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Wakai Sheds Light on Frequencies, Features, and Fresh New Album [Q&A]

Photos: Nick Coleman

With bars smooth as marble and a metamorphic career trajectory to match, Wakai is the Baton Rouge rapper, producer, model, designer, and trendsetter to watch. Bouncing from one creative venture to the next, the juggernaut sets the stage for 2022 with his brand new album To a Dark Boy.

Previously-released singles "Send Off," "Starter Jacket," and "When There Was No Sun," have helped amass Wakai a legion of supporters, all patiently waiting for word on the record. And the wait was justified. An amalgamation of tracks featuring some of the best rising artists in rap and R&S, Wakai's diamond-encrusted verses shine bright in To a Dark Boy.

Wakai works without limitations and moves in earnest. He's not constricted by geographic location or genres, which is exactly why he doesn't sound like anyone else at the moment. "I feel like a jazz musician stuck in a rapper's body," he muses. While he fills a void for those who yearn for the days of '90s hip-hop, Wakai galvanizes the scene in slick style, getting everyone who's hip hyped for the future of music.

Ones To Watch: From creating your clothing brand UPER KUT to completing To a Dark Boy, you're no stranger to building a project from the ground up. As a creative, I'm sure you always have new ideas forming in your head. Is there anything in particular that flips the switch from "this would be cool to do" to "I'm actually going to do this"?

Wakai: The synergy around me has to be right. Like just my environment. I feel like I’m most conducive to growth when I see growth, you know. So the majority of the time, I’m just traveling, getting inspiration for ideas. And once I get that little small spark, I just do it., I don’t really overthink, whether it’s like clothing, whether it’s like modern, or whether it’s music, if it feels right, it is right. So I just do it.

So for music specifically, you need to be in the right place.

Yeah, I have to be in the right place. I feel energies. I can tell when something’s off. I can tell when something’s right. And it’s just like, intuitively, I have to follow that.

You recently visited New York City and were Tweeting about it a lot. You also reference Bushwick in "1102" off the album. What are the differences when in the scene in NYC compared to Baton Rouge?

I’ve gone to New York twice. I’m from the south, so when I went out there, I was… I wouldn’t say it was a culture shock, but it was just very different. I like different, I feel like different spills growth. So going out there, I was just growing in different ways. Even in perception. And I feel like everybody needs duality and keeping a balance. That just really centered me, going to completely different coasts. And still being able to fit in, still finding inspiration, still feeling uncomfortable.

Staying out here like in Baton Rouge... I don’t know. It’s home. Home is always going to be home. And I would love it if the circumstances were different and if there was more cultivation for the arts. I would love to be here more, but I can’t be out here. That’s why I leave so much. I feel like a lot of people who live here have been conditioned to just be on a low frequency. That low frequency ends up dictating the long-term effects of living out here. And those long-term effects are only going to affect me in the short term. So it’s like I have to leave. I have to travel. And even me traveling is for people who can’t travel or who don’t have the opportunity to travel.

You're talking about frequencies and I can tell you're a pretty spiritual person, because you also talk a lot about the power of manifestation. But you once said that "Aquemini really changed my life." Does that mean you also believe in astrology?

Yeah! I feel like the more you understand the roots of yourself, or like the roots of your existence, the more you know about creation in itself. So Aquemini for me - that changed me for sure.

What are your big three signs?

I’m not about to get deep into this. (laughter) The craziest part, I’ve been read my full chart multiple times, and I just can’t recite it verbatim.

What's your sun sign at least?

Gemini.

Like Andre3000.

Yeah. He's my favorite rapper, actually.

Me too! Actually, during the promotion of that record, Outkast did this interview and Andre said that with every album, you have to reinvent yourself. With Alder Drive, Colors, Away Game Vol. 2, and now To a Dark Boy under your belt, do you agree or disagree with that statement?

it’s all about evolving as a person. Evolving sonically. I just try to make something that strikes a chord and that feels completely different than what people are accustomed to. Like this project that I’m about to put out right now. Of course, the people who are listening to me when I was 16 - when I did Alder [Drive] - I want them to still appreciate it and have something sonically that they still love [and honor] the reasons that they started listening to my music. But I’m not 16 anymore, so I see the world differently. I like making music in a different vein or in a different way. But even with Andre, he taught me to try stuff even if it doesn’t make sense.

What do you want people to learn about themselves and about you from listening to this album?

I feel like we’re a source of high energy. We just have to learn how to get that Energizer Bunny running - you got to get the circuits turning. Obviously, I wanted to impact everyone, but specifically, this project is for the Black women and Black men who don’t have that light shed on them. I just want to shed light so that dark women and dark men who feel emotionally dark, or if they’re physically dark, [to know that] you're still a light. So why not shine?

The record references the poem To a Dark Girl by Gwendolyn Bennett. Does the poetry you consume influence the way you write bars in any way?

