Sriracha is seemingly everywhere, these days. Once reserved for Thai and Vietnamese dishes, the spicy Southeast Asian sauce has infiltrated everything we eat, from popcorn and potato chips to mayo and ranch dressing. Fans of the chili sauce, named after the Thai coastal city of Si Racha, where it is believed to have originated, demonstrate their allegiance with rooster t-shirts, inspired by California manufacturer Huy Fong Foods’ Sriracha logo. There are at least four bands and two dozen singles named after the hot sauce on Spotify alone.
The latest is singer-songwriter Marteen’s ’90s R&B-inspired track “Sriracha,” produced and co-written by J.R. Rotem (Jason Derulo, Nicki Minaj).
The Berkeley-born 16 year old first gave audiences a taste of things to come with his acclaimed independently released mixtape, Focused (2016), and as an opener for Fifth Harmony, Bryson Tiller, and his cousin – R&B sensation Kehlani. Now the soulful singer’s talking to SF Weekly about his major label debut and becoming the voice of his generation.
You filmed your new video “Sriracha” in West Oakland. Can you talk about the video’s concept and what it was like representing the Bay?
I just wanted it to be a fun video that could also show the Bay Area culture. During the hyphy movement in the early 2000’s, they stood on cars while ghost riding them, so my performance, shot standing on the hood of the Chevelle, was inspired by that. Shooting it in Oakland was cool, ‘cause we got that real urban vibe of some of the East Bay. The most important thing to me, though, was to just have fun and show the energy of the song. Everyone in the video was friends of mine or friends of family, so it was cool to make the video together.
You could compare a young woman to anything. What makes Sriracha the appropriate metaphor?
Hot sauce — it has flavor — and so it’s like comparing a girl to spice or something that’s not normal, not basic. She has confidence.
What foods do you typically put Sriracha on?
For sure hot food like fried rice. I like it on pasta, mac and cheese, and stuff. You could pretty much put it on most things, like pho, Vietnamese food – those are the main things I put it on.
These days, Sriracha is seemingly put on – and in – everything, from chicken wings to ice cream. What would you not add it to?
I wouldn’t want Sriracha on my pancakes or on anything sweet like ice cream. That’s not gonna work.
So “Sriracha” is the first single off your forthcoming album. What can we expect from the still untitled LP?
Yeah, it’s my new project. I’m going to have like eight or nine songs on it. But I’m still working on it right now, so I don’t have a for-sure date yet. Eventually I’ll have my own tour, probably once the project comes up.
How will the album be different from your Focused mixtape?
I think that it’s a lot more grown, ’cause I’ve been growing obviously. And my last tape was the start of me making music, especially with my producer J.R. Rotem. It’s new, and I’ve just developed a lot. My whole sound has kind of changed. It’s really fun and it’s older.
Where did you and your cousin Kehlani inherit your musical talent from?
I have no idea, honestly. My parents don’t sing or anything, and my grandparents don’t either. My cousin just sings, and that’s about it.
Was your cousin an inspiration for you?
Yeah, for sure. We actually moved to L.A. around the same time, four years ago. I was like 12 years old, and I used to go see her a lot. Before that, I saw her a lot in the Bay. We would mess around and sing together, and she was for sure an inspiration. Around that time, she was making her first mixtape, and it was really cool to see her grow.
What was it like touring with her?
It was so fun. I feel like a lot of her fans already know me, because she’s posted me a lot, too, so it’s all this love. Like even the East Coast, I’ve never really been much, aside from New York, and they were showing so much love. Everybody else on tour was really cool, too. It was just like a family.
You currently live between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. What is your typical day like?
I have a huge routine. After I brush my teeth, wash my face, take a shower, get my outfit ready, and then start my day, there are a lot of things to do because of my lifestyle. Some days I go to the studio, go meet with the company, perform at shows – it really depends. I also hang out with my friends, too, when I’m not working, like any normal person.
Where are your favorite places to hang out with friends in the East Bay?
I love Berkeley — Telegraph and Shattuck. S.F. is fine, too. I could go anywhere in S.F., and there’s a lot going on, so it’s fun. AMC Bay Street 16, in Emeryville, everything over there. I really like House of Curries, in Oakland, Sweetgreen and Tuk Tuk Thai, in Berkeley, and SF has a lot of good Italian places.
Are you dating anyone right now? If not, are you getting a lot of female attention on the road or via social media? How are you handling it?
I’m not dating anyone, currently. Well, I made “Sriracha” thinking about a lot of my female fans ‘cause they got a lot of flavor. They showed me a lot of love in all the cities we went to. It was kinda crazy ‘cause I had women in their 20’s that were trying to holler at me and told me they love my music. That was pretty dope. I love it all, though. Getting to meet people face to face is the best.
Kehlani has received both positive and negative attention over social media. Does any of that give you cause for pause about what you share with fans?
She’s definitely very positive with the way she moves on social media most of the time, and she’s always trying to enlighten everybody – especially the young people, which is really cool. It makes me want to be a voice for my generation, too.
There is so much hate in the U.S. today and even talk of a white supremacist rally coming to San Francisco and Berkeley. Tell me, as the future voice of your generation, what we can do to stop this?Well, I’m all about love, so I really think it’s a crazy thing. I think that because we live in these big cities, we don’t really get how this stuff is still happening. I definitely am not afraid to speak out about it and talk to my fans about it and things like that.