5 Questions for maassai

I wanted to make a project about pain, instability, and change that was introspective but motivational because it’s what I’ve experienced and gotten through. I doubt this will be the last time I theorize about fluidity and change cuz that’s pretty much my life. Thinking about it, talking about change is a funny thing to never have change.

Questions and Intro by Dan-O

Answers by maassai

I want to buy stock in maassai. Her voice snuck into all the stuff I loved in 2020 so it makes sense she started the new year with my favorite EP so far. With The Shifts is a lot. It moves at cheetah speed intellectually but the thoughts are organized with the calm control of someone very masterful. When people who work with her regularly place her amongst the best in the world it is because they are close enough to see. The control she has over her work is like Björn Borg on the tennis court. I am so happy that she answered my questions with the same grace:

Q-  Nine songs and a little over seventeen minutes, With The Shifts makes every second stand out by traveling different directions for unexpected amounts of time. One of my very favorite songs is To No End (Outro). As a beat that really moves that you smash, it’s only twenty seven seconds. How do these songs let you know they are done?

A- Nelson Bandela is the wizard behind that track and he had it at that length originally. The time signature switches so much so I thought it’d be a good closer based on the theme of the project because the mold of the song is constantly shifting but it still flows. I wanted to keep it that length to anticipate that our stories aren’t done and leave it “unfinished” in that way.

Q -Akai Solo sounds so good with you on The Shifts. I know he is on PTP(Purple Tape Pedigree) where you and J Words put out Ve.Loc.i.Ty. Was that an in studio or email collaboration? I just wonder how you felt hearing him go off for a minute and forty seconds and how inspired you must have been to close the show.

A- Yes shoutout to PTP, H31R got to release some fire ass cassettes through them. AKAI SOLO has been a friend of mine for years and we’ve always spoken about collaborating but hadn’t gotten many chances to do so. When I was getting the project together, I already had an idea of who I might want on it. Contour sent me a beat pack and then I was like okay yea, AKAI would go crazy on this. So I sent the beat to him. I actually had my verse long before we linked up to record. I knew that whatever he made would be crazy as usual and it fit well. The song is called The Shifts and AKAI has that unpredictable flow that embodies the energy I envisioned for the song. The original beat I sent him is actually not what we ended up using but went very hard so I hope Contour still lets me get on that one maybe haha.

Q-  So many quotables on the album and shifts from grimy bars to mesmerizing poetry to spiritual digressions. It would be a lot to take in if the first song(Next Chapter) didn’t do such a great job explaining and exploring all the directions With The Shifts goes.  In it you say, “…think yourself into exhaustion and turn that into art. As a world to get lost in, a vessel in the dark.” When you listen to an album, like yours, which explores mind state and overthink does it help you to share the speakers catharsis? Bring you to your own? What was the last album that did that for you?

A- Definitely! Even when I wrote that song I was hoping that it would hit for someone the way that some of the songs I grew up on did for me- gave resonance to the way I felt. I think that’s why people gravitate to art. I’d say I feel that often with stuff I listen to but Lupe Fiasco Food & Liquor definitely did that for me in high school. Also when I got put on to Kendrick during Section 80 era I felt so seen and understood with all his talk around duality, purpose and activism. Also, I distinctly remember in middle school being fake heart broken on some puppy love type of timing and bumping Ryan Leslie’s self titled album feeling like every word was about my life at that moment. Till this day I know every ad-lib down to the intricacies. 

Q- My favorite song is To Fly because it’s such a Brown Sugar D’Angelo level of groovy release. As intense as the album can get, did you have trouble placing it? How did the creation and Kumbaya collaboration come about?

A- That’s a huge comparison cuz we love d’Angelo downnn. A legend indeed. Laron sent me a pack a while back and I just felt like this track hit so crazy. I had to sit with it for a little while to truly find the pocket and that’s the type of shit I love. I wrote and recorded the hook and verse for the song and then I was like hmmm I should get KUMBAYA on this – Their pocket is so smooth and just feels good so it made sense. I also love Kumbaya’s wordplay – it’s so unique. I enjoy so many types of expressions and poetic devices within rap but I feel like the wordplay aspect is something KUMBAYA and I definitely share as a big part of our practices so I’m glad we were able to cook up together. The placing came pretty easy afterwards. The interlude right before it kinda foreshadows the harmonic vibes it has.

Q- As writers we always try and do something different, I think part of that is an intense fear of saying the same thing. As hard as we all work to do that we still have patterns that we recognize in our work as we go from creation through editing. Have you been able to accept and value the patterns in your writing? If so, how long did that take you? When did you know what With The Shifts was about?  

A- I think the way I’m dealing with that is giving myself themes for works that I write. Even still, there’s gonna be things you repeat cuz it’s you and I’ve definitely accepted that. I know there’s themes that I’m gonna continue to build on within my music because I’m building on them in real life. But when you put a specific intention into something, I feel like it gives you room to focus in and explore new ideas. I knew what I wanted With The Shifts to be about. I wanted to make a project about pain, instability, and change that was introspective but motivational because it’s what I’ve experienced and gotten through. I doubt this will be the last time I theorize about fluidity and change cuz that’s pretty much my life. Thinking about it, talking about change is a funny thing to never have change.

(Every mention of With The Shifts contained is a hyperlink to the album. Go there and press play.)

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