Pink Siifu
[Photo by Yulissa Benitez]
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Pink Siifu won’t repeat the story—he has to “give you a whole new book”

"Being all over the place, at least sonically, helps me be grounded because I’m never getting stale with something," he says.

January 20, 2022
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Within minutes of speaking to Pink Siifu, it’s clear that he’s a student of music who’s bursting with ideas. He mentions Pink Floyd in the same breath as Alice Coltrane, rattling off several more names that delight and inspire him. Like those artists, Siifu’s music demonstrates the same breadth and richness, tilting between punk-inflected free jazz to J Dilla homage, all in the same year. Just as importantly, Siifu also recognizes that some of the most potent music is made when several minds come together.

“I can’t do it by myself because none of the greats did it by themselves,” he says over Zoom from Berlin. “Only Prince, and Prince is a fucking freak of nature.”

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That’s most arresting on his latest release, GUMBO’!, which features a dizzying number of collaborators. Of the album’s 18 tracks, every last one is a product of partnership, with Siifu tapping everyone from jazz-funk collective Butcher Brown to psych-soul musician Nick Hakim. Through it all, Siifu is constantly learning — about music, people, himself. He’s deeply motivated to keep switching the beat, flipping the record and hurtling toward something new. On his next project, he’s determined to be less involved vocally while still retaining his crucial voice, allowing others to shine while he operates behind the scenes.

“I don’t have to rap on a song,” he explains while bouncing back and forth on the street. “I’m down to ghostwrite. I’m down to reference. I’m down to co-produce, executive produce. That’s what this last album did [with] the band shit. I’m finding out that I don’t got to be on the track to be a part of it. Sometimes you not singing on it is that little breath that the album need. That little moment.”

You’ve had an amazing and prolific year, from releasing GUMBO’! and the $mokebreak EP to putting out a deluxe edition of NEGRO. How do you stay grounded throughout all that? 

All that music, I feel like it’s different. It’s different energies, different vibes, different inspirations, so that really helps me be grounded. As crazy as that would sound, being all over the place, at least sonically, helps me be grounded because I’m never getting stale with something. I’m never getting tired or bored with something, and I’m always trying to better myself, trying to reach another level. I listen to everything. Not like monkey see, monkey do, but if I’m really gravitating to some music, then I’mma try to make that shit in some way. Like in my way.

I’ve been getting into Fela Kuti a lot, and his shit is amazing. I love Miles Davis, John Coltrane. I love Alice [Coltrane]. I love Gil Scott[-Heron]. Pink Floyd. I love Prince. In some way, I want to at least tap in on that sound in my music catalog in some way. I wanna tap in with all that shit. So I feel like that helps me be grounded, just trying to reach new levels and new platforms.

That sounds like a good way to prevent getting burnt out.

I can’t tell you the same story. I got to give you a whole new book. Every time I drop some shit, I got to give you a whole new thing because that’s just how I think. I like artists that can put a little shuffle in their catalog and kind of fuck it up. That’s why I love Prince and D’Angelo. D’Angelo and Kendrick [Lamar], they don’t really drop albums. They drop ’em every few years, and I’m really trying to step into that type of artistry just so I can let shit breathe more, live a little more. I got kids now. [I want to] be around my babies. So, it’s definitely changing.

When you were naming all those different artists, I feel like the Roots are like that, too. I feel the Roots in your music.

When I made the name Pink Siifu, I thought it like a festival. If you one of those festivalgoers that just like to see shit like, “I don’t know what their name is. Let me go see what that is,” I feel like Pink Siifu would be one of those. It really don’t even sound like one artist. I sound like a band. That’s one reason I love the Roots. I love Pink Floyd. I love the Time. Because if you recording with musicians and shit, it’s always gonna be different. That’s why none of the Roots album sound alike, period, because all these minds is helping that project.

That’s what I’ve been on with my last three albums. It was like that a little bit. I produced a lot of that, but I was working with a lot of different artists. NEGRO was the first time I was working with different musicians and having them just send me clips. That was my first time doing that with musicians and sampling sounds and shit.

And GUMBO’!, like with the singers or how I got backgrounds on certain shit, I really want to bring a choir group feel. That’s why I got Butcher Brown, and DJ Harrison [the group’s producer/keyboardist] helped me a lot with it. It’s a lot of help on GUMBO’!. I didn’t want it to just be me. My next album is a little bit more like that. It’s like two tracks that I’m not gonna be on vocally, but I’m gonna arrange it. I’m gonna produce it. I’m gonna write it.

