Photo: Darren Xu
R&B Wunderkind Brent Faiyaz Talks 'Wasteland,' Being A Master Of Suspense & Film Fandom
Released July 8, Brent Faiyaz's sophomore record is full of drama and suspense. With a cast of A-level producers and features from Alicia Keys, 'Wasteland' is anything but.
Brent Faiyaz weaves tales of suspenseful, allegorical fictions, sung in a spine-tingling R&B tenor that soliloquizes for the broken-hearted and those who break hearts. On his new album, Wasteland, Faiyaz spins the fatal tragedy of a despairing, lovelorn man driven by vice who is teetering on the brink of crash and burning.
Released July 8, Wasteland is a melodramatic, dystopian landscape where a rogue casanova suffers from the demons of his past. Faiyaz's fantastical use of keyed instrumentation and his hauntingly ephemeral vocals complete the scenic foreground for the album's 19 experiential tracks. Packed with the cynical grit of film noir, Wasteland is imbued with a Hitchcockian songful pulse where Faiyaz's high roller protagonist is unconcerned by life’s consequences.
Theatrical moments are heard across Wasteland's three lively, believable skits ("Egomaniac," "Oblivion," "Wake Up Call"), written and produced by Jonathan "Freeze" Wells. Opening track "Villain’s Theme" has Faiyaz, and British singer, Jorja Smith sharing a pensive dialogue about the merciless nature of fame, while attempting to reach true contentment.
Faiyaz has been unwilling to deny the bleak moments of his reality since his poignant 2020 EP, F— The World, which came out a month before: "the pandemic happened, then the world was actually f—ed," he says. "After traveling for so long, coming back to Los Angeles and seeing how the post-pandemic hit everyone. It felt like a wasteland everywhere I went. Everybody lost people and thousands of protests were going on but s— was still going up for me so I felt a sort of guilt. That is why Wasteland shows conflicts of different emotions."
Wasteland is helmed by a high-level team of producers, notably No I.D., Raphael Saadiq and The-Dream. The Saadiq-produced single "Ghetto Gatsby" features Alicia Keys wisecracking with Faiyaz, the two evoking a scene of backstreet mafiosos. Other contributors include Lost Kids artists, Joony ("FYTB") and Tre’ Amani on the facetiously pompous track "Addictions," where I Faiyaz considers excessive behaviors through a punchy chorus: "Maybe it’s the love, the drugs… Maybe it’s all the above."
Brent Faiyaz's independent release exudes spontaneity, love and intoxicating consumption — a combination that is projected to hit No. 1 during its first charting week, potentially knocking out Latin megastar Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti. This would be the first time an independent artist achieved this position since the late rapper XXXTentacion’s 2018 album, Skins.
Days after touring the country, Brent Faiyaz spoke with GRAMMY.com about the real grimness of Wasteland, Kanye West’s musical blueprints, and the human value of going outside.
How do you view the world today, with Wasteland out, compared to your feelings when F— The World was released?
I was sitting with Wasteland for a while because it is a compilation of a bunch of songs that I have strung together through a story. I wanted to create a body of work that I would enjoy listening to. Wasteland is my favorite project so far and I really created this one for the homies, so we could all listen and play it together.
Wasteland offers this sort of Alfred Hitchcock-inspired sound of suspense, and the musical production layered on top of your voice has this heavy intensity. What anchored the narrative concept of Wasteland?
I was watching a lot of films to get me in the mind for Wasteland. I constantly had Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino movies playing. The Kill Bill volumes and Scorsese’s mob films took me to a different realm.
Wasteland is full of visceral storytelling, but you haven’t really released a music video that stars yourself in over a year. What is your vision conceptually for the music video aspect part of this album rollout?
Visually for these music videos, I am inspired by past Helmut Lang campaigns. As well as Kanye, I love his "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" and Late Registration era.
Even for the music videos, I'm supposed to shoot three of them this month. They will all string together and the storyline is cohesive with Black-and-white visuals that follow each other.
With all of the collaborators, a part of Wasteland, consisting of Alicia Keys to Raphael Saadiq to The-Dream, who was a collaborator that impressed you and how did that relationship carry through today?
