By Kat Bein
Soul and jazz have always been at the foundation of American musical greatness, but Masego wants to put those roots under a bright spotlight. He’s a tall, thin man with a glowing spirit who cut his teeth singing and playing in church in Virginia, but it was the internet that exposed him to the rhythms that would give his songs a modern edge, and it also opened the doors to a lot of cool collaborations. His debut studio album, 2018's Lady Lady, is turning a new generation onto the subtleties and sensualities of his self-proclaimed “trap house jazz” flavor.
The singer, songwriter, and producer is one lively band leader, and he brought his merry band of musicians to the stage at III Points festival in Miami over the weekend. While jazz legend Herbie Hancock’s notes still echoed from a previous main stage performance, Masego proved the genre has a bright future with rowdy sensualism on the secondary main stage inside warehouse doors. MTV News caught up with Masego just before his show to learn how he stays humble in the face of growing popularity and how music is a window to the world.
MTV News: Have you spent much time in Miami before?
Masego: Yeah, but usually I come do the show, [and then] leave. I've been for Art Basel a little bit so I've seen a bit of the graffiti. My band's walking around here somewhere. They schedule things to fit in between. I'm “cool” now, so everything is just whatever to me, but I bring people that have never been anywhere so they're like, “Yo, I've been researching this for 20 years." That excitement is healthy around me, because it keeps you wack and I wanna be wack. It's a better thing to be. My drummer, he knows about all the eating spots everywhere. I do old man things by default, just stay in the hotel room, eat oatmeal, and drink tea.
MTV News: Why do you think it's gotten to that place where you feel less like you want to go out?
Masego: I started out so green and then I matured pretty fast. I'm now functioning in an “ignorance is bliss” type of way. It's certain things I just don't wanna know. I don't want to meet certain people. I don't want to know the backstory behind some of the world I've created for myself. I super love music. I love hanging on my band. I love traveling. I love nature and botanical gardens. I don't watch the news too much, and I don't look too deep into bad news about artists. Unintentionally, when you come somewhere a lot, you get into the motions. I think the beauty of bringing other people around you makes you experience it differently. This is my fifth time in Miami, but now it's my favorite time because I brought my band with me. It defeats the “coolness” that I developed over the years.
MTV News: Talk to me about these bandmates. How long have you known them? Are they from your hometown?
Masego: It's a combination of virtual [meetings] and having physical jam sessions in Virginia. Some people would just come to my jam sessions and I'd be the host. I can start an idea like that, and musicians' drums usually don't knock. They're usually trash. My drums aren't trash. I would just combine that talent with something that was better rhythmically — I thought — and that would just attract a lot of people.
I was the first, I think, in my area that kind of got hip to SoundCloud and how it was such a nice community. The drum production there was amazing. The garage from the U.K. and all that? I was so into that, and I would attract people trying to push their musicianship. And then virtually, I would collab a lot over email. Eventually — I'm real random — I just caught up my drummer, who lives in North Carolina, and I was like, you wanna come on tour for a couple days? And he was like, "Yeah," and I just never let him go home.
MTV News: You mentioned SoundCloud. This idea of sourcing ideas on the Internet — I saw you sourced your latest release artwork from fans.
Masego: I'm a textbook Gemini. I just need variety and I'm random. This woman put me onto that "Radio" song while I was in Australia. I just wrote to it one day, recorded it one day, and I just felt like putting this out. I forgot to make artwork for it because I was moving so fast, and I was like, let me just see if my fans want to do something. I was expecting a bunch of stick drawings and I was gonna make a funny thing. These were like drawn-out, colored, thought out. I had maybe like 24 usable ones. I'm going to keep on dropping alternative art works for a little bit. It's just fun. With music, we're so used to the way it's "supposed" to be done, and I love to just not do that and put more power in the artist and the fans' hands, because that's really what's all about.
MTV News: Where are you creatively right now?
Masego: I'm really just embracing the jam session. I just did like five hours in the studio with my band. We made about 17, 18 songs. It's something new each time. When I was at J. Cole's camp, I was walking around taking in all the energy, and then little haikus came to me, little four-bar lines. I came up with all these hooks, and I just stored them in my notebook, and it made writing songs lot easier because I would go back to it. I like creating that way. I love listening to SoundCloud, freestyling a song over it, and then recreating the music over top of that. Voice memoing, a bunch of stuff. I'm just reading my journals, seeing how I feel about certain things and re-approaching how I've made music.
I make a song from scratch every show, just to, again, stop the mundaneness of shows. It's mood-based, because if I feel like giving this guy a solo or changing the song order, that's what I do. My lighting guy, he's stressed out.
You got to just continue to make music. What's the next story you want to tell? And always understand that someone's gonna start way earlier in your path than you want them to, and that's OK. Though I almost don't even want to sing certain songs, I understand the importance of it. It's almost like you're an actor or an actress. You dip into that character for that minute and a half or two minutes and then jump back into this one. It helps my mother, too, when I'm talking nasty in my songs, like, "I was just being an actor, like Will Smith."