Masego Masego
VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: Masego Is Equal Parts Real Musicianship & Really, Really Good Feels

The Virginia-bred singer, saxophonist and producer is shaking up the music scene with some beautiful, generation-bridging noise. Don't say we didn't prep you.

Masego is full of stories. The freshest of them sit at the top of the mind and the tip of the tongue. Others are deep-seated anecdotes, forming only after an inquisitive prompt or a moment of brief reflection. Like that time he made an impromptu nine-hour drive up from Virginia to New York to network with Twitter friends and wound up sleeping in Central Park in lieu of a hotel room. Or the times his creative nature got him fired from practical jobs: Dairy Queen for juggling the ice cream, Best Buy for playing his own music in the store and a government gig for excessively printing out pictures of cars (“I was an automation clerk. That’s a fancy name for filer, but if you tell any shorty you’re an automation clerk, the number’s yours”).

Sometimes these tales are told under the guise of “Uncle Sego,” the wise, croaky, playful voice stitched into the witty interludes of Pink Polo EP, his jovial eight-track project with Dallas producer, Medasin. But most times, they're told through the voice of Micah Davis, a 22-year-old self-taught saxophonist, pianist, singer and producer here to give an old soul sound a fresh new take in today's hip-hop music climate.

At first glance, Sego’s presence tells it all. Amid the naked branches and wooden benches of Williamsburg’s comfort food eatery, Peter’s Since 1969, he’s an immediate source of vibrancy and color. The complexity of his personality shines through to his threads. His slim frame is outfitted by a busy Hawaiian shirt, baby blue ‘ball shorts, black Nike Huaraches, patterned robe like Joseph's Coat of Many Colors (open your Bible!), wooden bead necklace, gold hoop earring and a high-top twist-out ‘fro worthy of its own YouTube channel. He towers well over six feet, but his demeanor is gentle and youthful, with broad smiles distributed heartily and often (he can count on one hand how many times he's been really angry).

Much like his sartorial selects, Masego’s music has an essence as spirited as the gaudy, thrift store brand of shirts he fancies. Pink Polo started off as a sunny assemblage of tunes born from a string of jam sessions with friends. It only took two weeks to package up and finalize the project before posting it on SoundCloud—the EP finally joined Spotify, Apple Music and iTunes’ rosters one year later—where its bolstering popularity translated to more than one million plays. What made the EP such a playlist mainstay was its departure from the sonic landscape of radio and club regulars without trying too hard to be "anti" or different.

“With Pink Polo, I wanted something I could listen to when I was doing different activities during the summer and also bring a message in it,” the indie darling says of his tape. He’s not talking weighty, morally-based declarations or anything like that. Despite Masego’s religious upbringing—his dad is a military pastor and his mom is the Minister of Music at their church—his music is far from preachy. It’s just the stuff he genuinely feels.

“She don’t play and she my type, she got brains and the tatas, she’s that lady/She’s gon dance, ain’t gon touch her phone, she gon’ live this moment,” he sings on the lush and melodic “Girls That Dance,” Pink Polo’s shining star of a lead single. When he made the song and video for it, his main objective was to get people to drop their phones and pesky SnapChat habits to have a good time IRL.

Moments of frustration manifest into sarcastic banter and a showcase of his Twitter-described jazzy "rapper persona." On “Throwin’ Shade,” he mocks and admonishes future music collaborators for adopting Drake’s emotive rap shtick. “I wanted to beat that out of peoples’ heads. Just because Drake works, doesn’t mean you can be Drake as well," he says, a tinge of irritation hovering beneath his laugh. Then there are the wordless wonders like “Sunday Vibes,” “TrapScat” and JR Jarris’ “Love Be Like,” where slick scatting, harmonious ad-libs, nostalgic boom-bap and funky elevator-esque music you’d actually want to miss your floor for do all the talking. At its core, Masego’s music is the kind of delight you want to soundtrack your morning drive to work at the beginning of the week and line-dance to at the end of it.

