Instantly recognisable and able to cut through the noise, there's a reason your favourite artist listens to Brent Faiyaz. It’s not just his rapid rise from up-and-coming singer to Grammy nominee, but in his immovable vision when it comes to his music, both visually and sonically.
Swerving every trend that held its hand out, Faiyaz's approach is almost self-destructive in its avoidance of the easy way up. Still independent after numerous EPs – and 2017 debut album, Sonder Son – Brent has done what a lot of artists struggle to do: maintain an uncompromised hold on the creative process.
Following success with his group, Sonder, and a feature on Goldlink's global hit, "Crew" in 2017, Faiyaz found himself thrust into a world he'd been ready to work for but didn't expect so soon. His debut album shortly followed, along with the Lost EP in 2018. Now we're learning his potential as a holistic creator across the board with his new EP, Fuck The World.
2019 was a quiet year for Faiyaz aside from two singles and features on albums from A$AP Ferg and the late Juice WRLD. Both features gave substance to the most personal songs on each record – like Faiyaz's East Coast-inspired hook on Ferg's "Dreams, Fairytales, Fantasies", which gently closed the curtain on an album that elsewhere never turned down the dial. This is what makes Faiyaz a name synonymous with forward-thinking in R&B: he's the sort of artist who'll take a feature and put himself in the spotlight without kicking the door down.
Named after the lead single released in the summer of 2019, Faiyaz built this second record out of a large catalogue of songs he's been accrewing since moving to L.A and working with the rest of Sonder more closely in their crew house.
The night before our interview, Faiyaz was adding the finishing touches to the new record. "Shit got pretty hectic," he tells me right at the start of our conversation. Him and his team had been out to celebrate.
Faiyaz maintains a low profile outside of his music, claiming you can learn everything you need to about his life through his lyrics. Like a lot of younger artists – full of disdain for the compare culture ingrained in social media – Faiyaz keeps his public output to a minimum. You're more likely to find his words in fashion magazines, alongside stylish images of the star dressed head to toe in designer fashion or showing off his own line of merchandise. When I manage to speak to the East coast phenom, I wasn't sure if we'd be getting an introverted star being forced through a PR run or something on the other end of the spectrum. Turns out Faiyaz is far from lacking when it comes to opinions – and well equipped with a quotable rhetoric that helped spawn some of the punchlines on Fuck The World.
BEST FIT: Since Sonder Son and the Lost E.P, what have you learned about songwriting?
Brent Faiyaz: think it's given me time to perfect my craft. I also think that my perspective has switched. This is the biggest that my audience has been in terms of dropping a project. So, with that in mind and knowing what I know regarding how people receive music and how the lyrics resonate, I feel like I know what to do now rather than going out and winging it.
I'm kind of hitting the point where I'm able to say whatever I want on a track and make it sound good. I don't go into the studio thinking, "I'm an R&B artist" or "I'm a label artist", I just sing. I never think about that sort of thing.
You've been doing this a long time now but you're still a young artist. Is the toxicity of the music industry something that worries you?
I think more than that I'm thinking about what I need to create to stand the test of time: What's going to be something people can relate to on a level where they then look at the entire artist? I'm more so just trying to establish my own name, my own identity and perfect it.
I feel like it's one thing to have songs that people love, but it's another thing to not just be the only person doing what you do and be the best at it. I want to have the market cornered with the shit I'm doing. I want to create this visual lifestyle R&B music that you can listen to, look at and feel. Music's that as visual as it is sonic.
I just shot a visual like two days ago for a song called "Rehab". The videos are something that I kind of picked up recently. I guess when I was working on music videos prior to Lost coming out, because I'm independent, it took a while to have videos come out at a good quality because they cost so much money. Initially we would put a bag on a video but it wouldn't come out like I wanted it to because I wasn't very hands on with it. Mainly because I didn't know what I was doing.
It meant we were wasting money on this video that's never going to come out. Now that I know I have to be super hands on with everything I do, when it's time to shoot a video I pay attention to every single detail. From there I really started enjoying the process.
An artist becoming their own creative director is synonymous with a lot of the most interesting names. Was this a conscious decision for you?
I never want to put out anything I wouldn't enjoy. I did my Spotify Wrapped 2019 to see my most played artist is. I was my most played artist. [Laughs] I haven't been as excited about an artist as much as I am about myself since I was in like middle school when whoever the fuck was popping came out. That's why I started making music.
