17 On The Frontline: Masego

He calls himself the King of TrapScat, with a hoop earring… and he sings.

He calls himself the King of TrapScat, with a hoop earring… and he sings. Masego is one of a kind. Raised in Virginia, on a diet of gospel and Jamaican influence; Masego loves to tell stories, embody different characters and channel his unique blend of TrapHouseJazz in his music. As a creative though, Masego is like a sponge – absorbing inspiration from everything, from managers to Uber drivers.

While Masego sings of ‘I’m In Hollywood’ on his project ‘Loose Thoughts’, he’s now in fact, in London, as part of the European leg of his ‘Melanin Man’ tour. Braving the recent winter chill after a drop in temperature, Masego’s wrapped up in a stone grey jacket with a mini sax on a chain around his neck, “that’s my baby” he adds, with a full tooth smile. With a smooth voice, Masego is as charismatic in person as he is in his music. Towering well over 6ft, with a fro that had me in serious hair-envy, Masego’s playful. He’s also just the right balance between cocky and confident – not to mention, he has his poker face delivery down to a tee – which had me believing the ‘Bahrain Stick’ was a real musical instrument (or maybe that’s just my gullibility). Armed with a notepad, throughout our time together, Masego notes down random things I say, “oh – regal – good word” he’s left his phone back in the states, and is on a “kinda planned, kinda forced”, social media detox.

It’s quite easy to say Masego is a musical polymath. He can play; sax, trumpet, drums, guitar and piano. But his most popular weapon of choice is the sax, arming himself with a genre of his own naming, TrapHouseJazz — which also doubles up as his group. “I’m into superhero movies, and everyone in TrapHouseJazz is like a superhero, they’re a specialist and made different to everyone else. They have a calling in their life. It’s like gumbo of music, or eclectic, it’s derived from different sources.  It allows musicians and artists not to be boxed in, call it what you want, is it jazz, R&B or hip-hop… it’s all emotion”. Masego’s latest body of work, ‘Loose Thoughts’ was released back in June. Comprised of a load of loosies, tunes from Masego’s shows, freestyles and jam sessions that may have been missed off other EP’s but magically found a space on ‘Loose Thoughts’. With varying lyrical content, an expansive vocal reach, not to mention production credits, Masego positions himself nicely as an all-encompassing multi-facet artist.

Like my DM’s are like a sax emoji and a question mark – it’s crazy…

Masego falls in the realm of the internet artist. Platforms such as Soundcloud paved the way for his career, getting him to where he is today. “When your hometown wasn’t showing you love, on there you can find a place – and audience who think you’re a king”. That was almost three years ago, when Masego would upload tunes like ‘Jazzy Twerk’ and ‘I Hate School’ – which he wrote when he was meant to be revising for an exam, “Oh damn! You went back… Yeah I failed that one [exam] miserably – I dropped out of school now though”. When you go back and listen to these old tracks, you realise Masego’s been consistent, he’s just been himself and the fans have eventually come, “Now when I go back home, I’m like the Mayor. It’s mad love – almost too much love. The bro love is crazy, it’s like a mosh-put in broad daylight with no music, and a blindfold, they go like “yo man you fire, collab?” Like my DM’s are like a sax emoji and a question mark – it’s crazy… You gotta have the juice though if you wanna collab like that, if it was Beyoncé, all she would need to do is the period sign and I’d be on it.”

Masego isn’t a collab-phobe though; he collaborated with Goldlink for ‘Late Night’ and, at the end of summer this year, with horn, synths and drums production duo, Brasstracks. ‘Melanin Man’ was the result, an uplifting, celebratory track, serving up a slice of music glory for black skin. In a period where black people are still subjected to discrimination – both politically and socially – for the colour of their skin, ‘Melanin Man’ was the perfect jam. Breathing a dosage of #BlackBoyJoy into music. Laid over Brasstracks distinctive sounds, Masego’s vocalised issues from appropriation and racism, resulting in a beautiful unapologetically black track. But the inspiration? An Uber drive in LA, “I was in the uppity rich part of town, and my Uber driver was giving me some lecture. Then as I was getting out, he turned round and was like listen, you’re melanin man, these white people are scared of you… They think you’re gonna rob the bank and steal their children. You need to carry yourself as royalty. It was this mad heart to heart.” Needless to say, Masego gave him five-stars.

