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Tiffany Chung

04 Feb 2021

Text by Tiffany Chung

ØLÅF CITIZENS: SANGO

04 Feb 2021

If you’re not familiar with the name Kai Wright, you might know him better as the renowned hip hop/electronic artist, Sango. He’s the talented DJ and record producer behind genre-melting sounds and albums like ‘Moments spent loving you’, ‘In the comfort of’, ‘Da Rocinha’ and ‘North’. In this edition of Citizens, Kai talks to us about how fatherhood, family, and the ‘Pacific Midwest’ have shaped who he is and influenced his career.

 

Hi Kai, phrases like ‘future of music’ and ‘visionary’ have been used to describe you. Yet you refer to your work as ‘regular, real beats’. Why’s that?

“Yeah, regular means understandable, relatable. A lot of people think that regular means basic and the word normal is bad. In my opinion, you can get too creative where you're not taming the art for it to have a message. That’s the beauty of creation because you have artists that are pushing boundaries and doing stuff that just does not make sense to anyone but them. But you also have creatives, like me, that are willing to reach out to people and understand culture and patterns in how we think and tie it into music and art. When it comes to creating things, I think we have to take what exists already, learn from our past, and repurpose it. You got to take things from the 70s, 60s, 1800s and kind of update the idea, you know. So regular music, regular beats are just ideas and sounds that you are familiar with but in a new way. That’s how I would put it. We’re already so complex as human beings, why add on to that?"

 

Were you raised in a musical household?

“Yeah, my mom still plays piano. She’s amazing. She actually started out making beats on a Casio controller. She was doing that while she was in the Navy. My father was more of a fan of music. He was definitely responsible for my influences, more so than my mom. He was like, ‘whatever you like, enjoy it.’ He wasn’t showing us death metal and stuff like that, but it was stuff that he felt we should hear. The trade off is that my mom was more technical with it. She taught us how music works. She sat me down, explained how to download programs that could help me and explained music theory to me. She was a really great mother because she allowed her children to have their own playground with constraints. She wasn't really controlling as a mom. She was like, ‘Oh I see something in you, and you should go for that. Embrace it.’ Musically that did really help a lot. I found myself knowing myself early on."

 

 

So, did you always know you were going to have a career in music?

“I knew I was going to be a creator. My mom was always telling me this story, I was maybe 3 or 4. We were at this computer store, I think it’s called Circuit City or something like that, and there was this computer that I was using really well. I was drawing on Microsoft Paint and people in the store were watching me like I was demoing how to use the stuff. It was the early 90s, so this stuff is really kind of new and they were like, ‘how did this kid learn this so fast?’ It was because we had computers at school, but I was just geared toward it."

 

Is that why you chose to study graphic design over music?

“It was kind of like a confidence thing. I knew I would be able to teach myself the things that I needed to know in music but not with graphic design and I was really into it at the time. I’m still into graphic design now, but I use it as a tool for my music. I really save a lot of money doing it, ha. Although I’m not opposed to working with other graphic designers, I feel like I have a sense of what I want to create, so why shut that off? But yeah, I chose graphic design because it was out of fear that I wasn’t going to make it in music. I mean I loved music, but I thought I needed to get a degree in graphic design so I can get a job at Sony, RCA, or Universal. I wanted to design album covers and help an artist brand themselves or maybe work at a company that makes clothing. But I ended up blowing up in college and going on tour multiple times. If I had studied music, I maybe would've fallen out of love with it. I know a lot of people who have gone to school for music and found it a waste of time."

 

Sango with Rick Rubin.

 

Out of all your projects, which has made the biggest impact on you?

“I would say my album called North. It was the first album that I ever fully thought out, worked on and saw from start to finish. The times before, I was just experimenting a lot and didn't have any solid ideas. But when I was making North it was a firm idea that I had created and filled it up until I saw the body of work that I was seeing in my head. Then I got together with this record label called Soulection. They put it out and it did pretty well in my opinion. I still had a day job, and I was hoping to quit, but it was a long time until I actually could."

 

 

What was your day job?

“I made baby oil. It was a night job. I would go clock in and fill the tubes up with baby oil. I did quit that job eventually, but I still needed to work so I did catering. That actually made me fall in love with cooking. Cooking is my hobby."

