SB the Moor is an artist from Sacramento. They have been releasing music for nearly a decade, with several releases on Deathbomb Arc, Fake Four, and also joining up with the Ruby Yacht gang. We were able to catch up with SB at a tour stop in Brooklyn, where they were gracious enough to talk to us about their new album, In Babylon.
SB the Moor live at Sovereign in Brooklyn
Scratched Vinyl: Let’s start with some quick background – how did you first start getting into music, deciding that was the path you were going to down?
SB the Moor: There’s three parts to that – as a child, before I had any actual music ability, I always just loved listening to music. I was very musical. And my dad was into gangsta rap, so I would listen to the gangsta rap album he had in his car, try to get a semblance of his history. And then also in elementary school we had like an “Art Wednesday.” It was really cool, that we had this robust art system, I guess. So every Wednesday we would practice piano. I really liked that a lot. Then I moved to a more upper class school, and we had band class. I was like, “I’m about to play the drums!” And I was pretty much in band for the rest of my school career, and by the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I was in metal bands, and making rap music. That’s where it started really. Nothing too crazy, but definitely a long time coming.
SV: You touched on these different influences you had. How did you navigate these different sounds and find your voice within that?
SB the Moor: It’s funny, I feel like I just now found my voice on this album, In Babylon. Other than that, I was always just experimenting. From the ages of fourteen to twenty six, everything I did was a big experiment. Finally, when my brain solidified at twenty seven-twenty eight, I had more of an idea of what I actually wanted to do with these magical powers that I have. And have worked so hard to create. And so here we are with In Babylon.
SV: And that takes us to the new album. “Babylon” is such a loaded term, historically –
SB the Moor: Religious. Historical.
SV: What does that word mean to you? What did you have in your head, when you came up with that for the title of your album?
SB the Moor: Mostly, I was just copying reggae. In reggae they are always talking about Babylon, and it’s sort of a fire and brimstone preacher type thing. I’m sure they’re mostly talking about the Western world and capitalism, and all that kind of stuff. And talking about how we’re all in Babylon. There’s a track called “War ina Babylon” by Lee Scratch Perry and his house band, and…how does it go? “The barber no like the dreadlock, the dreadlock no like the barber man, the police no like the dreadlock, the dreadlock no like the policeman.” A lot of these songs talk about Babylon as being this tipping point, of a society kind of imploding upon itself. That’s also biblically what it was about. I’m not religious, I haven’t read the Bible, but as the historical story goes…I honestly feel like in America right now, it’s very Babylonian. Not to get too deep, but there are shootings every freaking day, it is like it’s cancer. In the body, cancer is when cells start killing themselves, and that’s exactly what’s going on right now. I don’t want to be a fire and brimstone preacher, I don’t want to be like, “The end is nigh!” That’s kind of what my first album was. El Negro was very much “The end is nigh!” I don’t think the end is nigh, because even if we all killed ourselves and we were destroyed, Earth will still keep going. I’m getting pretty heavy, and I don’t think that will happen, but my point is more that I want people to look around them and understand what is going on. The song about cell phones, and how they are only made capable because of essentially enslaved children mining in Africa, and all the tech companies we know are getting jewels from that, that is how they come…I still have two cell phones. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad, but I do want people to be aware of things that are happening. All of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into us having a life that we are born into that we think is fine. Even if you think that you have a shitty life, there are certain privileges that we have in America that are based on other people’s pain, you know?
SV: To a point that you already touched on a little bit, how do you make an album like this take shape, that has these political messages, without having it turn into this preachy, fire and brimstone kind of thing? Like people can still bump it.
SB the Moor: Totally. I think it started with the beats, honestly. I had all of the beats done a long time ago, and they were just sitting around. Basically, when I made this album, I didn’t have the capability of making any new beats. My computer had broken, and the computer I was using didn’t have the software I usually use. So I used the old beats that I had already made. I picked some good ones. At the time, I never used them, because they were too poppy, to generic hip hop-y, and I was doing weird, crazy shit. But then I was just like, “What if I made an album with those…who cares?” If it flops, then it flops, but I think this is tight. And then I was like, well if these are so cool and listenable and danceable, then I could be more specific with…I don’t even want to say a political message, because I don’t talk about politics. E-40 calls himself “The Curb Commentator,” he’s kind of just talking about what he sees. I feel like I’m doing the same thing, just on a global scale. The things that I read about, the things that I’m interested in, I want to tell people. I think of it more like each song on the album is a little essay. Instead of an essay, I just wrote a song. So that was kind of how it came about. If the beats bump, you could listen to the song and not even give a fuck about what I’m saying and enjoy it. But if you are interested in what I’m saying, it’s like, “Oh! He’s saying some real shit. And he sounds good doing it!”
