Brent Faiyaz recently released his sophomore album "Wasteland," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
Insider spoke with the R&B singer-songwriter about his creative process and growing fame.
He also discussed his displeasure with being labeled "toxic" online for being honest in his music.
Brent Faiyaz is on a mission to turn uncomfortable truths into great music.
In July, Faiyaz unveiled his highly anticipated sophomore album "Wasteland," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Its 19 tracks are sultry, sprawling, and sprinkled with skits that tell a tragic tale of looming fatherhood. It has been praised by critics as "a cautionary, R&B-trap opera," "trippy," and "horrifyingly honest."
On Wednesday, he followed up that success with the release of a music video for his single "All Mine," which costars supermodel Joan Smalls.
The day after the album's release, Insider's Emeka Ochiagha met Faiyaz in Palm Springs, California to discuss growth, toxicity, and what the wasteland is, exactly.
How have the last couple of weeks been? Because I know you've been traveling — Atlanta, New York, LA, seeing fans.
It's been hectic, man. It's been busy. But I like it. I like the activity. I like the action.
It was nuts. I mean, naturally, I'm always with the same 10 people all the time, you know what I'm saying? I don't really step out and do shit like that often. I haven't done these shows in a while, so in my brain, I'm thinking ain't nobody going to show up. Yeah. That shit was crazy.
And you were playing your album for these people and you were seeing your fans react in real-time.
Yeah. It was crazy. The love was real. I think what I enjoyed the most about it was the camaraderie. Everybody came there with the same excitement and the same energy. There's a lot of people that made friends there.
How do you feel about this early reception to your work?
I mean, naturally, I think with any project, you got to sit with it to really get a feel for it and grasp everything. I think just off the first listens, the reactions have been amazing. The reception's been wild.
I've been sitting with it so long I don't really know what it sounds like for the first time to somebody who hasn't heard it, so the fact that the reception this early has been so warm is wonderful. That shit feel good. I'm just ready to keep going.
Some of my favorite songs by you are "Missing Out" and "LA" from your 2017 debut "Sonder Son." Hearing you sing about grinding for your ambitions was super inspiring. The Brent Faiyaz from "Wasteland" seems to be in a very different spot. Talk about that growth.
I think when I made "Missing Out," I was, what, like 18 when I wrote that record? I hadn't dropped the body of work yet. I hadn't really proved myself in any way, but still hungry. I knew I had the talent, I had a vision. I knew where I wanted to take this shit but I was still wet behind the ears and shit. You feel me? I hadn't really traveled much.
So I wrote that record from the perspective of a young n---- that's just trying to figure this shit out, what I'm finna do, what I'm finna take it. I think that's just life though. From the age of 18 to 26, everybody is not the same, you know what I'm saying? Ain't nobody the same person at 18 as they are at 26 years old.
So I think it's just that natural progression. Aside from music shit and fame shit or whatever, it's just natural progression. Just life and experience and travels. I think that shit shapes the music and that's what the records reflect.
With this new album, what was the mindset coming in?
I was watching a lot of cinema. During the pandemic, that's all you can do is really sit in the house and watch movies, or travel and move around, so I was doing a lot of both. Flights was cheap and shit. I was moving. But yeah, I pulled a lot from cinema, so I just wanted to tell a story.
I feel there's this wild narrative, that motherfuckers is super unruly or something. So, I decided to, fuck it, I'm finna make a record and do it in a way that's almost reminiscent of a Shakespearean tragedy of some sort. Let's create a story, let's make this a real narrative. Let's have a beginning, middle, and end to this whole shit.
When did you come up with the skits? Was that an idea from the beginning with your being influenced by cinema, or did it come towards the end when songs were already being written?
The first record that was recorded from the project was "Dead Man Walking." That was based off of just everything that I was seeing. You know what I mean? From what happened with George Floyd, I was in Atlanta during the pandemic when the riots and protests and everything was happening, so motherfuckers was outside. It was a whole concoction of things that led into that record being made.