Definitely, Dream. That's my boy. He is just so quick, bro. I never worked with another producer and artist that worked that fast before. I would be stuck on certain records for four months and he would come in and knock that song out in 3 minutes.
Was there a lot of reflection from your own life that influenced the skits that showed off the kind of wicked, turbulent fun moments you have shared with the aforementioned lovers?
Well, to an extent… but a lot of the skits were from my executive producer "Freeze", Jonathan Freeze. He wrote the sketches and treatments out. When I first read them, I thought to myself: "Damn, this s— is going to hit."
I know you kind of mention in "Rolling Stone" — the insignificance you feel with fame but how you may mean everything to so many people who love your music. Have you developed a sense of numbness to the turmoil and fame you have experienced throughout your career?
I just started really liking this s—. It's getting kind of fun. At this point, I think I am just kind of getting used to it, you know what I mean?
With the fame that grew, it did take some time to get used to it at the beginning but now I am just like, You know what? F— it. The more confidence I gained over the years really allowed me to make this project.
You have maintained a huge sense of ambiguity and privacy while being almost gravely transparent in your music, especially with Wasteland. Is there a tremendous sense of artistic value you have found living an elusive life away from the spotlight?
I think with that solace comes great ideas, because you're not really worried about what other artists are doing. At the same time, I'm also very much an outside artist. I don’t like to document my life outside much because that is when people start to really clock you.
I feel like many people don’t know about you besides the ones in your circle. What is a surprising fact about you that usually shocks people?
I really like to draw and I had so many doodles of fonts and cover art references. Before we settled on the cover of Wasteland, I used to draw out different mash-ups and depictions of what I wanted to do.
Did you set personal boundaries when you were in album mode to bring forth more mental clarity?
None, whatsoever. We didn't know what we were creating at first. We had an idea of the world we wanted to create, but we had no idea how it was going to be perceived or how it was going to be received. We were just winging it, brother. Artists were really doing drugs and making music.
If your popular EP, F— The World is how you see the world, how do you view Wasteland considering it is a whole other part of yourself musically?
Putting my personal story to the side, I would say accountability. I don't know whether it's life imitating art or art imitating life.
There is a maturity of themes in your music but a continuity of sound – how did you find your singing R&B voice?
Well, I started off singing all the time when I was younger and I naturally got better with time. My vocal coach, Rachel Riggs, worked with me and got me right in due time. So, it took some years for me to actually learn how to sing with all the little nuances that make a good vocal performance incredible. When I first started, I never really cared about that type of structure.
I know in the past Master P has been an artist that inspired you for how protective he was of his craft. With the explosion of fame, you are on the brink of experiencing more, how much more protective are you of yourself and your music?
More recently, I have to be real careful about how I am in public because of brand partnerships and such. I can't be out bumming around and wilding out anymore. The music I make now is more aware of how candid I can’t be sometimes in person. I honed in on that aspect more to fine-tune my next album, Wasteland.
What have you experienced while traveling the world, especially since you have been doing Wasteland pop-ups all over the country?
Life has been nuts, man. The first time I pulled up to a pop-up that s— scared me because I didn't think anybody was going to show up. I pulled up there and it was complete pandemonium. I started to love doing the pop-ups more as we went on because if I am going to see my fans in person I want to do it right. I want to meet all the people that really f— with my s—.
Do you have a city or country in the world that inspires you to create music?
I'm really loving New York right now. I just grabbed this new spot in New York and that is where I've been spending a lot of time. I went to multiple studios to make Wasteland, some studios were in L.A., New York, Miami, Bahamas, and Atlanta.
When you wake up every day to sing a new ballad about love and the fast-paced life you live through music and with Wasteland out. What did you learn about yourself?
With the skits and the women characters involved, In "Wake Up Call," she doesn’t want to have my kid but is pregnant. Her not wanting to have the baby and feeling like she is forced to commit suicide touches on the current times we are in. Women's rights are being stripped as we speak, Wasteland is going to touch on a lot of different topics. While there are a lot of moments of clarity as well, there are many sobering moments.
At the same time, you may have nights where you turn everything up too much and wake up the next morning by yourself and your heart hurts. Wasteland is about it all.