His audible treats pulled a host of new listeners into his orbit, including burgeoning DMV rap-singer and 2015 XXL Freshman, GoldLink. For those unfamiliar with Masego’s karaoke Vine chronicles, GoldLink’s sophomore project became a stage for Masego's smooth suede and charismatic rasp carrying the chorus of “Late Night,” an album gem originally meant for him.

“The way the producing world works, everybody’s like, ‘Yo, look who I’m working with right now,’ and it got to Goldlink’s ear,” he explains of being featured on And After That We Didn't Talk. “He was like, ‘I really want that for my project.’ We’re battling back and forth but I was like, you’re kind of popping more than me right now. This might be a good look for me. So I let him have the song.” A full solo version of the song will likely be on Masego’s forthcoming album, but in the interim, the exposure pointed hip-hop heads to a new low-key favorite and potential hook-man.

His sound can only be mentioned in the same sentence as the Bronx-born genre by association. Yes, he raps and yes, at times there’s heavy bass and booming drum kicks powering his production. But if we want to talk specifics here, TrapHouseJazz (which doubles as the name of his backing band) is the sub-genre he created for himself by fusing the feel-good genres across generations. “It’s really something that made me feel like I belong to something,” he says. “I like my drums to hit, saxophone is just a smooth instrument and the energy of house is synthesizers, which isn’t really embraced in Virginia.”

As a military kid, he was born in the Waterhouse district of Kingston, Jamaica (he didn’t stay long enough to carry the natural lilt of patois), then lived in Utah for a bit until the final move at eight years old to Newport News, Virginia, the place he officially calls home. His neighborhood was a stuffily quiet area housing both posh governors and misguided gangs. “Yeah, I was in a gang for a little bit,” Masego says to everyone’s surprise, including his own. He explained Newport News’ complicated relationship with crime, citing the source as a need to hold up to “tougher” cities like Compton. “Like why?” he continues. “I smile too much to be in a gang. I don't got that ‘hit somebody’ vibe.” Regardless of the scene surrounding his mailing address, he did most of his living across the water in Virginia Beach with fellow creatives and in Norfolk, where he attended Old Dominion University before eventually chucking the deuces. It’s here that he built upon the foundation of his multi-hyphenate artistic movement. 

Like a stereotypical pastor’s kid, he was involved in the church music ministry, picking up the drums just by watching the seniors before moving to the piano, saxophone and a host of here-and-there instruments like the guitar, trumpet, violin, bass and marimba. The sax, his live performance selling point, didn’t fully come into play until a pretty young thing caught his eye in middle school. After overhearing some girls talk about jazz musicians, he begged Mama Masego to get him a saxophone to woo his crush. It worked out for a little bit, he says, but the girl came and went, leaving room for the sax to become his main love.

In school, he’d get kicked out of his music classes for refusing to play the “corny” amateur songs being taught. “I'm in the hallway continuing with [the saxophone], so I leveled up super fast,” he quips. “Everybody else is Hot Cross Buns-ing it and I was playing stuff off the radio.” This self-teaching process and "YouTube University" paired with shed jam sessions with local VA artists helped develop and sharpen his skills, and he's still not done learning.

His smooth, instrument-like vocals developed a few years later at the end of high school, when he learned he didn’t need a voice like Jennifer Hudson’s to make people feel good. “I started to realize that you don’t have to be a certain type of singer,” he says. “You know Chance [The Rapper], he’s not a singer, but he’s speaking in tone. There’s a lane that you can carve for yourself.”

 

Three hours after lightly noshing on a chicken leg at Peter’s, Masego is across the East River in Webster Hall's greenroom, trying to get it together before his midnight House Party performance. To be quite frank, he’s a little tired having been up since before 6 a.m. and this is very much not his scene.

He neither smokes nor drinks, and to put things in perspective, his mom was bothered that the final version of GoldLink’s “Late Night” wound up with cuss words on it, even though he didn't say any of them. The same type of music and party scene he avoids getting sucked into now surrounds him on all sides. The greenroom is far from silent; at least 16 people mill about loudly as the bass of Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot N***a,” YG’s “My N***a” and “Grindin” by fellow Virginians The Clipse rattle the walls.

