Saemonae is a rapper and artist whose single Dreams is undoubtedly one of the most uplifting and impressive hip hop releases of the year so far. Having been mesmerised by the music, we were keen to find out more about the creative mind and performer behind it. We caught an interview with Saemonae to dig a little deeper into how this all came to be. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hey – thank you so much for your time with this, your music is an inspiration. When did you first realise you had a passion for music and performance?
Thank you for reaching out and this opportunity to speak and share with you.
I don’t think there was an exact moment when I realized music was more than just sound. I remember music always being present in my life. A cousin of mine loves to share this memory of me when I was a baby. She would babysit me while my mom was at work and she tells me that she would walk around the house bouncing me in her arms to music. If she wasn’t holding me she had me propped up on the couch and the movie Sister Act would be on. Of course I don’t remember this but it’s a memory my family shares with me a lot.
I knew I wanted to make music when I first met my friend DaShawn in the third grade. He came to me one day at recess and was like ‘Yo we should start rapping’. I didn’t think much of what he said at that moment. But as that year went on, we began free-styling and talking about our favorite songs. That’s when I began to realize it was something I was not only good at; but also something that I loved doing. The more fun I had the more I wanted to pursue it. I would be in class making beats on the school desk with pens and pencils while DaShawn would rap. Which by the way I think I have permanent bruises on my hand from hitting the desk so hard to make sure we had the right sound.
How do you get started when writing a new song?
I have multiple ways I approach a song. It depends on what I’m doing in the moment. Some songs I start while in the shower. Or I could be going through a beat pack and as soon as I hear something I like, the words just pour out of me. I have to feel it. Sometimes I start with a title. If I’m trying to tell a story, the title usually helps me shape the idea.
Who’s someone you admire greatly as a lyricist?
André 3000 is my all time favorite lyricist. The way he bends words is so fascinating to me. Listening to André is one of those experiences that can’t really be explained. As a listener, you understand the feeling and it feels good. He’s got this way of being relatable which I think is a valuable skill to have as an artist. As a kid I had no experience in the subjects he was rapping about but I understood the feelings I had when listening. As for current artist Cyhi The Prince is a lyricist who I think is killing the game. He’s been killing it for some time now too so it’s nice to see him finally get the shine he deserves.
Do you create your own beats?
Not at the moment no. But I have an interest in making beats and producing so at some point I’ll teach myself how to. Some of my favorite producers are Kanye West, Swizz Beatz & Pharrell. I love these producers for the unique sounds that they’ve created and used. Outside of music I am a huge fan of science fiction. And some of my favorite songs produced by them have futuristic sounds in them or sounds that aren’t common in pop music. But because they’re great producers some of those songs became popular hits. For example Love Lockdown by Kanye West. Those sounds that he introduced and how he used them were totally new to Hip Hop.
What inspired you to write Dreams?
When I first heard the beat, the hook came to me immediately. So of course after that I needed some verses. This was the perfect song to talk about some things that were bothering me at the time. It was my second year in college and I didn’t want to be there anymore. My family wanted me to live my life a certain way and I wanted to follow my dreams. But at the same time I didn’t want to drop out of college because I was having fun and I’m not a quitter. This song became my way of saying I’m going to do my own thing because I know I must. I may not have all the top of the line tools to turn my dream into reality but I have drive and passion and I’m confident that my time will come. It’s one thing to write a song like Dreams. It’s a whole other thing to record it and then release to the world. This song is a perfect example of speaking things into existence and art manifesting life.
Your lyrics are notably poetic on this latest release, do you think poetry is an important thing to consider as a rapper, and do you actively write or seek out poetry as part of the creative process?
I think rap and poetry are very similar. If you were to drop the beat in a song it becomes poetry, spoken word. I enjoy poetry as much as I do rap but each one provides its own kind of enjoyment. Many of my songs start out as poems.
What are your thoughts on mainstream hip hop or the mainstream industry in general right now?
