In Cantonese “Sifu” is a title given to a master of a trade, according to Wikipedia. Whether you trust Wikipedia or not, it’s only fitting that Livingston Matthews decided to adopt the name Pink Siifu (yes, double i) as his musical persona. Siifu treads the threshold between conscious-activist rap, and pure love poetry; a guru of cloud rap, weaving through ethereal vocals and experimental jazz. At 25 he recognizes the masters of his craft, designing “something like if N*E*R*D’s Seeing Sounds and The Love Below by André 3000 had an album baby, with a little of Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun” for his next piece of work. It’s a bold statement for the young rapper, but I don’t doubt his dexterity and ability to finesse his way to the top.
I first met Pink Siifu at Back Beat LA, a monthly event that caters to the underground jazz and experimental hip-hop scene in Los Angeles. He slid across the back, skateboard at his side, and asked if he could grab something off the vegetable platter. Unbeknownst to me, he was part of the lineup. He approached the mic and let his raspy vocals and entrancing sing-rap reverberate throughout the Grand Star Jazz Club; a lo-fi dream, sobering and transcending at the same time.
We agreed to meet outside of Space 15 Twenty in Los Angeles for the interview – post Tape Meet LA, where independent labels like Stones Throw, Paxico Records, and Akashik Records gathered for a cassette exhibition. It’s not everyday I get to be among some of my favorite producers and DJs, but I digress. Pink Siifu greeted me with a big grin and arms wide-open before we talked about his move from Birmingham, to Cincinnati, and now LA; the effects of the internet on hip-hop; and his musical odyssey.
Photos by Julian Essink
Did you already have connections out in LA?
Nah, I knew like a couple of niggas. I started going to shows and parties, and I went to Ringgo’s (Mndsgn) – one of Ringgo’s after parties. This was when him, Zeroh, Low Leaf, and Alima (Jennings) were staying in the same crib. I met Ahwlee there, and I even met Swarvy at Ringgo’s. I met mad niggas at Ringgo’s crib.
Yeah, I moved out here to do that. I moved out here with my ex, just because we fucked with the artists and production out here.
When you were younger did you see yourself moving out here?
Hell nah, I just thought I would go back to Alabama, or Atlanta, or Florida. I still want to go back, but it’s boring as fuck.
The art scene (in Atlanta) is tight. It feels like Brooklyn. Everybody knows everybody. There’s so many different types of art. I went there, and the niggas that threw a gallery show, threw a rap show after. That shit was just tight as fuck. They made early SpaceGhostPurrp type of shit. It was super southern. It was dope.
Do you get the same feeling as you do at home?
It ain’t nothing like LA. LA has no season change. It’s neither hot nor cold. There’s no fall or spring. It’s either summer or a lazy winter. I need fall and spring for my sanity. That shit is weird. That’s the only thing I don’t fuck with.
I feel like Los Angeles is a bubble in that way. Do you agree?
Word. Maybe that’s true. Yeah, actually Cali has a lot of shit going. Cali just stays with Cali. I feel like y’all focus on London and New York. I know a lot of cats that know cats from London and NY. It’s tight. A lot of cats I fuck with are either from Philly or New York, so maybe that’s why.
Is it because of the type of hip-hop prevalent out here? I feel like East coast hip-hop and rap are more conscious, though. What is it about those artists that resonates with you more, as opposed to artists from Los Angeles?
Nah, nah. I fuck with artists from here. I fuck with both. Honestly, New York niggas sound like Atlanta niggas, ‘cause of the internet probably. I miss when I used to go down south and visit my family. Like the south would be playing certain types of music. Before everybody started fucking with Young Jeezy, only Atlanta and Alabama were playing Young Jeezy and Lil Boosie. We’d hear all the new music in the south first.
I fuck with artists from here though. Conscious niggas are definitely in Cali. Zeroh is one of my favorite rappers. Zeroh is from Long Beach; Kendrick from Compton.
I fuck with Brooklyn too, though. There ain’t nothing like a Brooklyn woman. A black Brooklyn woman is just so direct with your ass. I fuck with Brooklyn woman heavy – not even to date – like just admire them. Like a dude will do some shit on the train, and they’ll be like “what the fuck is wrong with you?” That shit is tight. I be on the train and I’m like “Yeah, you shouldn’t fuck with her dog.” Laughs. “She ain’t the one dog. Fuck around and get jawed.”
“There ain’t nothing like a Brooklyn woman. A black Brooklyn woman is just so direct with your ass.”
Do you think because you’re from the South your take on music is very unique or do you think you have a blended sound as well?
Blended, definitely, because I was raised in Ohio.
Then what genres do you think your music is a mix of? Hip-hop, obviously, but you definitely have some jazz influence.
It’s crazy, my jazz influence. I’m realizing this more as I grow up. I already knew that my pops used to play the Saxophone, and everyone told me he was a monster. My grandfather, his pops, he wasn’t the best dad but he was an artist, a jazz nigga. They say he was a big reason for the jazz movement in Nigeria. They say he used to play with Charlie Parker.
*HouseShoes passes by and they talk about meeting before Pink goes on tour*
Hold up, you’re going on tour?