Do you ever worry about crossing the line from confidence to narcissism?
When you're super new and act like that, people don't receive it well. I'm still a young face in this scene so that's why I hang back and don't say nothing. I feel like if motherfuckers knew exactly how I felt about my music they'd be turned off by it. But like I said: now I don't really give a fuck.
The more that people started telling me I was different, the more I started to realise that I am actually pretty good at this.
It's crazy, man. I remember when I started out people kept comparing me to other people but then over time people would really start to gravitate towards one project. But then I drop something else that's good and people start being like, "Yo, I fuck with this guy's whole discography." Next thing I know people are telling everyone I'm their favourite artist. It's crazy how that happened.
Let's talk about the singles. On "Rehab" it sounds like you're speaking to someone in particular in your life...
The story behind the entire record is actually pretty old. I was seeing this girl back in 2016 or 2017, around that time. She fucked with coke. I've never really been into drugs so I wanted to make a record about that compared to my life post-moving to LA. Every track represents a different point in my life since then. It's almost like it gives pretence to records that I've already put out. Every song can always give you insight into what I've been up to as of late. If you listen to this with my other bodies of work it'll make a lot more sense.
I don't really look at things as individually project driven. I look more at the entire catalogue that you can listen to when I die. You should be able to listen to this song and that song to piece my life together. Everything for me is narrative drive. Sonically, that shit sounds good. For me it works better when it's about me.
You've said that the lyrics are what make a song last the test of time. Is this something you think about a lot?
Definitely. Songs like "Fuck The World" are about that. I'm starting to study more and more about what's going to catch the listener off guard either way. I've been listening to a lot of Wayne getting ready for this project so I can learn the art of punchlines.
Wayne is crazy man. You can listen to that shit over and over again and you'll hear something new every time. The first time I listened to it I don't even think I understood it. Once you catch up you realise how intelligent those words are. Everybody has a different favourite Wayne song, you feel me?
When I approached this I asked myself not only what is going to make this stand the test of time but is it going to catch your attention the moment I say it? For example, "If you ain't nasty, don't at me", "Fuck the world I'm a walking erection". Those lines were written because they're fun and a bit shocking.
I think that's the mark of a good artist – when their fans are divided. For a while people knew you for your collab with Goldlink on "Crew" but that seems to have stopped...
Yeah, thank god [Laughs]. Nobody wants to be known for one thing, man.
I think it's just that I've always been trying to have my own thing. People started anticipating what I had coming out so after that song, luckily I made sure that wasn't all I had going on.
"Fuck the World" is not necessarily relationship driven like "Rehab" though. Even with the project in general, that song is a bit different. I guess most songs on the record are world driven. I wanted to talk about issues from my perspective but issues that are bigger than just me. So for me, that song was a bunch of personal shit. I'm talking in that way that's like, "fuck bitches, get money", y'know? But also that the world is really fucked up right now. I guess it's being somebody that people look up to but also looking at the world from their perspective.
So you're saying that you're aware you have thoughts and opinions that may make you seem as imperfect as the rest of us – but you don't care?
It's all of that. It has to be authentic and come from a real place. If all I said was, "Baby, baby, I love you", people would start to have a real different expectation from me. That's something I realised early on too. In my earlier music, sometimes I would just be trying to write the most beautiful record I could. But because I would write these beautiful records, people would have unrealistic expectations when they want to know my perspective on things.
When it came to interviews people would ask me questions and I'd be like, "that's not even the type of person that I am." I wrote those songs because they're how I felt, but you can't base my entire way of life off what you heard in a few songs. Because of that, everything got to be different. Just for my own sanity.
The more people know about you in songs, the more they want to know about everything. "Where are you going? Where do you live? What're you up to right now?" They want to know more and more, so I thought I may as well put it into the music.
But it's clear you're able to step away from this when you want. Like on "Lost Kids, Get The Money"...
That song is fire. On the track it's more like a party record. There are some Miami beats, summer time vibes like, "I'm finna hit the club, I'm finna blow a bag with the homies." It's a squad song and that shit is hard.
Are conceptual projects like yours necessary listening for people who consider themselves music lovers?
I think, more than anything I'm building up the conceptual projects. I have a whole other album I'm working on too that'll come out eventually. This record wasn't even supposed to happen but I had so much music that we pieced it together to make a record. Most of my catalogue is unreleased man.
