“I wanted to make a Pink Siifu’s greatest hits album,” he tells me following a lengthy trip to Ikea, which he made sure to complete by any means necessary.
A declaration like that would pique the interest of anyone within earshot. It’s a promise of not just quality, but a variety of stylistic choices that match the elevated grandeur of the phrase “greatest hits.” With a “greatest hits” album, you get the full menu from an artist, each dish worthy of the highest Michelin star.
Gumbo’! is a clear delivery on a called shot. The sprawling, 18-track opus from the Alabama rapper/producer exists as a love letter to the South, family, and the music that resonates in his soul. The title clues the listener in to the structure of the album, or lack thereof. It’s a glorious hodge-podge of Siifu’s vision, in which he mixes genres with reckless abandon. Simultaneously, each decision is executed with precision. The forays into trap, soul, R&B, and spoken word reflect the intrinsic sense of his artistry.
The wide range of styles speaks to his varied tastes. Lovers of trap might gravitate to “Wayans Bros.” and “Roscoe’!.” You’re strapped in for the ride, head banging to chaotic and boisterous beats — his voice matching the kinetic energy of the instrumental. “Big Ole ” features elite rapping, with BbyMutha’s show stealing performance meshing with Siifu’s laidback drawl. He effortlessly glides atop The Alchemist’s decadent loops on “Living Proof (Family),” giving fan service to those who identify as “real hip-hop” fanatics. There’s a measuredness in the way he switches from frantic rapping to simpler, smoother deliveries, exhibiting an understanding of the various realms he artfully co-exists in.
Siifu comes off as a renaissance man. To him, the boundaries of genre are meaningless — they’re all a part of him. When I ask about the various directions he threw himself in on Gumbo’!, he had this to say, “I was listening to a lot of older music, like Gil Scott Heron, Stevie Wonder, Prince, George Clinton…and I realized they’d put hella genres in their albums, and nobody was surprised but it. I thought, ‘shit, I could do something like that right now.”
He’s a student of music, taking moments from his childhood and reimagining them into an eclectic mix that exudes comfort and confidence. That’s how we get moments like the lengthy suite of “Scurrrrd,” with a crawling jazz production layered with angelic background vocals from the likes of Asal Hazel and Georgia Anne Muldrow. Or the sweeping choral arrangements on “SMILE (wit yo Gold),” letting Siifu, V.C.R., and Coco O. flex their singing, harmonizing with grace with hints of gospel and soul music peaking through. By breaking down the walls between genres at every turn, Siifu achieved greatness, producing one of the best projects in his discography.
As he rests on the laurels of his greatest hits, I caught up with him to get a sense of the records that inspired the sonic stew on Gumbo’!. – Matthew Ritchie
Okay, what inspired the mix of sounds and styles that you went into on Gumbo’!?
Pink Siifu: I wanted to have fun. I wanted something that reminded me of shit that you heard in the parking lot when you can’t get into the club. Or some shit after the club ends and you just chilling outside. I wanted just some shit that you can ride out to. I also received a lot of feedback from my homegirls and homies that would try and put others onto my music, and heard that I wasn’t relating to their sonic preference or frequency. So, I sort of wanted to show people that I had stuff for everyone to vibe to, fully showing what I was capable of.
I know it’s like picking a favorite child, but do you have a favorite direction you tried to go into here?
Pink Siifu: “SMILE (wit yo Gold)” and the intro. That was the first time successfully having more folks sing with me on some choir type shit. That’s the new bag for me. That’s really what I’m trying to lean into for my next project. No raps, just those vocals for real. I was listening to a lot of Sly and The Family Stone and George Clinton to get inspirations for how they arrange vocally. I was really trying to show more balance by putting more emphasis on singing.
What else about the likes of Sly Stone and George Clinton feed into your creativity?
Pink Siifu: They exhibit pure funk, which is really just complete freedom. Every part of it, from the little, quick screams to the compositions. When I tap into that, which I do when I perform live, that’s just complete freedom right there. I want to do it more when I’m recording, but I haven’t really shown it yet in full. But like I said, the laid back shit on “SMILE” and “Play On’! Inshallah” sort of shows that.
Which albums do you gravitate to when you want to tap into this freedom in funk music?
Pink Siifu: There’s a whole bunch, and they never really leave my head. Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On and Fresh. Plus, Funkadelic’s Standing on The Verge of Getting It On, which is probably my favorite Funkadelic album. But it’s not just those two artists. Prince’s Sign Of The Times and The Time’s What Time Is it also fit into that funk bag, to me. Rick James’ “Dream Maker” is a special track too. Bootsy Collins, all them.
You fully lean into jazz music up and down the album, on tracks like “Call tha Bro (Tapped In)”. Where does that urge to utilize jazz come from?
Pink Siifu: It’s just in me. I will say that it’s partly because of my dad, who was a jazz artist . When he was getting into, deep in his music bag, he would play me everybody. Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sun-Ra, all of them. So I’ve been listening to jazz forever. Specifically, Bitches Brew is my shit for real. That album inspired a lot of Negro Deluxe, and has stuck with me ever since.
It’s really easy for me to rap to jazz. When I started off performing, I was doing poetry with a jazz band at open mics. Rapping with a jazz band with instruments is mad easy to me, it’s like my first name. It’s just what I’m listening to all the time. Also, a lot of the influence came from Maxo and his new album that’s coming up. The sonic placement that he holds is astounding. The intimate vibe of each track, with family being the lyrical focus on his and my songs helped me center myself as I was creating.
Right, because at its core, rap is a direct descendant of jazz. Do you think there should be more inclusion of jazz in rap currently?