 

What can you cook?

“Oh easily, jambalaya. Louisiana-style jambalaya. My great grandma’s sister, who’s still alive, she’s from Louisiana and I get all her recipes. I love southern cooking. I love Louisiana because my family is from there. Also, my wife is from Mexico, so I make a mix of Louisiana and Mexican style food. I love cooking."

 

Sango with Xavier Omär.

Jambalaya is a Creole rice dish of West African, French, and Spanish influence, consisting mainly of meat and vegetables mixed with rice.

 

 

What else do you do on your off time?

“Play video games — NBA, FIFA, Spiderman (my favorite superhero). But I’m getting older now, so I like watching my nephew play. It’s fun hanging out with him. I do a lot of working out as well. I was an athlete in high school and parts of college but gave that up for music. I ran track and cross country. I was a runner runner. I was running the 800m dash, doing marathons, 5ks and competing."

 

Do you prefer live performances or studio recordings?

“Live. For sure."

 

 

Big crowds or small groups?

“Big crowds."

 

Are you an early bird or night owl?

“Night owl."

 

When you work on a project, how do you know when you're done?

“You know it’s funny, the first project I ever put out ever on the internet was called ‘Unfinished and Satisfied’. So that’s been me, I’ve never known when I’m done, but I’ve always been finished and been like, ‘I'm definitely putting this out.’ I’ll feel confident though, knowing that it might not be finished. If a project is finished, I’ll maybe feel like I’m not thinking enough because there’s always room for improvement or ideas. But my process starts as an idea from a conversation or maybe something that I saw on TV or the Internet that was dealing with a style of music. Or like something historical that I find and I dive deep into figuring out how they did that and why they did that at the time. Or just a mindset, right now my mindset has been about pacing yourself. At first, I liked to go fast, like jump from one thing to the next. Since COVID hit I've been embracing pacing myself again. I would go fast because I was worried that I needed to make as much money as I can or get opportunities while I can because I don't know if it's going to last. I’m literally traumatized by that feeling. I’m never going to be able to rest. Like I went on my first vacation maybe last year. Yeah, I was always thinking I can't afford to go on vacation, I have to pay rent. But yeah, my music is created by starting with an idea. Then it morphs into these little bubbles. I take whatever makes sense and use it on the album or project that I’m making. Whatever doesn’t make sense, I’ll put those ideas aside and save those for later."

 

 

Who do you go to for feedback?

“I would say my peers, definitely. A few people that I work with. These guys that I work with in Michigan. If your stuff is not good, they’ll let you know. They’re hardcore. Also, my wife and I’ll put stuff on Instagram or Twitter and let people respond to it. It might not be something I’m actually working on, but similar, so I’m going to keep trying it out. I have three types of music making: I have music where I’m helping someone else out and it’s not my stuff. I have music where I’m totally locked in and this is an idea that I’m working on. Then, I have stuff that’s like practice and trying out. The stuff I try out I post. "

 

You’ve said that you love change. What has been the most notable change you’ve experienced in your career?

“I think it was when I first started traveling. I remember the first places I went to were Toronto and Montreal. It was with Kaytranada, a really popular DJ from Montreal. They were literally the first places I’ve been to for music outside of the country. What changed is I started realizing that people really want to see me in person opposed to having music being played in the room, or on the Internet, or in the car. It’s cool that they want to hear me play it. Traveling made me more confident and it made me interested in seeing more people and how they lived. It opened my mind to other people who grew up in a totally different way. When we travel, we should always try to learn. I feel like a lot of people just travel to show that they went somewhere and use it as a backdrop, rather than learning and experiencing someone’s culture or someone’s place of origin."

What else inspires you? Name a person, place, and thing.

“I would say a person that inspires me is definitely my grandfather, Alandus. He’s the epitome of raw self-expression and I always struggled with that. I was really kind of shy growing up and I always had a lot of people around me that helped me be more out in the open and more upfront with who I am. It really helped with my music career because a lot of times when you’re on stage DJing or producing in a room with people, you have to be a vocal person. My grandfather is like the absolute most vocal person I can think of. He had a rough life. He’s from Chicago and he spent most of his early years in a gang and he changed his life around. Every time I have a conversation with him it’s always so robust. He’ll say the most outlandish things and you just have to accept what he's saying. He’s really passionate.

