“I don’t really feel the loyalty to any particular genre,” Brent Faiyaz says. “To be completely honest, I’m an R&B singer because I’m black and I sing.”
The 24-year-old singer (real name Christopher Brent Wood) sounds calm and collected as he discusses his new EP, Fuck the World. He’s got the word “sonder” tattooed over his right eyebrow — a reference to the group he fronts with frequent producers Dpat and Atu — and he takes his sunglasses off to meet my gaze.
Since being featured on the Grammy-nominated 2016 single “Crew” with fellow DMV natives GoldLink and Shy Glizzy, it’s been clear that Faiyaz is more than just a guy who sings hooks. His solo projects Sonder Son and Lost showcased an array of different styles, from stripped-down ballads to that Nineties nostalgia bounce. He and his family moved from Maryland to Charlotte, North Carolina, around the time he graduated high school at age 17. Though he was hesitant about the move at first, he soon realized time away from friends sparked his work ethic. It was shortly after then that he moved to L.A. to pursue music full time. Rapping was his plan until 2014, when his manager, Ty, inspired him to make the switch to singing. “It was the songs with your singing — that’s what sucked me in,” says Ty.
His years of drawing inspiration from rappers like Curren$y and Lil Wayne, mixed with the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Gil Scott-Heron, come through on songs like “Clouded,” where Faiyaz delivers bars for almost two minutes straight without a hook. On the uplifting track “Let Me Know,” he sheds light on the challenges faced with self-love and masculinity as a black man, and on the EP’s intro, “Skyline,” he delivers a message of unity as a solution to gang culture.
Your new singles “Fuck the World” and “Rehab” have gotten a great response from fans. Were you expecting that?
I am at a point now with this music shit where I just don’t really give a fuck about what anybody wants to hear. If I feel like making something, if I feel like saying something on the track, that’s what I am going to do — regardless of reaction. It’s only by coincidence that people have been receiving it well. I really didn’t give a fuck at all.
Have you always been doing that? Just putting out what you like?
Naturally, if you go into anything, you’re going to be testing the waters with it. You’re going to be making stuff that’s naturally good to you, but you’re [also] going to try to make stuff that people are going to receive well. It wasn’t really until I was working on this project that I only cared about the narrative.
What’s the story that you wanted to tell with this EP?
“Fuck the world,” like, fuck all the negativity. The world is kind of shitty right now — fuck the injustice, the bullshit. Shit is messed up out here. But [I’m] also talking about “fuck the world” from the perspective of lust. “Fuck the world” from an enjoyment perspective. I’m out here getting money, fucking women, all that rock-star shit. I like to use that expletive because it means both things.
“Rehab” has a similar feel to some of your earlier songs, like “DSN” and “Allure” — stripped-down ballads where you sing without too many drums. What inspired you to take that route?
We were just listening to a lot of older shit, like Gil Scott-Heron, Curtis Mayfield, and shit. I think everybody is so caught up in doing the same thing that people don’t realize there are entirely different ways to make a song and it could be equally as hard. Everybody doing the same shit — the same snare drum, same kick, same bass. I am just like, “Bruh, this shit getting exhausted to listen to.” I don’t care if I have four, five, six, seven tracks that don’t have drums on it. I really don’t give a shit.
Where did you record this project?
I recorded everywhere. I would go to different cities and do a session there for the project. I did sessions in New York and I did sessions in L.A. It was just kind of wherever I was and I felt like cutting a track. I would write a lot on the plane. I would write in London. Write during Fashion Week. I was just out living life and penning the project, and from there I put it all together once I got back to L.A.
Do you remember where you were when you put the “Fuck the World” hook together?
I think I had just got back from London to L.A.: “Took a trip to London just to hear how they talk.” I was really feeling myself, so I went in the studio at North Hollywood and got in with the homie Jason [and] cut the track. Heard it and then had him pitch the whole track down, and it was a whole different vibe. From there, I was like, “Aight, bet, now I’m-a cut to it normal, but on the pitched-down track too.”
You do that a lot, where you play with your vocals. But on tracks like “Rehab,” it’s just bare vocals with no effects or Auto-Tune on your voice.