These days, no M.I.A. n----s be blasting. These days, no Kumbaya n----s be blasting. Shit ain't peaceful type shit. So, I made that record on some, like, "While I'm here and I'm making music and I'm working on music in the midst of all this shit going on, let me make a record about making music in the midst of all this shit going on." That's how you got "Dead Man Walking."
So then from there, I just kind of built the record around it. I spent maybe that whole two years making that project, and that's why a lot of records that were released last year are still on the project, because it still maintains that same narrative. I couldn't skip the steps and not tell the whole story.
Then, shit, with the skits and everything like that, that was added later on by my executive producer, Freeze. He added the skits on there, wrote the treatments for them. Yeah, that's how we did that.
How much of that rockstar lifestyle you describe throughout "Wasteland" is a reflection of your current life right now?
I feel like that's the million-dollar question. It's very much true to life, but also, it's music.
There are things that are in those records that come from direct personal experience, and there's things that are in the records from my imagination and shit that other motherfuckers tell me.
It's a combination of everything. Either way, it's still my world to an extent, you know what I mean? It's just a mood, a way of expressing how I feel about shit.
At certain times, it might be records where it's cathartic, right? I might be feeling a type of way one day out of a month, out of a year, you know what I'm saying? This was the one day I felt this type of way, and it made me write this. So, I put that on the record. That's not the mood for all of life, that's just the mood that I was feeling that one day in that couple-hour span or whatever.
One of my favorite lines from you is, "Think it through / What it means to you / And everything you do / Don't affect just you" [from the 2020 song "Skyline"]. I'm like, that Brent Faiyaz seems a little different from this narrator in "Wasteland," who's acting sort of reckless.
It's still all the same, though, it comes from the same place. The only reason I didn't put that record on this album is because I already put it out.
But it still all comes from the same place. I think the one thing about albums is that people tend to feel as if your new project isn't reminiscent enough of your old work, that the old work still ain't in you. Nah, the perspective is still the same. Hold on to that, we're going to do some other shit real quick, but it's all going to tie in.
All of them go together. Truth be told, "Wasteland" is a sequel to "Fuck the World" in a lot of ways. The world got fucked and we living in a wasteland-type shit.
What is the wasteland? Is it a very specific place, or do you think it's the whole world at this point?
To me, "Wasteland" is very much this post-pandemic space of confusion and loss, and I guess reckless abandonment.
I feel like everybody was in the space where we lost somebody during COVID and shit like that. It was a lot of civil unrest going on. 2020 was really some of the wildest shit ever, 2020 and 2021 was some of the wildest shit ever. So I think "Wasteland" to me is what I felt like America was, what this world we're living in was.
But also, it's this Hollywood shit as well, I think a personal wasteland as well as a literal one. So in addition to all this shit going on outside, this shit ain't easy. This music shit, this industry shit.
I kind of blew up during the pandemic, so that shit very much reflected how I viewed what this shit was. You know what I'm saying? I think my view or my idea of what I thought fame was going to look like, or what it was going be, isn't what the fuck happened because I blew up in a time where there's a whole lot of shit going on.
So my music is very much a reflection of that.
A lot of people have known you since 2016 or 2017, of course, but do you feel like there's something about "blowing up" during 2020 — a perspective that's unique because of the time that you blew up and the world was being introduced to you?
Absolutely. I mean, one, people was at home, so everybody was just listening to music all day, every day.
So, I think because of that, my shit resonated. It's like, you're stuck in the house. If you're a music lover, that's all you're going to do is listen to music, so I think that was something that got a lot of people through, them words, them records, and what I said on certain shit was really something that people took, like, "Man, fuck the world. That's my project. I love this shit. It's a moment." You know?
So, I think coming out of that, and now we back outside, we back feeling ourselves again and shit like that, I'm still releasing — now I'm releasing the music that I made during the pandemic.
Before then, everybody was digesting it, everybody was listening to it, but that was records I had been working on when everything was peachy and shit, you feel me? This is my pandemic project.