Just having so many minds help you in your work, that’s really where I’m at. I’m really there. I can’t do it by myself because none of the greats did it by themselves. Only Prince, and Prince is a fucking freak of nature. But a lot of the great albums we love, they weren’t done solo.

Right now you’re performing NEGRO in its entirety on tour. What’s it like to unleash that type of rage live? 

Man, it’s crazy. We’ve only done one show right now. We doing a second show in two days. That shit’s beautiful. It’s like I’m able to tap into a different artist. I’m able to show a lot with this NEGRO thing, even performing with a band. I’m able to show parts of myself that I really never shown live, for real. I’ve only shown glimpses. So I feel like it’s a blessing to be able to do that. It’s definitely something people should see, especially if you a fan of my music.

I’m not going to be performing NEGRO forever. I only did it right now, too, because COVID swept it. I was like, “I can’t let y’all forget how out of vision I was for it.” I’m doing this, going to a few states, and after this, it’s gonna be a rare thing. Like when Kanye [West] perform 808s [& Heartbreak]. I really want people to come to the tour, see the whole thing. It’s an experience. Folks was saying they didn’t know what to expect, and I think I made my artistry and my catalog a little bit like that. They don’t really know what type of show they gonna get when they come, and I like that.

Are you screaming during the show?

I’m doing everything. [Points to a cut on his forehead.] That’s a little one, but it’s a deep little one. [I] headbutted [someone], first show. I’m in the crowd. Sometimes I’m pushing. I’m screaming. I’m jerking, shaking my body like a seizure. It’s definitely an energy you don’t see me in. I feel like I’m in a Bad Brains movie. [It’s] some time travel. When I was performing it and just seeing everybody get crazy after I started to mosh, it was a time. Somebody filmed it. I was just smiling at ’em. Because I don’t put on shows like that.

That’s why I feel like people should really come see it. If you love my rap shows, I feel like you’re gonna like this. I feel like a lot of folks might, even if they don’t like punk, like this show. It’s so many things and how we mix them all together. I tip my hat to these musicians. They some of the best.

You’re the type of artist who loves to experiment, whether you’re making a free-jazz-meets-punk album (NEGRO) or one that nods to Southern rap (GUMBO’!), and you seem really happy to learn new things. In your mind, what have you learned about yourself this year?

That if I really study it and chill with it for a minute, I could really do anything. There’s no ceilings to the music. Also, like I said earlier, collabing. It brings out the best in you. Brings out shit that I can’t really do by myself. So I learned that a lot, but I also learned just how to perform, really perform, how to take care of your body. 

I feel like I’m learning how to make music with no samples. I’m not a real music theory type of [person] but being able to still tap in, I’m learning all that rhythm, and that’s really helping me with my new shit. It’ll help me with my next shit. Big boy shit. You hear what I love. I want to be able to make what I make at that level.

Yeah, like how you were saying you want to recreate it but in your own style. So you want to do Funkadelic but Pink Siifu.

Ain’t nothing really new under the sun, so everything is inspired by everything. I really love what the Time and Cameo used to do, like the full ’80s, and I don’t really know artists on a big level that’s doing that. I’ve heard Toro [y Moi] kind of do it in some moments, but I don’t really know artists that’s really, really doing that ’80s shit, at least for four tracks. It ain’t got to be the whole album but at least four tracks. Little Simz did it on her last album. She had like one track that’s some ’80s shit.

I was so inspired by it because I’ve been listening to Cameo and the Time so heavy recently. [I] fuck with that shit. I was like, “OK, so there is space in this time frame.” There’s space for every type of sound, even if it’s old. The ’80s is so particular because of the synths and the drums. I really want to tap in, but that was the inspiration. So it’s like I’m trying to tap in with the ’80s shit but put a little bit of my spin on it, you feel? I can do everything I really love for real. Why not? I feel like artists like Madlib, that’s why we love him so much because he’s tried everything that he loves, genuinely.

Who would you want to collaborate with in 2022? Do you have a shortlist? 

Macy Gray, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Dungeon Family. I want to record and collab with more members of the Dungeon Family. CeeLo Green. I want to make records with comedians. [I] want to make a record like how Kanye used to have the Chris Rock shit, fake Bernie Mac shit. I want to bring that back. Yves Tumor. Just Yves on a solo of mine. I would love to work with Tyler, [The Creator]. I want to work with Summer Walker. I like a few. [Laughs.]

This interview appeared in issue 401 (the AP Yearbook), available here.

Written by Neville Hardman