If you peep the outro on "Testify," that’s a spoken word piece that I’m doing at the end. I love spoken word. I guess my first introduction to knowing that I wanted to write down raps was through spoken word. In middle school, a few of my teachers would take me out of class to go to writers' workshops and poets would be there. They would just get us to improvise like a poem or spot and I was always good at that type of thing. I guess that incorporated my cadence. Because I’m big on cadence. Cadence means the most to me. Like I’m not that pressed on doing the craziest punchlines. Though I love wordplay, I feel like I'm a visual writer. So if I’m visually trying to tell you what I want to say, I want my cadence to rise to the point where it sounds effortless - to the point where you just eventually just go from here to here.

You said you write your music like a poem that is then turned into a feature film. What would you name your biopic and which actor would play you?

It would be called Perception. I'd be directed by Spike Lee. Jordan Peele would be the executive producer. And Damson Idris would play me.

With the number of features on this album to the many years in your collective, Col-Der-Sac, genuine collaboration seems to be a pillar of both your project and the way you live your life in general. In an industry as cutthroat and hard to decipher as music, how do you wade through the fakeness while networking?

I’ve realized I have to move with love. Like even when I feel the energy is not reciprocated, even when I feel the energy is the opposite of love, I have to take the high road. Regardless of how I feel in that moment. I know things are bigger than me.

It's been five years with Col-Der-Sac now. Any exciting plans?

Recently, I've just taken a position of leadership. Just due to like the traffic that’s just been on me. We’ve just been doing weekly meetings, setting schedules of bi-weekly content. [For example,] we'll do a dual collaboration within the collective. And the next week, we’ll drop a video for that song. And within that same week, we’ll drop a vlog showing the process of creating that song. And then we’ll have like, this load cipher type thing to accompany it.

Speaking of collaborations. I know you’ve worked with redveil in the past and on this album, you collaborated with Emmavie Mick Jenkins. Who are your dream collaborations?

I've always wanted to work with Knxwledge, Badu, and Frank. A lot of people I want to work with, but I feel like had I had it been a different time period, the song hit harder. I could still collaborate with Lauryn Hill and Badu now, but if we made a song together in the mid to late '90s, it would've been crazy. Other ones would be Lalah Hathaway and Anita Baker. I feel like I want to collab more with singers than rappers at this point.

I feel like you're bringing that '90s sound back, though. You mentioned listening to Outkast because that's what your parents listened to. Even for me, the records I listened to on long road trips with my dad are the records I'll collect on vinyl today. Do you have any other artists or experiences that your parents passed down to you that you still carry today?

Yeah. Really like everything. It was split between my mom and my dad because they had different cars. So when I’d be in a car with my mom, that’s what built my huge obsession and love for neo-soul. She'd play The Roots, India Arie, Corinne Bailey Rae, Amy Winehouse.

I also have two sisters. My oldest sister would listen to R&B like Brandy and SWV because she was born in the 90s. My younger sister was born in '98 and more into alternative, psychedelic rock because she went to a different school around white kids. She put me onto shit like Hiatus Kaiyote, Moonchild and Mac Demarco.

The age I am now is the age that my pops was in the '90s. So he put me on Scarface, Geto Boys, Lil' Troy - like all of like Houston rap. But on top of that, he was still into East Coast hip hop, which I’m extremely grateful for. He just made me care about beats. My pops loves A Tribe Called Quest. Tribe is really what made me want to hop on the type of shit that I hop on. He used to play The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders all the time. But also Outkast is probably his favorite rap group. And that’s why it’s probably my favorite rap group, too. Because that’s who he used to play all the time.

As a model and a brand owner, fashion is a huge part of who you are. Where would one shop to get a Wakai-inspired outfit?

The thrift store.

I actually wore my favorite flannel because you always wear them in your photos. As we know, no two flannels are created equal. What do you look for in the perfect flannel?

It depends on where I am because a flannel that I wear out here is different than a flannel I wear if I’m in Brooklyn. But really, patterns are big for me. And the colorway - I like two colors. I don’t really like three-colorway, four-colorway flannels. That’s a little too much for me. If it has two colorways that’s cool for me, the majority of the time. And neutral colors.

From your song "HASHBROWS" to making a fake Wingstop campaign, you also seem to have a deep love for food. If I were to go to Baton Rouge  tomorrow and want to eat the quintessential meal, what would I eat and where would you go?

Go to somebody's house. That's how you're gonna get an authentic meal. But out here, you can literally go to a gas station and the food will hit. It's not grill-based like the delis in New York, ut you can go to a gas station and get the craziest po' boys.

Who are your Ones To Watch?

Phoenixx James, Jourden, and wavworld.

Is there anything you want to talk about that I haven't asked about? Anything you want to plug in?

Yeah - the project!

Listen to To a Dark Boy below:

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