Editor's Note: This piece originally ran in June of 2017. We're re-publishing this interview in conjunction with Sassyblack's appearance at our upcoming GAYEXP event on June 23, 2018 in the KEXP Gathering Space as a part of Seattle Pride celebrations. This event also features live performances by Sashay, Guayaba, and DJ sets from DJ Mister Sister and DJ Fishlure, and is hosted by the one-and-only Princess Charming. Get your tickets today.
SassyBlack, aka Cat Harris-White, has been a dominate force in Seattle hip-hop for nearly a decade. Many first heard her as one half of the transcendent, spacey rap-duo THEESatisfaction, where she blended her effortless and dreamy rhymes with jazz vocalizations. Harris-White has been far from quiet since going solo. She's self-released numerous EPS and LPs even before THEESatisfaction officially ended, including last year's No Weak Dates. With each release she's revealed more of herself lyrically, but also musically. On New Black Swing, she ventures fully into territories she's only dipped her toes in before: R&B and new jack swing. We caught up with Harris-White to learn about making this bold jump in genre, how it paid off, and what new sonic realms she might tackle next.You’ve mentioned that New Black Swing comes from your desire to make an R&B record but that you held back on doing it for so long because you felt that your feelings as a queer black girl wouldn’t be accepted. Having gone through the process and release of the record, do you feel like you were able to overcome those worries? Was it satisfying to get your feelings out in this way?
I haven’t all the way overcome those worries, it’s more like I changed goals. My goals are less centered around how people may negatively react to what I create and release. It’s more about how the music feels to me and this album feels great. It came together how I wanted to and I can already see the impact it has had on my life, so I feel very satisfied in that regard.
Sonically, this is maybe your most lush and dynamic record to date. How did you change up the process from the last record? Were there different studio tools you implemented this time around?
The main way I create comes from a sense of wanting to express something inside of me. Sometimes it’s deep, sometimes it’s super shallow, but it all has value. It’s like writing a paper or cooking a meal; you use the same foundation but you change the tools you are using to complete the task. So, for this record, I had a hankering for some straightforward R&B – well, as straightforward as I could be about it. The main change in the process is that I was more focused and experienced and had a clear idea of what kind of album I wanted. In terms of production I used some of the same synths that are kind of familiar with my sound and sourced a lot of instrumentation that sounded as close to New Jack Swing as possible.
New jack swing is definitely a heavy influence on the album, right down to the name. Were there certain artists and records you were looking to for reference as you wrote and recorded?
I listened to a lot of Bobby Brown, New Edition, Guy, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Tony Tone Toni and the list just goes on in the sense. I also listened to some jazz since that was an influence to New Jack Swing. I wanted the listener to be transported so it sounded almost like the album could come right out of the early 90’s.
Can you tell me a bit about the aesthetic of this record? With everything about it being so intentional, what did you want to communicate visually for this record? I heard there may be some more short films on the way like you had for your last album as well?
Yes, yes. I am working with some fresh directors to create visuals for this record. I only had one come out for No More Weak Dates which is kind of a bummer because I had one more video ready to go but I was being too picky. This time I’m still picky, but I have clearer ideas. More music videos and shorts to come.
Aside from recording and performing music, it seems like we’ve seen you more and more around town giving advice to artists. What made you want to give back?
As a youth, I was involved in a lot of different programs in Seattle (Seattle Young People’s Project, Young Shakespeare Workshop, Vera Project, Langston Hughes Summer Music etc.) and they played major parts in my growth as an artist. I have been working with STG & MoPOP for a few years now in different capacities as well as performing at various summer programs or speaking on panels. I think this year I am doing a lot in general in addition to adding more of this type of work into my life so my interest in sharing knowledge with folks stands out more.
It feels like you’ve evolved and ventured into new territory with every release from your THEESatisfaction days and throughout your solo career. What’s next for you? Is there another genre or style you’d like to explore?
Music is so important to me. It’s my go to healing mechanism, it’s my medicine so I will also try to find different ways to explore it. With that said, I will be working on a psychedelic soul funk album as well as a jazz album. I’d love to dip into some more bluesy music as well as venture deeper into pop music.
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