Pink Siifu’s Mad-Scientist Melting Pot
For Pink Siifu, born Livingston Matthews, defying genres is about showing love more than anything else. A lot of artists talk about their admiration for a wide range of styles, but Siifu’s music demonstrates a rare eclecticism, toggling from punk to jazz to hip-hop within a single release while shifting focus from project to project. Since the start of his career, Siifu has embraced putting himself in every corner of the music world: taking on R&B aliases like B. Cool-Aid with producer Ahwlee, releasing punk-influenced albums like NEGRO, even reciting Purple Mountains lyrics for the Avalanches alongside Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo. Just as he traverses the musical map, Siifu has lived all over the country; he grew up in Birmingham, Alabama before moving around to places like Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, and Maryland, where he is temporarily residing with his girlfriend.
Out next week, Siifu’s new album GUMBO’! may be his most varied release yet. Not a single song on the 18-track album is without a collaboration, and few of those contributors are in rotation more than once. While fast-paced, rap-driven tracks like “Wayans Bros” and “Big Ole” are produced by close friend Conquest Tony Phillips, others like “Scurrrrd” wield the meditative styles of Dungeon Family veteran Big Rube, prolific Stones Throw/Brainfeeder affiliate Georgia Anne Muldrow, R&B singer-songwriter Asal Hazel, and psychedelic soul artist Nick Hakim — yes, all on the same song. It’s probably the only album to feature both an Alchemist beat and a BbyMutha feature. For those attempting to dissect GUMBO’! to categorize the 29-year-old artist’s direction and sound, Siifu only has one thing to say: Stop trying.
Although a massive and ambitious album, GUMBO’! is hardly the only project Siifu has been occupied with recently. Over the past year, Siifu expanded on NEGRO through the release of NEGRO DELUXE, teamed with Fly Anakin for the $mokebreak EP as Fly Siifu, and unveiled a short film called NATION TYME! For Siifu, constantly hitting the refresh button is a source of energy, not exhaustion.
I recently hopped on the phone with Siifu to discuss GUMBO’! as an artistic statement, the way his collaborations and aliases influence each other, and how he decides when it’s time to put a project down. Below, read selections from our conversation and watch the video for “Bussin’ (Cold),” his new GUMBO’! single with Turich Benjy out today. The track is produced by MichaelxWhite, with a video by Dylan McGale.
I remember a while ago you tweeted, “It’s amazing how many things you can do and work on at once but nobody even knows.” You’re constantly putting out new music and collaborating with new artists. What pushes you to be continuously creating, and do you ever get burnt out?
PINK SIIFU: My body gets more burnt out than my mind. I feel like I don’t really get burnt out. I’m always mad blessed to be working with the cats I work with — all the different artists, and the different possible collabs. I don’t really get burnt out, because none of my projects sound alike, and so it’s always refreshing. It’s like, I ain’t got no rap bars right now. Let me make some jazz. Let me scream on some shit. That’s what I will always tell Nick Hakim. He was going through writer’s block before he dropped his last album. I’m saying that because a lot of n****s don’t know, but Nick Hakim plays with this jazz group called Onyx Collective and he be on his punk shit sometime. And I was telling Nick, show a little bit of that. You ain’t gotta say lyrics — just scream and show that weird shit. Because he’d be screaming on his funkadelic Parliament shit too, and a lot of n****s don’t hear that. I feel like it’s a blessing that I’m able to just tap into different sonic spaces, because shit lets me not get tired and not get stale with it. As long as I’m working with a new sound, a new space, new rooms, and new people, I can always keep making some shit.
You’ve had several different monikers throughout your career, and sometimes more than one is credited on an album or song. What do names mean to you, and how do they inform your creativity?
PINK SIIFU: It’s a deeper thing, but I really get that from MF Doom and Madlib and how they featured other aliases. With me, I do it with my iiye shit. My iiye alias has a sound, so it’s like I want to represent that. That’s a whole different side of me. B. Cool-Aid low-key feels like a whole different artist. That’s why I love B. Cool-Aid. We can’t make shit for like two years, but when we jump back, it still has that sound. I’m always trying to shed more light on B. Cool-Aid. Even on GUMBO’!, I feature B. Cool-Aid on a track, because that track doesn’t sound like anything else. Awhlee made it and I’m always just trying to shed light on that shit. I feel like names are hella important because with me, the name means it has a sound with a different backstory or a different origin. I’m always trying to shed light on all the names I’m involved with and all the groups I’m involved with, because they’re all different to me and they all have something different to get through.