Just outside the door, sexually frustrated 19-year-olds dry hump each other in sync, pressed up against the same stage he’ll occupy in half an hour. A mob of shirtless guys on the stage act out their low budget rapper music video fantasies, throwing their bodies in dabs and disarray and mumble-mouthing the lyrics no one actually knows to Desiigner’s “Panda.” Amid the chaos, a disconnected and silent Masego sits in a chair off to the side with his head down and body propped on his knees, trying to block it all out and meditate (“I had to cast the devil out real quick,” he later jokes).

But something happens when he finally hits the stage. The moment he starts tinkering with his trusty Loop Station, a key part of his musical formula, firing off fragmented melodies into the mic and strapping his sax onto the lanyard around his neck, no one would guess how out of his element he felt prior to.

Sego has a way of roping in a crowd with his musical handiwork and his energy, no matter how new they are, distracted they may be, or different they are from him. He impresses them with songs from scratch that, with a little bit of polishing, could easily have a home on a new EP. Engages them with sing-alongs and call-and-response (“Sing, you drunk people!” he commands). Bonds with them by bending down into the front row for photos and in-song banter. Entertains them with scripted and unscripted jokes and shuffle dances. What he gives to them, they give right back. “Tennis match,” he likes to call it. He’s more than thrilled to be up there, sharing the music he loves to make and getting high off his own supply. “I don’t want to Kanye it, but I listen to myself a lot,” he says. “I’m hype about it.”

Polaroid moments like this in Masego’s life are happening in abundance. Last month, he got to make it rain Masego Money into a crowd of new fans at Fader Fort and six other SXSW shows. DJ Jazzy Jeff flew him out to his annual retreat where he brings young and established musicians together for conversation, mentoring and the creation of music. A revamp of his resource-swapping mobile app, Network by Masego, should drop any day now (“I’m all about using your leverage. What can I do for you that makes what you’re doing for me not hurt you?”). Next week, he’s headed to Indio to play his first Coachella-related show. And he got to shake hands with a TDE trailblazer who, to some, has already reached OG status. “That n***a’s like Tupac to me,” he says of Kendrick Lamar, face lighting up like a Broadway placard. “A person like Kendrick takes a ‘Really? Why’d you do this with the whole jazz thing?’ [moment] when you’re on this super high level, but it opens the door for an Anderson .Paak to be accepted. And it opens the door for other artists like myself to do more music.”

Masego is in a sweet spot right now and he knows it. “Full circle: 2014 I go from playing on the street to getting invited to play on stage, now 2016 I’m headlining,” he recently said of his upswing to his 11,000+ Twitter followers. He drops little bits of his excitement like this on social media often. There's nothing about him to hide. He's not one of the new crop of artists cloaked behind an obnoxious smog of faux mystique. No stern poker faces for pictures. No one word answers. No monotone. No monochromatic pictures or carefully curated Instagram collages. Just gratefulness and enthusiasm for the process, flexed cheek muscles from a fun life well lived and all kinds of good music to show for it. What can be better than that?

Video Credit: Jason Chandler

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Beyonce, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy Carter attends the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City.
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

An Ode To Jay-Z, The Ultimate Rap Dad

Rap, throughout its history, has always referenced parenthood in some form. Most often, it was to extol single mothers for their goodness while deadbeat fathers were berated and called out for going ghost. In recent years, as the social media landscape has blown open the avenues of communication, famous rap dads, in particular, have become increasingly transparent about their lives as family men. Where years ago there seemed to be endless bars mourning the demise of the father, artists are now using their platform to balance the scales. They’re showing themselves to be present and intentional.

