‘I Didn’t Want to be a Hook Guy’: An Interview With Brent Faiyaz

After dropping 'Fuck the World,' Brent Faiyaz spoke with Complex about new music, his affinity for London, Tyler, the Creator and genres, and more

Brent Faiyaz
Image via Brent Faiyaz
Brent Faiyaz

In some ways, not much has changed in Brent Faiyaz’s message since he released his debut solo album, Sonder Son, in 2017, and stole the show on GoldLink's hit song "Crew." He's the same Maryland native who will sing about being black in America on one verse, and a woman breaking his heart on the next. Three years later, even with increased popularity and the pressures that come along with that, he doesn't care about what people have to say about him. The name of his sophomore project, Fuck the World, speaks to his energy. Everything is flowing right now. "If it feels good coming out, then I really don't care about anything else, for real," he says. "It's all about just having fun with it."

Many see Brent Faiyaz as one of the new faces of R&B. But he vows to show the world that his music can't be defined by a single genre. "I don't wake up thinking about the genre of R&B as a whole," he explains. "I just make music. I listen to a lot of different types of genres, but I guess I'm R&B because I'm black, I sing, and I have a soulful voice. So I'll take that R&B title. But I might fuck around and make a reggae album tomorrow."

Hours after the release of his new project, Fuck the World, Brent Faiyaz hopped on the phone with Complex to talk about his new project, his affinity for London, genres, producing alongside No I.D., and more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.

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How was the release party last night?
Bruh, that shit was active as a motherfucker. We had an all women's event for the listening party. And that shit was live, because they set it up to cater to the women. They were getting their nails done, hair done, getting massages, and just listening to the project. So that shit was hard. And Patron sponsored it, so you already know we were getting lit. Then we had this warehouse party and that was active, too. Metro Boomin pulled up. It felt like a New York party, though, it didn't feel like some L.A. shit.

I peeped that your name was trending on Twitter Friday morning.
Yeah, that shit is going crazy right now.

Did you expect that at all?
Nah. Naturally, I always had an idea. I was hoping, but I ain't know it was going to do what it was doing. You'll never know until it happens.

“I listen to a lot of different types of genres, but I guess I’m R&B because I’m black, I sing, and I have a soulful voice.”

Where does Fuck the World sit in your evolution as an artist?
Fuck the World is me finally hitting the point where I really don't give a fuck when it comes to how I approach it creatively, and how people receive it. If it feels good coming out, then I really don't care about anything else, for real. It's all about just having fun with it. If it feels like less work, then the project is coming out better. I think I'm at a perfect sweet spot right now.

Do you ever doubt yourself or your direction when making a project?
Hell yeah. But I try not to. I don't let it affect creativity. If anything, I doubt myself more after the fact. Like a couple days leading up to it, I'm nervous, like, "Yo, I don't know. I don't know. I don't know." But after it's out, I just don't give a fuck anymore. I'm really just happy to put this shit out. You work on something for so long that you become numb to it. Like, you don't even know how to listen to it because you listened to it so many times. 

Were these songs all fresh, or were there some old ones you put in, too?
Well, I hadn't dropped a project since like 2018, so I made all of those songs over the course of 2019, throughout the year. They're all pretty old to me, but they were made in the past year.

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Last year, you spent a lot of time in Paris and London. The music video for "Fuck the World" shows you moving from Westminster to Shoreditch. How did your time in the city shape this project?
Bro, going overseas is really what influenced this whole shit. We were just working on music, going to the studio, and recording in all these different countries and cities. And I was moving in the fashion spaces, going to shows, and walking in them. Shit like that really just shaped what I was going to be making this new music about. I was constantly peeping the scene, soaking this shit in. And then still going back home and seeing family, so I was seeing the consistency between the places I went and the differences.

I paid attention to what I was gaining from people—like the energy I get from people, and also the same things they got from me. The more places I went, the more people were telling me about what they fucked with when it came to my music. They would tell me what they liked, what resonated... You know, this, that, and the third. Now I know what to take and apply to the music. I know my purpose. I know how I'm supposed to create this shit. 

What were some of your most significant moments in London?
It be the most random shit, bro. I remember I went to a show, because my birthday fell around the same time as the Riccardo Tisci Burberry show, and I went to a Knucks concert. He's this rapper from out in London. And I had never met bruh. I pulled up to the show, and mind you I had just left a little function. My PR told me to get in the car because we were going somewhere. I was rapping with this chick, so I was like, "What the fuck?" She was blocking me. But I was like, "Whatever, if we gotta go, we gotta go. But that's some bullshit because I was about to seal the deal on this joint."

