In the years between when Ian Isiah was growing up in New York and when he made it big, Isiah, like most Big Apple dreamers, found himself working in retail. At a glossy SoHo store he prefers not to name, Isiah spent nearly a decade folding clothes by day and rising through the city’s sweaty downtown nightlife scene by night as part of the collective behind disruptive fashion label Hood by Air and established himself as an eccentric musician in his own right. In fact, Isiah has come a long way since his debut mixtape, The Love Champion in 2013, with his style of music shifting nearly as much as his visual presentation. Shedding his gospel drag and tokens from experimental rap, Auntie, Isiah’s newest project, which releases this week, harkens to his past—to his adolescent upbringing listening to old funk records with his parents but also to his transient years working the sales floor. It was in the latter phase that he first heard of Chromeo, the Canadian duo that brought electro-funk to the top 40 charts, and whom Isiah worked with on his latest record. As many relationships start, it all began earlier this year via Instagram DM. Here, the rule-breaking Blood Orange collaborator speaks with CR MEN about Auntie, making feel-good music during a disheartening time, and the questionable future of entertainment.
Auntie is such a perfect way to start the day—it’s so happy and warm, and really a different sound from what we’ve come to expect from you. Where did this new phase come from?
“Well, for one, I really, really love funk. And I feel like its presence in contemporary music has really disappeared. Sure it’s implemented in different genres—of course, thank god!—but there’s that specific funk and the idea of a groove, and grace, and tribute to the greats that I realized is missing from this era. And I felt it was only right to find that sound with Chromeo, who I collaborated with—they are the funk lord. So we made this album [Auntie], which is a culmination of everything I grew up listening to; everything that I know. It has my mom, my uncles, my aunties, duh, all my ancestors. It’s a whole vibe.”
The funk I think you’re alluding to feels very period-based. But the new music, it seems very modern, it doesn’t feel like an old record at all. How did you balance the inspirations and the melodies of funk with what’s going on today with the Corona pandemic and global social unrest?
“When funk hit the scene in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, it was a response to the current events and struggles of the time. It was kind of like, we’re a band and we’re still going to find a way to make music and have a good time even through this climate. It wasn’t until I finished Auntie that I realized it was kind of the same thing now. Like, woah, is this what funk is? Is this what groove is? Is it the way we express ourselves and our nation’s issues at the same time? It was definitely a ‘woah’ moment. It literally made sense 40, 50 years ago as much as it makes sense now.”
It’s weird how the timing of things just align. You didn’t really plan on these things being parallel, but it sort of makes sense contextually with the greater world.
“Yeah. Which also confirmed to me that it was time for this project to be released.”
All of your music videos are incredibly striking but no two are alike. There’s a strong performative aspect but each touches on different themes. Can you tell me about “Loose Truth,” which is one of the first singles from Auntie?
“‘Loose Truth’ is about my community first and foremost. The video is my way of spreading the word that essential workers matter. Local essential workers matter. Local people of color matter, Local trans [people] matter. Local youths matter. And direct support matters as well! I found myself reacting very intensely to this ‘new’ normal that we live in; donating a lot to causes, which is great and what should happen. But I also found myself not donating to or supporting my own local community, which didn’t sit well with me. I had no choice but to make that a thing. Of course, I’m dramatic, so I had to make it a thing for everybody—all of us. Cash App was pretty much my sugar daddy behind the video, and it was the first time outside of fashion that I cast local community leaders and doctors, and people of that nature, and was able to pay them on the day of the shoot. That was a big deal, because that’s literally the definition of direct local support. I was able to bring my family into the video. People I grew up singing with at church. I was able to purchase a studio for my little cousins, who are also in this video and want to be musicians as well. The whole point is: if you can’t support your inner circle, there’s no way your outer circle is going to be there to support you.”
We’re in the midst of this long-awaited racial reckoning. In addition to the collapse of the economy and the global pandemic, there are so many things just weighing people down. Was your next single, “Princess Pouty,” intended to be a sense of relief?
“In a way, yes! It’s an empowerment track so yeah, it’s definitely a relief for me and I hope it’s a relief for other people too when they listen to the words. For example, ‘Just ’cause you’re enough / you don’t have to be so perfect /momma, baby, daddy maybe be that climbin’ in the sky because you shine with all that glory.” The whole song is basically just parables of empowering yourself with a hook contradiction of being a bitch—a little princess pouty little bitch. I made the video with my close friend Thuan [Tran], who lives with me and works on basically everything I do. It portrays a clown that gets up and goes to work and does not care what anybody says because they are empowering themselves. The clown takes his ass to Coney Island, almost gets into a fight with some dude, and then goes back to his house to treat himself to a birthday party that no one came to. I picked a clown because they’re comical and stupid and if nobody else loves them, trust me they love themselves.”
We’re living in a time of unprecedented change. What do you think the immediate future of entertainment and fashion is?
“Well the system is definitely fucked up. But I also know that it’s a good time for everyone to reset and do things correctly. The interactiveness is gone. We have to recreate what it means to interact. But maybe we’ll just have to have fashion and music separately until we can figure it out together. What’s done in the past can’t be done again. Prices, even luxury, need to lower, because we have to make sure that we’re parallel no matter what we do. No matter what anyone in music does, if it’s not parallel to the nation’s climate right now, it will not succeed. If it’s not parallel to the nation’s climate or the needs of the people, it won’t succeed. Now that means it either needs to be 75 percent off, it needs to either be free, or it needs to benefit peoples’ lives in a way that everyone is comin’ on top.
I guess we will have to wait and see what happens. Every day is a different day.
“Every day is a different day but it’s okay to control the narrative. Just control it positively.”
prev link: https://www.crfashionbook.com/mens/a33850071/ian-isiah-auntie-interview-hood-by-air/
createdAt:Mon, 31 Aug 2020 14:40:38 +0000
displayType:Long Form Article