Few albums make me think more about the concept of parenthood, and legacy, than Jay-Z’s 13th studio album, 4:44. It’s a stark and blistering work of memoir, heavy on confession and self-examination. When 4:44 finally dropped, I, like many others, was filled with wonder. How was it that Jay had managed to so fluidly deconstruct everything I’d been wrestling with for the last few years? Though the specifics of our experiences differed greatly, the central ideas dissected on 4:44, especially those concerning fatherhood and family life, had been swimming around my brain for some time.

***

Hip-hop saved my life. And it was fatherhood that set it on fire. This bears explaining.

What hip-hop has done for me, is what it has done for millions of fatherless and heart-wounded kids—it provided, at the very least, the shading of a better life. If it wasn’t for hip-hop, and the value I ascribed to it, it would be impossible to know just how far I’d have settled into the more lamentable aspects of my environment. Forasmuch of a goon as I was growing up, something always kept me from becoming too emotionally invested in harsh crime. I dabbled in mischief like an amateur chef knowing he would only go so far. I saw in hip-hop, in the art of it, something worth pursuing with tenacity; something like a healthy distraction. So I committed to finding my lane.

Though there were brief stints dedicated to developing my modest graffiti skills and footwork, it was the words that flowed and came without struggle. The school cyphers sharpened my wits and compelled me to feed my vocabulary daily. Only my wordplay could save me from getting ripped to shreds in a lunchroom battle. I read books and scoured the dictionary for ammunition, I listened to stand-up comics who fearlessly engaged the crowd and proved quick on the draw. It seemed fruitless to know a billion words if I couldn’t convert them into brutal attacks. I had to break the competition down and render them defenseless, stammering for a rebuttal. There could be no confusion as to my superiority. So instead of joining the stickup kids or depositing all of my energy into intramural sports, I put my soul and mind into the task of taking down all manner of wack MCs. That’s why I say that hip-hop saved me.

But fatherhood was its own saving grace. It showed me that the world did not revolve, nor would it ever revolve, around my passions. Fatherhood put an extra battery behind my back as a creative, sure. But it’s more about being a consistent presence at home than chasing any dream.

***

As an artist and writer, I cannot so much as think about fatherhood without considering some of the material that deals with feelings comparable to those I felt after I became a father. Songs that contextualize very specific emotions over the drums.

In his 2012 track “Glory,” Jay-Z, someone who had long been vocal about his strained relationship with his father, reflects on the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy, his first child with wife Beyoncé. Produced by the Neptunes, “Glory” was released on January 9, just two days after Blue was born. From start to finish, it carries a sort of gleeful melancholy that resonates on multiple levels. While it is, in essence, a comment on the exuberant joy attached with welcoming a child, “Glory” is also a note on death and mourning.

Before Blue came along and flipped the script, Beyoncé had suffered a miscarriage. The pain the couple experienced left them fearful of not being able to conceive. The dual purpose of “Glory” is made clear from the outset, and with blazing transparency. “False alarms and false starts,” offers Jay, laying the groundwork for what immediately follows: “All made better by the sound of your heart.” The second half of the couplet establishes what was, as we come to learn, the most pivotal moment in the rap mogul’s life up until then. The moment where all is made right, where the sting of loss is eclipsed by the possibility of new birth. Jay continues in this mode, shining light on the redeeming gift that is Blue and, also, how the child is a composite of her mother and father, yet more still.

The opening bars of the following verse are equally striking as Jay, addressing Blue, touches on the death of his father from liver failure. Jay is signaling here, leading us somewhere but with the intent to shift gears. Instead of dwelling on his father’s shortcomings like one might expect him to, Jay breaks left, resolving that deep down his father was a good man. What begins as an indictment of a cheat who walked out on his obligations, ends with a declaration of forgiveness and generosity. But Jay soon directs the focus back to his blessing and how hard it is not to spoil her rotten as she is the child of his destiny. It becomes apparent that this is a man at his most self-actualized. A few more welcome digressions and “Glory” closes the same way that it begins, with the final line of the hook: “My greatest creation was you.” This points to something that I, too, came to know as fact. That no matter what I do, and regardless of what I might attain—power, wealth, the esteem of my peers—nothing is quite comparable to the happiness and the terror that comes with siring a child. “Glory” succeeds as it casts aside any traces of bluster and bravado, making room for Jay to unearth lessons that were hard-won yet central to his maturation. And what is the purpose of making art if not to bust open your soul and watch it spill over? Shout out to the rap dads raising babies and doing the work to shift the narrative.