SV: One of the songs on the album is called “Proud Boy Anthem.” Since the album has been out, have you received any blow back? Has anyone discovered it?
SB the Moor: I wish! Nothing crazy has happened. I was honestly a little nervous – I was like, “If this pops off, I could put a target on my back.” But then I was like, “Don’t be a punk!” That’s the point of putting this song out! That’s the point of this song! I was just thinking, America is built on the graves of indigenous and African people. And it’s like, you don’t learn about it in school, really! And I’m not trying to make people feel bad, I’m not trying to make people do anything, other than just being aware of what the truth is. Be truthful, you know what I mean?
SV: Another song I wanted to ask about was “Immigrant Song.” How did you hit on that angle of complicating the word “immigrant,” and tying in your own family history, and broadening it out from there?
SB the Moor: Well, there’s two things. One, freaking Led Zeppelin has that song, “Immigrant Song.” I just thought that was ridiculous. I mean, sorry to any Led Zeppelin fans out there, but I was like, “I come from the land of ice and snow…” Is he talking about the Vikings? I didn’t even know. So I was like, let’s make my own immigrant song. But really it came about because I grew up around a lot of immigrants from different places – many different places in Asia, many different places in Africa. Sacramento is apparently one of the most diverse cities in the world, I’ve heard. Maybe just in the U.S. Apparently it’s very diverse. I remember I grew up with all sorts of different shapes, colors, and sizes of people. That was just normal for me. And then, as I got older, I just got more of an understanding of immigrant struggles from different places, and I just saw a lot of similarities between immigrants and Black and Brown people who were born here. Especially people with African ancestry, having to move around because of persecution, or because of violence, or even just fucked up shit going on in the family, or because of rent moving up. I know people who have moved twenty times before they graduated high school. Both of my parents had to move like once a year. Luckily, by the time I was a teenager, they had one house that they still live in…And I think there’s just a lot of hatred between specifically Black people and immigrant people, especially in lower income communities. I think because of the stigma around Black people in popular culture, immigrants, even from Africa, don’t want to associate with that. And I think that Black people feel that hatred and are like, “Fuck you guys! You’re not even from America!” It’s the divide and conquer. The powers that be want us to fight so that we can’t unite. It’s that simple. I don’t think anyone would hear that and disagree, if they’re actually paying attention to what’s going on in the world.
SV: The album has been out for a little bit and you’ve been out on the road. What’s the reception been like?
SB the Moor: It’s been dope! Everyone seems to like it a lot. Yeah, I hope people like it. I love seeing people move and dance. This is my first tour trying to get people to dance. Usually, in the past, I do more screaming and aggressive stuff. I’m just chilling out as I get older.
SV: You’ve got the current run going. Is there anything else on the horizon that people should be looking out for?
SB the Moor: I’m definitely going to be doing Escape From Babylon. That’s going to be the sequel. I’m going to start working on that as soon as I get home. I’m working on that. I’m definitely going to be doing one more tour – not as big as this one, but one more tour before the year ends. Maybe the West Coast and the South. And that’s pretty much it. I’m going to be looking for residencies, the kind of stuff that fine artists do. Trying to elevate my game a little bit. And just look for any opportunities - like I said, I’m getting a little bit older, I’m feeling more confident in myself. I want to get my visual art out there, my writing out there. I don’t want to spread myself too thin, but at the same time, I’ve been a writer longer than I’ve been a rapper. But I never pursued that professionally. If possible, combine everything into one, but if not, take time away from one and focus on the other. I need money for rent.
SV: Finally, if there were three people that you could work with that you haven’t, who would that be?
SB the Moor: One person that I’ve said before is Wynton Marsalis. I just recently found his piece called Blood on the Fields, which is fucking amazing. It’s like a two-and-a-half hour oratoria, which I had never even heard of before I heard this. It’s amazing – it’s storytelling, it’s jazz, it’s experimental, but it’s big band. It’s awesome. Another person who I would like to work with…I would like to work with my good friend Victor Mariachi, who I’m actually going to be working with. And then…I don’t know. That is a great question. I can’t think of anyone. I’m working with such amazing people already. That aren’t too many on my wish list.
**To learn more, visit: https://sbthemoor.bandcamp.com/