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Brooklyn's Sufi Hamilton Has Found Himself

By Donna-Claire Chesman on

Brooklyn-via-Virginia’s Sufi Hamilton would like to reintroduce himself. First formally debuting with Comedian in 2018, Hamilton has been making music for 10 years, taking it seriously in the last handful. Moving to Brooklyn to grow closer with more “like-minded” creatives, Sufi regards Comedian as a project used to introduce himself to himself.

Sufi’s latest, 2020’s Hamo, is the project used to introduce himself to the world at large. More cohesive and groovy than Comedian, albeit missing some of the left-field flourishes which made his 2018 effort special, Hamo is a better-crafted listen as the artist’s production skills took a leap forward.

Hamo is propelled by a gentle, feel-good energy. Opener “Msrmbr” features Sufi Hamilton’s raspy voice weaving between hollowed-out synths, just touching the breathless quality of double-time spitting but holding back enough to communicate a somber tone. “Contact Hi” and standout “Bbgrl” operate in the same mood as “Msrmbr,” but with an additional bounce and thick groove. In particular, “Contact Hi” brings to mind the early days of tobi lou and the “happy + extra sad” aesthetic the Chicago artist worked to perfect.

Sufi Hamilton achieves a superb knowledge of self on Hamo. Production is crafted around his voice rather than made to stand out and compete with his raps. Working through Comedian, Sufi figured out how to make music for him and shape his sound with a clearer image. Influenced by the great rapper-producers—Kanye West, Madlib—his next effort will blend the wonky sounds of Comedian and the crisp polish of Hamo.

For now, though, Sufi is simply enjoying living with his best friends, staying humble, and finding inspiration in everyday life.

When did you realize it was music or bust for you?

It was probably when I was 17 or 18. I wouldn’t say I was scared. It felt more like a revelation. I surprised myself because I was doing it as a hobby before then. It was one song I made in particular that really surprised me, and I realized I wasn’t gon’ be in the NBA. So it was a convergent moment for me.

What inspired your move from Virginia to Brooklyn?

To be around more like-minded people. The same reason anyone would move to New York. There’s an up-and-coming scene in the DMV, but it don’t compare to New York. I just happened to move at the worst time in recorded history.

How do VA and BK influence your music?

In Virginia, in particular, there’s no set sound. The sounds you do hear from Virginia are always against the grain. You have to be different to stick out. Because there’s no set sound like there is in Brooklyn or Chicago, or major cities, you have to think outside the box. That’s always been something I’ve been cognizant of.

Brooklyn… I don’t know if I could point to what about it really influences me, but it subconsciously does.

Hamo comes over two years after Comedian and is billed on Audiomack as a “reintroduction.” Can you speak to that concept?

I’ve been doing music for 10 years by now, but really started to take it seriously in the past years. Before then, I was sporadically working on it. I went all-in recently. I was able to find my sound with this last project. I’ve never had this much time, especially with the pandemic, to find my sound like this. This felt like my most cohesive and comfortable project.

Was Comedian not the right way to meet Sufi Hamilton?

It was groundwork, you know? A foundation. I’m proud of that project. It felt more “for me” than anything. If anything, it was introducing myself to myself.

Hamo felt like introducing myself to everybody. I also got way better at producing in the time between the two projects. Producing for myself, rather than just making the best beats I can. Now, I’m making beats for myself, crafting them. I got way better at that. I was able to shape my sound more now. I can play to my strong points better and craft [the beats] around my voice.

I love the cover of Hamo because you’re out of focus in the shot. It reads as this moment of humility. Would you consider yourself a humble guy?

Yeah, I really do. I’m super inspired by everybody and everything. I would hate to take credit for things. I just give it to all my inspirations, for real.

I try not to come off as pretentious in my music. It’s hard to straddle that line sometimes. That’s harder for me to do than it is to make a good rap or beat. Staying not corny or not pretentious, that’s what separates me. That’s where my humility shows, in my music.

Who inspires you the most?

Probably Kanye West, but he’s like… More so when I was starting out, it was Dilla. Just the concept of a rapper-producer was a big inspiration for me. Madlib. People like that. Even songwriters like Morrisey. The way people can get straight to the point with their words, I felt like that’s something I got from Morrisey, especially for my hooks.

How do you achieve the feel-good bounce in your music, especially during such a dark time in contemporary American history?

I’m fortunate enough to live with my best friends. I’m always inspired by them and constantly pulled out of any rut I’ll be in. They keep a good energy around me, and that always translates to my music. No matter how anything is, they’re always gonna get me to the right place. They’re a driving force, and also staying inspired on online spaces.

What side of Sufi Hamilton are you hoping to explore with your next effort?

I haven’t given much thought to the next project, but I wanna build off Hamo. I also wanna bring in some of the sounds I hit on on Comedian, some more left-field stuff. There are some left-field elements in Hamo, but it wasn’t as artistically ambitious as some of my older stuff. I’m gonna start inching that back into the music.

Photos by Brandon Burke.

InterviewSufi HamiltonHip HopBrooklynVirginia

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