Photo (L-R): Ria Mort, Thanos Poulimenos
Global Spin: Katerine Duska And Leon Of Athens Premiere "Babel," A Bilingual Tale Of A Love Lost In Translation
Frequent songwriting partners Katerine Duska and Leon Of Athens grapple with a relationship full of miscommunication in this emotional duet, which they debut with a powerful Global Spin performance.
"Can I love you a little more clearly?" Katerine Duska and Leon of Athens sing in the emotional chorus of their new song, "Babel." "Can we get it right? Can we talk another night away?"
In this episode of Global Spin, the two pop singers — and frequent songwriting partners — effortlessly trade off between Greek and English in a compelling performance. But as beautiful as the bilingual, harmony-driven duet may be, "Babel" chronicles a fraught relationship where, ultimately, the love gets lost in translation.
"Babel" brings the two lovers back to where they started: Frustrated and failing to see eye to eye, but still invested in one another. That narrative pairs with an equally passionate, string-filled sonic backdrop in this song, which Duska and Leon of Athens premiere on Global Spin.
The song's visual component further underscores its message. Duska and Leon of Athens perform the song from a bed, surrounded by candles and rippling water. As they wrestle through their disagreements — both lyrically and physically — the two artists make an attempt to find tenderness, but their best efforts dissolve into frustration and disconnection.
The bilingual duo have co-written several times in the past, and they're no strangers to performing together, either. Their first duet, "ANEMOS," came out in 2019; a year later, the pair released another collaboration, "Communication."
Press play on the video above to get a first look at the latest collaboration between Katerine Duska and Leon of Athens, and keep checking GRAMMY.com every Tuesday for more new episodes of Global Spin.
Photo: Matteo Vincenzo (right)
Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Akon And Teemanay's Favorite Tour Meal Is So Iconic That It Has Its Own Festival
Over plates of Nigerian jollof rice, global superstar Akon and Afrobeats mainstay Teemanay explain the finer points of this staple West African dish — which is also their staple meal on the road.
When it comes to music, R&B giant Akon and rising Afrobeats star Teemanay (aka Young Icon) have a lot in common. Not only are they both from West Africa — Akon's family roots are in Senegal, while Teemanay hails from Nigeria – but the two teamed up on the four-song EP Konvict Kulture Presents Teemanay, which came out on Akon's label earlier this year.
The two acts have similar tastes when it comes to food, too — though they might disagree on the finer points. Jollof rice, a staple throughout West Africa, is a dish that both artists grew up loving, even though they hail from different countries within the region.
"For a meal, if they have jollof rice for me, I will give them an extra 15 minutes of free performance," Teemanay jokes in the newest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.
"So the rice is actually smoked, almost like when you cook barbeque," Akon details, explaining what it is that makes this particular dish so special. "When you look at jollof, it ranks in the top five of those things you just can't forget. It's a part of the meal, every meal."
The dish is so essential that Akon hosts an annual Jollof, Music & Food Festival in Atlanta, which features a lineup of music and food trucks. But the pinnacle of the event is the jollof cook-off, in which recipes from different countries compete to see which region creates the best version of the dish.
"This year, Senegal won. But we kinda expect that, because Senegal is really the creators of jollof rice," Akon proudly explains, as Teemanay shakes his head in disagreement.
"I'm in a very aggressive, fighting mood right now," Teemanay shoots back with a smirk. "Nigerian jollof is the best jollof in the world."
Whichever regional version they prefer, Akon and Teemanay can agree on one thing: There's no better post-show meal or tour bus snack out there than jollof rice.
Press play on the video above to watch the two stars duke it out over their favorite jollof, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.
Photo: Suriyawut Suriya / EyeEm via Getty Images
9 Organizations Helping Music Makers In Need: MusiCares, The GRAMMY Museum & Others
Are you in a position to donate to musicians in a state of financial or personal crisis on this GivingTuesday? Check out these nine charitable organizations — beneath the Recording Academy umbrella and otherwise.
Imagine a world where care and concern is distributed in a holistic circuit, rather than being hoarded away or never employed at all. That's the paradigm that GivingTuesday is reaching toward.
Created in 2012 under the simple precept of being generous and celebrating generosity, GivingTuesday is a practical hub for getting involved in one's community and giving as freely to benefit and nourish others.
