SaeMonae – Interview
Seattle based Hip Hop artist SaeMonae produces her own brand of rhythms and rhymes as a way of connecting with the listener, covering a range of issues from personal experience and wider social concerns. We ran a few questions her way to dig a bit deeper and find out a bit more about what makes her tick and influences her flow.
Crossradar: How did you get started in music, and what drives you to continue?
SaeMonae: The dream of a career in music took form for me in 3rd grade. In my elementary years, I would pretend to be my favourite artist at the time. Artist like Snoop Dogg, Andre 3000, and Da Brat. Back then, my bedroom was Madison Square Garden and I was performing for a sold out crowd every night. I believe this helped me realise that I too, could make great music. Envisioning myself on a stage at an early age helped me get to where I am at now. It was like I was auditioning for the future, so when the actual time came, I was a natural. After that, I began to manifest my own ideas about what it meant to be a superstar and what kinds of things superstars do.
Listening to music is one of the most intimate experiences one can have. It’s like being able to sit with and talk to your favourite people in the world. You feel high, loved, and unstoppable when surrounded by the creativity of these people much like you do when surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones. I feel unstoppable when I’m surrounded by music. What keeps me inspired is the search to create my own sound that makes my own hairs stand up! I am constantly searching for new ways to express myself through lyrics. It’s interesting to try to find new ways to sing about a universal topic. Like singing about love. How can I write about love in a way that has not been talked about before? Music is entertainment, but it’s also a learning tool. So I look for subjects that are uncommon in conversation and try to include them in my music. When I would listen to artist like 2pac and Outkast, I would read their lyrics and then go look up what they were talking about. I strive to write lyrics that make my listeners do the same. One of the songs I released last year, “#SayHerName”, was that for me. It was my introduction to the national rap scene so it was important for me that I led with a message. I feel extremely blessed that a protest song about police brutality against black women was able to chart in the Top 10 independently. There aren’t many artists that can say that.
CR: Are there any interesting facts about you that hardly anyone else knows?
SM: I still have an imaginary friend, but much like friendships between actual people, we don’t talk very often. I mainly call on this friend when I need reassurance on something someone may have said to me or when I need advice. Or if I’m feeling down and sad and no one else is around, this friend manages to come through with positive words. I’ll sometimes talk to them out loud while I’m getting dressed, asking what should I wear. By this time in our conversations, I’m dancing in the mirror and have gone through about 3 outfits! It’s sad that kids are told to grow up and act their age because most imaginary friends die in the process. My imaginary friend evolved with me and pays me visits from time to time.
CR: What has been your biggest challenge…and how did you overcome it?
SM: The biggest challenges that I’ve had to face so far, have been learning to write what I want to say and not what I think others want to hear. And also learning how to balance my creative space with the business side of music. In regards to writing lyrics that are true to myself, when I started listening to Kendrick Lamar, I began to let my hair down (literally and figuratively) in my writing process. My lyrics became more personal because I wanted to write about what I knew best, which is SaeMonae! I related to a lot of things Kendrick was saying in his songs. For example, not being one for the corruption in the street but unable to escape it either. Or being seen as an average person, despite my dreams being bigger than my local community. I remember while I was in high school, a friend at the time asked me to sell some weed for them. I turned the offer down because I was concerned about the consequence. But I was also concerned about the impact it would have on my community. What if I got caught? Who was I going to sell to? That was around the time I began really focusing on developing myself as an artist. So I began writing my feelings down, writing poetry and lyrics, and recognising that despite some of the current popular music, my music needed to reflect my values and my experiences for it to be authentic and true to who I am.
It wasn’t until my second year at Washington State that I met ASHES the CHOSEN, a Seattle Hip Hop artist, and began to learn about the music industry from real experiences. Before meeting him, the only knowledge I had on the music industry had came from XXL, The Source magazines and YouTube. I also did not know anyone directly in the music industry, just people who had home studios and was doing what I was doing; watching YouTube tutorials. Once I started working with ASHES the CHOSEN and Shirin E., head of operations at SmG Music, I got a face to face experience of proper etiquette in recording studios. I began learning how to organise my writing. I also learned about the various song structures, like 12 bar blues and AABA. These were structures that I had heard before I just was unaware of their names. As of right now I am a part time student and part time artist, so I have had to create a schedule that allows me to be a student half of the day and an artist the rest.
CR: Who are your heroes? Why do they rock your world?
SM: My grandmother is my first and biggest heroine! She’s helped me develop many skills that have allowed me to create the world I want to live in. She had me meditating before I knew what mediation was. We would create vision boards together to help me gain clarity of my goals and my purpose. She gave me the kind of education that couldn’t be learned from a book. Back then I thought she was crazy for all this, but I’ve since recognized the wisdom in her approach. Biggest thing of all though is she has made me feel loved, always.
CR: What do you have coming up next?
SM: I will be releasing my debut EP, Dirty PolitiKKKs,a project that I have been working on throughout my years at Washington State. I can’t wait to release this project because not only have I been waiting for this moment to share my story with the world, but also because this is music the world needs. I believe it’s going to make people want to dance but also make people think about the conditions of the world.
In May, I will be graduating from Washington State University with my Bachelors degree. Post graduation, I don’t have many concrete plans, but I would like to move to L.A. I have always wanted to live in California somewhere, be surrounded by the sun all the time. Washington experiences all the different seasons, so I am tired of the snow and rain. I’m looking forward to relaxing and not having to wake up to go to class!