Me and Ahwlee are going on short, short tour. It’s not like these big nigga tours. We’re going to Oakland, Chicago, Brooklyn, and then Pennsylvania. I’m grateful! But I definitely want more dates. I wanted to hit Atlanta.
Did you see yourself going on tour 5 years ago?
Well, kind of. Hold up. He loses his train of thought. Shout out to Shoes for fucking this up. Laughs. Wait, I started doing music in 2011 seriously, but the jazz influence is from my pops and grandfather. Dungeon Family, Badu, Temptations, Jill Scott, Eddie Kendricks – bless his soul. I used to love Frank Sinatra.
Were they your inspiration for twothousandnine?
D’Angelo and Dwele were, sonically. We would listen to a lot of Slum Village, D’Angele, Dwele, and Dilla. We was watching D’Angelo live shows before we recorded some tracks. The title of it was because 2009 was lit. It was lit musically for me. I started listening to N*E*R*D heavy, Kid Cudi, and a lot of other indie rap shit – not just Lil’ Wayne and Outkast. I started listening to Blackstar too.
I told Swarvy we should name it that, and he said it was crazy because that’s when he started making music seriously and getting weird with it. We had the same view on 2009. Shit just started sonically changing for us.
It’s funny you mention Outkast. After the photo shoot, Julian (Essink) and I kept thinking that you remind us of André 3000. Do you get that a lot?
That’s my favorite artist of all time, like how Tyler loves Pharrell. That’s how I feel about André. I feel like he’s guiding a nigga every time I listen to him. The Love Below is the best album. There is no other album, especially rap album, that’s like that.
Is 3 Stacks your ideal end goal as a rapper?
No, because the game fucked him up. I feel like I know him; it’s super weird. The industry fucked him up, like he’s cool with the legacy he left.
Is that disappointing for you?
It’s not disappointing for me, but it’s disappointing for the rest of his fans that don’t get that he already gave us everything. We don’t even realize how good it was. He really doesn’t want to put up with the shit that goes with putting out an album. I support him in everything. As soon as he stopped making music, and started putting out movies. I was like, “Alright, fuck it! That’s my favorite actor now.”
He sounds like your favorite uncle.
Deadass. I love him. He can do whatever. If he puts out shoes I’m gonna buy them. I swear. 3 Stacks is my favorite rapper. Dungeon Family is what I’m trying to make for myself, like Soulquarious. I also love rock shit. I love N*E*R*D.
In terms of rock, do you pull inspiration from your favorite bands? I’m asking mainly, because your music isn’t very mainstream. It’s not what you would typically hear on the radio, especially for a rapper. I feel like I appreciate your music more because of that.
I feel that. Well, with the rock shit I do have a lot of music that’s not out yet that’s inspired a lot by rock. I have a lot of music that niggas won’t expect, mostly because I haven’t put out my own album yet. I’ve got several different styles. I’ve only put out what people have produced for me.
So are you producing your own music?
Yeah, but I kind of don’t like making my own beats. I like working with other musicians. When I write, I’m kind of just like letting it flow.
Is it like stream of consciousness?
It’s mostly conversations I’ve had in my relationships and thoughts that I’ve had; things that have actually happened. Sometimes I make up shit, or I’ll combine different events in my life into one story.
How do you know when you have a finished product?
It’s just a feeling.
When you finish a track do you get overly excited to put it out or do you wait until you have a couple of songs ready, and then pick and choose?
I used to be super excited. When I’m working on an album, I’m never that excited, though. I just want to keep building, making it fire. But like now, I don’t give a fuck. I’m trying to get D’Angelo with it, like put an album out every five years.
I kind of just want to hold it. With BRWN, I was talking to three different women. I first started talking to a girl from Brooklyn, and then we ended. Then I was single and talking to different women, and then I ended up dating a girl for 8 months. After that, I started having a sexual relationship with one of my homegirls until I finished BRWN. I was living through this shit while making the album. It was weird and dope. It’s a woman appreciation album, especially a black woman. There are only female features in it.
There were dope life experiences in that album. That’s how the best albums get made.
“I want something like if N*E*R*D Seeing Sounds and The Love Below by André 3000 had an album baby, with a little of Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun.”
When do you think you’re going to release your next album or EP?
Me and Ahwlee are working heavy. I can’t say when we’ll drop some new shit. The next thing I drop will probably be a B. Cool-Aid thing.
Should your listeners expect a similar outcome from you based on your previous work?
You should just watch my Instagram stories. My album is gonna be full of music like that. It’s gonna have the Blues, rap, jazz, rock. I want something like if N*E*R*D Seeing Sounds and The Love Below by André 3000 had an album baby, with a little of Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun. Sprinkle everything in there.
Niggas definitely might not fuck with it, but there are so many things I want to try. If they don’t fuck with that, then they’ll fuck with the next one. I want to be able to have different types of people that enjoy different genres of music at my show.
If there was one artist that you’d want to collaborate with, who would it be?
I’d want to work with Static Major or Dilla. If I had either of their beats on an album, that would be crazy. I would love to get some guitar from Hendrix, too, but only if he was still alive. Also Matt Martians, Homeshake, and that’s about it.
Follow up with Pink Siifu here!