So we leave, and she takes me to the Knucks show. I was kicking it with them, I see the show, and I'm liking the music. Right as his show was ending, he cut his set and played "Fuck the World," and them motherfuckers gave me a birthday cake. He brought me out on stage and gave me a birthday cake—the whole shit. I was like, "God damn, y'all really show love out here." In the states, people don't do shit like that. Someone's not going to cut his set short and present someone with a birthday cake, because some random person pulled up to his show. People don't do shit like that. London has a different kind of love. People are very selfless out there. He didn't have to do that at all. I didn't even know that they knew it was my birthday!

Brent Faiyaz

There was a viral tweet recently that said, "R&B has become more about vibes than voices." How do you feel about the statement?
I don't even like that word, "vibe." But not because of anything it means. I just don't like how it sounds. But I don't feel like that applies to me. I don't wake up thinking about the genre of R&B as a whole. I just make music. I listen to a lot of different types of genres, but I guess I'm R&B because I'm black, I sing, and I have a soulful voice. So I'll take that R&B title. But I might fuck around and make a reggae album tomorrow.

You've been outspoken about genres. That conversation started again with Tyler winning a Grammy for Best Rap Album when IGOR was arguably not even rap. 
Honestly, because his album was not a rap album. It was all over the place, so I don't even know why they decided to put bruh in that specific box. But it is what it is. People will try and grade it however they grade. Same thing with art. It's all creativity. There's no way you can possibly put a label on creativity, but people are going to do that if they don't create. We all do the same shit. If you go to the studio with a country artist, I'm pretty sure his process is the same as mine. You got an instrument, somebody cuts and stacks the vocals, they put the drums on it... It's the same shit. We all do the same thing.

Looking back at the success of "Crew," what surprised you about how that song affected your career?
I didn't expect it to be a global hit record. That on its own is like, "What the fuck?" People still remember that song. It was a hit, that's how it affected my career. 

“I went out of my way after ‘Crew’ to not do a bunch of collaborations. I didn’t want to be a hook guy. It was too early for that.”

Did you ever feel like you got boxed in due to your name being associated with the record?
Nah. It's whatever the discovery is and whatever gets people listening to the music. I know when it comes to the actual narrative of my solo music, it's its own thing. That's why I went out of my way after "Crew" to not do a bunch of collaborations. I didn't want to be a hook guy. It was too early for that. I wanted to establish an identity and then reach out and do collaborations because it would hit different that way. It's going to be more impactful. 

You bounce between the worlds of fashion and music a lot. Can you walk me through your 'fit on the cover of Fuck the World?
Oh, shit. I wanted to be on something really classic. Especially with cover art, you're going to be seeing it for a really long time. And I learned that when I put out my first project. After a certain amount of time, it's like, "Damn, this is going to be around forever." So I was thinking about it, and trying to figure out something I could wear when I was 60 or 70 years old and it would still be fly. I asked myself what was some shit that could be around forever: a Carhartt, some jeans, and some Chucks. I tried to make it timeless.

I remember you saying that your goal is to try and dress like a retired actor now. 
Hell yeah. Fuck it. The same things I'm applying to the music, I'm applying to my style as well. Let me keep doing what I want to do. Let me piece together these beat-up shoes and some $3,000 sunglasses. I don't give a fuck.

I agree with you saying that old people step out and don't give a fuck about what they wear.
At all bro! And on the surface, you would think that they were dusty. But the whole time, they'll be wearing some archive shit. It'll be something you can't even get from anywhere else because they got the piece when it came out. 

Let's dive into some of these new songs. One of the clear standouts is "Been Away." What was the sample at the end of "Been Away"?
That's a sample of another track that I did—some unreleased shit. There's so much music that I even had to cut it down just to get this EP out, because we still have an album that's coming out. I figured I would put a little snippet on that joint.

"Clouded" was another dope song. What was your approach to that one?
Nascent played me the sample in the studio, and it gave me an old Wayne type of vibe. When I heard it, it reminded me of some shit that Wayne would spit on, and talk some shit that makes you feel like, "What the fuck did he just say?" So I was like, let me talk some shit that would give those same feelings. It was one of those days where we just sparked a J and I wanted to put everything on a track. 

