Pink Sweat$’ career has been nothing short of miraculous. At 26 years old, the artist has already had his share of struggle, survival, and overcoming. Born and raised in Philly, and now based in New York, Sweat$ got his stage name and career by chance. “I was essentially just a songwriter,” he tells me. “I had no other aspirations, outside of that. I would come to the studio for a couple months, and I was on this pink wave where I would wear these pink sweatpants every single day. This dude, he didn’t know my name, and I wasn’t around, and he was like, ‘Yo, where’s pink sweats?’”
The rest goes down as music history.
Rebelling against his parents’ preference for church music, Pink Sweat$ discovered icons Michael Jackson and Prince at 17, which led him to Kanye West and a brand of life music that allowed him to escape his surroundings. “Everybody was rapping gangster, and I’m from the hood, so I was seeing the stuff that these people rapping about and it wasn’t cool to me,” Sweat$ explains. “I wanted to not be around that energy, so when Kanye came out, it was more like life rap.”
With such a rich musical background, it is altogether surprising that Pink Sweat$’ tender, affecting, and plush debut EP Volume 1 is comprised of music meant for other artists. “All these songs [on Volume 1],” he begins, “I made these songs as a songwriter, but it was so personal… I sent the songs out and there were certain artists who really liked them and I had to call everybody and tell them, ‘Yo, I need these songs back.’”
Did we mention that he only began recording himself seven months ago? Sweat$’ talent obviously bends our conception of time of repetition.
With Volume 1 out, all that matters to Pink Sweat$ is that you feel something listening to his music. You can like or dislike him at your leisure, but as long as he gets emotion out of you, he will walk away satisfied. “I’m not the kind of person thinking about what’s cool to say,” he concludes. “What’s gon’ make people feel? You know what I’m saying? I’d rather a thousand people feel something, versus a million hear it.”
DJBooth’s full interview with Pink Sweat$, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: So, the name?
Pink Sweat$: Ah, so! I was essentially just a songwriter. I had no other aspirations, outside of that. I would come to the studio for a couple months, and I was on this pink wave where I would wear these pink sweatpants every single day. This dude, he didn’t know my name, and I wasn’t around, and he was like, “Yo, where’s pink sweats?” And then someone told me and I was like, “Wait, that’s fire. If I was ever an artist, that would be my name."
I had to stylize it, and I put my money sign at the end because as a writer you realize that the music industry is a beautiful thing, but you could be easily misguided to believe you’re not worth getting paid. So with the money sign, I always say it’s not about the money, but money is in there [laughs]. You wanna be able to sustain life for yourself. So the dollar sign is not first, but it’s in there.
When did you start recording?
Honestly, it was seven months ago. I was in LA and I was working on a bunch of projects and something clicked for me. It was this weird thing, where I suddenly felt like I had a voice as far as something important to say, or a reason or cause. I never wanted to be an artist that was just making music. That’s why I stayed away from being an artist because I wanted to impact people versus making a good song. All these songs [on Volume 1]... I made these songs as a songwriter, but it was so personal… I sent the songs out and there were certain artists who really liked them and I had to call everybody and tell them, “Yo, I need these songs back.” I’m listening to these songs at night. Man, this is my story!
The music on Volume 1 is so open. Walk me through your songwriting process.
My brain is thinking of music all the time. It doesn’t ever shut off. For me, I stepped into the studio, or for Volume 1, I recorded them in my bedroom laying in my bed. I was going through so many different things in my life as far as scenery. I’m from Philly, so when I came to LA, it was a whole different world. All the things I imagined and would fall head over heels for… I did, but there was a darker side to it. That inspired me, naturally.
So when I would say words, I wouldn’t have to think about it. You know what I’m saying? It’s like breathing. You don’t think about breathing, you just kinda do it. For me, that’s my process. I feel very strongly, just like breathing. It just comes out. Then we have great songs and things that people can relate to. I’m not the kind of person thinking about what’s cool to say. What’s gon’ make people feel? You know what I’m saying? I’d rather a thousand people feel something, versus a million hear it.
Is there a method for getting people to feel?
I try to tell people music is the first language. You can express so many things through a beat, without even talking. My thing is, if you put my music on and you put your headphones in your ear, you let it rock. If you don’t feel something, you probably not a human being [laughs]. Love is the most consistent human desire. Everybody desires to be loved, to feel important to someone. Even the craziest dudes growing up in my neighborhood. Those dudes had girlfriends! He’s the killer on the block, but he goes and lays down next to somebody he’s scared of, and it’s a woman. Give [my music] a chance. If you don’t feel anything, that’s the problem I would have. Not even if you like it, or not.