 

A place...ah man...okay, I was born in Seattle and I moved to Michigan when I was 10. I spent a lot of time going back and forth. So, because I’m from the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, I have this thing where I call it the ‘Pacific Midwest’. I would say that’s the place that inspires me. They inspire because of the working class feel I get from Michigan and the mix of the futuristic forward thinking I get from Seattle. That’s me. I’m very forward thinking as a person and how I treat my art, but I’m very grounded in tradition.

 

 

Fatherhood is the thing that inspires me. It’s very important to me. I have two kids. It challenges me every day. That stuff just brings the best out of you because you're not living for yourself. It’s a blessing for me because I get to see myself in them. I think kids are put on the planet to teach you how to be grateful for people who are able to have kids and be grateful for family and the community you have."

Tiffany Chung

15 Jun 2021

Text by Tiffany Chung

CITIZENS: TYLER ADAMS

15 Jun 2021

Tyler Adams is a multidisciplinary artist specializing in photography, art direction, and casting with a wide array of clients such as Def Jam Records Opening Ceremony, Beyoncé x Adidas. In this edition of Citizens, the LA native tells us about his early creative beginnings and shows us that there is more than one way into the industry.

 

Hey Tyler, you wear several hats. Put these three things in order of importance to you: photography, creative directing, casting.

“Oh wow, okay so photography is definitely the most important because it's what led me into the other avenues of my creativity. After that would be casting and then creative directing. Uh, wait, no. But that's hard to be honest because when I first started shooting, I was doing all these things in my personal work. I wanted to create images, but I wasn’t seeing the type of people that I wanted to shoot, so I started casting for myself. I didn’t have budgets to go to a showroom and pull clothes, so I was either putting together things that friends or the talent were bringing or even pulling out of my closet and putting that together. So, all of it is kind of important to a degree in order to make art. But I guess photography is the most important because that’s how I got into all the other things."

 

Why did you gravitate to photography in the first place?

“It was kind of an innate thing. I say that I've been shooting since I was 5. Growing up, my grandma had an old school Polaroid 600, and I would just run around with it, create, and shoot things. It's always been something that was there and that just started my fascination with it. I've always been a visual kid."

 

Tyler in Mexico.

 

What would you say makes a great photograph?

“Great’ I feel can be subjective. I think perspective is very important, not so much composition, but I mean like my personal chase. Like what I may think is a great image may not be a great image to you. You may be into colors or compositions or location, but all of that has to do with your perspective and what makes the most sense to you or what you move to personally."

 

Do you have a favorite photograph?

“Yes. Actually, I do. My favorite photograph of all time – I get so excited thinking about it – is Richard Avedon’s portrait of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar before he was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In New York, it's a picture of him on the basketball court. He's tall and lanky. His posture and everything is so elegant and beautiful. It's the freshest thing. I've tried to recreate the essence of it in my own work a couple times."

 

So, do you prefer to photograph people?

“Professionally, I do shoot a lot of people, like fashion portraiture. But I still have some weird tether to wanting to photograph cityscapes, different vignettes of buildings, or graphics and shapes. I usually try to make them both kind of work together in my work – people, spaces, and architecture."

 

Drake Jazz by Tyler Adams.

 

You've worked with a lot of brands. Any favorites?

“That’s a tricky one. I don't want to play favorites but if I had to choose...Opening Ceremony was one of my first big fashion clients. Just being a fan of the brand, that was like one that I really wanted to work with. I shot with them for a while, I did some social and editorial stuff. Then, they let me shoot fashion weeks and I worked on a couple of their shows. So, that may be my favorite one because that got me to where I am today."

 

Was it hard breaking into the industry?

