“From a shallow standpoint, I like nice things,” Masego says.
Winding along a forest-shrouded road in his East Coast tour bus, he explains the importance of luxury on his debut studio album, Lady Lady. The album, he says, “is a perfect split between deep and shallow luxury. I like to dress well, I like to look good, I like to smell good. But on a deeper level, you have to identify yourself as a king or queen. You have to carry yourself with a little more royalty.”
For the 25-year-old rapper and singer, faith in himself is not only a theme of his artistry, but the crux of his whole career. Although his worldwide tours and partnerships with household names like Goldlink and FKJ seem to have happened instantaneously, Masego arrived on the hip-hop scene gradually rather than overnight. He dropped out of college three years ago to dedicate himself to songwriting, and began rapping and playing saxophone over beats he stole from SoundCloud. Eventually, he befriended producer Medasin, and the two of them collaborated online to create his first EP, The Pink Polo EP, which includes his first mainstream hit, “Girls That Dance.”
Since then, Masego has worked nonstop to “learn how to tour, take my songs from the record to onstage, and become myself or whatever.” This past September, he released his album Lady Lady, 14 tracks that hybridize jazz, trap, and house to celebrate, as its title suggests, all things female. Connecting with women has always come more instinctively to Masego than connecting with men.
“That’s just my personal journey,” he says. “You can’t really choose what influences you. You can’t choose what sparks something inside you. But it just happened to be women with me, and I just ran with that for the album.”
However, Masego emphasizes, his intention isn’t to anoint a single woman as his muse or to put the opposite sex on a pedestal.
“I thought back to my first-ever crush,” he says, “all the way back to the most recent woman I had a conversation with, and I took a lot of time to reflect on what kind of growth happened within me because of my interaction with these women.
“I would say [I learned] to be a lot more blunt,” he adds. “It would’ve gotten me out of some trouble. A lot of times we don’t appreciate bluntness — or a Charlamagne level of honesty — until later on in life.”
The intricate processes of falling in and out of love with women show up all over Lady Lady. Masego’s song “Just a Little” was inspired by the feeling of being “on the fence, and not wanting to admit you’re really feeling a person.” On his track “24 Hr. Relationship,” he and Kehlani chronicle the messy uncertainties following a one-night stand. “Whether people want to admit it or not, some people have had very short, temporary situation-ships,” Masego says. “The album’s a conversation about modern love and modern relationships. Rather than painting myself as this perfect gentleman that’s the Black Love and all that, I wanted to write about something I’ve actually felt and gone through. It would be dishonest to pretend that everything is easy, and we’re all on farms, and we find one woman and we just get married. It just seems so corny.”
Pushing farther, Masego elaborates, “There’s a lot of in the middle, having to figure out the perfect situation for you and your partner.” He pauses, perhaps noticing the weary tone he’s adopted when discussing partnership.
“But I love exploring that,” he adds. “Everyone has these unique relationships that work for them.”
Even as Masego engages with the traditions of hip-hop — “24 Hr. Relationship” is an homage to the OutKast song “Where Are My Panties (Interlude)” — he expresses an eagerness to move past the tropes of the genre that denigrate women. He acknowledges that much of trap and hip-hop describe women as a crude “means to sex,” and stresses that this isn’t an attitude he condones. “There were three women in my household growing up, so I definitely never felt that way. My mother got that out of my head early.”
After a year of Harvey Weinsteins and Bill Cosbys and Brett Kavanaughs, it’s easy to feel disillusioned about the perception of women in American culture, or dare to hope for any semblance of gender equality in the future. Masego understands the weight of the #MeToo movement on his female counterparts, and knows that supporting women goes beyond writing romantic crooner tracks and naming an album Lady Lady.
“It comes down to rewriting the narrative, and involving [women] in everything, and respecting them along the way,” Masego says. “Something I do naturally is I just involve women in my professional work. I hire them, I pay them, I put them in the workplace I’m involved in.” Adopting a more impassioned, indignant tone, Masego continues, “It’s simple. I don’t think it’s too hard. When I hear these wild stories, I can’t fathom doing these ridiculous things to women. Women steer the ship, you know?”
Still Masego holds hope for men and women alike, and emphasizes the critical role music plays in his optimism for the future.
“To continue to make music, you have to continue to live life, you know?” he says. “And that’s all I’m trying to do.”
Masego, Sunday, Nov. 11, 8 p.m., at Mezzanine. $20; mezzaninesf.com