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At the risk of overstating the obvious, it’s not every day you see a rapper break out an adept saxophone solo during a live set. In fact, it’s not usual that rappers play musical instruments at all, yet 25-year-old Micah Davis, better known as Masego, not only plays multiple instruments — all learned without the benefit of formal lessons in order to impress a high school crush — but he incorporates those sounds into a fusion of soulful hip-hop he calls “TrapHouseJazz.”
Influenced in equal parts by his college interest in classic, jazz-sampling hip-hop acts like A Tribe Called Quest, the local house scene of the DMV area where he grew up, the gospel music played by his pastor parents, and the spaced-out, Afrofuturistic stylings of Outkast, Masego’s “TrapHouseJazz” infuses his work with artists like Chance The Rapper, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Goldlink, and Boogie on his upcoming album, Lady Lady. You won’t find too many rappers who count ’30s big band leader Cab Calloway among their major influences, but Masego isn’t like any other rapper around.
His live show is fascinating in the way his natural charisma, as much as his musicianship, takes focus, as he playfully banters with the crowd while undergoing costume changes mid-set, switching from keyboard to saxophone, and coolly slides from exuberant dance routines to impressive displays of his jazz-rap-inspired flow. I first encountered his unique performance style when he opened for Goldlink at a recent show here in Los Angeles and I was so instantly and completely taken with his lighthearted demeanor and truly refreshing approach to the genre that I actually did a deep Google dive during the headliner’s set and wound up driving home listening to Masego’s body of work on Spotify.
Now, he’s releasing his debut album, Lady Lady, on EQT Recordings and granted an interview with Uproxx to talk about the music on the collection, how he’s been redefining the term “jazz rap” with his expert musical take on the genre, and the special women in his life who inspired the project, from his mother to Lupita Nyong’o.
I first found out about you when you were opening up for Goldlink at the Novo here in LA, and I was really impressed by the way you incorporate your sax into your show. That’s not something that’s very usual in hip-hop. What inspired you to want to incorporate your saxophone playing into your live performance in that way?
To me, the saxophone has always been hip-hop, [even] going back to the Tribe [Called Quest] days. I discovered a lot about hip-hop when I was in college, and there was this big foundation of jazz music I heard, from Kanye’s samples to Tribe’s to Outkast. I just heard all this jazz music in hip-hop so it was just kind of choosing all the worlds that I love. I like the saxophone and I just didn’t want to show people my taste in music on stage without incorporating it. Some of the other instruments I love are a little bit harder to travel with. So saxophone kinda works.
Another big thing about your stage show was that it’s really elaborate. There was even a costume change at one point and I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody do a costume change on stage. Why did you want to make your live show stand out so much in that way?
It comes down to who you’re looking to as setting your standard. I bought every Michael Jackson documentary there is to buy. So, seeing that man’s show is like, ‘Okay, bet. This is as dope as it can get.’ So, how do I aspire to be the best that I can imagine? I’ve always been a creative person. I love live shows. [There is] some competitiveness in it. I’m competing with myself. How do I do better than I did last time? I have a lot of ideas and I’m not afraid to try them out on stage. [I don’t remember] the fact that I did a wardrobe change, but it sounds like something I would do.
Let’s talk about your album, Lady Lady. I was listening in the car and it was just taking me places, giving me a very timeless vibe. What were some of your inspirations for Lady Lady?
Women in general. The women in my life that I’ve had conversations with, maybe a relationship with, anything involving the influence of a woman. Whether I’m just viewing some of the words of them and tweeting or reading a book someone put me on to. We’re making a web, the woman is at the top of it. The changes in my life and in my tastes were all drawn from and started with that influence of a woman.
[Outkast’s] The Love Below really inspired me as well. I think I discovered it on tour. I really love that album. They took so many different genres and made it tie together. I think that was amazing. My taste in music over the last three years has just been very vast because I’ve been traveling so much and the first thing I do when I’m meeting anyone [is] I really want to see what kind of music they listen to. Put me onto something I don’t know. I love playing that game. I’m a digger, so if you can show me something I haven’t found, I love that. It’s really a culmination of what women have put me onto and that influence, those conversations, and just that taste in music palette. I feel like that’s the recipe for a timeless record.
Do you have any songs on the album that are especially important to you?
Come on, that’s like choosing your favorite kid! There’s a lot of moments that are special to me on this album. I can choose any of them. I feel like “Queen Tings” is definitely a big moment for me just because I dropped a preview of it back in February. It was Black History Month and Black Panther was out so that was a whole energy, [then] I announced that I was going to South Africa. I was just feeling amazing. We went to the studio, all that energy is in there and I had this big crush on Lupita Nyong’o.
I think that record’s special because my momma liked it, which was awesome because I love when she like a record. Tiffany Gouche’s part is my favorite, honestly. “Queen Tings” is mad beautiful because it has a certain level of sensuality to it, but it also was a very glorifying: ‘Let’s put some love and some reverence on these women that have this essence to them.’ It’s not so much about she has to look a certain way but she kinda walks a certain way. She has this aura to her. It’s a deeper song. I love the balance of the more lavish lullabies on the opposite spectrum.
You spent 2017 touring and you worked on this album. What do you have in store for the future?
I think it’s gonna be a lot more touring for sure because I’m definitely addicted to that whole call-and-response with the crowd. I love when they know the songs, they know the lyrics. I definitely gotta revisit a lot of areas. I gotta hit Asia again, I gotta hit South Africa. More of Africa in general.
After touring, honestly, I just want to get my uncle on, start my little garden or whatever. I gotta travel just to travel. That’s a whole different vibe. I’m just interested in culture more. I’ve been enjoying the conversations lately where I’m learning a woman’s favorite word in her language and then making some music based off that.
The process of making music is my favorite. So you’re probably gonna just catch me at some studio with a bunch of random people and that’s when I’m my happiest, just really nerding out in the studio.
I have lightning round questions. So, what’s your favorite Tribe song?
Favorite Tribe song? I can’t say “Can I Kick It?” I gotta like look it up. It’s a lightning round so I gotta say “Can I Kick It?” cause that’s the only one I can think of right now.
Do you have a favorite Michael Jackson song?
Man, that’s a hard one. That’s a tie between “Liberian Girl” and “Dirty Diana”.
Do you have a favorite Virginia-based hip hop artist?
You gotta go with Pharrell.
Is there a special lady in your life at this time?
Always. Don’t mean we about to get married but if anybody that can get past the DMs is special to me.
What’s in your garden?
We got some mangoes, we got apples, got some oranges, gotta get an orange tree poppin. It takes a lot of care, man, I’m not gonna lie. I got some land. I’m into land and real estate these days.
Any last thoughts you want to leave the world with?
Honestly, go out and buy some silk. It’ll make you walk different.
Lady Lady is out now on EQT Recordings. Get it here.