WORDS: CASS NAVARRO
Back in November, Sahbabii tweeted: “I don’t act fake, I don’t have a gimmick, I don’t like to turn up, I don’t like being on my phone, I don’t like fake people, I don’t like dealing with peoples dumb ass ideas and egos, I don’t care about the industry. I’m not changing.” It’s a perfect summary of the Atlanta artist and his approach, straight from the squid himself. Sahbabii, for the uninitiated, is a rap anomaly whose unique approach to music moonwalks a tightrope between bizarre and genius.
His lyrical content is packed with nostalgic one-liners, brain-melting sexual innuendo and endearingly weird ad-libs. These elements work in unison to bury his sharp wit and original worldview a few layers deeper, rewarding the audience as they pick up on more with each listen. Sah’s original recipe has gained him a cult-like following, including fans such as comedian Zack Fox, whose top comment on Sahbabii’s ‘Bread Head’ insists, “He literally can’t make a bad song”.
Having moved from Chicago in his early teens, Sahbabii spent his formative years along Sylvan Road in Atlanta’s South-West. He first started making music with his older brother T3 and some kids from his area, including his best friend Demon Child, who grew up alongside Sah and was accepted by his family as one of their own—so much so that they would tell people they were cousins from their early teens up until Demon’s tragic passing in early 2021.
Sahbabii’s latest album, Do It For Demon, is a musical dedication to his late friend, and on it, we hear Sah at his most personal, vulnerable and contemplative. Sah reveals that Demon Child had often told him to rap more openly about his life, pain, and their experiences growing up as misfits in Atlanta. So writing an album for his lost friend became therapy for Sahbabii; detailing memories, pain, anger and the grief-fuelled temptation to get revenge on his opps: “today might be the day we shoot the tattoos off his face, today might be the day we go outside and stay out late”.
Despite a heavier tone, there is still plenty of humour on the project — songs titled after words from his late friend’s vocabulary, like ‘Boofalay’ (Demon’s slang for a party) and ‘Dickalationship’(self-explanatory), not to mention the countless bars bound to catch you off guard if you’re fast enough to hear them.
All in all, the Sahbabii who captured audiences with songs about anime titties back in 2018 is still very much present, but he’s grown an artist and as a person. He’s refined his craft and storytelling and has begun recording in a new studio in his Atlanta home for the first time, built with the help of his brother T3. Over a Zoom call between Melbourne and Atlanta, I caught up with Sahbabii — an artist I’ve admired for a long time and one I had been dying to understand further.
Acclaim: Sahbabii, how are you man?
Sahbabii: I’m all good and yourself?
A: I’m good, it’s Saturday morning here in Australia so I’m just chilling. What’s happening with you?
S: Shit man, I’m just chilling also. Just working on music, organising music.
A: I wanted to start by saying congratulations on the new project, I’ve been a very big fan of yours since the jump and I see a lot of growth on Do It For Demon.
S: Thank you I appreciate that bro.
A: I also wanted to give my condolences for the loss of your friend, your cousin Demon. I know this project is dedicated to him and as someone who lost a close friend at the start of the pandemic I found myself relating to a lot of what you’re saying on the record.
S: Man I’m sorry to hear that bro.
A: Appreciate you man. Can you tell us a bit more about Do It For Demon? There’s a lot of pain in this album but it’s packaged in a very unique and very Sahbabii way.
S: Yeah most definitely. Do It For Demon, that was a project dedicated to my cousin. Well, he was a long-time friend that I met when I was 13, I met him on Sylvan road when I first moved to Atlanta from Chicago. My family kind of took his family in and ever since then, till we was in our 20s we’ve just been locked in and we just called each other cousins. He stayed with me a lot of his life, we lived together a lot of times in our life so it was a more sad, depressed project but like you said it was in my own type of way.
A: I feel like on the album we hear you go through all kinds of different emotions — there’s pain and grief, anger, gratitude, ‘bad thoughts mixed with weed’. I think it’s the most open we’ve ever heard you be. Was putting this album together kind of like therapy for you?