And while most of Masego’s music to date has been centred around joy – which is almost unavoidable with the sax, his latest video took things in a different direction. ‘Small Talk (Trapscat To Cali)’ opens with a soundbite from an audio from a news report talking about the recent deaths of black people by police in America. A full collaborative effort, the video was made alongside Masego’s fellow creative friends. It depicts daily life, before, before lead dancer Flockey bursts into a beautiful joyful interpretive dance routine – set to some jazz music. Yet, this is abruptly undercut as he begins to mime out an all too frequent encounter, the black man and the police.

“Yeah I wasn’t even in that video – I didn’t think I needed to… I wanted to take a step back and let the story be told for itself through the dance… It covers an issue what’s happening daily and it resonated and addressed issues with people who watched it.”

Authenticity is key to Masego and his unique sound. Included in his ‘Pink Polo EP’ and ‘Loose Thoughts’ is a load of skits, and conversations from studios which he kept on the projects, making it feel like you’ve got an exclusive listen into Masego’s studio jams. “Being funny is too hard to think about – it’s all real. It’s literally from the real jam sessions. There’s not enough of that in music. I find so many things so planned out and strategic, but if you just let it flow. Most of the tunes, ‘I’m In Hollywood’ – and ‘You Gone Learn Some Jazz’, they were literally all freestyles that I just decided to turn into songs”.

But it’s not just the music where Masego shines. He’s incredibly imaginative and witty, embodying characters and personalities that seep through into his music. In May 2015, he announced to the world on Twitter that he was now Uncle Sego.

“I’m real Jamaican and country. I have a lot of uncles… I like making fun of my family” he explains with a slight smirk on his face, “I don’t know if they know. They’re busy, I don’t even know if they listen to my music… Being Jamaican is a full time job!” Uncle Sego is based off three characters; his old track coach is one part Uncle Sego, and Masego reminisces how when they would be training, his old coach would speak out to the ladies. “He was at least 55 and he would be like hey shorty. He had the funniest one liners, so I channel him too”. But it’s not just his old sports coach Uncle Sego is based off. While working part-time jobs, young Masego worked at Dairy Queen, where he was fired after a week for juggling ice-cream: “They had it on camera – true story – I was fully juggling ice-cream. Anyway, my boss, he was like this ex-war veteran, 6”8. His name was Mr Curtis, he didn’t put it on – he was basically Uncle Sego all the time – it was a full-time job, him being cool.”

But while the leader of the TrapHouseJazz isn’t making music, or basing musical characters off ex-bosses and uncles, Masego’s an IT specialist. Curveball, right? Having designed his own phone app, ‘Network by Masego’, with the aim being to create an art and creative community that’s a lot more connected: “You know so like now I’m in London, right, and I wanted to start a collaboration with a pianist or videographer, the app would help facilitate that… You know, I just want everything more streamlined and people to continue to make dope things together.” But it’s not just tech, Masego’s also plans to drop a book, “yeah I wrote a book two days ago – I got all this free time now I’m without my phone! It’s about how I’m young, black and killin’ it! It’s just to give people advice about how you can manoeuvre in the new music industry; you can essentially do whatever you want”.

Become dope at what you’re doing, then expect the world to appreciate what you do.

Having conducted his music and creative process on his own terms throughout, paired with his entrepreneur spirit, Masego is a true millennial. His journey is continuous, he’s enjoying the growth, and his passion is indisputable. Like many, Masego appeals to that random internet-living music fan, who spends hours, tucked up in their room making beats or surfing the web for that alt thing. So, what would the King of TrapScat leave his royal subjects with?

“Step one, become a specialist – that takes a lot of self-time, that 10,000 hours – become dope at what you’re doing, then expect the world to appreciate what you do. Truly love what you do, don’t do it for money and fame. Then write down every idea you have – even though you may not have the means to do it when you want to – when you do get the means, you can come back to it… You’ll never get that pure state of mind again, you’ll have industry in your head and other influences, at that stage it’s just pure art”.