Pink Siifu is a man of multitudes, but when I called him last Wednesday afternoon, he was both nervous and excited. The 28-year-old artist, born Livingston Matthews in Birmingham, Alabama, had announced NEGRO—his latest self-released project, out today on Bandcamp—a few days earlier and was still processing first reactions. Siifu appreciates the general enthusiasm of fans and critics, but he knows their words come with preconceived notions.
“When I announced this shit, niggas was like, ‘Oh, it’s ensley 2, he’s about to drop rap album of the year,’” Siifu tells me, referring to his 2018 breakout project ensley. “Niggas need to be excited for any artist because they have a project out, period.”
In his defense, Siifu’s music has always defied easy classification. No two projects released over the past three years have been the same: a cacophonous punk EP; withdrawn beat tapes under his producer alias, iiye; group efforts steeped in hazy soul (B. Cool Aid with California producer Ahwlee); sparring matches with fellow rap pugilists (Bag Talk with YUNGMORPHEUS and Black Sand with AKAI SOLO). Siifu’s imagination extends to the bleeding edges of Black expression.
NEGRO is Siifu’s first attempt at combining these seemingly disparate sounds on one project. A chaotic free-jazz session attributed to the late Los Angeles producer Ras G (“BLACKisGod,A ghetto-sci-fi tribute(_G)”) seeps into the muffled punk of “SMD” and “FK.” Beats switch abruptly, shifting between genres and perspectives on a dime. On “Nation Tyme,” a sped-up vocal sample dissolves into piano keys as Siifu groggily bemoans the police and a world where he’d rather die than pay rent.
“The album is definitely about the frustration of the Black perspective,” Siifu explains. “I just feel like I convey Black trauma and our collective frustration, and, to me, that’s NEGRO. A Negro is a Black American.”
Trauma flows from songs like the panicked spoken word of “Run Pig Run” and “Chris Dorner,” named after the former California police officer responsible for a series of killings in 2013. Police presence is a constant on the album, with instances of art morbidly reflecting Black American life. Thankfully, Siifu knows joy and community are equally important aspects of the Black experience.
Across NEGRO, producers Jeremiah Jae, Nick Hakim, Slauson Malone, and Roper Williams, among others, are given space to flex their punk rock muscles. “Adam X Jalen, Eye Luv U.” and the first half of “Black Be Tha God, NEGRO. (wisdom.cipher)” use audio clips pulled from movies and Siifu’s own Instagram stories to showcase the joys and pains of Blackness in real-time.
NEGRO is more than just another collage of fragmented Black thoughts stretching across history, though. The project unites all of Siifu’s influences and fears under one roof, a magnum opus for an artist who is always moving past their breaking point.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Why did you decide to name your latest album NEGRO?
Pink Siifu: It was supposed to be called To Be Angry. The album is definitely about the frustration of the Black perspective. Not just the Black man. I’m not a Black woman, and I can’t convey that [perspective] as well as a Black woman can, but I feel like I conveyed all our problems on this record. I sat on it and added more shit, on some light at the end of the tunnel type shit, because I wanted it to be dark and light at times.
When you look at the cover of me sitting under the flag and hear the album, you think of all of America. I just feel like I convey Black trauma and our collective frustration, and, to me, that’s NEGRO. A Negro is a Black American. I think of the nigga who grew up in America, and all of that shit connects to the blood you see on that flag. And right now, I love one-word album titles. That’s my shit.
What’s the difference between the word “negro” and the word “nigga” in 2020?
White people can’t say nigga. That’s one of the biggest things. Negro is a word that’s just in us; it’s a word that everybody knows. Nigga isn’t for you, that’s for us. We took it back and flipped that. Niggas can argue with me on that too, but that’s how I feel.
The intro track is a tribute to the late Ras G. Talk to me about your relationship.
Me and my ex had visited LA on some studio shit. We was with one of the homies who put us onto the beat scene at the time, and we loved it. That same trip, we was walking through Union Station, and we saw Ras G catching the gold line to go to Poo-Bah [Record Shop]. We were like, “Oh shit, that’s Ras G,” and he talked with us on some chill shit. After that, I’d see this nigga at shows and pull up; I’d give him weed to roll up into a blunt, and we’d smoke. From then on, that was the big homie.