S: Yes it was therapy. It was my final goodbye to him. I look at this project as dedicated to him in every way. He always told me I should get back to rapping about things I’d really been through or some pain — that’s what his words were. That’s why this project is called Do It For Demon because a lot of his music was rapping about trauma and pain and real life things.
A: On your track ‘Step In The Name Of Love’, you mention that you and Demon didn’t really fit in at school. Can you speak a little more on that? What are some of the things you connected on in the early days?
S: Man, we just connected on being genuine friends you feel me? Without judgement, you know — without judging eachother clothes or any of that. We was just friends, I met him in the neighbourhood so it was just a genuine friendship from the beginning. Not about being popular in school, you know what I’m saying?
A: I feel like with this project you’ve really levelled up what you’re doing. Can you tell me how you wanted to approach this one differently on a business level or even a creative level?
S: I can’t even say it was my creativity because this project was really based around him so it was really kind of easy because I was just playing off natural emotion. And on a business level, it was the first project recorded on more professional equipment than Barnacles, S.A.N.D.A.S and Squidtastic—those were all recorded with the same microphone and studio setup. This was a totally different one, me and T3 built a whole new studio for it.
A: It’s always something special when you and your brother T3 are on the track together, can you tell me a little more about your relationship and just creating music together?
S: Yeah me and T3 we like that duo, we like Shaq and Kobe. T3 he assists on a lot of parts of the music as far as designing merch, touching the music up. We just got that perfect chemistry, we both know what we’re going for you know what I’m saying? T3 is big on perfection so he kind of instilled that in me, we just be linking up at my place and getting a bunch of work done. Let’s draw some logos on a sheet of paper, let’s do this, let’s create a tracklist, let’s take some of the clicks out of the song. T3 might wanna tweak the autotune or freak the beat a little, touch up the beat. It’s just things like that.
A: When I interviewed AJ Tracey earlier this year we spoke about how we’re both big fans of your music. He said that you only really say yes to things that are meaningful to you and that you really want to do, does that ring true to you?
S: Yeah most definitely man. It just gotta feel right, it just gotta feel good. And AJ Tracey is a very solid dude. He really made my experience in London when we came out there to shoot that video. It was a real good experience, AJ Tracey, I really look at bruh as a friend and we got more shit coming. I really like London so I told AJ Tracey we could do like a collab project.
A: That would be sick. Especially because you don’t do a lot of collaborations. Do you want to speak on why that is?
S: I just do me, man, it’s just gotta make sense for me and how I feel about it and my brand. I go off feeling because at the end of the day I’m not really even a musician. I just hopped off on some music just because and I was getting popular off it so I just do everything off feeling.
A: I read a couple of times that you have considered retiring from music but I feel like you’re getting better and better with each project you put out. How are you feeling about that situation now?
S: Ah man, imma still retire one day but I know the job is unfinished right now. My mission is not complete right now, with the certain goals I have for myself to achieve. I’ve still got projects that I want to drop but I don’t see myself being a rapper for a long time but I’m definitely getting better and by the time I do retire I’m going to be fulfilled, everybody needs some more from me as far as music. Because I know I can elevate, I’m finna push myself to elevate beyond Do It For Demon.
A: I hear you mention on Do It For Demon that you’re a Pisces. I’m a Pisces too. [Sah laughs] We’re supposed to be creative and free-thinkers. I feel like you definitely think about things in ways that other people might not, do you ever feel like that?
S: Yeah I feel Pisces have the Sharingan from Naruto. I think Pisces can see certain things that other people can’t see. My little brother is a Pisces also and he sees things that I notice too and we’re totally different people. We’re just soft people, genuine and creative people.
A: So as far as the creative side, it sounds like even if you stopped making music you are going to have a hunger to create. If you did stop making music how do you think you’d satisfy that side of yourself?
S: Art, Drawing, Poems, Writing music for other people, Cartoons, Clothing. I’m going to always be in that creative space — and I might still just put out music for free. I might go back to SoundCloud and just drop music for free. Just for fun. I just do this shit for fun and for the people that love that shit.
A: I've heard you say you came up playing a lot of video games, what are some of your all-time favourites and what have you been playing lately?
