An Interview with Pink Siifu

Will Schube speaks with the multifaceted musician about faith, his friendships with Navy Blue and Ras G, and getting a little roughed up by a black police officer.
By    April 23, 2020

Photo by Cinque- Qlick

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Pink Siifu has quietly expanded his reach across all the hip-hop terrain. He’s dipped into the beat scene with Swarvy, produced an entire record for AKAI SOLO, made soul-inflected old-school heaters with Ahwlee as B. Cool-Aid, and dove headfirst into lo-fi rap with his tremendous solo debut, ensley. On April 9th, he released NEGRO, a ferociously resilient black punk album that spits out 20 tracks in under 40 minutes. Siifu is part of a burgeoning rap scene that spans both coasts and the Atlantic Ocean, a loose collective of radically Black rappers penning rhymes for a future and past history of an oppressed people.

On NEGRO, Siifu reveals himself to be a wildly talented polymath, diving in and out of blast beats for the occasional eight-bar refrain or anti-cop anthem. On the album, Siifu brings together a wildly talented group of collaborators from across the country, featuring production from AshTreJenkins, Jeremiah Jae, Nick Hakim, Slauson Malone, and Psychopop. If you weren’t convinced of Pink Siifu’s immense talent, though, he quells any reservations with a bevy of self-produced tracks. It’s the rare statement album that doesn’t let the message get in the way of the music. It’s transcendent in the way all political art must be. Accompanying the album is a constantly-updating website to accompany the album. Siifu says, “I want to treat it like an exhibit. You could just walk through the album and try to get a glimpse of what I sampled, a glimpse of what inspired me, a glimpse of how I feel and just the narrative on the album.”

With NEGRO, Pink Siifu has both fulfilled the promise of his ever diversifying discography while never betraying the unique voice that the emcee and producer brings to all of his work. It’s the kind of album we’ll look back on years later, both a statement tailor-made for our time but not beholden to it. NEGRO exists in our era but also outside of it, a classic album presented in the present. Perhaps most impressive about the album, though, is that it sounds unlike anything he’s done before, but could only be made by Pink Siifu. — Will Schube

Album art by Junkyrd

You’ve been in LA for a few years now. Why have you decided to stay out here?

Pink Siifu: I started working on two projects. One of them is done. And the other one, I kind of left alone, but I’m about to get back to it with Ahwlee and Swarvy. I started working on more B. Cool Aid shit, and started working on some more shit with Swarvy, too. For the next four years, just musically, I should be out here, just because I’m going to probably do more B. Cool Aid shit. I want to make the B. Cool Aid shit forever, and then shit with Swarvy, I also want to make forever. I should probably be out here so we can just get together the live show, the video, merch, all that shit. I hate doing that shit over the phone, the emails, the texts. It’s way better when I can just pull up on the homies.

What about the energy in L.A. is different for you?

Pink Siifu: If I want to keep it all the way one hundred, I love New York energy probably a lot more than L.A., as far as creativity, but there’s more space out here, it’s quieter. The weather, the weed, and the fact that I had a community out here that’s like family is enough for me. But if I could move everybody from New York, L.A., and Oakland into one place, that’d be ideal.

Like a little commune or something. Out in the middle of nowhere.

Pink Siifu: Exactly. We all say “Fuck it,” and just do our own shit somewhere else. And then we just travel here to do shows. That’d be ideal. But I love L.A. right now. L.A. right now, I need to be where I’m at, because of Swarvy and Awhlee.

Those are two legendary dudes to have in your corner, too.

Pink Siifu: Bro, I’m blessed. Allah has definitely blessed me with my community and my friends. I couldn’t make this shit up. I couldn’t write it if I wanted to like my community is crazy, bro. Like Swarvy, Awhlee, and MNDSGN. Fuck it, I’m down. We can go to New York and talk about Mike, Slauson Malone, and Sage [Navy Blue]. Then we could talk about the homies back out here. Folks like Maxo. It’s a community. Now I stretched in London because of Mike. Mike then linked niggas with niggas in London. Now it’s a whole thing. Bro, I be saying it’s L.A., New York, Oakland, and now it’s like London. We connected with Dallas, too. Niggas in Atlanta all fucking with us, too. It’s crazy at this point.

