Photo: Alari Teede
Black Coffee On New Album, 'Subconsciously': "Music Is Life To Me And I Want You To Feel That With Every Beat And Melody"
If you have yet to immerse yourself in Black Coffee's captivating, atmospheric beats, now's a perfect time. The South African DJ and producer's emotive sixth album, and first in five years, Subconsciously, drops tomorrow, Fri., Feb. 5, on Ultra. To craft the enchanting soundscapes therein, Black Coffee tapped a diverse, talented group of collaborators, including vocalists Usher, Sabrina Claudio, Celeste and more, and fellow producers David Guetta, Diplo, DJ Angelo and Pharrell Williams (who also provides vocals on "10 Missed Calls").
Black Coffee has been big in the international house music scene since 2013. That year, he won bingo on the DJ bucket list, playing spots like Berghain in Berlin, Amsterdam Dance Event, Circoloco in Ibiza and his first Boiler Room set. In 2017, while he was busy bringing joy to dancefloors around the world, he made waves in the mainstream with his standout feature on Drake's More Life. "Get It Together" featuring Jorja Smith is a remake of Black Coffee's 2007 track "Superman," its pulsating beat traversing decades and borders.
The Drake spotlight led the talented producer to "Get It Together" in the studio with other heavy-hitters like Diddy, Akon, Usher and Pharrell and to where he is today. Subconsciously is a culmination of Black Coffee's two-plus decades refining and redefining his sound, limitless beyond borders and genres, yet rooted in his South African identity—he's never too big to work with fellow artists from his home country.
Ahead of his exciting new album, GRAMMY.com caught up with the "Wish You Were Here" artist over email to dive deeper into the project and its collaborators, as well as what representing South Africa means to him.
What does your new album Subconsciously represent to you? What was your creative vision for this project?
When jumping into this new project, I wanted to remind the world that we're not confined by genres. As an artist, that's a value I hold very close to me. I create music that I can connect with, that provokes a certain emotion.
That's what music should do, it should divide barriers and unite us under this one universal language—and that's exactly what I wanted to do with Subconsciously. My artistic touch will always be defined by my music, but I want to break barriers and convey a global message, not just on dancefloors. This album goes way beyond.
There are a lot great collabs on the project—how did you choose who to work with on this one?
There are different processes for making every song and so I didn't go into this album thinking that I had to work with a particular artist. As the music evolved, we played around with many different elements. Sometimes a particular voice just meshes well with the direction of my production and it works. Other times, we're pitched a vocal and I adapt my music to make it feel right. These different processes sort of create an equal playing field for collaborators.
What is your favorite part about working with other artists? And what do you feel like is one of the more challenging elements of collaborating?
Sometimes, you've put your heart and soul into a particular song and you feel there's nothing else that can be done, but then you add another creative on board and the song is elevated to a place that you couldn't have imagined before. Every vocalist, producer or writer can add a certain key element that changes the whole dynamic of the music and I think that's the real beauty in collaborating. I wouldn't say there are challenges, only creative motivation!
When you released "LaLaLa" with Usher in 2019, had you already finished the album? For you, in what ways did this track feel like a shift into new sonic territory?
Back when I released this single, the album hadn't been 100 percent completed. The general tracklist had been outlined, but we were still going in and adding finishing touches to make it what it is today. The creative process and journey in making this album spanned over a couple of years.
For me, it wasn't necessarily a shift, but rather a gateway to spreading the joy of different sounds and reminding people that one particular musical way of thinking isn't superior to another. To me, if a song can evoke emotion and power, it's already done its job.
The music I am producing is oftentimes very different than the music that I DJ. I create music that you can blast on your car speakers or clean your home to. I create feel-good music that can universally bring us together. It's all about that feeling.
"To me, if a song can evoke emotion and power, it's already done its job."
As a whole, Subconsciously is very captivating and immersive, and it definitely has a bit of a chilled out and moody vibe. How would you describe the mood and the feeling of it?
Every time I listen to Subconsciously, I have a new favorite song. That's what makes this album unique. There's something for every mood; it evokes a lot of emotion. You have the deeper sounds of "You Need Me" [featuring Maxine Ashley and Sun-El Musician] or "Ready For You" [featuring Celeste], upwards to the more poppy side of the spectrum with songs like "Never Gonna Forget" [featuring Diplo and Elderbrook].
What do you hope your fans will experience while listening to the album?
I hope that it brings anyone who's listening from anywhere in the world joy. That's what the music is all about for me. I've been working on and evolving my sound for pretty much my entire life. Music is life to me and I want you to feel that with every beat and melody.
What does it mean to you to represent South Africa across the globe? What is a misconception people often have about your home country?
My South African roots are something extremely important to me. I want to bring South Africa to the world. The talent emerging from my country is growing by the day and being able to collaborate with outstanding artists like Sun-El Musician, Tellaman, Una Rams, Msaki and C-Tea, to name a few, means I'm taking the sounds of South Africa one step further on the global spectrum. It's such an honor to be able to carry the flag on a more global spectrum.
When people from outside the country or even further, the continent, think of South Africa, they have a very cut-and-paste conception, but it goes so far beyond that. My country is home to some of the most incredible musicians, artists and great minds, even beyond the obvious household names. Our culture is vibrant and booming and I'm so proud to call it home.
Do you have your eyes on any rising African artists right now?
It's hard to pinpoint any one particular artist right now, as there is so much emerging talent. In the music world, there's Da Africa Deep, in the visual world, there's Ghariokwu Lemi, but these are just two of so many. I could go on for days and the scope is constantly changing and evolving.