“Blessed.” That is what “Masego” means in Tswana, the official language of Botswana — and 22-year-old multi-instrumentalist Masego picked the name for a reason.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, and raised in a Christian community in Newport News, Virginia, Masego — real name Micah Davis — could be called musically blessed. He’s a vocalist who also plays cello, trumpet, drums, guitar and piano, but he specializes in the saxophone, both alto and tenor. So even though he could be classified as a hip-hop artist, that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. He prefers a genre of his own making: TrapHouseJazz.
Released in June, Masego’s Pink Polo EP (stream it below) is the fullest realization yet of his TrapHouseJazz style. It merges traditional jazz sounds — saxophone, scatting — with the thump of trap music and the swing of house. That combination is probably what attracted eclectic, tastemaking label and collective Soulection to the Virginian’s music: He works within hip-hop, but burrows deeper, down to its roots.
Masego doesn’t limit himself to just music, either; he dabbles in comedy (on Pink Polo and on social media, he plays a lecherous-but-lovable character called Uncle Sego, inspired by a Dairy Queen employee he’s known for years) and he’s even broken into tech, helping build an app that makes it easier for musicians to link up and collaborate. Called Network, the app is expected out next year.
Before Masego came to D.C. last week to play a midnight brunch hosted by Made in the DMV, Bandwidth asked him about his DIY approach to music composition, his love of comedy and how he sneaked onto Soulection’s radar with a bit of Internet trickery.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Bandwidth: You don’t know how to read music. Do you ever plan to learn?
Masego: I feel like I need to learn it eventually just to open up another door of connections. There are some people who aren’t going to respect you if you can’t read music. I don’t need to, but I will [learn how] eventually, just so I can write sheet music and give it to people. Everyone communicates with music in a different way. With some people, if there’s not sheet music, they’re not playing it.
So what about writing music — can you do that?
If I sit down for an hour, I can figure it out, but I’m not fluent. I made my own rulebook. I made this chart of my own that’s not staff or music. [I] say, “This [symbol] represents a G note.” In my mind, I know what G sounds like. I show it to people and they’re like, “That’s not [notes].” But to me, it makes perfect sense.
I really just go with what my soul says. There’s not a lot of thinking in my music. I freestyle a lot of things and organize it later, and then it becomes a song. Or I just turn my piano on and put my hands on the keys and whatever happens, happens. It’s real soul-driven. Anytime I’ve tried to make this recipe for dopeness, it just doesn’t work.
I saw an interview you did back in January in which you said you wanted to get down with Soulection. About eight months later, you play their Sound Of Tomorrow show in L.A. How did you make that happen?
Basically, I ripped three songs from YouTube from Soulection recap videos, put it in a beat, played sax over it and titled it “Soulection x Masego 2015.” I was like, “The public is going to think that we collaborated,” and “[Soulection] is going to think [I’m] bold for stealing [their] content and playing sax over it, claiming that we’re about to be a thing in 2015.” So Joe Kay [a Soulection co-founder] found that and emailed me shortly afterwards. [Laughs] I’m pretty much like, “Come fight me if you think this is bad.”
You’re extremely active on Soundcloud and you work closely with people who are also active online. But some of those people are across the country, like Medasin, the Dallas producer you collaborated with on the Pink Polo EP. How does that dynamic work, versus recording with someone in person?
With younger producers nowadays, the Internet really works out the best. People are very, “I don’t want to tell you I don’t like this, I’m just going to change it.” It works out to where I do what I feel is dope, I send it off to you, you do your thing and then send it back and we just create this thing.
But as far as being in the studio with somebody, the vibe definitely has to be right because I’m not going to force it. I wouldn’t want someone to be like, “Create ‘Girls That Dance’ again.” Music doesn’t work that way for me. I don’t go in the studio with the mission to kill the game.
Tell me about TrapHouseJazz, the band.
There’s 100 people that are in TrapHouseJazz. In Virginia, people get it now. I had a bunch of auditions to see who understands that you can’t just play gospel music your whole life. I played some Soundcloud beats to see if they could get down with that, and then they were just in the band. So it’s two things after that. I can call you for gigs that make sense with you, and we just get these different combinations of instruments. I got a harp player, a stand-up bass, violin, violas. And then on top that, I have stems from everybody. So anytime I make a beat with their stems, it’s a TrapHouseJazz band song.
You made the song “Peace & Love” after the Charleston church shooting. Do you feel a certain social responsibility as an artist?
I’m aware and I feel like we should be consistent more as a culture. I try to help with that via music. I can try to allow someone to be changed by a song. I made “Peace & Love” right after Mike Brown [was killed]. First I just made a small loop, then another incident happened and I worked with it again. So each time something happened, I kept making that song. And by the end, “Peace & Love” kind of came out — the lyrics came last. I feel like it’s my responsibility to contribute to a good vibe in the world and to do what I can, when I can.
In addition to everything that you do musically, you have your app, Network. How did that come about?
Early on, I wanted to help out other people that were low-key. I feel like I was one of those low-key gems in Virginia, and I feel like a lot of my friends are as well. There are so many people that aren’t poppin’, but they should be. With the app, I tried to make an environment where everybody that’s dope could be in the public eye.
What I’ve been learning with music, at least at this stage, is that there’s not crazy money in it if you just do it the music way. If I just do shows, I’m not really [earning a lot] because I’m trying to bring my band with me. That is to say, I wanted to make something that was the foundation of my income and my lifestyle so that I could continue to do music for fun. I don’t want to create music or do a partnership because of the money. I don’t want to be money-influenced. A lot of my friends are [doing well], but music is not fun for them.
You have an alter-ego you call Uncle Sego. Who is he? Can you describe the marriage between your music and comedy?
There are, like, four people in my life that I enjoy making fun of, but it’s in a flattering type of way because they’re cool and influential people. [One of them is] the ice cream man that’s worked at Dairy Queen for as long as I can remember. He’s who he is 100 percent of the time. He’s got that Uncle Sego voice and he’s always hollering at women. Uncle Sego is a character that exists in a lot of places and allows me to have more fun onstage.
I think I structure my show around stand-up comedy, and we just sprinkle music into it. That’s just the easiest way for me to do what I do. Jamie Foxx was one of those people where I could see how you finessed the comedy and then hopped on the keys and then you’re making them laugh four seconds later. I felt most comfortable doing it like that.