Video Premier & Interview: Signif Talks France, Friction & All That Jazz

SignifThe video below is the now-internationally-known Signif’s “Late Night Jazz,” the first release from her upcoming project, Friction. Along with demonstrating how beautiful the city of Paris can be, the video also showcases how much of a global phenomenon hip-hop has become. The Milwaukee-born, New York-based MC has been doing her thing for quite some time, starting all the way back with her 2009 EP Beautifully Flawed. She’s back in the States now, after spending a little bit of time across the pond over in France. We had the opportunity to catch up with her and talk about her travels, her new project and most importantly, jazz. Enjoy “Late Night Jazz” below, and our interview with Signif after that!


So you’re based in New York, but you’re originally from Milwaukee, right?

Yeah.

If you’ll pardon the pun, how would you describe the transition? [The Transition is the title of Signif’s second project released in 2010]

The transition was fairly easy for me because before I moved to New York, I visited a lot. I was here three or four times a year. I was actually mad that I didn’t move sooner because I was enrolled in school then and I just wanted to finish. I didn’t want to drop everything, not thinking “Oh, I can transfer to a school here.” So by the time I moved here, I already had a couple friends that lived here and knew spots and how to get around, so the transition wasn’t difficult at all. It was just like a second home.

You have a lot of music out already, starting with your first EP in 2009. How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist since your first release through the present day?

I feel like I’ve grown. I feel like I have so much to do. Even now with this project. I don’t feel like I have a lot of work out, I feel like I can put out more. But then I want to take my time to craft things because I have so much more to say. It took me forever to put music out. Even that 2009 [release]. That was when I was doing open mics and I don’t really consider that a project. I got sick of people asking me “Where’s your material?” and me saying “Check me out on Myspace.” I just put a compilation of songs together, because I recorded so much music, but still wasn’t confident enough in putting it out because I still hadn’t found my niche at that time. I would say I’ve made a lot of progress, but sometimes I still feel like I can’t get tracks to come out the way I want to, or voice myself the way I want to. I’m kind of learning to take a step back, but not take too much time. It’s difficult because I’m like my biggest critic. A lot of people think it’s a lot of material. but I don’t keep up enough with this Internet age — people putting out multiple projects a year and all.

What producers have you been working with lately? I know Radio Raheim did the “Late Night Jazz” joint, but who else have you been getting it in with?

It’s a lot of planning in the works, but the album that I’m working with now has a couple of the regulars. Tay Lee, he’s responsible for “Drifting,” and the majority of the tracks on The Transition. JBM, I worked with him on The Transition and Embracing Rejection. Radio Raheim is new, but I have a few tracks with him. His music is really good, it’s really intense. He sent me tracks before, but I wasn’t working on anything and I did like half of a song on Embracing Rejection and it sounded so good. He was just always so supportive and sending me good music and he would say “I wish you would’ve made this a whole song.” I kinda felt like I owed him in a way. But he’s so talented, so right now he has the most tracks on this project. I think I have four songs done by him. You know, it’s ever-changing. I might have some stuff coming out later with other people. I don’t really want to put that out there, because I don’t want to say anything before it hits the air.

Do you have any upcoming collaborations with any MCs or it pretty much just you?

Right now, it’s pretty much me. I have a bad habit of wanting to do songs with myself. I’ll start a song and have a vision like I can see somebody on this. I do have a few guest verses that I do want on this album and I haven’t reached out to anybody yet, because I have written complete songs for every track. I’m trying to open up that space. I still have people in mind and I still have lots of time, so…you may see some features on this next project. I can’t say for sure. There were talks of me doing something with Jean Grae, so that might be out in the future. I don’t know when those tracks are going to happen or come out, but there a lot of stuff that’s like in the future. But this project, I don’t know, it might come out and not have any features on it because it is a shorter project and I like to keep it more intimate like that. At the same time, I feel like I need that feature, that one-off, to go with people that I actually do appreciate for their skills. I want the vibe to be welcoming, not just like “Okay, I want this person on this track because I need a collab.” I want it to be definitely organic.

You just came back from France.

Yes.

How long were you there and how was that experience?

Aww man, I was almost there for three weeks. And the experience was like no other. It’s like “Oh man, I’ma go back to New York and just be like a regular person again.” I knew it was gonna be crazy because of how their community is crazy and the messages and things I was getting before I went there. But people wanted to take pictures with me and the conversations I was having were just crazy like “I was hoping you would come here when you put out “Drifting.”” People were coming all the way from London to see me. It blew my mind.

Crazy love.

It was crazy, and it made me feel like a rock star…and I wasn’t ready for that at all. I was blown away. I love it. I can’t wait to go back. I really want to spend a year out there. That’s something that could possibly happen in the future.

That kind of goes into the next thing I was going to say. You know how back in the day, France was a safe haven of sorts for a lot of musicians? They may have needed to recharge or they were having tax problems or something like that and they would up and go to France or Germany or some other European country. Could you feel the energy of some of the greats of the past that have been there?

Yeah. You can feel it. I definitely think it’s in the air. It’s something magnetic about it and I can see why artists love to go there and why artists love to perform there. You definitely feel that energy.

