BlackBook Interview: Powfu Rises From His ‘death bed’

Image by Ashley Buenrostro

 

 

If you follow the buzz on social media—let’s say especially TikTok—then chances are you’ve heard Isaiah Faber’s—AKA Powfu—breakout track “death bed (coffee for your head).’ 

Indeed, the lo fi, bedroom pop tune with hip-hop sensibilities spread like wildfire on TikTok and YouTube. Over four million videos have been made to the song, on the former platform, ranging from elaborate proposals, to breakfast in miniature. On the latter, “death bed” has accumulated 61 million streams. Its popularity earned Powfu the #4 spot on the Spotify Global Top 50, putting him amongst superstars like The Weeknd, Drake, and Dua Lipa; he’s now also certified gold in seven countries. 

But even after storming charts all over the world, the twenty-one year old is surprisingly down to earth. Aside from a new record deal with Columbia, things don’t seem to have changed that much; he’s still spending his days just skateboarding and making music. 

In anticipation of his new EP poems of the past, we caught up with the young chart topper sheltering at his home in Vancouver.

 

What kind of music have you been listening to lately?

I’ve been listening to old punk bands. 

Right, I’ve read that your dad was in a punk rock band, Faber Drive. What was it like growing up in a musical household?

It was really cool. Obviously not a lot of people have a dad who was a rockstar growing up. He taught me the basics of all the instruments, and I got to see what it was like to be in the music industry.

Do you think that’s prepared you? The industry now is quite different from the one your dad was a part of. 

On the business side of things it’s different, but between the hard work and collaborating with other people—a lot of the basics he helped me with. He always encouraged me to work hard at it, and it paid off. 

When did you start making music?

I started writing music when I was thirteen. Then, in grade twelve, when I was seventeen, is when I started taking it seriously. 

 

 

What drew you to lo-fi hip-hop?

I was just into hip-hop at the very start. Then I started surfing Soundcloud, and I came across [these] lo-fi hip-hop beats, and I thought they sounded pretty cool; so I just started listening to them by themselves in my car. It seemed like not many people are rapping on these types of beats, so I [figured I] might as well try it. 

Who would you cite as your main musical influences?

There are definitely a lot. Yellow Card and Blink-182 are really cool punk artists that I listen to and get inspired by. On the hip-hop side of things, I’ll listen to a bunch: Kanye West, Jaden Smith, G-Eazy, a bunch of rappers. 

Speaking of Blink-182, I saw that they did a version of the song. How’d that come about?

Yeah it was crazy. I got signed to Columbia, and they asked me if there was anyone I would like to collab with…and I said Blink-182. They said, “Oh, they’re also signed with us.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s sick.” So then they told them about me and asked if they wanted to work with me, and they said yeah. They really liked “death bed” and wanted to remix it. 

“death bed” exploded on YouTube and took TikTok by storm. How’d you feel when you that happened?

I was just really excited. Even before “death bed,” seeing like a hundred comments on a song would make me happy. It’s the same feeling, but with more people. It’s inspiring. 

What are some of your favorite TikToks that people have made of the song?

There’re a lot; I like some of the Kobe ones. I like the ones where people confess their love to their best friends. And there’s another one where people are making miniature pancakes—I thought that was great. 

 

 

“death bed” is unexpectedly sad, you rap about not wanting to die yet. 

Most of my songs draw on pretty heavy topics, because that’s just what I feel drawn to write about. For “death bed,” the sample in the beat was talking about “not going to bed and getting a cup of coffee for your head”—so I was just trying to make a story around the chorus. I already had a song about sleeping, so then I went from the viewpoint of someone who’s dying.  

You’d been writing songs for awhile. But has TikTok effected the way you write now?

For the most part, I’m just trying to make music that I’d enjoy listening to myself. I have for one of my songs, “mind your manners,” aimed for a TikTok type of song. I wrote cheesy lyrics and a catchy chorus for it. But most of my songs are just my own style. 

Tell us about your new EP poems of the past.

I like EPs, because they’re short and simple, and I get to release my favorite songs. There’s six tracks on this one. I try to [include] a mix of genres. So there’ll be hip-hop songs and punk songs and lo-fi, bedroom pop stuff. So everyone has their own favorite song or sound on the EP. 

Now that you’ve signed with a major label and have a song in the charts, what do you want to do next?

I was looking forward to touring before all of this, and meeting fans. But other than that, making music is like my favorite thing to do. And now I get to collab with bigger artists…so just more of that. 