Juan Vidal is a writer, critic, and author of Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation.

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Mike Coppola

The Cast Of 'SHAFT' Talk Family Traditions, Power And The Film's Legacy

Back in 1971, Richard Roundtree became the face of the legendary crime/blaxploitation film SHAFT. His influence in the role paved the way for a new generation of black detectives filled with a gluttonous amount of swag, clever one-liners, and action-packed scenes. Samuel L. Jackson followed suit in the franchise’s 2000 installment as he took over the streets of Uptown Manhattan and Harlem filling in for Roundtree’s original character.

Fast forward to 2019, and SHAFT’s legacy has risen to higher heights, incorporating Roundtree and Jackson together with an extension of their detective prowess. Director Tim Story created a familial driven movie centered around three different generations of SHAFT men. Roundtree plays the grandfather; Jackson plays the dad—and Jessie T. Usher plays the son. All three embark on a mission that’s laced with dirty politics, Islamophobia, and highflying action in efforts to solve a seemingly homicidal death.

The dynamics between all three are hilarious and dotted with lessons learned from past paternal influences. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon at Harlem's Red Rooster, the trio shared some of the traditions and virtues the paternal figures in real life have taught them. Most of the influence passed down to them was centered on working hard.

“People say to me, ‘Why do you work so much?’” Jackson said. “Well, all the grown people went to work every day when I got up. I figured that’s what we’re supposed to be doing—get up, pay a bill, and take care of everything that’s supposed to be taken care of.”

“For my family, it was cleanliness and masculinity,” Usher added. “The guys in my family were always well put together, very responsible especially my dad.”

In spite of the SHAFT men's power, the film's story wouldn’t be what it is without Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp’s characters. They both play strong women caught in the middle of the mayhem created by the men they care about. Both are conscious of the power they exhibit as black women off and on screen, yet are aware of the dichotomy of how that strength is perceived in the world.

“It’s very interesting because I think a lot of times as powerful black women we are seen as angry black women,” Shipp says. “So it’s hard to have that voice and that opinion because a lot of times when we voice it; it becomes a negative rather than a positive. In order to hold that power, it has to be poised. It has to be with grace, I think there is strength in a strong but graceful black woman.”

“People have an idea of what strength is and how you do it and sometimes it’s the subtleties,” Regina adds. “Sometimes our influence is so powerful and it doesn’t always have to be loud I think a lot of times how we navigate is with conviction and patience.”

VIBE chatted with the cast of SHAFT about holding power, their red flags when it comes to dating, and why the SHAFT legacy continues to live on. Watch the interviews below.

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Sony Music

Meet Zhavia, The Musician Who Refuses To Be Boxed In

If you haven’t heard of Zhavia before, that will likely change very, very soon.

The 18-year-old Columbia Records signee is readying her first major EP 17, which is scheduled for June 14. A native of the Golden State, Zhavia catapulted to national consciousness after making it to the top four of the inaugural season of FOX’s singing competition, The Four, which features Diddy and DJ Khaled as judges. Since then, she continues to rise and tantalize audiences with her powerful, chill-inducing vocals.

The singer-songwriter—who tells VIBE she’s hopeful that her forthcoming EP will be “inspiring” to her ever-growing fanbase—dropped the project’s latest single “17” on May 31. Produced by hip-hop hitmaker Hit-Boy and co-written by RØMANS, Zhavia explains that the retrospective song is more personal than her previously-released tracks, such as the trap-tickled “100 Ways” and “Candlelight,” the stand-out single that showcases the vocal prowess of the petite blonde ingenue.

