Riding this momentum, Brent released two big projects: his first album, 2017’s Sonder Son, a charming R&B album full of odes to exes and homies alike; and Into, his experimental EP credited to Sonder—a side endeavor with the producers Atu and Dpat.
Brent has always been something of a scientist with his sound, finding ways big and small to experiment and innovate. In the early days, his velvet voice was enough to make him stand out amongst the mellow, soulection-era/neo-neo-soul set, but since then, his production and affect has gotten darker, hazier, more esoteric and eclectic—full of gothic wails, heavy bass, dream pop pianos, and electronic synths. A lot of this subtlety is missed by the general public, who mostly just think of Brent as the guy that makes soul music for your toxic relationships, another in a long line of post-Frank Ocean, “whispery” R&B music. Sometimes he finds this frustrating, but Brent admits that’s “all ego.” “There are times where I feel like, I’m really that nigga,” he says with a matter-of-fact braggadacio, treating the idea of “toxic” as nothing more than a derisive label that undersells the music the way labels tend to. “People need to find ways to make things make sense to them. They still love it though.”
By Brent’s 2020 sophomore release, the EP Fuck The World, he’d begun to hit his stride, making some of the best music of his career. But any forward momentum was stalled by the fact that the album was released in February 2020, just weeks before the pandemic stopped everything. “The project had just dropped and I wasn’t able to work it the way I’d like to because I couldn’t do interviews and I couldn’t shoot no videos. The pandemic kinda fucked all that up. My streams were still going up, though, so I was making more money than I’d ever made at the time.”
While the world was on pause, Brent Faiyaz seemed to be picking up speed. “Since the pandemic I moved cities about three times, had six different girlfriends, just doing mad different shit, buying shit.” He traveled from country to country, studio to studio, making a lot of music, some of which he released. “During that time, I felt like I wanted to make something that I thought would live forever. The way I saw it, whoever came out [during the pandemic] with that crazy shit was gonna grab that moment, and I wanted it to be me.”
Out of that period came Wasteland, the album he feels will officially usher him into the superstar club. It’s loaded with guest stars like Drake, Alicia Keys, and Tyler, The Creator. But most importantly, it features Brent making the music he “always wanted to make,” songs as indebted to Cocteau Twins and Radiohead as they are to Lauryn Hill and The-Dream (who co-wrote four Wasteland tracks, including “Loose Change”).
So much of how Brent has grown as an artist has been an outgrowth of his time in studios, making music to catalog where his life is at any given point. Meeting and collaborating with peers and legends alike has changed his approach to art. He tells me about how Radiohead’s willingness to switch up their sound and energy with every album has heavily influenced him as an artist and producer. When we talk about major artists like Drake and Beyoncé making dance records, he talks eloquently about the artistic desire to push oneself and try shit for its own sake even if fans can’t understand or get into it. (“People want to tell Drake all the things he should’ve done on his album, but you’d never tell Picasso how he should be painting.”) He talks glowingly about the surreality of working with Keys. “[The Diary of Alicia Keys] was my introduction to music,” he says. “She’s so cool you forget who she is until she starts playing and you remember she’s a real musical genius.” He mentions conversations with the super-producer No ID about the politics of sound, and how fans misinterpret what artists are doing with theirs. “It’s all a choice. People seem to think you’re not capable of singing if you don’t sing a certain way, or they think you’re not capable of making music about certain subjects. It’s literally all by choice. All these mufuckas can make any type of music you’d want, but it comes down to them wanting to do things differently.” As frustrating as Brent finds this dynamic, there is something about the psychology at play between artists—especially musicians—and their fanbase that clearly intrigues him. “People are used to digesting R&B, specifically, in a particular way. Everybody wants to hear you do some Keith Sweat type shit and it’s like, this is a whole ‘nother generation, a whole other era. If you want some Keith Sweat shit, listen to Keith Sweat.”