AFROPUNK INTERVIEW: BRENT FAIYAZ’ RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM
October 4, 2019
Brent Faiyaz would much rather stand out than fit in. The 24-year-old R&B singer-songwriter and producer has managed to carve out a niche by employing a voice that’s reminiscent of the elite male R&B crooners of the ‘90s, and lyrics that reflect the bravado, angst, and sensitivity of his generation.
Born Christopher Brent Wood in Maryland, Faiyaz now lives in Los Angeles. It’s an appropriate change of scenery for a young man who, in just a few years, has seen success as a solo artist, as one-third of the group Sonder, and earned a platinum plaque for a scene-stealing feature on GoldLink’s “Crew” — all while remaining independent. Though during our chat, he proudly states that he just bought his mom a new crib, and makes lyrical boasts like “Took a trip to London just to hear how they talk” (on “Fuck the World (Summer in London)”), Faiyaz has not “gone Hollywood.” As I learned during our chat, his internal compass hasn’t been thrown off by newfound fame and fortune. He’s the same ol’ G — just more popular and better dressed.
When Faiyaz saunters into AFROPUNK’s Brooklyn offices one afternoon, he is unassuming. In town for New York Fashion Week to perform at Pyer Moss’s momentous show at Brooklyn’s King’s Theater just days before. Today he’s wearing tweed pants, a crispy pair of white Nike Cortez and an Undercover jacket buttoned-up to the neck with a chest-to-waist photographic print of Malcolm McDowell as Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” on its front. Faiyaz’s calm, brown, sleepy-eyed visage is the exact opposite of the one on his chest in which McDowell’s pried open eyes stare out from a pale frightened face. Rocking a thousand-dollar jacket with $75 dollar kicks, Faiyaz eschews the gaudily-dressed-in-designer fashion sense many of his peers are afflicted by.
Whether it be music, dress or lifestyle, his guiding principle is individuality. We spoke about being oneself and how clothes may not make the man but how interactions with women might.
One of the things that strikes me about you and your music is that you’re a deep writer. On initial listens, people [are] like, “Oh, this has got a good melody to it. He has a dope voice” and then you listen to some of the lyrics and you realize there’s a lot going on in your head. So where’s your head been at lately?
Initially coming into music, I was a little flustered by so much attention and people asking questions and even sitting down and doing interviews like this. I didn’t really know what to say or how to say it. I was always afraid of offending motherfuckers ‘cause everybody’s so sensitive now. But now I just kind of be like “fuck it,” for real. I’m more like owning my position [in music].
How do you describe that position?
Right now I’m seeing that my role is as a young creative and these kids are like really looking up to a nigga. When I go places and people like are like, “Yo, bro, you inspire me.” I’m seeing that even though it might not have been something that I had planned for, the music resonates like a lot deeper with people. So that’s why I really got to take my time with it. I’m not finna to start coming out with bullshit now that niggas is poppin’.
Let’s talk a little bit about your process. How does music start for you?
It could just start with a voice note. Like I might like be in the shower or walking the street and something will just come into my head and I’ll just make a little voice note on my phone. Like a bassline melody or whatever; or I could just be writing poetry on my phone, then go to the studio and cut it. I like working with minimal shit. I don’t like a full beat. So it’s real fluid. I don’t really have no particular process, it’s like shit just kinda comes off the top.
You mentioned that you prefer more or less stripped-down beats, I realized how much room to breathe you have on your songs. I’ve never heard you want a song that sounds instrumentally crowded. Is that so that people hear you and the words stand out more clearly, or is that for dramatic effect?
I feel limited if I hear too much drums and percussion, or too many like instruments on that shit. It don’t give me enough time to think about what I want to do. I have to fill in a pocket. But when it’s like a blank slate, I can just weave in and out, do what I want, stack my vocals, and then just create the rest of the beat around it. So I start a lot of my production with the bare minimum and then just build around that.
Tell me a little bit about your production. People know you from working with Dpat and Atu in Sonder but you produce some of your own stuff too.
Yeah, I produce my own stuff. I [also] work with Nascent — from Chicago — that’s been my bro, since I moved out to LA and Los Hendrix, Paperboy Fabe and this producer named Lil’ Rece from the Bay. That’s the squad on the beats right now.
Let’s talk about the concept behind your last EP, Lost. What was it about?
Just being a Black male, being in music and how I’m viewing it all right now. That’s what Lost is about. I really don’t know what the fuck I’m doing so I’m gonna drop the project telling you I really don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, and this is how I feel about it.
I’m going to give you my observation and you tell me if I’m right or wrong. Sometimes I hear you sing about women and I’m like, “Damn, this is a cold motherfucker.” [laughs] Like “Brent is cold-blooded.” Am I reading that the wrong way?
I think it depends on what track you’re listening to.
The songs “Make Love” and “Trust” come to mind.