 

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Zolee Griggs on Social Distancing, NYC + Season 2 of ‘Wu-Tang: An American Saga’

PHOTOGRAPHY: The Riker Brothers; HAIR: LaChanda Gatson; MAKE-UP: Harriet Hadfield; STYLING: K+D Styles

 

 

LA native Zolee Griggs definitively caught the public eye in the fall of 2019 via the first season of Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga, a stylized depiction of the formation of one of hip-hop’s most influential groups—and the interpersonal dramas which almost stopped it in its tracks. In it, Griggs plays Shurrie Diggs, the sister of Wu-Tang’s founder, RZA, and the de facto matriarch of the series.

Though An American Saga represents the start of a promising career on screen, the twenty-two-year-old is no stranger to the entertainment industry writ large. From a young age, she has been acting in commercials and doing photoshoots; and since the dawn of Instagram, she has been building a platform for the social causes she cares about. In addition to being an actor, Griggs is the founder of the mentorship program GRL:WMN, which allows women from ages fourteen to twenty to gather together, promote positivity, discuss mental health, and talk about what’s important to them.

In anticipation of the second season of the Wu-Tang Saga (no official release date yet), BlackBook caught up with Griggs to talk about social distancing, her six-month residency in New York, and the future of GRL:WMN.

 

 

How are you dealing with self-isolation?

Going insaneno, I’m doing fine. Just taking it day by day. But it is getting monotonous.

What are you doing to stay productive?

I’m trying to not be so lazy…just the simple things to give myself some kind of order. Getting up, making breakfast, taking care of my dog. Little things. Because that’s all I can do. I’ve watched so many movies and read so many books, I’m running out of things to do in the house.

What have you been watching?

A lot of ’80s and ’90s movies. Yesterday I watched Bowfinger and Woo. And that was pretty funny.

Are you a fan of old comedies?

No, that’s why I’m watching them. When I was younger, my parents didn’t let me watch a lot of movies. They’d keep to the age restrictions. Before I was thirteen, I couldn’t watch PG-13 movies. Now that I’m older, I’m venturing out and watching everything. I’m going back in time and catching up on things I should have seen years ago.

What drew you to acting when you were younger, and has that changed as you’ve gotten older?

I always performed at school and in church, I have been going to church since I was two. My grandmother was really heavy on singing in the church—she’s from the south, and the southern influences trickled down to me. So I was singing, being active with other kids, speaking—I had always done public speaking. I remember in preschool, we had performances with everybody, and that’s really what started it. I was just enjoying my presence on the stage and getting a reaction from the audience or people at church. Everybody just seemed pleasant and happy, and that inspired me to be pleasant and happy. I guess that’s what really triggered my acting.

How did the Wu-Tang role shape your acting?

I think becoming an adult is really what did it—I mean Wu-Tang added onto that—but when I turned eighteen, I had a conversation with my manager and agent, and they told me, “You’re eighteen now. The roles you’ll go out for are not just going to be teenage roles, they’re going to be serious, adult roles.” That’s when I started to take adult acting classes as well. And Wu-Tang, with it being such a serious show, opened my eyes to the fact that not everything is so easy. A lot of people believe think acting is easy; people watch movies all the time and are like, “I could do that.” And not that they can’t, but it’s a lot more than just crying on cue or being happy when someone tells you too. It’s more than just showing emotions for certain reasons.

 

 

What did you do to prepare for the roll of Shurrie Diggs?

I think the best thing, besides remembering everything I was taught in class, was moving to New York and working with Wu-Tang one-on-one. It was the best preparation, I’m not going to learn any better than from the people themselves, who actually lived this story—I mean I’m telling their story. And doing this all in New York for six months was even better. I’d been to New York before, but never been there for that long. So picking up everything I had and moving across the country to learn the culture was a beautiful experience. It helped me adapt, it was a fun learning process.

What advice did RZA give you to help portray the character, who’s really a composite of all his sisters?

We would do it based on the episode, we did them one at a time; I didn’t know what was going to happen during the next episode. Before we would start filming, I would get on a phone conference with Alex [Tse, Executive Producer] and RZA, and they would break down the script for me and answer any questions I had before we went over it on set. I was also lucky to have a meeting with Erika Alexander, who is my mom on the show, and one of RZA’s sisters. That was an amazing meeting, for us to sit down and have a personal chat about their lives.

Is it harder portraying a real character?

I take it more seriously, because I’m not making up a character, I’m literally portraying someone who already exists, who has had these experiences in real life. I needed to make sure that I was doing an accurate job while respecting and honoring these people’s lives… because that’s my job.

From an acting perspective, what were some valuable lessons that you left Season One with?