How does your project with Fly Anakin, Fly Siifu, inform Pink Siifu and vice versa?
PINK SIIFU: Working with Fly Anakin is hella different, because that’s probably the most you’ll hear me rap. Fly Anakin can just rap very good, so I would say you’re gonna hear me rap the most with Fly Siifu and maybe a little bit in B. Cool-Aid. I don’t want n****s to get stale with me, because I love everything. I really do. I love Nirvana. I love Pink Floyd. I love Sun Ra. I love Dungeon Family. I love Parliament. I love James Brown. I love Prince. I love Cameo. I’m gonna try to make all of this shit before I die, so I don’t ever want n****s to get stale with this shit.
Almost every track on GUMBO’! has a different producer, and if I’m not mistaken, no producer is credited on more than two songs. Why did you decide to collaborate with different producers on every track, and what was this process like during the pandemic?
PINK SIIFU: Yeah, I guess the only producers that are on two tracks are Conquest Tony Phillips, DJ Harrison, and Butcher Brown. That’s beautiful. Conquest is my best friend. Conquest is the n**** who put me on MF Doom and all that weird rap shit. That’s my brother, and I’m so happy to be able to show his beats. With Butcher Brown and DJ Harrison, I’ve been a fan of them for so long. For us to be working this close together is so beautiful. It was fire. The Alchemist track and the one with WAARVY was done before COVID. Everything else was either done at the crib or done with the homies. I recorded “Bravo!” with all my n****s back in Cincinnati. I will say, because of COVID, I sent over a lot of shit. But I kind of work like that, because sometimes I work real fast. I always got ideas for a backup singer, so I always be sending shit to some n**** not here.
I was reading an interview you and Fly Anakin did with Esquire about the experience of making $mokebreak. Anakin says, “It turn into a gumbo pot man.” Can you talk about the album title GUMBO’! and how it relates to the way that you approach making music?
PINK SIIFU: I was in Long Beach at my n**** Awhlee’s crib, and I was on the porch, and I was just smoking. I remembered that mad interviews I did with Fly Siifu and NEGRO, I was always saying gumbo — like my shit like gumbo! I’m always asked what type of music I make, and I usually always tell them Black music. But then I was like, I’m gonna just start saying my shit gumbo. That’s my genre. When I said that, I was like, that’s it. My genre is gumbo, but also this album is gumbo. My whole style is gumbo. I’m country as fuck. It makes hella sense. I really got this soul food perspective with this music shit: what’s good for you, what’s not good for you, what’s too much sugar. This album, with all its sonics, its message, and the poetry from Big Rube, it’s good for you. Like soul food, if you have too much of it, it might fuck you up. It’s good for you though. I feel like all my titles are a trilogy — ensley, NEGRO, and GUMBO’! This is the end of that shit. ensley reminds me of Birmingham, where my grandma stays. NEGRO is about a n**** growing up in this shit. GUMBO’! is just the whole family at the dinner table type shit.
GUMBO’! is 18 tracks long, NEGRO DELUXE is 40, NEGRO is 20, and ensley is 25. How do you know when your projects are finished, and when to keep adding onto them?
PINK SIIFU: With this one, it’s because of my girl, I can’t lie. It’s also because of COVID, I’ve just been with my girl. This whole process, I was just asking her a lot, like, “Yo, should I change this? Should I do this?” And when I was listening to other n****s’ albums, I’d be like, “Damn, I need to make my shit better.” I’m always trying to change that shit. But I knew it was done when I did the GUMBO’! intro. I did that last. I posted the tracklist and n****s was like, “Is this a DOOM reference? That’s fire.” I forgot DOOM had gumbo on his MM..Food album. So I did that intro just for him, like how he does his skit shit. That’s when I was like this shit done. I posted the tracklist already, but I was like, “I don’t give a fuck.” I’ll be working on my shit until the last day When I did that, I was like, “This is complete.” With this album, it was crazy. The outro was done before the intro. This shit was mad weird to work on. I fuck with it, but I’ve definitely never worked on a project this all over the place. But that’s also why I called it GUMBO’!
One track on GUMBO’! that really struck me is “Scurrrd.” It feels like such a meditative and reflective song that kind of splits the album in two. Can you tell me a little more about Big Rube’s opening recitation, and the decision to put Georgia Anne Muldrow, Asal Hazel, and Nick Hakim on one track?