—Faiyaz (@brentfaiyaz) July 9, 2022
I've also been seeing some of the commentary on Twitter as people react in real-time to "Wasteland." You also mentioned this on Twitter as well, the idea of this term "toxic," and how the term keeps coming up. What does that word mean to you, and how does that relay or impact your creative style?
I mean, to me, I'm not going to hold you, when that term was, I guess, first coined, whenever the fuck motherfuckers started calling me that shit, I was little insulted. I was definitely like, "Man, what the fuck? I'm putting my heart and soul into this shit and giving motherfuckers records on how I feel about things, and motherfuckers going to call me some shit like that?"
You look at the literal term toxic, what that shit mean, I'm like, "Damn, OK. That's how y'all feel about a n----?"
I mean, I guess everybody has to process music in different ways, and I think in order to make some shit make sense for some people, they have to give it some sort of category, so fuck it. But I don't really subscribe to that shit.
I think human emotions are a lot more complex than that. Shit ain't just good or bad. It's a lot of gray areas and shit. I feel just because n----s tend to speak about the ills of the world, doesn't mean I personify them, you know?
Right. I also do think the work of an R&B star is finding the words to talk about relationships, and I do think nowadays, it's either you're in a healthy relationship or a toxic one. I feel like, as you said, there isn't a lot of room for that gray area, which is where most people stand.
And it's wild, because I'll have a project where I talk about the world at large and I'll say the most beautiful things, and that shit don't go up as much.
Why? I just told these kids they can be whatever they want to be on a record, and you go to the record where I said I fucked a chick on the floor. At least if you going to talk about one thing, talk about the other shit too.
I feel people often don't really look at the big picture. I'm not going to give you the bad without the good.
You had some really big features on this album. How did some of them come together?
It was all real organic, man. Mad organic.
I had been locked in with The-Dream since, what? I feel like, 2018 type shit. He influenced a lot of my writing, for real. When I was working on "Fuck the World," he had influenced a lot of my writing on there, because he was the one that was like, "Man, you can write about whatever the fuck you want to." You know? So I guess "toxic," whatever, blame Dream.
I ain't finna go on records and be, "Ooh, baby, baby. I love you so much. Love with you walking on the beach," and shit. That's cool, but that's not reality to do that shit all fucking day and shit. Nobody feels that way 24/7. It doesn't make sense.
So, he was, "Bro, however you feel, whatever you're going through, just keep that shit G, keep it real. If it's honest, they gonna feel it." That's how I started working with Dream. To have him work on so much of this project only made sense because I'd been locked in with him for so long.
Alicia Keys, Alicia, her people had reached out and said she had this record that she had wanted me on, so she called me up just on some cool shit, like, "Hey, what's up?"
I'm like, "What the fuck? This is Alicia Keys," and shit. I'm like, "What's going on?" She's like, "I got this record I want you on. Let's get in the studio." Boom, boom, so we locked in.
I played the record that I had an idea for, she went into "Ghetto Gatsby," kept that shit so smooth. But every collaboration has just been mad organic like that, just on some cool shit. Motherfuckers that I've been tapped in with like, "Alright, I'm coming up." I don't ask nobody for no favors and no shit like that.
What about "Wasting Time" featuring Drake and The Neptunes? How did that come together?
"OTHERtone," I did an interview with them, and a couple weeks later, something that, I went out to Miami. That's how that shit happened. I've been tapped in with Drake for a little minute, so I had sent him a joint, and I was like, "Yo, I did this shit when The Neptunes were fucking with me." He was like, "Hell yeah." That's how that shit happened.
But everything's just been mad organic, like through text. It ain't no, "How much for a feature?" type shit.
As an independent artist, what does it mean to own your masters?
Oh shit, that's the long-term, man. That's the long-term. That's the long game. I think with owning your masters and owning your music, not only financially, it allows you the freedom to do what you want to do long-term, but also creatively. If you own your shit, ain't nobody allowed to control your narrative.
My shit don't have to be in no films or no TV shows that I don't want that shit to be in. I don't have to perform a million and one shows in order to clear a million in a couple months span. There's a lot of shit I don't have to do.