I think not letting your fears get in the way of things that you already know. Sometimes I don’t give myself credit, because I’m not, like, Robert De Niro. To tell yourself, “You know what you’re doing. You got it.” Sometimes those words of encouragement can be muffled by your own thoughts and humility. So I want to be more confident for Season Two, and not let fears hold me back. I feel really good about it.

 

 

What did you appreciate most about the experience?

Bonding with everybody outside of work, I really got to know everyone individually. The guys would show me around the city, and I became the little-big sister. Even though I’m the only girl and the youngest, I’m still the only girl. It’s funny, I’m kind of the matriarch in the show and in real life when we’re just hanging out. There’s a mutual bond and respect; I’m really fortunate to work with people who are fun, mature, and talented.

Tell us about your mentorship program, GRL:WMN. 

It’s on hold because of everything that’s going on right now. But I’m working on bringing it back so it can be even bigger and better. If I can’t do things a certain way, I’m not going to do them at all. So I’m really taking my time, especially now, since I might have a bigger audience. I want to accommodate all the new young ladies and women.

What do you see for the program’s future?

The long-term goal is to take it on tour and travel around the nation. Public school reform is something that I’m really big on as well. I feel that the relationship that students and teachers have is not the best; same goes for the relationships that students have with each other, especially women. A great part of life is spent in schools, so I would love to be able to take the program to different schools and change the way young ladies interact with each other, change the way they speak with one another, and hopefully change how we interact with adults and teachers. It should be a cohesive unit, but it feels like a dictatorship at some schools—not all, but definitely at some.

And what does the future hold for you?

I have a couple guest-star roles on episodes of Boomerang, for BET. I did an indie film in January called Arch Enemy. I’m not sure when it comes out yet, but it should be really fun. It’s a sci-fi superhero movie—it’s really great. And it’s funny, since Wu-Tang came out I’ve had people tell me, “You would be great as Erykah Badu, if she did a biopic.” So I would love to do that if the opportunity ever arose, that’s a dream. But you know, dreams come true sometimes, so we’ll see.

 

BlackBook Interview: ‘Nashville’ Star Lennon Stella Grows Up w/ Her Exhilarating Debut Album

 

 

Some may know Lennon Stella from her role as Maddie Conrad on Nashville, the television drama that chronicles the lives of a handful of country music singers at various stages in their careers. Others may know her from her viral explosion on YouTube; one video, which features her and her sister covering Robyn & Erato’s “Call Your Girlfriend!” (popularly known as “The Cup Song”), accumulated over thirty-million views. But now, people are going to start to know Lennon Stella because of her own music. Indeed, the twenty-year-old, Ontario-born, Nashville-raised songstress is at last debuting her long-awaited first album this week, appropriately titled Three. Two. One.

Practically growing up onscreen—Stella first started acting on Nashville when she was twelve—afforded her the time to cultivate a dedicated fanbase. By the time she graduated from the series, she had already amassed over eight-hundred-thousand Instagram followers—who would surely be eager to hear what she had to say musically. She already has one European tour and one U.S. arena tour, opening for The Chainsmokers, under her belt. 

We caught up with a quarantined Stella to talk about the album’s creation, her love of touring, and the video that started it all.

 

 

 

Where are you right now?

I’m in Nashville. I’m glad that I made it back. I would hate to be stuck anywhere other than home.

What’ve you been doing to keep busy?

Honestly, it’s been such a busy time because of the album. Somehow I’ve gotten more busy while in quarantine. But other than that, I’ve been cooking every night, which has been a real stretch for me. I go on Pinterest and see what looks yummy. I did a jambalaya. 

You were born in Ontario—when did you move to Nashville? Did you move for the show?

I moved in 2009, before the show. My parents were on a reality show called Can You Duet. They moved for their music in ’09, and the show started in 2012. 

What was it like growing up in a musical household? And what kind of music did you parents do?

Oh, they played Americana, singer-songwriter music. But they were also into really old-school country, like Roger Miller. Definitely grew up with that, and a lot of 70s music—my mom loves that. 

Did that music influence you?

Yes, for sure. Definitely Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Nora Jones—it was all over the place, really. It’s all I’ve ever known, I think it was a great way to grow up. It was such a creative, free, and inspiring household, which I loved.

 

 

 

Nashville put you on a more traditional music track; but you were a YouTube star first. At a very young age, you had a video of you and your sister singing “The Cup Song,” with upwards of thirty million views. What was that like?