Indeed. At the end of the “Lovely Imperfections” video you had the “Afternoon Jazz” acappella and now you have “Late Night Jazz.” What made you want to bring that back and revisit the theme?

Because the third verse of “Afternoon Jazz” is one of my favorite verses and I just wanted to add onto that. I was kicking myself like, “Why didn’t I write the whole song kind of in that theme?” But I kind of like how I did it and brought my story in. Then I wanted to do “Late Night Jazz” the same way. It’s actually also an “Early Morning Jazz” too, I don’t know when that’s going to come out because I haven’t finished writing it. So it’s just the birth, paying homage to the jazz artists, That’s all I have for it so far, another verse like that. My thing was to make it like a trilogy, so once I have that, I’ll have some producer remix all the third verses and make an original song with an original chorus. That’s kind of how I see it in my head, because even when I performed it over there in France, I had the band play a jazz melody and did the third verses to both songs. That’s something I came up with after I got Radio Raheim’s track and it just opened me up. I kinda like to just follow the same model. In the first two songs I was talking about me as an artist—the struggle, and finding my niche, and then it’s where I’m at now. I know how I am and have kind of found my niche and then I keep the third verse paying homage to the artists. To the jazz greats.

You do a lot of paying homage and name dropping in those third verses. Who are some of your favorite jazz artists?

Oh, definitely Miles Davis. John Coltrane. Things that my dad grew up listening to. I listen to a lot of jazz, a lot of R&B. The good old school stuff. Those things stuck out to me, because when I wrote that original verse, it came easy. I didn’t have to research it. I already knew the songs and the names of the artists. On that second verse, I did kind of have to go back because I had already named the greats. I did have to do a little bit of research this time and it kind of opened me up more even now, since I have another verse with that same theme. You know, since Guru, I don’t know any other artist that eclectically mixes jazz in with hip-hop. You hear that sound. You might get the feeling of the beat or the track that’s sampled, but they don’t have an underlying jazz message or theme to it. The only person I can think of is Guru and I want to celebrate that, because it’s a part of where I come from and growing up it was one of the things I was exposed to. It’s easy to talk to me about it and people feel it, so that’s kind of like my thing.

You also shot the video for “Late Night Jazz” over there in France. How was that experience?

I was looking at it the other day, like “My hair is so freakin’ dry” and a funny story is that there have been two videos since I shaved my head and my hair is growing back and in both of these videos my hair looks really dry. When I went over there, I didn’t take any conditioner so now I’m like “Okay.” Next time I know I can’t go anywhere for three weeks without traveling with conditioner. The other video was during Sandy and I didn’t have any heat or hot water and I guess that’s just my artistic drive. We just get up and go. We’re shooting at four in the morning, fresh out of the bed. Like “Okay, let’s go shoot this scene because the lighting’s gonna be perfect right here.” It’s like I’m thinking moreso about the space and the lighting, like I’m behind the camera like I’m not gonna be seen…and then I’m looking like “Oh my God, this scene is ridiculous…but my hair looks so dry,” and stuff like that. And that’s kinda like what I go for. We went to the Eiffel Tower, and we were just looking at it and it was crazy because the first time we went, we said “Oh man, this is gonna be crazy when the sun is coming up,” but we went during midday and it was packed out. So we really didn’t shoot any footage, we were just scouting it. Then we came back the next day and there was nobody there. It’s one of the best tourist attractions because you can walk all the way around it, under it and through it. There were people for miles back on the lawn having picnics. On the other side, people were there taking their wedding pictures. It’s just so beautiful and so open and that’s what I do with the videos. I think more about the shots than the person in the video and that’s crazy since I’m the person in the video.

You’re really hands on.

Yeah.

At the end of the “Late Night Jazz” video, there’s another track on there. Can you tell us something about that?

Yeah, the director is going to be so mad. I cut some of the film out and put that in there. I just wanted to share something else. [laughs] He’s gonna see that and be like “What the hell?”

So he doesn’t know about that? What is that song called?

No he doesn’t. The song isn’t out yet, it’s on the new project. The song is called “Friction” and that’s also the name of the project, Friction.

Do you have a release date in mind for Friction?

Right now, it’s toward the end of the year. That’s all I can say, but if not then, it’ll be out at the top of the first quarter next year. I’m trying to make sure it’s done by the end of the year, but if I don’t put it out in 2013, it’ll be okay.

Are you going to release anymore videos before then?

Yeah. Probably. I have some ideas that I’m working on now to send to the director. I’m trying to do things the right way. I’m always conflicted like, I put the music out and then you get a response to certain songs and instead of me making videos to those songs, I still make videos for the songs I want to do. I want to have balance in that. I kind of don’t want to put anything out until the music is out, but then I don’t want to wait that long in between things. So maybe I’ll drop another song or two and then decide what direction to go into with the visual art. I want this project to kind of be like Embracing Rejection, we did a good three or four videos for that project alone. I want a lot of visuals for this project, so hopefully this will be the first of a few.

Anything else you want to add?

Thanks for the interview. I appreciate you helping me reach the people. Thank you to all of the listeners and the people who support, it means a lot. I’m very grateful for it.

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Written by Emanuel Wallace

Writer & photographer. Find me on Twitter at @MannyWallace

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