Trap House Jazz, Masego Soulfully Breaks Genre Conventions.
There’s a certain whimsicality to Masego that is present in everything the hip-hop and jazz multi-instrumentalist does. On the first day we meet him, the twenty-five year old musician spontaneously decides that he wants to buy a pair of Vivienne Westwood trousers, and so we drive to central London where Masego is free to indulge. “I went to Rome once,” he tells us. “I got fascinated with Italian silk and Vivienne Westwood trousers. I started to get into the back story of people and the care they put into their stuff.” He laughs. “I feel like I became cool a month ago.”
But Masego is indisputably cool, and it’s hard to believe he hasn’t always been this way. In The Colors Show, the Jamaican born artist performs one of his most popular hits, ‘Navajo’, in a production that makes you feel both captivated and vaguely tongue-tied. Seeing Masego go, it becomes very clear that words elude his essence. The artist’s particular brand of magic is a fusion of jazz, hip-hop, and house that Masego calls Trap House Jazz. He gathers together the discrete and synthesises them as though there never were any borders or boundaries to begin with. Masego unifies the disparate and he makes it make sense. Critics, too, have begun to endorse the ‘Trap House Jazz’ label – a Masego-shaped hole is now seen in the listener’s available music experience that makes us very aware of what we’re now missing.
Masego can’t read music. As we get to know him more, this becomes less and less surprising.
This guiding insouciance can be heard – felt, even – in all the small bones of Masego’s work.His sound spans a veering, ever-fluctuating patchwork of echoing jazz synths, distorted, creatively eclectic samples (in ‘Navajo’, he even samples The Beatles’ ‘Michelle Ma Belle’), and his own highly versatile vocals which rise and fall in a vibrato so rich it could make you shudder. But his sound never feels strained or confined. Just like a kid playing with his toybox, Masego plays with sounds, and puts them down, and in the seams of his patchwork fusion, you hear an earthiness and easiness that is very distinctly his own. In the comment section of one of his music videos, someone asks, ‘wow! What genre is this?’ A reply with twenty-seven likes states: ‘no genre, man. He’s an artist doing his own thing.’
You can understand why someone would want to know what category Masego falls into, if only so they can seek out similar music. But Masego’s own influences are spasmodic. “Erykah Badu, of course,” he muses. We ask for a list of other female artists that have influenced him. “Beyonce is the obvious answer. And Rihanna. Before Ri, it wasn’t cool to be crass with speaking.” On a broader level… “I’ve been really into older movies. 1970s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Black people aren’t in there, though,” he adds. “We ain’t even in the chimney!” Masego laughs. “But I like people who create worlds.”
Mid-anecdote – and Masego has plenty of them – he breaks off to look at his phone. “Someone just called me ‘darling’,” he says with a voice that’s smiling, “and now my heart is fluttering.” Speaking of Darlings…
And certainly Micah Davis does seem to possess a sense of optimistic easy-goingness that translates directly to his music. When we ask Masego what a typical day producing music looks like for him, he shrugs. “I get ideas and I try them out and then…they work out.”
The story of how he got into jazz is similarly whimsical. A teacher he had a crush on was very into the genre, and he wanted to impress her. He laughs again (he laughs a lot). We ask him who the first woman he loved was. “This girl in 4th grade. I made up a secret coded language just so I could write about her in private.” At the heart of Masego’s Peter-Pannish tenderness is, it seems, love. We ask him what advice he’d give himself. “Do not date insert girl here…it be hurting sometimes at night.” He actually says that – insert girl here. He laughs again. “I can’t say her name. She’s an artist, too.”
When we ask Masego if he’s always been a joker, instead of cracking a smile, he levels, “If you don’t know what’s joking, you get joked on.” We ask him what advice he’d give to up and coming musicians. His response was surprisingly, refreshingly pragmatic. “Music is risk-taking,” he says. “When I finished school, I had four shows lined up. [At college] I’m paying a thousand dollars for class. We’re making this money and I’m giving it right back to school,” he says regarding his college drop-out status. “But my roommate, he graduated from law school, and is a musician. So there’s no terrible path.”
As for who he’s most like to collab with… “Ty Dolla Sign or Jeremih,” Masego says, hardly missing a beat. “They’re the hook kings!” But as far as rap goes, Masego’s not really a fan. But, he adds, “when I like someone in the rap game, I love them…because I feel they’re being passionate and sincere. Smino, GoldLink, J.I.D…I like people who are themselves. No façade, no character.”
Micah Davis is unabashedly himself, and has created a sound so resonant that we can’t help but be a little enthralled. The most perplexing thing about Masego is that he doesn’t seem to dispense any concerted effort towards music producing at all; rather, his talent seems to organically exist at the curious junction between his free-spirited personality, and an authentic blind spot to genre boundaries. He is, unequivocally, very cool. So cool, in fact, that he was invited to an all-girls party because “they considered me to be a non-threatening man.” Well, we say, you’re a fun person. He smiles. “Depends on what day it is.”
You can follow Masego on Instagram @masego
We filmed Masego during his UK tour at Bristol Trinity Centre and Metropolis Studios as part of the Clash Series.