It happened spontaneously, at the same time as the show was starting up. I was twelve and my sister was eight at the time, and we posted this video, and it suddenly went viral. It was very weird. We had done nothing prior to it. But, it’s what got us on the TV show. We already had the parts on Nashville, but we couldn’t take them because we were Canadians without visas. And we couldn’t get visas because we hadn’t done anything yet. But because of the press the video got, we were able to get the visas and be on the show. Everything fell into place.

What a lucky break, yes. Had you always planned on becoming a singer? Or when you got your role on Nashville, did you feel you wanted to pursue acting?

Music was always a theme. My sister was the one who first auditioned for the show, but they had asked me to audition, too, because they saw a video of us singing together—a different one than the one that went viral. I had never considered acting before that, but I got the part, and we stayed on for six years. I definitely found a love for acting, and I would like to continue doing it in the future…but after I’ve given my full energy to the music world. 

How would you describe your debut album?

People have been waiting for music for awhile, and I’ve been eagerly ready to put it out in the world. I feel that the album is just an honest representation of me as a person and artist; I’ve been given so much time and freedom to find my sound. This album reveals sides of me that I haven’t shown yet. It feels like a new beginning.

Tell us about the writing and recording process.

A lot of it was done in my writing camp in Cabo. It was just my favorite writers and producers, and we went there for eleven days and wrote for the album. A lot of the songs written in the camp actually made it on the album, which is lucky. When you do something like this, it’s rare that it works. But I lucked out that it was such a creative and inspiring space. I really understood myself and the people around me; and I feel like they all really understood me.  

What’s your opinion on touring? It can be really difficult sometimes, surely. 

With the last tour I did, I found a new love for it. I’ve always liked moving and not being super stable in one place, so I enjoy it. Headlining was so rewarding, and I really enjoyed seeing all these different places, meeting different people, and feeling the energy of it all. And now that I’m going to have an album full of music that I love, it’s going to be even different, because I’ll be playing songs that are new, fresh, and exciting…rather than songs I’m a little bored of. With that being said, I’m also a homebody. When I’m in that space, I’m ready to go, and I love it. But I also like being home and having some consistency. I also really need my sister, my mom, and my boyfriend to come out, or I just feel so isolated. I have to be in a good headspace. If I’m not, it gets really difficult. 

 

 

 

What were some of the bad experiences?

I feel like I must have lucked out. The food is tough, all around; there have definitely been times where you go the whole day munching on chips, because it’s difficult to find solid food…especially on off days. But typically, it’s actually fine. As long as the bus is good, I can live off the bus. I don’t mind it. 

On the Chainsmokers’ tour you performed in arenas, and that can be a different beast entirely. Did you develop any pre-show routines to get yourself in the right headspace? 

Listening to music really loud before going onstage to get my energy up. You need to bring a completely different level of energy to an arena. You can’t rely on the people to get you there, especially when you’re opening. At my shows, if I walk out and I’m not feeling one-hundred percent energized, I instantly get it from everybody. But a lot of the times when you’re opening, you have to give it to them even if they’re not giving it to you. You just have to stay consistently alive throughout the entire show. So amping myself up is really crucial. 

What songs off this new album are you most excited to perform?

“Fear of Being Alone” is a fun one Also excited to play “Pretty Boy” and “Much too Much.”

 

 

Are there any songs that are difficult to perform live?

Maybe “Older Than I Am”—I couldn’t sing it without crying. It was a very close-to-home song that was probably the hardest in terms of draining me emotionally. It’s also my favorite, though, and I had a really positive experience recording it.

You’ve mentioned that you believe it’s important to associate activism with your music?

I think, ultimately, I want to speak my mind. I read this quote, I’m paraphrasing, but it’s from John Lennon, and it said, “I’m not supposed to be a teacher or a preacher and tell you things you don’t already know. I’m just here to mirror human feelings.” I’m just singing about what I know, and I think what I want is that if there’s ever something political that I want to say or get off my chest, I’ll sing about it. I just want to be honest, transparent, and unafraid to sing about what I feel. But I never want to start problems just to start problems. If it’s something for the greater good, then I’ll sing about it; but I never want it to be drama-inducing. 

If you could tell your younger self something, while she’s making YouTube videos with her sister, what would you say?

To not doubt yourself and trust your instincts. While starting out, finding your sound and the way you want to do things, it feels like there’s a right way and a wrong way. I don’t know why that happens, but it feels like someone always knows better than you. But ultimately, no one knows what they’re doing. And that’s a hard thing to learn because it can feel like there’re a lot of people who know more than you do; but really it’s just music. It’s just art. We’re all just doing it because we love it. Trusting myself and my instincts—that would be something that I wish I knew earlier. 

