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"I used to rap, I wasn't like an R&B nigga," says Brent Faiyaz—now the lead singer of the R&B collective Sonder—after I asked the 22-year-old how he first got into the genre. Now, especially during Sonder's recent show at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg, Faiyaz is in full R&B mode, fully embracing (and gyrating) his true calling.
He first popped up on my radar about a year ago when a co-worker sent me "Allure," I was immediately impressed by the silky voice that quickly became his calling card, and followed his career ever since. He finally got the shine he deserved with his standout feature on Goldlink's hit record "Crew" alongside Shy Glizzy, which is sitting in the Top 50 of the Hot 100 chart thanks in part to a spot on HBO's Insecure. Brent stopped by the office to talk Sonder—his three-piece R&B group—his upcoming project, and the success of "Crew."
How did Sonder come about?
It was really organic how it all came about. They were kind of doing their own thing with everything that they had going on with producing, and I was working on my own thing. They had kind of reached out to do a remix of one of my songs and then we linked up and did a session in L.A. From there we been rocking with each other, we didn’t really make anything the first time we linked up, just kicked it. Then I went out to Atu’s apartment and we did the project. Initially it wasn’t going to be a group but when you do a project with three collaborators you have to create a name.
Why name the group Sonder?
We named it after the tat on my face, and it basically comes from the realization that every individual passing by has their own life that is just as vivid and complex as yours. Everybody that you come across and walk past has their own story.
Are you guys going to release more music?
Definitely. It’s pretty much the same as Michael Jackson being in the Jackson 5, it’s just at the same time.
The new project is called Sonder Son. Is it an extension of Sonder? And howwould you describe this new project in comparison to the stuff that you have done before?
Yeah, it’s good to bridge the gap, some people don’t even know I’m the vocalist in Sonder, so it’s cool. I do my vocal thing, my solo thing and I figured it made sense to call the project Sonder Son because that’s where it all came from. It’s definitely a lot more personal and introspective than the work that I have put out previously. A lot of the work that I have put out it sounds pretty and is real broad, things pretty much anybody can relate to. But with the album I finally had enough life experience to put into a body of work.
That’s the type of R&B I like, really vulnerable. And your voice sounds like you have an old soul, like old school and syrupy and shit. How did you get into R&B?
I used to rap and I wasn’t like an R&B nigga, I thought the shit was wack. I wasn’t going to lick my lips and take my shirt off. I could sing, but I wasn’t going to be a singer. Honestly, somebody reached out to manage me and I was rapping and singing at the same time on my Drake shit and he was like, “just sing.”
So who were you listening to when you were growing up?
A lot, I was a big hip-hop head, I didn’t really get on R&B until high school. My older brother put me on Ginuwine and Timbaland and all that, but I was a big rap head.
There's kind of like a pain in your voice and subject matter. But then there is also like a "fuck off" attitude on the “Crew” hook and "Too Fast" off Into. Can you expand on the subjects that you touch?
I feel like everybody has a little duplicity, like it wouldn’t be honest if I kept making sweetheart records, that wouldn’t be honest. Like I keep on making records like “I Love You Baby,” and you meet me and that’s not what I’m like. I feel like you have to show all sides of being a man.
There’s a couple records where you talk about when you were broke, like on “Crew” where you talk about how these chicks are now trying to come around. Talk about what it took for you to get to this point.
I started off just making music out of the bedroom, I was just a fan of music. So I started making beats, making music, then moved out and started hoping that I wouldn’t have to work a main job and this could be my main income. I was working at a grocery store. I left my job, moved out to L.A. with my tax return, and that’s where it hit me like there was no going back. That’s pretty much how I got started, sleeping on the couch and the floor, that type of shit.
“Crew” is getting a new life since being played on an episode of Insecure. Did you feel like you arrived when you finally heard it on there?
I was already feeling what it was, since it was a homegrown record in the DMV area. Like just going back home and being in that area and seeing the love that the record got just had me like, "oh shit, this is kind of real, it might be something special." I had no idea it was going to do this, though.
Talk about how that track came together? Did you know Goldlink already?
Nah, I had never met him. We knew about each other, but prior to getting in the studio I had never met him before. We're from the same area but we didn’t really link until we came out to L.A. So we got in the studio, did like that song and I did the hook first, then he hopped on, then Glizzy hopped on. I didn’t even know Glizzy was going to be on it. We did that one and like a handful of records.
That hook is perfect, talk about that process of writing that.
It wasn’t supposed to be the hook, I was writing a verse and just couldn’t write anymore and Goldlink came in after me and they sent the song back and turned it into the hook. I was mad at first, but it ended up working.
Who are some of the producers that are on the project?
Same people that I have been working with, from the A.M. Paradox project and Sonder project. So no big names, none of that, it’s all fam.
What are you trying to achieve with this one?
Honestly, I just want to put the story out. It’s my story and I feel like a lot of people can relate to it. I’m excited all the way around.
What is your story? When people listen to this album what are they going to get out of it?
I went to the Dominican Republic to make it. I knew if I recorded an album I wanted to leave the country and I chose there because that’s where my dad and his side of the family ar from.
Were you in the hood?
Yeah we stayed in the hood, but we recorded in a villa outside of the hood. Being out there brought some different energy out of me that I couldn’t get in L.A. Interacting with people who didn’t have nothing made me see that the shit I thought was important was insignificant.
How was that experience for you?
We stayed for a month, it just felt natural to wake up in the morning and record and then go out at night and see what the people around the area were listening to. It made me realize the power I had as a creative.
Did you drink Mama Juana and listen to a bunch of Spanish Rap?
[Laughs.] We drank a lot of Henny and listened to all that.
What are some of your favorite tracks on the new album that people should be checking for?
There are a few standouts for me. The intro was the first record I cut when I got there. So it’s already special for me because I had the idea in my head in L.A. but just couldn’t piece it together. Getting to the Dominican Republic gave me the space and the time that I needed to let out what I really needed to let out. Writing-wise, when you're going through shit, it’s not easy to write about it, but in retrospect it’s the best thing. “Missing Out,” there’s a lot of them on there, “First World Problems” is a record I definitely could not have made if I wasn’t in D.R.
That made you realize all your bullshit out here is insignificant.
I had a whole concept for a song I called “Death In Designer,” about not dying broke. Then I got out there and basically flipped the whole shit.
Are you worried now that your subject matter will be a little different due to your new success?
I think it’s natural, I just don’t want to ever get disconnected and to the point where people can’t feel me anymore because then it’s like what the fuck you doing? I don’t think anything is worse than a delusional artist, you think you are this but you really aren’t.