Over-saturation is the first thing that comes to mind. There’s so much music out there, which is great because at one point we didn’t have access to as many rap artists and different styles of music as we do now. Not in a mainstream sense. But given social media and the numerous platforms that allow artists to share their music, everyone is doing it now. Unfortunately, a lot of it is trash – and by trash I mean the quality (or lack of quality) of subject matter and the lack of quality of sonics.
Sonically music seems to be going in a cool direction but at the same time there aren’t any mainstream artists pushing the envelope. The artists who are pushing it are definitely pushing it. But for the most part, a lot of artists are using the same melodies and rhyme patterns. A lot of artists’ hooks are beginning to sound the same, short and simple. Which I get it – it works. They make the song easy to remember but I think there’s a way to be catchy and innovative at the same time and majority of mainstream rap isn’t hitting the mark for me at the moment.
I think music is one of life’s most powerful tools. But when people take advantage of it in a negative way or abuse it, that same power can be used to do evil. But I also feel this way about other genres. Current music doesn’t feel or sound like it’s coming from the soul or a good place. And that is probably because the world is in a shitty state. We’re all going through it whether we want to admit or not. You can hear it in the music.
How important is live music for you, and will you be touring over the coming months?
Live music is everything to me. It’s one thing to be able to listen to a record; But to be able to see it live and feel it is such a beautiful experience. To be in the same room with the artist or in a room full of people who enjoy what you like is magical.
And yes I will have some upcoming shows over the next couple of months. We are planning a college tour and some shows overseas. If anyone out there likes what they hear in Dreams and wants a SaeMonae show in their town, shoot me a DM!
What’s the music scene like in Seattle right now?
It’s much like our weather. It rains 360 days a year! There’s a little bit of everything, but all of it has a dark and cloudy undertone. Rain has some very magical and deeply spiritual qualities. Because it rains so often in Seattle that it’s a part of everything we do. It’s refreshing and sometimes frustrating in how it challenges you. We make our plans but the rain (like fate) has the ultimate power on choosing part of what will happen in the day. But we have the power to choose how those happenings will impact our day.
I think artists from Seattle approach the music in the same way. It’s kind of impossible not to. Some of the artists that I collaborate with I think capture this very well. Like Brynn Elyzabeth has this cover she’s singing called Dark Times. The song’s about trying to be a good person but sometimes it’s hard when things from your past creep into you and you’re trying to do good by those who care about you. Melodically the song kinda has this eerie and damp sound to it which is usually what the city looks like. Or like my favorite song by ASHES The Chosen, called Carnival Mirrors. That song reminds me of summer in Seattle. No matter how happy the music is, there’s always an element of the Blues in there. Always a few shadows. And only an artist who has lived in Seattle can make a song that gives you that feeling.
What are your plans for throughout 2018, creatively?
One of my goals for the year is to continue to develop a uniquely clear sound for myself. So I’ll be exploring a lot of sounds and different music that I may have never thought to try rapping over in the past. I would also like to take on painting.
What are your hopes for the future?
In the nearest future like this Spring I will be releasing my debut EP called Dirty PolitiKKKs. This is something I’ve been working on technically my whole life but really the last couple years. It’s a mixture of songs that are discussing political issues in the US and globally issues. But it also serves as a sneak peek into who I am as a person and as a creative. All of the songs were written during my years studying Comparative Ethnic Studies at Washington State University.
At the time, it was challenging for me dealing with being in a new place and studying at the same time. It was also a challenging and heartbreaking time for the country. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and others inspired a lot of the songs, along with the topics I was studying. A move to LA is also in the future for me. As much as I love home I think it’s time for a new space and growth. The majority of my music team already resides there and I like to be in the same room with people when creating so moving to LA feels like the thing to do.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Again thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts and music. Thank you for showing Dreams love. It really does mean a lot to me. And I hope this song is both a fun song for listeners and also a song of inspiration. There’s already enough negativity lurking throughout our days so to have a song like Dreams to listen to can change and impact someone’s day in a good way. And that’s what I strived for when writing it so I hope it does just that.
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