I think that's the reason why you see a lot of people so outside all the time publicly doing shit is because people have to do shit to make money. So that's why motherfuckers, "Oh, shit, motherfuckers got to see me. I got to perform at..." Boom, boom. "I got to pull up to the festival. I gotta..." So then you get this over-documentation of everything that these motherfuckers do.
I don't really subscribe to that. Typically, I do my thing, I make my money, you feel me, off of this music and off of the art. I let people live with it, enjoy it. I pop out, do shows when it's like, "Alright, it's that time. I want to give you the full experience. Let's do it."
But I ain't finna just hop on a motherfucking festival lineup with a million other motherfuckers just because I need a check. You know what I'm saying? I don't even want to cheat my fans that. People really fuck with the music, I'm finna give you the whole experience. I'm finna do it the real way.
According to your videographer, there's going to be a video for nearly every song.
Yeah. We've been plotting on everything. A lot of treatments that have been written, a lot of shoots scheduled, and we've been documenting the whole process along the way. It's going to be a lot of shit going on.
I'm excited to visually bring these songs to life, these records to life. I think that's going to play a huge part in how people receive this music. It's all about the message that you portray.
I think visually, that shit is just as important, if not more important than the songs that you sing.
Will the visuals reflect the cinematic elements of the album?
Hell yeah. Hell yeah. I mean, you ain't finna going to have strings on the record, orchestral shit, and then shoot some shit with an iPhone. You know what I'm saying? No shit like that. Everything's got to align. Everything's got to be proper. I'm excited, though. It's a lot of really ill shit in the works.
Do you have a favorite song on this album?
It switches every other day, for real, for real. I think right now it's "All Mine." "All Mine" is probably my favorite right now.
"Role Model" is one of them too. It switches all the time. I like "Addictions." Yeah, it depends on what mood I'm in. I might wake up one day and I'm feeling the mood for this record. The next day, I'm on some other shit.
You rep very hard for Maryland. Could you speak a little bit about the ways in which you give back to your home state?
From the shows that we do every year — we couldn't do it the last couple years because of the pandemic — but every year I like to do a benefit show for the kids in the city.
We do Boys & Girls Clubs, or I just pulled up to the Angela Davis Academy. That shit was smooth. It was fun. They have a podcast where these kids do interviews and they ask real questions, and that shit is loud as hell. But there's so much talent in the city. I'm just excited to bring so much of that shit back home.
I feel for so long, there really wasn't a bridge to get over here. There wasn't no bridge to get your shit heard, because when I was coming up, it really wasn't no Maryland music scene. That shit didn't exist. So to be in this position now, where I feel I can put a whole lot of talent on, that's exactly what I'm trying to do. Same way Atlanta do their shit or LA do their shit. The whole region got so much talent.
It's a lot of initiatives, man. Then aside from the artistry, aside from doing the studios and Boys & Girls Clubs and just giving kids different outlets to be able to get their creativity out, versus being outside or getting into trouble — still just other shit like Maryland Food Bank, mad shit.
You also started the Show U Off grant program.
Yeah. Every year for Women's History Month, the Show U Off grant — the main goal and objective is to grant funding to Black-owned businesses, businesses run by Black women. Really, we just find the most innovative, creative women that have these ideas that we feel is going to be, "Man, this shit's fire." Then we fund that.
I was also told that you have something in the works with the mayor of Baltimore as well.
Oh, yeah. We got some plans. We got some plans. I'm not sure if I can speak on it. But we planning some big shit, though.
How did growing up in Maryland cultivate your musicality?
The DMV [the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia] has always had a stronghold on R&B music. For whatever reason, we just love that shit, from Mario to Missy to Timbaland.
It's just always been a whole lot of talent in the DMV when it comes to R&B music. I guess that just shaped what I was always listening to because I was always hearing R&B music, just because that's what everybody was listening to listening to. Listening to 92Q and 93.9, they just played a lot of R&B shit. Sonically, it shaped the music a lot.
But I think as far as who I am, just even being a human, I mean, that's where you're from. You're going to make music like where you're from. That's where you're from.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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