Every time I see you, you stay with a joint in hand. How does getting high impact your creative process?
I'm not the kind of person who can get too high when I'm out and about, because I'll think about things too much. But when I'm in the studio, it's good to think about things too much, if that makes sense. If I'm writing, that's the exact space I need to be in, where I'm overanalyzing shit and I'm very self-aware. I can step outside of myself and look at shit for what it is. That's the exact space I need to be in when I'm recording. It depends on what I'm smoking ,because if I'm smoking indicas, I'll just fuck around and want to go to sleep. I won't get anything done. So it has to be a nice hybrid or some sativa. There's always so much to think about business wise, or even like appearances and money. A lot of real life stuff can get in the way of creativity. I don't want to go into the studio thinking about a flight that I gotta catch or anything other than making a song. So it just keeps me present in the song. 

Do you always go into the studio with an idea of what you want to come out with beforehand?
I have an idea, sonically. I'll pull up to the studio and I'll hum a bassline or hum a sound in general. I might go in there solo, just me and the engineer. And I'll cut the whole idea, vocally, of how I want the beat to sound. And then we'll just end up using instruments later. That's why a lot of the vocals are stacked, because those songs started off a capella. I'll have an idea of how I want it to sound, and then I'll have some lines in my head. From there, the song just kind of makes itself. I don't even pen as much as I used to. It's just freestyling now. 

Brent Faiyaz

What's the story behind you co-producing with No I.D.?
He will put you onto so much game. He was talking about how to approach music as an industry and how to find longevity in it. But for the song, I had an idea. I went into the studio and did "Rehab" in North Hollywood with my boy Fabe. He played the bass and I cut the whole song that day. The production was there, but I was getting in the studio with No I.D. anyway, because we were working on something. I played it for him and he was fucking with it. Then he produced the whole thing. His homeboy came in and added guitars and synths. I heard it and thought it sounded really pretty. I didn't want it to sound that pretty so I went back and arranged it. That's how we got the co-production credits. I fuck with him, too, because he let me do what I want with it. If he did some shit and I didn't like it, he told me to just go ahead and change it. Being in the studio with him, it's obvious that he knows what he's doing. So it feels good for somebody to be in the game for that long and there's a mutual respect.

How do young artists and OGs even get connected? Who reaches out to who?
It always has to be them reaching out to us. You can't ever reach out to the OGs. Hell nah. It's always dependent on if they fuck with the music and they rock with you. But I don't always go out of my way to try and be bros with a whole bunch of people. I don't be on that buddy shit, for real. So when someone says that they really rock with your music, you wait until you got a fire idea and then you can tap in. Because I'm not just about to go in there and I don't have shit. For this song, I was like, "Bet, I know who can finish this."

Who are some older R&B acts that you fell in love with growing up?
I got into R&B in middle school or high school. But the first R&B act that I was really fucking with tough, on my own, was Jodeci. My older brother had me hip to Jodeci. I knew about Dru Hill because they were from Baltimore. But my brother was in college at Hampton when I was 12 or 13 years old. He came back from college and was like, "You ever listen to Jodeci?" I said, "Nah," and it changed my fucking life. Jodeci fucked me up bro. And I was watching the videos and saw that they were thugging! I was like, "What kind of shit is this?" It messed my head up.

What's so crazy is that I lived in Charlotte for a little bit. I was at a hookah spot and I ran into Mr. Dalvin. This had to be 2014 or 2015. I was chopping it up with him and then we went to the car so I could play him my music. This is when I was still rapping so it was kind of funny that I had those interactions before anything happened. We smoked a J, he listened to my music, and told me to keep up the good work. I fuck with Jodeci the long way.

I liked a lot of Missy, Ginuwine, Timberland, Tweet... a lot of basement shit. Static Major was different when it came to the melodies. I never heard anybody stack vocals like he did. And that all stemmed from the Jodeci tree, because DeVante discovered all of them. That whole wave is different. Then I got on Prince a little later, a couple of years ago. It turns out that Prince is one of DeVante's greatest influences. When it comes to a certain bounce, having melodies, and stacking vocals, he was unmatched. 

What's the next chapter for you look like?
It's building this Lost Kids shit. This has been the vision from the jump. I'm focused on music, film, and fashion. I want to tap into everything. I'm writing screenplays and I got merch collaborations on the way. Everything I'm delving into, I'm not doing it just to do it. I want to tackle this entertainment shit all across the board, on every level.


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