What’s your relationship like with Navy Blue?

Pink Siifu: That nigga is a low-key A&R at this point. He’s linked a lot of us. He’s linked a lot of niggas, bro. He linked me with Mavi. I heard of Mavi through Sage. It’s shit like that. He linked Mike and Thebe [Earl Sweatshirt]. He’s just provided a lot of pivotal links in this music shit, just with producers and artists.

You guys are all coming up and getting popular at the same time. It’s so exciting to see.

Pink Siifu: I was talking to Lojii about that shit. It’s like when you fill up water in different cups and you want them all to be at the same level but you’re taking from each cup. That’s what we doing. There are these different baskets and we feeling them out at different times.When you take a step back, at the end of the day they are going to be at the same level and it’s just beautiful. That’s just our shit.

When you see someone like Navy Blue whose tape from earlier this year is amazing, or Mavi’s from last year, which is also great, how much does that push you to up your game and bring it to a new level?

Pink Siifu: I’m blessed to actually have relationships with these people you’ve mentioned, like Navy Blue or Mavi, or Thebe and Maxo and Jon Bap. Everyone is low key sending demos sometimes or I be kicking it with them so much that they just play shit that they’re working on. So I heard half of Mavi’s album before it was out, I heard all of Sage’s album before. Sage, Navy Blue has got so much music. And it all slaps crazy. Like this nigga just been compiling albums for a few years now just polishing his craft. I don’t know what he’s going to do with all of them.

But he got so much work and so to see he just release it and to see the execution there, how he presented it in videos, too. To see Navy Blue’s videos, and how he’s getting comfortable in front of the camera, how he’s getting more comfortable doing shows is inspiring. That’s the thing that’s inspiring to me, how niggas are executing and presenting their art. These niggas inspired my pen all the time. I’m always inspired to write or to at least ascend in that area to bring a world to my shit. But when I see the full execution and the package delivery and visuals and all that shit, that’s when I’m like it’s go time nigga, I got to kill this shit now because you representing that for a whole thing that’s bigger than you at this point. It’s like now you put in because like once you put out niggas don’t understand like Missy, Andre 3000, Outkast, Dungeon Family, Erykah Badu, they one of my favorite artists because of the visuals also. It’s like a whole thing that comes in to play with them. When I listen to certain songs and when I watch certain videos I remember where I was at or what I was doing when I saw that video.

When did you begin working on this new album?

Pink Siifu: Some of these songs are from a demo I did in 2016. The oldest song is from 2015. I wasn’t working exclusively on this project back then. At first I did one song. It was just an organic project for real. I did a punk song but couldn’t get further into it. I wasn’t in the mind state. I wanted to rap. But I remember I had a police citation that happened in New York with a black cop. He had kind of roughed me up for skipping the train right after I had got out of JFK, I had hella bags on me and I ain’t really know where I was going and it was mad late and my phone was about to die.

I was like yo, I’m about to get on the first train I see just to get to where I need to go. I did that and then he just saw me skip and he just came and roughed me and he arrested me and two other cats. They didn’t take us in but just handcuffed us. He was just talking hella shit. He was with a white cop and I was like, that’s crazy. The white cop more cool than you. I was like, ‘You showing out right now. That’s what you trying to be. I was like, you one of them? That’s crazy. That’s how you is to your own people. That’s wild.’ He was like, ‘Man, you dead meat right now. I can do anything I want with you. You handcuffed, you fucking meat. You ain’t nothing.’ It was just crazy. After he handcuffed me and gave me a ticket, he followed me on the train until I got somewhere. I took a picture of him. I put my gold teeth back in, and then he started talking like, ‘You got gold teeth, you could have paid for the train.’ I was like, ‘That’s why it was crazy that you even roughed me up black man.’ I made “Dead Meat” literally the next day. That fueled my desire to keep making that punk shit again. Frustration.

