By Ural Garrett
Before Top Dawg Entertainment announced the signing of singer SiR in early 2017, he had already cut his songwriting chops with music legends Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, and a host of others. Meanwhile, the Inglewood, California native was known locally for his fresh, under-the-radar R&B/soul projects, including Wooden Voodoo, the homage-paying Long Live Dilla, and debut album Seven Sundays. But SiR's most ambitious project yet, Chasing Summer, has gained traction as one of 2019's best due to its phenomenal songwriting and sonic cohesion.
It helps that the album is packed with an impressive roster of guests, including Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Smino, Scott herself, and a host of others. SiR also popped up on an airy collab with Rapsody and J.I.D. this year as well. However, Chasing Summer boils down to how SiR tackles the nuance of each subject through its 45-minute runtime. From describing the isolation of being a side dude through the eyes of King of the Hill character "John Redcorn" and longing for creative anxiety relief with labelmate Lamar on "Hair Down" to penning a possible new hook-up anthem in "That's Why I Love You" featuring Sabrina Claudio, Chasing Summer's greatest moments are all backed by a striking soundscape.
Speaking with MTV News, SiR broke down the complex writing process behind Chasing Summer, its down-to-the-wire final feature, and how his music engineering background allowed him to mold the sonics to his specifications.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
MTV News: As a songwriter, you've written and co-written songs for legends and locally known artists around L.A. How much has the city of Inglewood influenced your songwriting even when you're writing about broader subjects?
SiR: It's definitely a huge part of who I am as an artist. L.A. shaped my whole perspective on life. I use a lot of what I've learned over the years. My whole lingo and conversation is L.A. It's a little bit of L.A., some Bay Area, and some southern slang in there 'cause of my family. I incorporate everything into what I do. If you really want to talk about it though, I want people to know that I want my music to be Black in essence as well as I can. On this album, I didn't hold back in what I was saying. I wanted to be as honest as possible, but I still wanted to represent where I'm from.
MTV News: Chasing Summer has some heavy-hitting features from your TDE brethren Kendrick Lamar and Zacari, not to mention Lil Wayne. How down to the wire were some of these features before you had to turn it in?
SiR: That Wayne verse came in hot on "Lucy's Love." It was hot off the press. That was the last song we actually worked on. [For] "Mood" ... we had some sample clearance issues. So we got someone to replay the sample to keep the integrity of the record. We used pieces from the old mix that we had alongside the new separated version, so we got so much more life in that song. That was important to me because I had so many ideas for that track and we had to change up a lot to make it work. Sometimes you want to pull a sample from the internet that you cannot use. You forget about it, and it's embedded so much in your mind in the song. When it comes down to turn in the album, you have to clear everything. We had to make some changes that I really wasn't satisfied with, but in the long run — and shout out to [writer/producer] Kelvin Wooten for that, because of that last-minute change — it came out phenomenal. That's been my favorite song on the album for a while and I can't wait to perform it.
MTV News: Can you recall the intensity of writing songs for Chasing Summer in comparison to the early moments of you getting your feet wet in songwriting?
SiR: It's easier and harder at the same time because I have to be more selectable with what I say. I definitely remember being in a state of frustration and still trying to figure things out, but now I have a system. It varies day to day. It's not perfect, but when I went in writing for the album, I had a plan and stuck to it. I started the album with six songs that I really fucked with and then built around them and thought about what they meant. Sometimes I might write one idea and that will evolve into other songs. It may be three songs later before I actually have the full idea come to light. It takes a lot of help. I listen to a lot of music and I play a lot of music with musicians, which helps to give me an idea of how I want things to look like in the long run. On this album, most of the records were very much personal. I think I was very honest with this album.
MTV News: You're already known as a singer/songwriter, but you engineer and mix a lot of your own music as well. What did you want the album to sound like on that side of the process?
SiR: I always think crisp-cut corners when I think of my building. It's layers like a house. This album was like a 10-story apartment building with fucking 300 tenants. I always look at it as it has to have shape. This one is like an elegant house from 1979 — super nostalgic. I always have an idea of how I want the drums and low end to sound like. I want my kick and my snare like where they sit together. I keep my vocals first and I take into mind layering my vocals next to bass. I also leave spaces for floating your music through, effects and things like that.
The mixing process was actually very long because we kept adding layers musically. A month before we dropped, we were adding the last bit of pieces like the sax on "The Recipe" or the acoustic guitar on "You Can't Save Me." Those changes made the mix process longer than I normally would let it be. This is the first time where I had a body of work where I feel like, ah, I wish I could change this or that. We were really content and happy with the finished product.
MTV News: You kicked off Chasing Summer with the "Hair Down" video shot in Inglewood.
SiR: I'm a Park Circle boy. That one shot where I'm hanging out the window in Park Circle is definitely a moment forever.
MTV News: You also recently released the video for "That's Why I Love You." Should we expect any more visual treatments for the album in the future?
SiR: We're working on something special for "John Redcorn" that I can't say much about yet, but we're most definitely working on that and a few other videos. We're trying to get as much as we can with this project. Be on the lookout. We're definitely working.