His influence was crazy because if you saw that nigga live and saw what he did with the SP, he treated that shit like it was a piano or a harp. If you heard his intro to Back On The Planet, then you understand that. It was some free jazz shit that was crazy, and that’s why I made the album intro a tribute to him. I learned about Sun-Ra’s music through Ras G, so I felt like this was a way to [honor] him that felt genuinely like me. The one thing Ras G always told me was: “Be you. Whatever you send me, I want it to be you.” I’m a jazz nigga, at the end of the day.
NEGRO is your most eclectic work to date. What was it like bringing all of these different sounds together on one project for the first time?
It reminded me of creating space ghetto. space ghetto was a time when I was first introduced to the beat scene in LA; niggas like Gonjasufi, Flying Lotus and Brainfeeder, Ras G, and eventually, through Ras G, the work of Sun-Ra. I was blown away by how niggas presented themselves and stepped to the shit. space ghetto was my influence of all of that and linking with AshTreJinkins and others and the lo-fi shit I was being exposed to. Fast forward to now, making [NEGRO], it was lowkey that, but I was sober. I was trying to be on my Sun-Ra shit. I didn’t smoke, and I didn’t have sex for a week while I finished this shit. My mindstate was mad different.
Between the abrupt genre changes and the heavy policing theme throughout, NEGRO is an anxious and cathartic listen. What inspired the album’s sequencing?
Slauson Malone’s influence on me and half the niggas I’m grouped with, all the homies and shit. I say Slauson, in particular, because of the way he structures his shit. It reminds me of how we all structured DJ mixes. When we wanna go in on a DJ mix, that’s how Slauson’s albums be sounding. It be sounding like a mix of all his feelings. At first, [NEGRO] was just gonna be straight punk. I made the demo for “FK” and that was gonna be the energy. But the years went on, and I decided to throw all the styles in. Even some of the homies I played it for would tell me, “It’d be fire if you put some rap in here.” I tried to put every sound I could in here but keep the core to punk, jazz, and rap.
NEGRO is a communal album. I loved the confessional interludes. How has running through rap’s currently sprawling underground inspired you as an artist?
It’s always fueling to see [people] I love and live with continue to kill this shit. My girl and my roommate both make music. Seeing all my people from ZelooperZ and Na-Kel Smith to MIKE, Medhane, and Liv(e)... Just seeing niggas drop fire shit and do their own thing is super inspiring. It doesn’t even have to be niggas, I know. When Smino drop some new shit, that shit inspires me. I don’t even know if it’s underground no more. I don’t wanna be underground; I’ll keep it a buck. I respect the underground, shout out Pimp C forever, but I feel like a lot of my homies could do some stadium shit. Everyone’s fueled and inspired by each other and wants to grow and ascend like crazy for themselves and their families. Everyone loves collaborating, and it’s lowkey a family.
That’s how a lot of the best albums are made. Every once in a while, you’ll get an album like Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On? where it’s just him managing to speak to everyone’s problems. But my favorite albums—like OutKast’s The Love Below, Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun, and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly—are community albums, bro. That’s the shit I’m tryna continue in my shit.
On March 28, you tweeted: “like who really follow me on sum music shit and don’t know about Georgia Anne Muldrow, Jon Bap, Gonjasufi, Sa-Ra, Melanie Charles, Zeroh, Pacific Yew?” Where do you see yourself within this Black artistic lineage?
I’m just a nigga [laughs]. I just want you to respect what I’m doing and who I’m doing it for. It’s always for Black people and for my momma and my pops. Hopefully, you can respect and relate to it. And you don’t even have to fuck with it. There’s plenty of niggas I don’t listen to like that; when [Nipsey Hussle] passed, I wasn’t a hardcore Nip fan, but I respect what he left behind and what he was doing. I’ll be giving my all to this music shit.
I’ve never heard anything like [NEGRO] before, for real for real. Bad Brains, Amiri Baraka, and Sun-Ra are the only niggas I feel have gotten the closest to this shit. I feel like I did it genuinely [like] me. To me, this better than ensley; nothing can be better than ensley, but this is me saying [NEGRO] is my best shit and can’t nobody take this away from me.