I think everybody is cold sometimes. But if you listen to “All I Want” or “Stay Down,” certain records are very like heartfelt, real warm. So it just really depends on how I’m feeling. I think everybody’s kinda like 50/50 [warm and cold].
So now that you’ve risen to this prominence, how has it changed your interactions, in romantic relationships?
That shit be difficult as fuck, bro.
Do you know what the new people who come into your life are there for?
No! I have no clue. I’m confident in who I am and I can walk on the stage and body that shit, I can walk into a room and talk to any motherfucker there, but at the same time — especially when it comes to relationships, like my whole life bro — ain’t nobody really treated me like I was special. And not on some like, “Oh, I’m so depressed…,” but just on some real shit, like you’re walking down the street. motherfuckers ain’t nobody gonna be like “Yo, you the shit!” on an everyday basis. So I‘ve hit a position where, like, people know me off the music and [now] people are coming up to me like, “You’re amazing!” It catches me off guard. I started to feel like everybody that’s talking to me be lying to me and shit. Like women [are] gassing me, “Oh my God, you’re so, you’re so handsome! You’re so amazing! I just love you. Just sing to me one time!”
You be out here serenading women?! [laughs]
Hell Nah! I don’t do that shit at all! I hate being asked that shit. That’s like the first thing I don’t fuck with. [laughs]
You just mentioned that Lost was about what it means to be a young Black man in America. Talk about that, because at times it’ll feel like being a Black man means that you’re a target. Sometimes it means that you’re an object. Sometimes it means that you’re the focus of praise. Sometimes it means you’re the focus of scrutiny. What does that mean to you to be Black in America?
I think that being Black, especially being a Black man in America, people have these preconceived notions that we can only be one type of nigga. Either you a nerdy nigga, or you artsy nigga, or you a thug nigga. It’s like literally like those are the three categories
You can add “athlete” to those categories.
Or an athlete! It’s like people don’t realize that everyone is all of these things. Stop trying to put us in these fucking squares. And then, even worse, we do that shit with each other. I think people gotta stop with the bullshit. Like we way more complex than that.
When did you come to that realization?
I think that I was always that way. Especially because my dad is a different type of motherfucker. I always had my dad in my life. So say, I came to him and I was like, “Yo, in school, everybody keeps clowning these shoes that I got on. Everybody keep dogging them, I don’t want to wear these shoes no more!” He’d be like, “Fuck ’em.” Very simple shit. I started to realize more and more, that I really don’t have to care what the group is doing. You can just be an individual, you don’t have to fit into no category that anybody tries to put you in.
That’s a really important life lesson and I feel like some people never realize that until it’s too late.
It’s grown-ass men running around acting like little ass kids following behind their friends and shit be in the club 30 deep all with each other and that shit’s weird as hell, bro! Be an individual! Go on a date! [laughs].
Let’s talk about this too, ‘cause I think what’s often really important to the development of young men is their interactions with women. Tell me how women have influenced you to become the man you are right now.
Man, that’s like everything. I swear like I learned more about myself being with women than I do just by myself. Like me by myself, I’m pretty destructive. I just know myself, and I know if I’m by myself too much, I’m just going to get into some bullshit. So it’s like having women around kind of is a way for me to get a different perspective on how I behave and how I move. It could be from the way I smell to the way I dress, to how I wear my hair. I started learning more and more just from being around women. For real.
Let’s talk a little bit about individuality as expressed through fashion being actually here for New York fashion week. What does style mean to you?
I think that’s the simplest way of like separating yourself from everybody else. That was like my main shit in school when I was like young, like 13, 14, 15 [years-old] like I was really like into the Cool Kids.
Yeah, that was a moment.
They don’t give a fuck! They make music about not giving a fuck. They make music about niggas clowning they clothes and they’re like “Fuck it, I still fuck more bitches than you,” and that’s kinda how I approached [high] school. My grades are shitty, I can’t play ball cause my grades are so shitty, so I’m gonna just be fly.
Let’s talk about the do’s and don’ts of Brent style, what are you not rocking anymore?
Right now, I’m not really rocking anything tactical. No more anything that’s rugged or war-ready. I’m kinda off that. I really wanna be on some like grown man shit, now. I’m like getting a lot more into Dickies and collared shirts.
Yeah. [Nike] Cortez, Docs [Martens], Converse … I’m trying to like be on some like granddad shit. You see the pants I got on right now you, feel me?
Yeah, it’s a look though. They’re almost like baker pants that kind of have that houndstooth pattern.
Yeah, I wanna look like a retired actor.
You know what’s ill about older people? They always have the illest style because they went through their whole life and they figured out what works for them and what they like and they just do that.
Yeah, there ain’t no nobody more like an individual than a old head.
‘Cause they got nothing to prove no more.
Nope, nothing. They have nothing to prove. They step out the crib in whatever the fuck they feel like wearing like yeah, that’s how I aspire to be. I’m trying to walk around this motherfucker like a retired actor. Like I want like M’s in the account and nobody knows ‘cause I’m just on some bullshit.