Maségo plays by his own rules

Multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist begets ‘trap house jazz’

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY TYLER BLINT-WELSH tyler.blint­welsh@wash­post.com

Maségo slipped into a silk but­ton-down to go with his vi­brant Vivi­enne West­wood pants and vel­vet Gucci san­dals. It was his sec­ond sold-out show of the night at U Street Mu­sic Hall. He waited a sec­ond, let­ting his TrapHouseJazz Band take the stage, be­fore saun­ter­ing over to play the in­stantly rec­og­niz­able sax­o­phone riff from his hit “Tadow.” The crowd, which be­gan lin­ing up on U Street be­fore he had fin­ished his sound­check six hours ear­lier, broke into a roar.

The Ja­maican-born artist calls him­self a “mu­si­cal ac­tor,” and his live show makes that clear. At the mic, he’s a singer, a wom­an­izer, a standup comic, a freestyle beat­maker and a dancer — al­most all at the same time.

Be­fore per­form­ing “Wife­able,” he in­spired an au­di­ence-wide swoon as he pon­dered aloud the pos­si­bil­ity of his fu­ture wife be­ing at the show. On “Sego Hot­line,” he spelled out why he should be any woman’s number one choice — “My text mes­sages ain’t green baby!” — in ref­er­ence to the long­stand­ing An­droid vs. iPhone de­bate. He broke into a smoothly chore­ographed two-step with his backup dancers while his band played the outro to “Queen Tings.”

When he be­came thirsty in the mid­dle of it all, he stopped to hy­drate, then got the au­di­ence to sing along to a song he made up on the spot about drink­ing water.

His show days, he says, are when he’s at his “cock­i­est.” And it makes sense.

Be­tween the ra­bid crowd and the back­stage guests — which in­cluded GoldLink, his Gram­mynom­i­nated “cre­ative brother,” and Xavier Omar, an­other oc­ca­sional col­lab­o­ra­tor — he’s a far cry from the days when he’d host par­ties and jam ses­sions in his dorm at Old Do­min­ion Univer­sity in Nor­folk.

The multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist (he says he plays 16 in­stru­ments at the last count) is hav­ing the most suc­cess­ful year of his bud­ding ca­reer. His de­but al­bum, “Lady Lady,” came out in Septem­ber to over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­views. He’s on a head­lin­ing tour across North Amer­ica and seems to be inch­ing closer and closer to a main­stream break­through.

That the 25-year-old has no for­mal mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion — save for “YouTube Univer­sity,” as he calls it — makes his as­cent even more no­table. He can’t read mu­sic (and has no plans to learn) and re­called be­ing de­nied a schol­ar­ship to Old Do­min­ion be­cause of his dearth of mu­sic the­ory knowl­edge.

With­out a tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion, he’s guided him­self by try­ing to strike a sonic bal­ance be­tween “ig­no­rance and el­e­gance,” a mis­sion in­spired by the count­less jam ses­sions he had with ship­yard work­ers and neigh­bor­hood guys grow­ing up in New­port News, Va. Those ses­sions birthed his TrapHouseJazz sound, a con­cept he de­scribes as a mash-up of two gen­res — jazz and trap mu­sic — that rep­re­sent South­ern black cul­ture but rarely in­ter­min­gle.

“When I don’t know all the rules, I just break them all,” he says. “And it be­comes like a higher level of mu­sic be­cause of that.”

His ig­no­rance, or in­dif­fer­ence, to the rules, has shaped his ca­reer.

He once down­loaded a cou­ple of songs from Soulec­tion, a pop­u­lar mu­sic col­lec­tive, then played sax­o­phone over them and posted them on­line with the mis­lead­ing ti­tle, “Soulec­tion x Masego,” in the hope that the pub­lic would think it was a col­lab­o­ra­tion. The track has since been deleted, but soon af­ter it went up, Soulec­tion’s co­founder Joe Kay reached out and booked Maségo to per­form in Los An­ge­les.

He met Soun­wave, the Grammy-win­ning pro­ducer be­hind Ken­drick Lamar’s big­gest hits, af­ter un­know­ingly flirt­ing with his girl­friend on In­sta­gram. As part of his old In­sta­gram se­ries, “Ar­bi­trary Sax,” Maségo says he would freestyle on his sax­o­phone then ded­i­cate the video to a woman he would find on the app’s Ex­plore page, for Woman Crush Wed­nes­day. One of the women was Soun­wave’s girl­friend.