Since GivingTuesday has swelled not just from a single day in the calendar year, but a lens through which to view the other 364 days. You can find your local GivingTuesday network here, find ways to participate here, and find ways to join GivingTuesday events here.
Where does the Recording Academy come in? Helping musicians in need isn't something they do on the side, an afterthought while they hand out awards.
No, aiding music people is at the core of the Academy's mission. MusiCares, the Academy's philanthropic arm, has changed innumerable lives for the better.
And through this society of music professionals and its other major components — including Advocacy, the GRAMMY Museum and GRAMMY U — the Academy continues its fight in legislative and educational forms.
If you're willing and able to help musicians in need this GivingTuesday, here's a helpful hub of nine charitable organizations with whom you can do so.
Any list of orgs that aid musicians would be remiss to not include MusiCares.
Through the generosity of donors and volunteer professionals, this organization of committed service members has been able to aid struggling music people in three key areas: mental health and addiction recovery services, health services, and human services.
"Museum" might be right there in the name, but there's a lot more to this precious sector of the Recording Academy.
The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles doesn't just put on immersive exhibits that honor the legacies of musical giants; it's a hub for music education.
At press time, more than 20,000 students have visited the Museum, more than 10,000 students have participated in the Museum's Clive Davis theater, and 20,000 students have participated in their GRAMMY Camp weekends.
By now, the evidence is ironclad: Giving incarcerated people access to music and art dramatically increases morale and decreases recidivism.
Give a Beat is keenly aware of this, both on direct-impact and mentorship levels.
The org hosts classes for incarcerated people, in order for them to "find healing, transformation, and empowerment" through its Prison Electronic Music Program, which helps incarcerated folks wade deep into the fields of music production and DJing.
Despite being at the heart of American musical expression, jazz, blues and roots can sometimes feel roped off on the sidelines of the music industry — and its practitioners can slip between society's cracks.
That's where the Jazz Foundation of America comes in. They aid musicians struggling to hang onto their homes, connect physicians and specialists with uninsured artists and help musicians get back on their feet after life-upending natural disasters.
Headquartered in Memphis, the Blues Foundation aims to preserve the history and heritage of the blues — which lies at the heart of all American forms. This goes not only for irreplaceable sites and artifacts, but the living, breathing people who continue to make it.
The Blues Foundation offers educational outreach, providing scholarships to youth performers to attend summer blues camps and workshops.
On top of that, in the early 2000s, they created the HART Fund to offer financial support to musicians in need of medical, dental, and vision care.
And for blues artists who have passed on, the HART Fund diverts money to their families to ensure their loved ones would be guaranteed dignified funerals.
Founded all the way back when World War I broke out, the Musicians Foundation has spent more than a century cutting checks to musicians in times of need.
This includes financial grants to cover basic expenses, like medical and dental treatments, rents and mortgages and utilities. Submitted grant applications are reviewed by their staff and a screening committee. If approved, the money is dispatched rapidly and directly to the debtor to relieve financial pressure as soon as possible.
The Musicians Foundation's philanthropic legacy is enshrined in Century of Giving, a comprehensive analysis of financial aid granted to musicians and their families by the Foundation since 1914.
Based in North Carolina, the Music Maker Foundation tends to the day-to-day needs of American roots artists — helping them negotiate crises so they can "keep roofs over their heads, food on their tables, [and] instruments in their hands."
This relief comes in the forms of basic sustenance, resources performance (like booking venues and providing CDs to sell) and spreading education about their contributions to the American roots canon.
When music people are in danger, this charitable organization sees no barriers of genre, region or nature of crisis.
If you're a musician suffering from physical, mental or financial hardship — whether it be due to a disability, an affliction like cancer, or anything else — Sweet Relief has got your back.
For any and all further information, visit their website.
The Recording Academy's concern and consideration for music people hardly stops at musicians — they're here to support all music people.
They share this operating principle with Music Workers Alliance, which tirelessly labors to ensure music people are treated like they matter — and are fairly remunerated for their efforts.
This takes many forms, like fighting for music workers at the federal, state and city level for access to benefits and fair protections, and ensuring economic justice and fair working conditions.
Music Workers Alliance also fights for economic justice on the digital plane, and aims to provide equal access for people of color and other underrepresented groups in the industry.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.