There’s a big presence of Allah and God on this album. What does religion mean to you at this point and how does that factor into your music?

Pink Siifu: I’m definitely changing as I become older and shit. I would never really say I’m religious, but I am studying and I’m a believer, in a sense. That was prevalent. While I was working on this, I was in the process of getting some of that knowledge. I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily Muslim, but I definitely practice some of the ideologies. I try to just pull from everything and stick to what fits me and what hits me, what I attach myself with. I fuck with the discipline, the knowledge, everything I’ve learned from it, the stories, the people that I know that just put me on. It’s how I should carry myself. It inspires me and fuels me. It inspires my creative process as well. It’s kind of bleeding into it. So throughout this album I definitely wanted to reflect on some of the teachings.

The response to the album has been pretty amazing so far. Did you feel like this was a real step up for you artistically or are you surprised by how much people are embracing it?

Pink Siifu: I fuck with how much people are embracing the album. It’s just so different. It’s so different. But I definitely knew what I made. I know what I made for my people. It sounds completely different from Ensley but it comes with the same heart. Ensley was a little bit more about the self because it was about my family. Ensley is a project that I made with my family, my mom and my friends and my community, not like the community of black people in black oppression, but what I’ve experienced firsthand with my friends. With NEGRO I’m trying to tell the story of the black human. Not just the black man. I wanted to go into black human stories of what the black woman is going through and all that shit. NEGRO is just different. But I know I did that. I’ll probably never do a project like this again. I just had to do this for my people, and knowing that I did that, nobody can really tell me shit.

You put out so much music. Do you ever have to slow yourself down and wait to put stuff out or do you just put it out as soon as you’re done with it?

Pink Siifu: I’m thinking that as I’m getting older I’m definitely trying to package and execute my shit a lot more smoother and a lot more effectively. When I first started out I was definitely all over the place. But I just like creating music. I got my next four releases plotted out already and that’s just being around folks like Ras G, and looking up to niggas like Sun Ra. I got hella albums ready for anything, you feel me? I just try to just stack up and then plot it out with how it’ll drop.

You start off the record with a tribute to Ras G. What did he mean to you and your music and your development as an artist?

Pink Siifu: That nigga is just a gateway to a lot of teachings, bro. It’s just teachings. He’s just teaching, he’s just guiding you through the lecture. I feel like Ras G’s music and his whole presence was tapped with music, filled with black artists. I found out about so much through him. I found out about mad shit there for real. Even in his skits, if you go to his interludes, he sampling hella movies. You could find hella movies and shit from that nigga, like Putney Swope.

I love that movie so much.

Pink Siifu: That was one of G’s movies. He sampled that shit all the time. There’s just so much shit that you could learn from his discography and his mixes and shit, it’s crazy.

Yeah. When you have those people around you, it makes you want to be a better, more well rounded person.

Pink Siifu: Oh God. It’s like that’s all we can ask for. That’s it.

Can you talk about the website you built to accompany the album?

Pink Siifu: The website is basically an explanation of the album. I want to treat it like an exhibit. You could just walk through the album and try to get a glimpse of what I sampled, a glimpse of what inspired me, a glimpse of how I feel and just the narrative on the album. The website is ongoing and is going to be continually updated. I’m going to put hella shit on there, merch, videos, everything.

The most inspiring part about what you guys are doing now is it’s happening all over the country and it’s not just LA, it’s not just New York. It’s everywhere. There’s no regional divide. Why do you think that is?

Pink Siifu: It’s just the individuality and the personality that niggas putting into it more than anything else. Music is at its best when it’s niggas just trying to sound like themselves or they trying to sound like what they are brought up on. Everyone I fuck with is trying to sound like themselves. We’re just trying to do honest shit and say what’s on our hearts, say what we really feel. I feel like that’s the difference between everybody. Niggas in New York are living different than niggas in L.A. You got something else to talk about that’s different. But we’re all connected through this rap shit. It’s beautiful.

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