Every once in a while, music unlocks a world of its own.
As bright and buoyant beats flow like rivers through magnificently mountainous melodies, Chicago-born and Atlanta-based rapper Sahbabii opens up an audio wonderland unlike anything else out there. It’s as if he transformed hip-hop into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory on his third mixtape and first official release for Warner Bros. Records, S.A.N.D.A.S.
“S.A.N.D.A.S. is like another dimension,” he affirms. “When you listen to the project, you zone out, and you’re in a different world. It’s because of the lyrics and the sounds. I don’t really like dark-sounding music; I like light-sounding music.”
An animal lover, Marvel aficionado, and angelic-voiced rap crooner, 20-year-old Sahbabii belted his way to becoming Atlanta’s hottest young star in early 2017 with S.A.N.D.A.S. and its breakthrough smash “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick” [feat. Loso Loaded]. A 15-second Instagram snippet went viral before the full version ever even dropped. Within three months of release, the song independently ignited 12.5 million YouTube views, 8.3 million Soundcloud plays, and 3.1 million Spotify streams. Critical applause exploded courtesy of Noisey, XXL, The Fader, Mass Appeal, Pigeons & Planes, Complex, Pitchfork, and The New York Times who described it as “the conjoining of the melodic developments ushered into the genre by Drake and the psychedelic vocal approach of Young Thug.” He received social support from Kylie Jenner, Migos, The Atlanta Hawks, Metro Boomin’, Kehlani, Odell Beckham, Jr., Meek Mill, Famous Dex, and more, while Wiz Khalifa, Fetty Wap, and T-Pain blessed the track with remixes.
In many ways, he’d been working towards this moment since the age of 12 when his family relocated from the South Side of Chicago to Atlanta. During that time, he found inspiration in the likes of Future, Young Thug, Cash Out, and Rich Kidz. Recording in his brother T3’s bedroom on Cubase with a broken microphone, he made his mixtape debut with Pimpin Ain’t Eazy in 2012 followed by Glocks and Thots a year later. Despite the impressive local success of his first YouTube upload “Rodeo” and “Can’t Handle It,” progress stalled.
“It didn’t do what I wanted it to do,” he sighs. “I got frustrated and stopped doing music for a minute. I was getting a little money other ways.”
After quitting a job at the airport, he worked in a Dick’s Sporting Goods warehouse, spending his time singing on the assembly line. Simultaneously, he gave music another shot, recording S.A.N.D.A.S. at home culled from dreamy YouTube-sourced beats and prodigiously adding “Pull Up With Ah Stick” last minute after the social media response. Floating along on puffy clouds of keys, the song elegantly fuses shimmering choruses and artful street lyricism.
“I was in the streets doing whatever I was doing,” he goes on. “It’s about that. A stick is an assault rifle. As soon as I heard the beat, I got to chanting. I make sure my hooks sound A1. The song and the hook are the steak and potatoes. The little bars are that macaroni. That’s delicious.”
It’s just a taste of S.A.N.D.A.S. though. Throughout this body of work, Sahbabii adheres to an edict he once tweeted, “Melodic sounds NO TRAP BEATS!” The personal and poetic “Only Knew 1 Way” sees him belting like Lionel Richie in a bando. “I was telling the story of myself,” he explains. “I don’t like to lie in my music. I don’t rap about weed or lean. It’s just me.”
“Titanaboa” [feat. T3] draws inspiration from a formidable snake he discovered by watching Animal Planet, while “Purple Ape” [feat. 4Ever] pays homage to his favorite animal. “Apes are super strong, and they go so hard,” he smiles.
For the official remastered Warner Bros. Records release of S.A.N.D.A.S., he cut a handful of new anthems. “Marsupial Superstars” shows his fun side, nodding to a beach map from the uber popular video game Mario Kart. Then, there’s “Geronimo” inspired by the innocence of childhood.
“When we were kids, we would dive into the water and scream, ‘Geronimo’,” he recalls. “My friend Bo died, so I put the song on there because he always said it too.”
With this new melodic sound SahBabii has created, he stands alone at this enchanting doorway of music. Ultimately, he’s opening up a new world for hip-hop in 2017 that will be revolutionary.