If you’re a student of R&B music or an avid TikTok watcher, you’re likely to have have come across Brent Faiyaz’s iridescent sounds. Fans are often drawn in by his whimsical vocals, which starkly contrast his lyrical content. Rejecting R&B’s lovey-dovey musical tropes, he instead covers adultery and promiscuity like a modern-day rap star.
First made famous with his debut album ‘Sonder Son’ back in 2017, Brent achieved astonishing viral success with last year’s ‘Dead Man Walking’. Now, after last February’s forthright EP ‘Fuck The World’, he’s working on album number two, and started 2021 off right by releasing the cool and retro ‘Gravity’, a collaboration with Tyler, the Creator.
With a new album on the horizon, we caught up with Brent to discuss ‘Show Her Off’, his new song for International Women’s Day (March 8); his love of fashion; and his second album. Here’s what we learned.
Album two is in the works, and it’s already got a name…
That’s right – a second album is on the horizon! Normally, artists think of the names of their albums after they’ve made the music, but not Brent: “If I have a collection of songs for an EP or mixtape, I create the narrative afterwards; but usually with an album, I have a concept and the name first.”
His next project’s title, he lets slip to NME, is ‘Make it Out Alive’. However, he’s only been working on it for the past year so don’t expect it too soon. He’s still in the early stages of making the album and believes he’s “in a more mature space” to make us an album even better than his previous releases.
“Around the time I was working on ‘Fuck The World’, I was travelling everywhere, just wiling out, living out of a suitcase,” he says. “The entire process of working on that record, I was on bullshit. But now, I’m a homeowner and shit. I got a dog and am trying to elevate. I’m working out, eating healthier, reading books. Making ‘Make it Out Alive’ is going to be a reflection of all of that.”
He’s a (not-so) secret book worm
“I was reading Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. It’s one of my favourites,” Brent tells NME when we ask what’s kept him busy during while grounded due to the pandemic.
He adds: “It talks about how when you’re young, they teach you about the book Fahrenheit 451 in school, where [America] burned all the books so nobody would have access to information. He says that a real dystopian society will [emerge] when no one will want to read a book. People are so distracted with iPhones and TV and being entertained that people can really do you dirty and sweep it under the rug.”
While lockdown has offered Brent a lot of time to sink his teeth into some good paperbacks, for him it’s not necessarily about reading the most complex texts – it’s about a book’s message.
“It’s so crazy that people decide that a book is challenging or oppressive based on the type of words they use versus how profound it is,” he says. “Motherfuckers will take literary somersaults and tricky words and euphemisms and metaphors and similes over an actual message… It’s like when you have a favourite rapper and people will be like, ‘Man, that punchline is crazy!’ – but what are they actually talking about?’”
Earlier in his career Brent, felt pressured to make hits
Listening back to his discography, you can hear Faiyaz’ confidence grow across his years in the limelight. But how does the timid guy from the debut, who spoke about loyalty and ‘simping’ over his love interests, end up as the cheeky and cocksure Brent we all love today?
He explains it comes from growth and experience of being a musician, and says that earlier on in his career he may have felt swayed to make music that sounded a certain way: “I’ll listen to certain things that I made back then, and I’m like, ‘I wish I could have done this, I would’ve done that’. When you start out making music, you just want to make something that people will like. So I might’ve written songs and known people were gonna like [them], and knew [they were] going to be received a certain way and it was safe – but in my head I always wanted to make a ‘Fuck The World’.
“I wanted to talk about [rebellious things], but I was scared. I ain’t know how that was going to be powerful. I was performing on stage and performing these songs every night, and I’m like, ‘I really want to sing about some other shit.’”
Although ‘Dead Man Walking’ went viral on TikTok, you won’t see Brent taking part in any of the apps dance crazes
Last year Brent’s single ‘Dead Man Walking’ found its way onto TikTok – and duly blew up. “It’s crazy for real” he says of app. “I’m kinda late on the whole TikTok game. I ain’t never made a TikTok or nothing, but when I see them, I’m like, ‘That’s crazy.’ That’s a whole world I know nothing about… And I can’t dance for shit”
We’d love to see the 25-year-old swing his arms as the music behind him and proclaiming how much of a ‘Savage’ he is – one of the app’s favourite pastimes – but while Brent doesn’t make any TikTok content, he happily consumes it.
“I really be fucking with that [TikTok craze] Buss It challenge though,” he says. “There’s been dances in hip-hop and there’s been dances in music since the beginning of time – all those dances, crazes. And if the kids like it, I rock with it.”
He’s a big fan of Japanese fashion
On TikTok ‘Dead Man Walking’ has become the soundtrack to gen-Zers showing off aesthetically pleasing outfits or makeup looks in twinkly filtered rooms. What’s his take on fashion altogether?
“I’ve always been into [fashion] for years now,” he says. “I’ve been big on Issey Miyaki, Junya Watanabe, KAPITAL — I’ve really been on my Japanese shit lately. But I’ve also been on my own shit, too – I fuck with some archive Jean Paul Gaultier… I like archive kinda shit.
“You can’t ever tell where shit is going to go. You can’t ever call that shit but I know shit changes every 20 years. Last 10 years everyone was on their ‘90s shit; now they’re on their ‘00s shit.”