It's so fucked up because I love listening to albums but there aren't any albums that have come out recently that I've wanted to just sit down and listen through. Everything now is so single-driven that the art of putting out a full body of work is becoming lost. I miss that shit. I think it's possible to pack an album with singles and still have a narrative. I miss the mixtape days man. A whole project would feel like a different world.
You intersperse your EPs and albums with voice notes which definitely make them feel more like mixtapes. Is this something you try to get or does it happen coincidentally?
I'll just turn my phone recorder on when I'm speaking with friends or whoever and see what comes up. I only tell people I'm recording after because otherwise you don't get real shit.
So, aside from music, what inspires you in this world? What makes you want to turn your phone on and record?
As of lately, I've been spending a lot more time with my family. There was a time when I was so focused on music that I separated myself from them. Every holiday just meant bullshit traveling between playing music so I've been making sure to put in more time with them to keep myself grounded. I think in your early twenties everybody goes through this phase where they're like, "I'm doing me", but now I feel like, "fuck all that". I went back home for Thanksgiving, saw my cousins and they're all big and shit. It got me thinking, "damn, I need to stick around more." Time doesn't stop just because you're not there.
I got family in Maryland and down in South Carolina. I do a show before Christmas every year there for this charity. It's called Boys And Girls Club. It's like an after school programme for kids to keep them out of trouble. I never went but it's been around for a long time. I knew a lot of people who went. Last year we took all the kids shopping so I can't wait to get out there again.
I know it's as cliché as they come, but is where you're from somewhere that drives you?
It's not a conscious thing – but where I'm from is who I am and you can't help but show that. It's in the way I talk, the way I walk and who I speak about. Now, I'm more so soaking in energy from new spots and places I haven't been before. It's global man. Any time I leave America I love bringing that energy back with me.
In seeing different cultures and comparing it to your life back home, does anything bad drive you? Or does anything about the world frustrate you?
It's a lot of shit, man. From like the police violence out here to the internet, social media, justice warrior bullshit. I could just go on and on and on about the shit that pisses me off...[Laughs] I try and stay off social media man. It's crazy on there. It's non-stop. Twitter is an ongoing conversation and even if you put it in your pocket, it's not going to stop.
The more you say and the more you let it be known you don't fuck with things, the more they presents themselves to you. I keep getting questions about the shit I don't fuck with and then it becomes this revolving door of things I'm upset about. It just makes me upset over and over again so I'm kind of trying to stay away from that. It means I have to stop myself sometimes now. And even that irks me too. It should be freedom of speech but if you don't agree on what the majority agree with you're hated for it and that's just so backwards to me.
Your name is only getting bigger — is there anything that makes you miss being a less known artist?
I definitely feel like I was able to be more opinionated when nobody knew who the fuck I was. Back then I could say whatever I wanted and people ate it up. Now if I say something people are so quick to be like, "why did you do that? Don't you know you're famous." It's just like, "what the fuck, you've got worse shit on your Twitter right now."
When I first started making music, the interviews would always be about "Crew", it'd be about the Grammys, where I'm from—introductory shit that I had to answer over and over again. Now people actually give a fuck and It's a chance for me talk about my feelings. I hate them dumbass questions about your favourite pizza or whatever. What the fuck is that shit?
And you can not give a fuck if you want, but then who's going to give a fuck about you? That's why the people around me always make sure if I'm doing something, I'm doing it with purpose. If I've got something to say, I should wait to put it into the music. That's the level I'm on right now.
Is that what's pushing you to work so much at the moment?
Hell yeah, I think there's a tasteful way to approach everything. I'm learning the key to it all is moving gracefully. If there's something that makes me uncomfortable or that I'm upset about and burning my soul, I'm going to approach it in a way that isn't going to purposefully offend people.
Does that translate over to your Sonder work as well?
Yeah, we got a crib though. There's a Sonder house. Literally we're cooking twenty four seven. It's full immersion in an enclosed environment. It means I've got collaborations on the way and all types of shit. As far as the clothes, we got that shit on lock and it's coming. Aside from the music that's the thing I've been focusing on mainly.
I was always big on digital shit—drawings, sneakers, different colours. I wanted to take that and apply it my musical world. I was voted best dressed in high school man, this isn't something I just fell into.
You like to release things in waves it seems. Does this mean 2020 is going to be another year we see a lot of you?
This shit going to be on a wave. Once the floodgates open, people won't be ready for what's coming. Man, I'd hate to be anybody that's in quote unquote 'R&B' music right now. No bullshit.