switch your colours around of like which you want to do.
So with all the genres around the world to pick from and a family house that was playing with lots and lots and lots of music. What made you decide Hip Hop?
I really love drums. I feel like Hip Hop artist knows how to do drums well and I love Rock music with the drums and everything and percussions. But drums and Hip Hop are just a different thing for me completely.
And the rhythms that you get in Hip Hop are incredibly complex. You know, you'll have like they'll be a triplet over here and that'll be syncopated against a four-four somewhere. And sometimes your head just ends up spinning!
Yes. And then sometimes when you when you play these these newer records, like some of the some of the instruments they're panning in different ears. So it feels like an experience.
Well, that very neatly brings us back to your music, because that's exactly what your music is. You know, I suggest people put on some really, really good headphones and just lose themselves in a bit of SADBOY's music.
SONG: TWO NIGHTS, PT 2 18.34
You always got these N****s calling you on the phone
Its just been Bullshit on top of Bullshit
Always excuses on top of excuses
I ain't try to be on the low with you
Why hide behind all these questions?
Why place you insecurities on me?
In like three and a half minutes, you take us to these strange, kind of empty, lonely places. It kind of brings to mind the derelict docks at New York in the early 80s and-.
It's like a realm.
Yeah, yeah. It's it is like a realm. You know, I would love to see what you would do with the commission that was like, you know, one hour you got an hour on one track.
60 Minutes on one track that I'm like...
It's got to be a whole hour and just one track and see what you do with it.
I feel like it would be cool, would be a little vocoder, and then I'll give some crazy type of run and I'll give like a crazy synth and some drums and heavy bass. I love heavy bass and just play or sometimes like I do, like little stutters and have things to thread my vocals or I'll loop my vocals. As me 60 Minutes doing something like that is an easy way to get lost!
You're like, 'Oh my God. That shithead in London put this idea in my head and now I've not had any sleep for three days!'.st brings us round to sort of:
Yeah, you could you honestly could just get lost. And I'm just always like, 'Yes! I love that I'm taking you out of out of whatever realm you're in and brought you into mine and you love it.'
So SADBOY, imagine I'm one of our subscribers and I come to your music for the first time. What message are you giving me?
I'm trying to say that it's OK to display emotion. It's OK to show that you've been hurt. It's OK to show that you've been sad. It's OK to display that you've been angry, any type of emotion, like it's OK to love and to embrace that love, like that's my main goal.
SONG: ON ME 21.16
Don't you see me
Ohhhh OhhhhUhhhhhhh (Oh ahhhh)
Because I don't come to easy (Ahhhhhh)
I feel like we're kind of shifting, the culture is shifting, especially with streaming is giving so many people platforms now to really, like, not need a label not to be groomed by label to really just trailblaze and just push without that big machine behind you.
Like there are indie artists that really killed it, especially Lil Nas X. That whole first run of 'Old Town Road' that was independent. That record was moving independently and kept climbing the charts and climbing. I don't think he signed until like he almost got to number one.
Don't you think you'd be tempted, though, if a major label came to you and said, you know, 'Quit the all the gay staff and we'll sign you up?'
Yes. Because it's like, OK, I want to I want to eat breakfast tomorrow. But should I do this in order to, like, have breakfast for everybody and not just for myself?
So actually, you're really a bit of a philanthropist, don't you? Yeah, and I suppose in a way your music is saying that, you know, if you want to be vulnerable, if you want to be nice, if you want to be anything, just be there.
That's my vibe.
SONG: ON ME 22.56
We can't, see the time
But its gone & now
I flip the page,but I drift to where were not found
I get caught in the moments where you were mine, but your lost chasing time
Don't you see me
So then SADBOY on the date of recording this, which is the 12th of February, I believe you've just released a new single.
Yes. If you could, you can drop the bomb like Funkmaster Flex does on a radio Hot 97.
Can you tell us a bit about it?
Again, I make this record called '-feels'. I think I produced it on my lunch break at work.
What? Most people on their lunch breaks sit in their cars and eat sandwiches.
No, not me! So I've produced it in the parking lot of my job. And like, I got it to a point where it sounds futuristic, but you get those elements of like that EDM and then the hook is just very Pop.
SONG: -FEELS 24.11
I cry, I cry?
Why For? Lies
You're never here to stay the night
You here then gone
You come and go
I cry, I cry?
We say goodnight!
It really terrifies me how talented the young generation are. You know, you sit in parking lots and you make records. It's crazy! Yeah, I consider a successful lunch break to be not spilling mustard and pickle down my front. Whereas you go and make a record.
I'm just like, 'Yeah, I'll make a record.' And then I'm like, 'OK, my lunch break is over. It is time for me to go back in.'.
I'll tell you what, you make everyone listening to this feel hideously unproductive.
So what do you think 15 year old SADBOY would make of your catalogue?
Oh, he would he will be in love, like obsessed, obsessed!
Do you think that even when you were 15, you'd be sort of rummaging around on the Internet and on podcasts looking for, like, new content.
I would say, like in high school... This is before, like, Scissor got really big, like Frank Ocean, Party Next Door, The Weekend... I was going through like them on Tumblr. I found them on Tumblr and like I was obsessed. FKA twigs, I found her on Tumblr as well.
I suppose the Internet can be two extremes, can't it? It can be a really, really sour place, but it can also be fantastic and creative. And a space to discover things.
It's different sections. Yes, you can you can get lost. You can get lost on either ends of the Internet on the good side or the bad side.
My main aim really on this podcast is to allow musicians like you to reach wider audiences, wider international audiences, ideally, and also for audiences to discover your music and to not feel themselves alone in the world. If there was one song of yours that was a perfect entry into your catalogue, what do you think it would be?
I think I'm going to have to roll with 'AM 2 PM' is kind of like it's a really soft like to me. I feel like it's a bubblegum SADBOY record, but it is really soft and it's full of love and is very light. It's just expressing to whoever you love at the moment or entertaining at the moment that you want to be with them and ride for them and be everything that you can.
SONG: AM 2 PM 27.04
Everything's brand new to me but I try my best
I stay in contact and vocalize how I felt
We grow and build to be much fonder
They can't see the gold that's inside us
Imma stick it, ride it slow, grind it out here for you
Gonna keep it in the pocket when bitches don't see it for you
Im here and you ain't never gotta worry about what's not clear
Just know Im riding AM 2 PM, for you…
SADBOY, thank you so, so much for joining us today, and we really look forward to hearing more of your material coming out in this year.
SONG AM 2 PM 27.47
I’m riding AM 2 PM
You've been listening to "In the Key of Q".
The opening theme is by Paul Leonidou at unstoppablemonsters.com.
Check out the shownotes for links, including a Spotify playlist to complement this episode.
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Many thanks to Kajunn Kantha and Moray Laing. Special thanks to Phil Samba.
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This episode is produced by me Dan Hall for Pup Media Consultancy.
See you next Quesday!
SONG: AM 2 PM 28.28
I’m riding AM 2 PM
TRANSCRIPTION © Dan Hall