PINK SIIFU: I respect Tyler for this shit, like bringing in Lil Wayne on his albums. I wanna show love. I know a lot of n****s can’t do that because some of their heroes and artists don’t fuck with them, but I’m a real Dungeon Family baby. All my cousins, that’s all we were raised on. I’ve already expressed my gratitude to Big Rube, but he probably still doesn’t understand how big this is for me. I gained hella grown perspectives listening to his poems, because I was a poet before I was a rapper. The first heroes I had, other than Wayne and Dungeon Family, was Def Jam poetry n****s. Big Rube and Georgia on the same track? I was like I gotta do this. Who else is gonna do it? Then Nick Hakim singing in the back? Who else can do that?
I care about the n****s I came up on, working with them before they leave us. When DOOM died, I was sorry, because he was probably sick and all that shit, but we dropped this album [$mokebreak] with Lex Records. They have a beautiful relationship with DOOM and his family, and we didn’t even ask for a remix. So I was just like, man. If you’ve inspired me in a crazy way, I gotta at least try to show that shit. And if I can get you on that shit, that’s even better. So Georgia, Big Rube, and Nick Hakim on the same track produced by DJ Harrison? I had to do that. And even the transition from the Alchemist’s track to that Butcher Brown shit, that’s probably like my favorite part in the whole album. It also put more of a gumbo spin to it, because it’s like a slow rap song, a meditation, then a straight ballad with n****s singing. It showed a lot of growth in my shit too. Like the track “Smile,” I usually don’t really be confident in my vocals singing like that. Georgia is amazing. I feel like Georgia and Big Rube kind of have the same energy on the mic. It reminds me of when in Lion King, Mufasa was talking to Simba from the sky. That’s Georgia and Big Rube, like they start speaking from somewhere above.
I also wanted to ask about your feature on the Avalanches’ “Running Red Lights,” where you recite lyrics from Purple Mountains’ David Berman. How did this collaboration come about, and are you a fan of Berman?
PINK SIIFU: I don’t know much about the person I recited that poem from, but Robbie from the Avalanches is such a kind, sweet man. He was just like, “Yo this is a dedication to one of our friends.” And I low-key never do that. But the atmosphere, working with them, was so cool. High-key, they were paying me for everything. I did like seven songs, and they were paying me for every little thing. I was at Sunset Sound. I was at Prince’s studio, where he did Purple Rain! I’m a Prince baby, so it was just like being in that studio, that environment, and how he was treating me, I was like, “I’ll do whatever.” And they were just hella showing love. They’re just cool ass white dudes. They’re good people. He said he wanted to dedicate that poem to his homie, and I just did that for him, just off of love.
I know that you recently did a live show in Brooklyn at Friends And Lovers with Fly Anakin, Nappy Nina, Jwords, Monday Night, etc. and you’re hosting a release show and afterparty for GUMBO’! How does it feel performing live again, and have you approached it differently since coming back after the pandemic?
PINK SIIFU: I gotta be sober for my shows now. It’s just a different respect I have on performing now, and it’s like, I’m trying to take it there. I’m thinking about stage setups, shit like that. I’m trying to get next-level with it. I’m excited to perform the new shit. I dropped two albums now since COVID with GUMBO’! coming out, so I got a whole big-ass setlist now. I had an idea of doing a Fly Siifu show with B. Cool-Aid opening, and like a jam thing with jazz shit. I was also definitely thinking about doing a Pink Siifu show that branches out with all the different aliases and artists and shit. I was gonna do a Pink Siifu tour, and probably bring Butcher Brown to do the GUMBO’! shit with me, and my NEGRO band to do the punk shit with me. I’m just thinking about how to make the night more memorable. I’ve been listening to hella Parliament live and hella Miles Davis live. So yeah, I’m definitely trying to step up the live shit for sure. You know those marching bands down south? If you’re a really good marching band, like if you go crazy, you have a different setlist every game.
What do you want listeners to take away from GUMBO’!?
PINK SIIFU: Man, I want you to go back outside. I don’t want you to group me in with nobody no more. I just want to separate myself from what n****s thought of me. I don’t want to be in any groups. If you’re gonna compare me to anybody, I want you to compare me to what Dungeon was doing. I just want you to just listen to this, and hopefully, be like, “Nah, Siifu his own cat. He’s on his own shit.” I just want n****s to respect the chaos. That’s it, boom. I just want n****s to respect the chaos.
GUMBO’! is out 8/3. Pink Siifu will play an album release show at Elsewhere in Brooklyn on 8/2; tickets are available here. An afterparty at Erzulie will follow the show; tickets for that are available here.