Why do you think people seek out music about love and heartbreak, no matter what?
I feel like we are all puzzle pieces. You’re born and you’re told to be a certain way, and I feel like we all have this innate thing in us that wants to connect. Sometimes it doesn’t work. That part is very, very jarring. When you’re the kind of person who loves to connect. Imagine you’re putting a puzzle together, and then you have this one piece, but it doesn’t fit. I put this whole puzzle together, and I had this one piece, and it should’ve fit there! I don’t know what happened [laughs]. I think we feel pain because pain triggers memories. People just have a natural thing where they wanna connect, and when they don’t connect, they wonder if anyone else feels this way. Then, through music, it allows us to be more vulnerable. The more vulnerable you can be, it’s the more strength you have.
When was the first time you wanted to quit music, and why didn’t you?
That’s a deep one. There was a time where I was struggling really bad. I had moved into my own apartment. I was sleeping on my grandma’s floor for a year. I had gotten my own place, me and my brother. I was pretty much taking care of us. A friend of mine was like, “We can make some money,” and we worked with this artist and the money had never come. I was like, “Man!” I was in a really tight position because my younger brother was dependent on me and my bills were crazy, got an eviction notice. It was like, "Damn, maybe I should get a job. Maybe everybody else was right and I should put music on the back burner."
I went to a studio that day and there was a guy there, and he wrote me a check for exactly what I needed! It was on some spooky stuff [laughs]. I was like, “Why?” I really didn’t know this guy that well. I wasn’t talking about my issues to people. Nobody knew! That was a sign, I felt like, from God where it’s like, “You’re gon’ be alright. Just stay focused.” That’s when I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. I came home and I told my brother. It was crazy. I haven’t seen that guy since.
From then to now, who has been your biggest musical influence?
I didn’t grow up around a lot of music. I grew up in church, but I wasn’t even in tune with that because I was a little rebellious. It was church music or nothing, and my thing was “nothing,” because you’re not gonna tell me what I’m gon’ listen to. So, I didn’t really listen to a lot of music up until I was 17 years old. I heard songs and I knew of people, and I’ve always admired people like Michael Jackson, Prince. Things like that, like icons… The way that people loved them, even beyond me sonically hearing these songs, just to see how people reacted to Michael Jackson. People be crying!
That was early on, then Kanye West came out. When I heard Kanye, I was like, “I like this dude.” Everybody was rapping gangster, and I’m from the hood, so I was seeing the stuff that these people rapping about and it wasn’t cool to me. I wanted to not be around that energy, so when Kanye came out, it was more like life rap. He’s talking about stuff aside from being a gangster. I listen to a lot of pop. One of my really good friends who I was lucky enough to be around is Tierra Whack. Seeing her as an artist improve over the years was very inspiring. That’s somebody that I knew personally, so I would see her ideas… She’d stick it out, and as an artist you don’t see that a lot. I would be so locked in to what she was doing. To see her now…
For the “Honesty” video, I shot two videos for that. I shot the first one and then I told her because I saw her videos, it made me so inspired, I had to write another treatment and shoot it over. I felt like I didn’t give the world me when I did the first video. That moment was one of the biggest moments for me as an artist. [Tierra Whack's] just an animal. And Childish Gambino is a GOAT.
On much of Volume 1, you’re dealing with an emotionally unavailable woman. Do you write about one person, or is this an amalgamation of the women you know?
Ah, so, this is all about my stint in LA. I was in LA for four months. It’s about different experiences that I was having through that whole time. Living “the dream” of being in LA, being a songwriter. I was starting to realize, meeting girls and stuff, and “Honesty” that was the first song I wrote on Volume 1. That stemmed from an exact conversation. I was having some drinks and I was like, man, this is crazy. People really are trying to force their love on people. It’s very clear when someone’s not into you. You gotta let it go or you’re gonna lose your happiness.
What makes you happy?
When I’m able to set goals and accomplish them. For me, at this stage in my life, I feel like that’s happiness. I’m aware that it changes, but right now, I feel like when I’m able to say, “Okay, I wanna do this,” and I’m able to execute the way I envisioned in my head, or better, that gives me a sense of happiness.