S: Some of my favourites of all time are Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Midnight Club, Fight Night Champion, NBA 2K and I been playing that Call of Duty—that’s what I've been on.
A: You like to reference characters and different things in your lyrics that are a little bit outside the box or not the most obvious choice. For example, you could have said any wrestler but you reference Jeff Hardy or when you reference Mortal Kombat you go for a less obvious character like Quan-Chi. I’m thinking ‘Ok, so Sah likes the weirdos’. I fuck with that because I like the weirdos too.
S: I don’t know man I was probably the first Black man to mention Jeff Hardy in a song. [Laughs] And Quan-Chi he was always that character that stuck out to me, just the way he look. I said ‘my forehead tatted like Quan-Chi’. And Jeff Hardy, I used to pick them niggas on WWE—him and Matt Hardy, rockstars.
A: Speaking of out-the-box characters, I wanted to ask you about Young Thug, I know you linked up with him in the past. I’ve always loved Thug for being so unique and true to himself. I wondered what you like about Thug and if you’ve stayed in touch.
S: Man, the thing about him is that he’s just doing him and I appreciate that, you know what I’m saying? He was just one of those guys that set the example of being yourself. Bruh just does him, he’s strictly him and you see how many people he has influenced, including myself. I always give props when they are due I ain't finna get up in these interviews and cap like bruh ain't influence me— that’s where shit be going wrong. Everybody deserves credit, but no I don’t stay in touch with him.
A: Another artist I saw you were kicking it in New York was Teezo Touchdown. I feel like that made sense because even though you make very different music I can see a similarity in your approach to being creative.
S: Hey Teezo a smooth, humble dude. We had a conversation in New York and what I got from that was just that he’s a smooth dude doing him. He’s taking that risk to be different. He shoots his own videos and I think he makes his own beats too. Yeah, Teezo cold.
A: Your song ‘Switch’ is full of references to Australia, did you know that?
S: Nah, give me some.
A: So there’s a line about the NBA player Ben Simmons, he’s Australian.
S: Oh ok.
A: Then you follow that with a line about Mad Max—that’s an Australian movie.
S: Oh word?
A: There’s also a line in there about a cockatoo, that’s an Australian bird.
S: Oh damn. That’s crazy. [Laughs]
A: You have a lot of animal bars, I know you love nature and stuff like that.
S: I’m always looking for the next animal bar, man. I love animals, that’s why I’m on the journey to going vegan — all my brothers are vegan.
A: Did you know there’s a type of cockatoo here in Australia called a gang-gang cockatoo?
S: Damn! Let me look that up. [pauses] Oh damn, I see this shit. The gang-gang cockatoo. You might have just given me a new song bruh, I gotta give you a percentage on that. [laughs] Man I’m bout to come back strong on my animal shit after Do it for Demon. I wanna shoot some videos with animals and shit, that’s the shit I really really wanna do.
A: You have a really good sense of humour, it’s something that shines through a lot in your lyrics. Do you have a bar that sticks out as being one of your proudest?
S: "Microwave doo-doo get hit with some hot shit." No cap.
A: One of my favourites from the new project is “pulling racks out my back pocket, they thought I was scratching my bottom”
S: [Laughs] Yeah that shit hard!
A: Another lyric that stuck out to me is on ‘Frontline’ is where you say “even with a whole career I’d do some time for my brothers” — I think that sums up your relationship with music well and the importance you place on the people around you.
S: Most definitely man, anything for my brothers, ‘cos I know who I am before this music. This music doesn’t make me, I’m Saaheem Malik Valdery before anything. I’m a very regular person. People look at me as a musical artist but I look at myself as a very normal person, and I understand that this is all about the art so I never get too caught up in the other stuff.
A: Ok last question for you, what do you want to achieve in 2022? What’s next for Sahbabii?
S: 2022 I just wanna keep the streak going with making great music and I want to elevate myself and I’m going to push myself even harder than what I just did. I’m just trying to make the best music for my fans — I always take what my fans would think into consideration and I critique myself a lot and know what I need to do.