Pink Siifu: Hell yeah. Well, it doesn’t need to be more, exactly. It actually needs to be a balance. Everything needs to represent each other. I don’t want there to be too much of this too much, or too much of that. The way that we’re doing it with jazz, it isn’t in terms of other people’s approach. A lot of people don’t like rapping with bands, or don’t like bands playing for rappers. But if you make an album with musicians, have them a part of the process, fully together with rapping, that brings it all to life. Trying to get them to play along with samples is when it can get corny.
How did you come to find this balance?
Pink Siifu: That’s what’s so great, the search for this balance has been so inspiring. Like that sounds and compositions that showed up on D’Angelo’s Voodoo. We’d be locked in, listening to music, nerding out over the shit that he and Dilla would be doing. Then, niggas got to that point of understanding. I want to build with musicians I work with, not just going with the flow. You need chemistry with whatever band you play with. They understand where I want to go and I understand where they want to go.
“Scurrrrd” is another one that drips with nostalgia, it feels like it could have shown up on the first half of Baduizm or something.
Pink Siifu: Badu is built in for sure, like Mama’s Gun always is. But in particularly, in the way that it was arranged, “Scurrrrd” felt really close to OutKast’s “Liberation.” Like, I know we could never remake “Liberation.” But when I listened back to it, I turned to Georgia Anne Muldrow and was like, “Damn, this sound like some Dungeon shit.” It really felt like I was trying to hit that sweet spot on shit like “13th Floor/Growing Old.” We had a lot of ATLiens and Aquemini going on for sure.
That’s why getting Big Rube was so ill to me, because I’m really a Dungeon baby. I’ll try and work with him a few times because his voice and everything has been so pivotal to me growing up as a man and as a poet. He was like, my first favorite.
With Dungeon Family having such a big impact on you, what are your favorite projects from the collective?
Pink Siifu: All of the OutKast albums, even Idlewild. Recently, my favorite has been Stankonia. The way they arranged that, it feels like their “greatest hits” album, and I’ve been fully addicted to those type of albums. And that’s what I tried to do on Gumbo’!. Also, of course Goodie Mob’s Soul Food. And actually, I’m a big fan of Big Boi’s solo stuff. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, Sir Lucious Left Foot…The Son of Chico Dusty (amazing title), and Big Boi Presents…Got Purp?. All great.
There’s also moments of clear soul/gospel influence, like on “SMILE (wit yo Gold),” which you keep referring back to. Do you feel those early soul elements throughout the track?
Pink Siifu: I fuck with that. I’m definitely not a gospel ass nigga, but I do like to lsiten to a few. Like, who doesn’t love the Clark Sisters? But that gospel sound lowkey comes from Butcher Brown. I think they be in the church, playing every Sunday. They brought that with the vocals. I think lowkey even V.C.R. be in the church, she’s absolutely amazing. Love her. Plus, Coco O., who is just as amazing. We come up with quality sound, all that love song influence pushing through.
“SMILE (wit yo Gold)” is crazy because it comes from a Windy City sample, from the album Let Me Ride. My homegirl Geordan showed it to me and I knew that I wanted to remake it. I still fuck with sampling and producing, but I really wanted to get a different flow of creating, sort of replaying and putting our own whole spin on a reference track.
Sort of like, reimagining instead of repackaging.
Pink Siifu: Yeah exactly. It’s a different type of creativity, not that it’s better or worse. It’s just how I want to sample currently.
How about some of the newer sounds that inspire you as you listen to them?
Pink Siifu: Young Nudy. A lot of Nudy. Rich Shooter man…lowkey son every song it feels like that nigga is getting better. He reminds me of Gucci Mane back in the day when he was on that spree. Like Rich Shooter, Dr. E4AL, Sli’merre, all of that. He’s dropping shit at a crazy rate. Usually, I don’t think it’s safe to drop like that for like, longer than two or three years. But I feel like he ain’t gonna burn out at all.
Plus, people like Turich Benjy, he’s one of my favorite niggas. His story and grind is so inspirational and beautiful, but I’m gonna let him tell his story. Others like Baby Sosa, Baby Keem, Pi’erre Bourne, Na-kel Smith, Zeelooperz, Mike and his album Disco!. BoofPaxkMooky is crazy too, I love his song “Over.” Bear1boss…they’re all great.
Also, people like Smino and & Bari, or anyone that works with Monte Booker. I’ve been following Monte for a couple of years now, and I heard that anyone who he worked with described as just a different level of producer. Like, The Alchemist is a legend and an OG, but Monte is a new one in the making. I’m definitely inspired by saying what other country folks are doing with this shit.
It seems that song structure that you employed spanned generations of style and composition. What prompted this wide range of structure?
Pink Siifu: Most of my inspiration is in the old shit. Of course, I listen to and am inspired by the new stuff, but when it comes to arranging and the freedom of their expression, old shit is the way. I do like the new melodies and how autotune can affect a rapper’s choices to sing and arrange a track. To be honest, I used to hate when I’d arrive at a sample on a track that only occurs at the beginning or the end, because that part was perfect. Then I question why they didn’t do that for the whole song. But now I understand that the shit is just for the moments. Those brief moments make a track special, for like those one to two minutes. That’s what I tried to do on Gumbo’! when we made the rap tracks. I give them my best rapping in the short moments, kind of like a glimpse of my peak.
But on the more soulful tracks, you draw it out. They reach like five or six minutes.
Pink Siifu: Exactly. Looking back I really just wanted to approach Gumbo’! like a real old school album. The multiple layers, the long suites, kind of on that Go For Your Guns shit. I’m excited for what I can do after the fact, now that I’ve learned from this album.