I look at the track like it’s a canvas. You got four minutes to make the wildest shit you can. To make the most appealing shit that you can for someone’s ear. And most people are going to cut off a track that they don’t like within the first 15 seconds, for real. So what’s the first thing I can say to suck you in? Like, “I got too many hoes” — from there, it’s like, “Aight, I want to keep listening to what he got to say.” I am starting to realize more and more that how the track hit from the very beginning is everything. You gotta carry that shit out. I fuck with the vocals, I fuck with the beat. I been on my production tip a lot, and I did a lot of production on this project. I am just playing with it. Whatever I feel like at the time is kind of how I leave it.
Most people might not know that you produce as well. How long have you been involved in your production?
I started off making beats when I was like 12. Then when I linked with people who make beats full time, I was like, “Bet, now I can focus on writing and singing.”
What do you think of the state of R&B right now?
I think it’s perfect. I think it’s healthy. When I first started singing, it was like, “You have to sing like this, you have to make music like that, you have to be lovey-dovey.” That was the only way I knew how to sing. That immediately took creativity from me, because when you’re a singer, people automatically want to pigeonhole you to this 1991 aesthetic of what the fuck R&B is supposed to be. People might hear you sing about some shit that is not romantic at all, but they will automatically romanticize ’cause you are singing. With this project in particular, I’m really on my Lil Wayne shit for real. I’m going to talk some real-life shit, but I am going to sing it, and you can fuck with it or not.
It feels like the music industry often tries to categorize and generalize black artists. Do you agree?
Hell, yeah. It’s like a million artists that sing that they put in the same category that all make different music. But then they will try to compare us to each other. That shit goofy to me. Niggas throwing salt in the game. That shit goofy. I prefer to just make what I make. I feel like I’m in my own world with this shit, so I just focus on that.
Why is it important for you to remain independent as an artist?
I started to realize how important being independent was when people started telling me about your ownership. I was just making music, for real. But I like having the control, and I like being able to do what the fuck I want to do. I have never been in a label situation, so I wouldn’t even know how to compare it — it’s just all I know, for real. I wake up, do a session, stay for a couple hours, get some food, go out to the club, wake up in the morning, and cancel the session. I really just do what the fuck I want to do. I know with a label I’m going to have to do a whole bunch of shit I don’t want to do. I didn’t get into this shit to work a job.
As far as features, you have also worked with A$AP Ferg on “Dreams, Fairytales, Fantasies,” and then you were featured on the late Juice WRLD’s album with the “Demonz” interlude.
Rest in peace to that man.
How did those collaborations come about?
Those were real organic. With the Ferg record, he hit me and said he wanted to get me on a song. He didn’t go through nobody — he was just like, “Yo, I am trying to get you on a record.” I sent him some ideas back and forth. He wasn’t really rocking with them shits, so we was going back and forth for a minute, trying to see what we were going to do. Then I went to Miami to work with Salaam Remi, and I swear I get the most shit done with the OGs. With Salaam Remi and No I.D. is really when I get shit done. Salaam was like, “Yo, Ferg got this record from, like, 2014, and he was trying to get you on it.” It had another hook on it. I was like, “No, I got something for that shit.” So I cut the hook and I was going to be done with it, and Salaam was like, “Throw a verse on it.” So I cut a verse and he was like, “That shit not edgy. Talk some gangsta shit on there. Speak like you were just speaking in conversation, but put it on the track.” So I did another cut and that was it.
Then with Juice WRLD, it was mad organic. His people reached out and said they wanted to put me on the album. At first I was thinking it was a track, and I’m like, “I know our sounds are totally different, and I am not completely sure what we would make, but I’m with it.” Then they were like, “No, he wanted you to do an interlude, like just your own track.” I was literally on the airplane and I’m writing the track, went in the studio and cut it that day, produced it a couple days later, and sent it straight to him. And he threw that shit on the album.
What did you work on with No I.D.?
I worked with him on “Rehab,” he finished that shit up with me. We got some more shit on the way. We got a couple tracks that I did when I got in the studio with him. We locked in. I just gotta finish that shit, ’cause I just start ideas and then not finish them. I’ll go in there, cut a verse or a hook, and then pull up the next idea. So it’s a whole bunch of No I.D. ideas that I am sitting on that I still have to finish up.
People love the line on “Fuck the World” where you say, “Your n***a caught us texting/You said, ‘Baby don’t be mad, you know how Brent is.’ ” What’s the story behind that line?
That was based on a real conversation. Shorty said she was going to get a boyfriend, and I was like, “Even if you get a boyfriend, I’m still going to hit you up.” She was like, “I’m just going to tell him, ‘You know how Brent is.’ ” So I just took that and put it in a song.