“Oh my god, yes. My friend and I laugh about it now. Photography has changed. It's mind-blowing how different photography and the whole industry is now versus what it was like 6 to 10 years ago. At the time when I was in college, the mindset was that you went to school, you built your book, you took your book and you moved to New York. It wasn't until you worked in New York that you would pop off and actually get to work. But out of college it was like you assisted somebody for years and then at some point you move from being 30th assistant to 1st assistant before having your break or whoever you are assisting being like, ‘I have a job that I don't want to do, you can do it’, and then that's you’re beginning. I didn’t go that route because I was like if this is what it's going to take for me to put food on the table, it’s going to take a while. But I didn't want to move outside of my creativity.

SO I started helping a really close friend of mine who was an upcoming stylist. She occasionally needed help and I feel like that’s what changed it for me because being on set in that capacity is different from being a photographer's assistant. When you assist a photographer, they don't want you to speak to the client. But everybody else has a different relationship, when you're with the stylist and those people for 8 hours on set, you actually get to know people by name. It allowed me to build relationships and be like, ‘oh you know I'm helping the stylist, but I actually shoot.’ Photography assistants can’t do that. They can’t say, ‘yeah check out my work’ because it feels like he's trying to take the photographer’s clients."

 

Opening Ceremony by Tyler Adams 1/2.

Opening Ceremony by Tyler Adams 2/2.

 

 

What’s your most memorable shoot?

“My second time in Paris was pretty memorable and cool for me because the first time I went to Paris I didn't shoot which I was bummed out about. I always try making an effort when I go somewhere new or somewhere different to actually create work in those spaces. So, I was with Kendall, and we shot in the Tuileries Garden. There was a carnival, and he just grabbed his skateboard, and we were just chilling. It was an evening in June, so the light was amazing, the weather was nice, it was a good time."

 

When you cast people for a shoot, do you keep diversity and representation in mind?

“Always. That's the first thing. When I was starting out there wasn’t any. Even now, if clients ask for diversity, there aren't a lot of options of people who look like me or people who come from the areas I come from. In general, I'm usually trying to extend opportunities and bring more people in, to experience being on set and working, or being in front of the camera. The cool thing about today is that you don’t have to look like a runway model to book a campaign or to get work."

 

TStyling for Highsnobiety Magazine.

Styling for Exit Magazine.

 

 

What do you do when you're not working?

“Not working? I don't know what that is. Ha. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing, but I feel like my work isn't necessarily work all the time. I'm usually at home or I go to the beach, I go for drives and look at architecture, I see my friends every now and then."

 

Instagram filters. Like ’em, hate ’em, or no opinion?

“I don't use them in my work, but for stories and selfies they’re super fun. I don't get tripped up by that shit, they’re fun. Also, Instagram is a tool. If you have a business or if you’re an artist, it’s a quick way to get going."

 

Complexcon photo with Pharrell.

Maison jumpman. paris, 2019.

 

 

Do you see things in black and white or shades of grey?

“Wow, that's deep. Definitely shades of grey. I think that two things can be true at the same time, it's never as cut and dry as things may appear."

 

What's the last song you listened to?

“Introverted Intuition by Lance Skiiiwalker."

 

Name one thing in your closet you can't live without.

“Damn, I can't live without any of it. I'm not a hoarder and I don't have a crazy amount of things, so none of them can go. I do have this pair of cargo pants that are always in the rotation, and I wear a lot of shoes. I’m a shoe person.">

 

Young Tyler.

 

Can you name a person, a place, and a thing that inspires you?

“My mom is really inspirational. She encouraged my creativity and to do the things that I wanted to do. She wasn’t trying to get me to be the person that she wanted me to be. Instead, she gave me the tools to be who I am and to develop the things that make me happy. I haven't been to Tokyo. Tokyo inspires me from a distance. I feel like they live in the future. It's 2021 here, but it's like 2025 there: technology-wise, lifestyle, and how they lay out their space. Being a digital kid, it just always felt like that was the future and everything is cooler there. It’s just a city that looks cool, there's a different light there. It just feels cool, clean, peaceful, and modern. The thing that inspires me is architecture. That's where I get most of my inspiration from now. It makes me happy. I like how people think about the allocation of space, how people interact with space, and how cities are laid out. All that stuff is super inspiring and drives me crazy. I go through a rabbit hole of architecture and design and when my day is over that's usually where I'm at. "