While scrolling on TikTok in the spring of 2022, I stumbled across the song “Silhouette” by Wakai (feat. MARCO PLUS), which I immediately saved. The witty lyricsism and dynamic flows over smooth, dreamy production inspired me to listen to his album, To a Dark Boy, in its entirety. Wakai’s music is vibrant yet subdued, and listening to him challenges me to look within. In pursuit of more insight on an artist I enjoy so much, Wakai and I had a conversation to discuss his journey and relationship with music.
VM: Can you tell us about yourself? How did you start playing and performing music? Why did you decide to pursue music?
W: I’m Wakai, a visual storyteller from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
I received a drum set when I was three years old due to me always doing rhythmic things around the house to the point my parents had to supply me something to harness to my craft. My father introduced me to one of his close friends who happened to be a rapper around the time I was ten and he allowed me to do my first shows at a young age, as well as bringing me to the studio which I am forever grateful for. There’s probably footage of those shows somewhere.
I felt the need of pursuing music as a real calling from within. I noticed a lot of my classmates from highschool and even some I met while I was briefly in college found themselves at a crossroads at what their real purpose was. For me even if I had no notoriety or appeal I would make music for the essence of healing and the power it gives me when I channel the thoughts of my ancestors and the stories I’ve suppressed throughout my life, music allows me to cleanse.
Are there any artistic influences and/or contemporaries that you’d like to highlight? Any local acts from Baton Rouge/Louisiana?
Being from the south the first two people to really have a significant impact on me were my childhood years of hearing André 3000 from Outkast and me never forgetting the car ride freshman year when a friend played “Modest” by Isaiah Rashad. It forever changed my life. Of course I can recall where I was the first time I heard “Sherane [a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter]” by Kendrick Lamar, but those two men specifically taught me how to embrace my cadence being from the south and adding the melodic element to it. Nothing is wrong making music that is conversational, and for them I am thankful. My creative hub in Baton Rouge blossomed the most from my collective Col-Der-Sac consisting of members: Ronday, Douno, JoshSimmons, V!lla, and OshaBlueye. Those guys formed a brotherhood within our friendship to lean on each other throughout our creative endeavors. No idea was too big and no thought was too small with those guys. All of them are extremely talented.
What does your creative process look like? Is writing songs something that grounds you?
I tend to love making music in solitude if i’m tracking vocals down at my house, but I really love having jam sessions with different musicians and finding a groove within that and creating a song from it. My new album is an extension of creations I always wanted to externalize but never knew how to get the sonic backdrop to fully encapsulate it. Music will forever ground you, especially when you have the opportunity of aligning with other souls who may be experiencing the same problems you run across but don’t know how to vocalize the fear or frustration of it.
You’ve said previously that you named your album “To A Dark Boy” because you are a light regardless of how others perceive you. Can you speak more to that?
When you look up Webster’s term for the word ‘Dark’ you see ‘a place or time with little or no light’. That definition struck me as a recurring theme in my life. Not only having a darker complexion but also the amount of rain that happens in my state leaves some seasons visually dark. The word is inescapable. But empowerment came from this to me, I learned the light within myself could carry me through any darkness around me. I personally find a layer of trauma and angst within Louisiana due to the covert and overt racism that bubbles in it. My great grandfathers would have to walk with their head down if someone of white complexion walked on the sidewalk. Hearing these stories sparked a pride in not only my blackness and the freedoms they weren’t able to have, but my eternal gratitude to be every dream they could not achieve, and every hope they once yearned for.
You were on the Texas leg of MAVI’s most recent tour, and his album “Let the Sun Talk” is thematically similar to yours. Do you find yourself being directly influenced by other artists when making music or do you see connections to others after you’re done making a song/project?
I find that my peers are more so friends to me creatively. And being that MAVI is from Charlotte I assume we grew up listening to the same artists our parents played. The connections are inseparable due to the collective consciousness people from the south tend to inherit from each other. I personally draw more inspiration from the artists my parents played when they were my age, than my peers. I do love the music that is coming out from my era though, especially now. I just feel my albums are more so visual storylines that began through my personal upbringing, and not the upbringing of my musical peers.
Do you have specific goals you’d like to reach before the end of the year, whether that be concerning song output, fanbase growth, performances, or something else?
All the above honestly, but at the center of my hopes I want to become a better man. Once I become that I can be the truest form of an artist I can be. I have some shows planned that I’m excited for, and also the planning of my first tour.
Can you tell us anything about upcoming EPs/albums/projects?
I have a new album coming up this summer. It’s my second album and one I’m the most amped about, it took 23 years to make this project and the music reflects that.
What’s your favorite thing about performing?
The look in peoples eyes when you say words that strike a nerve within them. There is no better feeling then being on the same frequency as someone and you become intertwined through the vocal projections.
What song(s) of yours would you recommend a new fan to start off with?
I would say the first 3 songs to hear from me are “Starter Jacket” , “Silhouette” and “Collect Calls”. I think they all show the depth of my style and also sonic components of my life and spiritual journey.
You’ve built an impressive list of collaborators already. Who are some artists, musicians, or producers that you’d like to work with in the near future?
I would love to create with Smino, Erykah Badu, Jordan Ward, and Jean Deaux. And as far as producers Knxwledge, Pharrell, Emil, and Timbaland.
What has been most successful in growing your fanbase? Performances? Social media? Collaborations?
Traveling by far. Nothing beats going across the country and having tangible connections with people that transcend a phone screen.
Check out Wakai‘s most recent single “Frustrated” on all streaming platforms.
Adeboye Adeoye is a student at the University of Georgia studying Economics, Sociology, and Music Business. As an avid playlist maker, he always looks for connections and themes across albums and genres. He listens primarily to Hip Hop but enjoys R&B, Neo-Soul, Pop, Afrobeats, Indie, and more beyond that as well.