“So I get this, like threat­en­ing call, and he’s like, ‘Oh, you mak­ing songs about my girl, huh?’ But he was cool, he just in­vited me to the stu­dio and re­ally took me un­der his wing for a while,” Maségo says.

Soun­wave ul­ti­mately pro­duced the ti­tle track for “Lady Lady.”

Up un­til his lat­est project, Maségo’s free­wheel­ing, whim­si­cal style of cre­at­ing and per­form­ing had come to de­fine him.

“If you put me on a track, you kind of don’t know what I’m go­ing to do,” he says. “You know there’s go­ing to be sax­o­phone, prob­a­bly. And I mean, there’s go­ing to be some very like, haunt­ing har­monies. But ev­ery­thing else is just how­ever I’m feel­ing that day.”

“Tadow,” his most pop­u­lar song, was recorded with Parisian artist French Kiwi Juice in one take in just eight min­utes. The video has more than 60 mil­lion views on YouTube and fea­tures Maségo mov­ing through a mu­sic stu­dio in Paris, ef­fort­lessly switch­ing be­tween play­ing the sax­o­phone, drums and pi­ano, while record­ing his vo­cals on a loop sta­tion. The “Pink Polo EP,” his break­out 2015 project, was recorded with Dal­las-based pro­ducer Medasin in just a week.

For “Lady Lady,” how­ever, he took a step away from his TrapHouseJazz sound to­ward some­thing more ma­ture, a shift aided by his col­lab­o­ra­tions with Kojo, a Nige­rian pro­ducer Maségo met in Los An­ge­les, who ended up ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duc­ing the project.

The al­bum, Maségo says, marked the first time he’d ever taken time to re­write his verses.

“If I re­ally wanted to, I could just drop some­thing ev­ery day,” he said. “But I felt like for this par­tic­u­lar project, I wanted to just think ev­ery sin­gle bit of it through even more, where like for years you could just feel all the lay­ers.”

Plus: “I’m go­ing to have to per­form these songs a mil­lion times — I bet­ter love it.”

To Maségo, “Lady Lady” is a “con­ver­sa­tion about mod­ern re­la­tions” and is in­spired by his re­la­tion­ships with women. It ex­plores an in­her­ent con­tra­dic­tion within him­self — the de­sire to find an ev­er­last­ing love, which he sings about on the ode to his fu­ture wed­ding day, “Black Love,” and the ego and temp­ta­tion that come with fame, as de­tailed on “Lav­ish Lul­laby.”

“I’m still fig­ur­ing out ex­actly what fits with my life,” he says.

Sit­ting in his room at D.C.’s Ea­ton Ho­tel ahead of his back-to­back sets, and in be­tween the inces­sant re­fresh­ing of his In­sta­gram di­rect mes­sages, Maségo seemed to un­der­stand the need for bal­ance when it comes to overindulging his ego.

“To be able to be at the level that I per­form on­stage, I have to em­body ev­ery­thing I’ve made my mu­sic about. Which is me,” he says. “But you’ve got to keep peo­ple like my band around me who will bring you back down to earth. . . . There might be women that are like, ‘Oh, my God, I need him,’ but then the two ladies on my [tour] bus will def­i­nitely joke on me for be­ing ashy,” he says, laugh­ing.

On the road, “it’s my birth­day ev­ery day,” he says. But when he’s done with the tour, he’s look­ing for­ward to hang­ing out in his North Hol­ly­wood neigh­bor­hood, where he’s more likely to wear sweat­pants than silk, and where the staff mem­bers at his fa­vorite restau­rant know his Acai bowl or­der by heart.

“I just like to bal­ance it out,” he says. “That keeps you a nor­mal hu­man be­ing.”

TYLER BLINT-WELSH/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Ja­maican-born Maségo plays at least 16 in­stru­ments but can’t read mu­sic. He in­vented the TrapHouseJazz sound, a mash-up of two gen­res, jazz and trap mu­sic, that rep­re­sent South­ern black cul­ture but rarely in­ter­min­gle. “When I don’t know all the rules, I just break them all,” he says. He is a “mu­si­cal ac­tor,” he says, and his show makes that clear. At the mic, he’s a singer, a standup comic and a dancer

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