What do you ultimately want for this album?

I just want this album to resonate with people, for them to really feel it and understand it…to take something away from it and have it move them in any way. Especially at this time when connection is so important—it’s one thing to really hold onto. 

 

BlackBook Interview: Orion Sun on Nostalgia, Vulnerability and ‘The Twilight Zone’

Image by Sophie Hur 

 

 

Philadelphia R&B songstress Orion Sun is something of a romantic. Her lyrics are soft-spoken and heartbreakingly nostalgic—her music occasionally suggests someone who is primed for the return of happier times, but who also might be apprehensive because of their impermanence.

Lo-fi, DIY beats aestheticize this feeling. Her first project, Voice Memos, was thoughtfully and intimately produced in her bedroom on a hundred-dollar mic and Apple’s pre-installed recording software. It’s not a polished pop album screaming, “I want you back”—it’s a journal entry that letters, in a delicate hand, “I made this for you.”

“I feel like I try to keep to myself, because I do wear my heart on my sleeve,” Orion (whose real name is Tiffany Majette) confesses to BlackBook. “The friends I do have know that I’m very sensitive; but when it comes to music, I’ll tell music things that I couldn’t even tell my closest friends, let alone myself—until after I’m done writing. Music is the most vulnerable place for me. When I go out into public, there are walls up.”

 

 

She has a new album, Hold Space For Me, which will be released March 27 via New York indie label Mom + Pop Music. Intriguingly, her recent video for “Coffee For Dinner” follows a stranded astronaut as she urgently searches through a post-apocalyptic, urban landscape. It’s not immediately apparent what she’s looking for…but what is clear is that she can’t seem to find it.

The video, it turns out, takes inspiration from The Twilight Zone. “It’s one of those things that I used to watch every New Year’s with my mom,” she recalls. “I wanted to do an homage to the pilot episode, which is called ‘Where Is Everybody?’”

After re-watching it in her early 20s, she felt a distinct connection with what the main character himself is seeking to find.

 

 

“In the episode,” she says, “he’s practicing for the isolation he’s going to face when he goes to space. And I feel like a large portion of the last five years was preparation for the isolation I would feel from my peers, my family, and in society. I went through a rough patch in my life where I didn’t have someone who knew what I was going through.”

Indeed, while her peers were out doing what 21-year-olds do for fun, she was working two jobs. But it turns out the social isolation took her to where she needed to go, artistically.

She explains, “I wanted to paint a picture of me kind of losing it for a minute and just feeling like, ‘Where am I? What’s happening? Why am I feeling so alone?’ But then breaking through and coming out on the other side and realizing that everything had to happen to lead you to where you are. Your destiny, really.”

It seems as though Orion is always looking behind herself, even as she marches steadily forward. “I fall heavy into nostalgia in my darkest times,” she says. “My family and I used to be really close, and we’re working on it now, and it feels really good. But for the past five to six years, I didn’t really talk to them. I just helped out financially. We were not as close as we were. And so, during that time, it felt really good, but also really bad, to reminisce on childhood days. I hold nostalgia close to me. I’m definitely that kind of person that keeps my concert tickets. I’m just so scared of forgetting.”

 

 

Her self-produced, photo-collaged music video for her single, “Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me),” captures this sentiment as it pertains to matters of the heart. The opening lyrics, “Swear you came down like a comet / You be all in my dreams like I’m f*ckin’ haunted / But it’s beautiful,” evoke a pleasurably tortured love—for contrasting the feeling of being swept up by romance in the present tense is the haunting sense that it might just leave one day. Perhaps it’s a quiet admission about the fleetingness of happy moments; the present is always at risk of fading into nostalgia; but just the same, for Orion, the future offers new possibilities.

Five, ten years down the line, she sees herself as a collaborator and benefactor: “I’m a little shy—but hopefully as time moves on and I get more comfortable, I could produce for other people, song-write for other people. I definitely want to start some sort of grant here in Philly, just to support artists, because I was struggling a lot, and I’m really glad that things are moving how they are. I want to give back in that way…I just want to make a lot of stuff before I go.”

For now, she’ll be heading out on a 12 date North American tour to promote the record, including a stop at Brooklyn’s Elsewhere on April 23, then wrapping up at the Moroccan Lounge in LA on May 13. She’s also trying her best to maintain a reasonably philosophical viewpoint on it all.

“When you lose everything,” Orion concludes, “it just changes your perspective. You start to realize material things, honestly don’t matter. But I won’t be the type of person to say that money doesn’t. Because money helps out a lot, unfortunately.”