"’17’ is a song that I wrote about my life story, and how I got to where I am right now,” she says. The track details hardships such as a lack of resources to thrive in her childhood home and staying in a motel in order to accomplish her musical goals. “I just wanted it to be something that [fans] can relate to, whatever it is that they're going through.”

“I saw it in my dreams, I knew that life would change for me,” she croons on the new single. “This is reality, look at me now.”

Zhavia’s humble beginnings start in Norwalk, Calif., as a daughter of two musicians who introduced her to numerous genres. In fact, her mother was a member of a metal band called Xenoterra, and Zhavia’s impressively-versatile vocal range could be attributed to this Chex Mix bag of sonic stylings.

“From doo-wop to punk to R&B, metal, rock...” she says, listing of the types of music she was brought up on, which helped her in honing a unique style. Her own tunes feature an R&B and hip-hop flair and sprinkles touches of other genres throughout, in order for her to remain true to her roots.

“I feel like for the most part, [my music will] always have that R&B feel to it, but I'm always gonna have a lot of different vibes for people to pick and choose what they like,” she explains.

Zhavia's urban-tinged musical affinity was palpable during her time on The Four, where she put her spin on hits such as French Montana and Swae Lee’s “Unforgettable” and Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” Although she was unanimously selected by the show’s four celebrity judges to advance after a stellar first-round performance of Khalid’s “Location,” she admits she initially wasn’t planning to compete.

“When I was younger, I had wanted to go on a [singing] show, but I had made up my mind. ‘I'm gonna try to do it myself,’” she chuckles. “But, the people that were having auditions, they happened to be at the studio that I was recording at when I was making my own songs. My manager told me, 'Just go sing for them.'”

After showing off her impressive pipes, she was convinced to join the show, and was further influenced to compete after discovering that The Four appeared to focus on R&B and hip-hop-leaning artists.

“I was like, 'Okay, that sounds like me, they'll probably accept the style of music that I do,'” she continues. “I feel like on other singing shows, it's a little more pop, or towards the pop genre. Also, the panel that they had [DJ Khaled, Diddy, Meghan Trainor and Charlie Walk] seemed really relevant, and I could tell it was legit. I figured I'd just try it out, and it led me to where I am now.”

Since placing fourth on the show, Zhavia has proven that her star power was built to last longer than 15 minutes. Other than her forthcoming EP’s release, her gifts have found her among the company of some big names. She can be heard on the soundtrack for Deadpool 2 in the song “Welcome To The Party” with Diplo, French Montana and Lil Pump. Recently, moviegoers were treated to her rendition of the Disney classic “A Whole New World” with Zayn Malik, for the live-action version of Aladdin, which plays during the film’s end credits.

“I think it's been amazing, and it's definitely a lot of exposure that comes in a unique way,” she says of working on big projects with even bigger industry names. She continues by stating that she’s had a blast “putting her own twist” on songs she didn’t pen and doing material “totally different from what [she] would normally do.”

The pressures of Hollywood and the entertainment industry could be difficult on anyone, however, young stars under the U.S. legal age in the limelight may find themselves succumbing to various pressures, temptations and burnout. For Zhavia, she makes sure to keep a level head and a positive attitude in order to persevere in the industry as she matures.

“I feel like it's not that hard to stay focused, because I've wanted to do this my whole life,” she says affirmatively. “It's what I live for. For me, one of my number one priorities besides my family is music. I don't really go out, I don't party, I don't do none of that. I just work! [Laughs] I think for me, it's just focusing on myself and what I wanna do, and what I wanna get done.” She’s also hoping to keep surprising people throughout her career by coming up with genre-bending songs that show off her style, personality and abilities. Let her do her, and watch her as she goes.

“I'm not gonna be put in a box to do just one type of music or one style of song,” Zhavia affirms. “I don't want people to get used to one thing, you know? That's kind of a hard thing to express to the world. I feel like it comes with me coming up with more music, and to keep creating music for people to listen to and get to know me.”

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