Birmingham-raised and Dirty Hit-signed, SIPHO is taking R&B to new and exciting places but wants to stay true to the world around him.
“I’m not here to make the plan, dude, I’m just here to make steps,” says Sipho, who – for the past eighteen months – has slowly carved out a reputation for his self-described “industrial soul”. Even he admits that, “there’s not one kind of direction you can point your finger at, it’s just been the sound that instinctively feels right.”
Raised in Birmingham, the Zimbabwe-born 21-year-old considers himself blessed that he could pursue music: “I guess that’s what I was led to do, that’s what the universe had in store for me,” he tells me. Though not surrounded by a musical family, he found singing from an early age, teaming up with classemates in Year 6 to cover Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and joining after-school acapella groups. As he got older, Sipho learned to balance the choices he would make. “There was a part of me, for ages, [that believed that] if I could do this, I would want to do this forever,” he explains. “But I was also like, ‘let me get this degree, make sure my parents are alright, and then I’ll do this later.'”
His experience of doing his A-levels was far from perfect though: “They were a shambles,” he admits. “I got my results, and my parents were like: ‘You don’t have to go to uni straight away, you can take a year off and do some work.’ So, I [used] that to make the most of the time as all these backup plans are cool, but sometimes it’s too easy to get lost in them.”
After completing a gap year and uploading his first experiments to SoundCloud, a last-minute switch from physiotherapy to a songwriting degree at musical college BIMM was his best decision so far: “It’s not like you must have the qualifications to do the job,” he tells me, “so, I was kind of like, let’s see how the first-year goes – I’m going to make the most I can to meet people, make connections.
“And then Dirty Hit happened. I got to meet one of the guys who worked there – Kris Tomkinson from BIMM put me on to A&R Chris Fraser, I got to do a couple of things from the showcase, and it kind of went from there.” Whilst he’s grateful for everything that’s happened so far, he laughs that, “I think a lot of people around me think I’m a grumpy bastard. But I think it’s because I’d already put myself in the mind frame where it was a situation of, I’m putting my feet where the footprints are, and putting myself in a position to do this. I’m blessed to do this. So, let’s go, it’s going to be fun, but also, let’s make sure we do this right at the best of our abilities!”
Among his more obvious influences (Frank Ocean, Michael Kiwanuka), Sipho was raised within the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which also left its mark. As an adolescent, he immersedf himself in the It’s Supernatural! Network, a YouTube channel built around the talk shows of televangelist Sid Roth, set up to promote the supernatural as it relates to Christianity. “That show is fucking jokes, bro. Oh my God, I haven’t watched it since then, and when I look back, the whole thing is kind of hilarious,” he tells me. “But in terms of how things come together, I’ve always made my music with a purpose. A lot of music is made, to be made or to be sold, but I think as an artist, people do question our value in what we do, why do it as writers, like what’s the point? But the point is to be at surface to yourself and everyone else because that thing you are making, sitting in the room, making about yourself, what’s going on.
“Eventually, that’s going to be on someone else’s computer, and they’re going to hear that. What did they get from it? I guess that is one thing I learned is where religion generally a lot of the values was about how you serve yourself, how you serve others, to reflect the thing that represents you. It’s all about adding value. That’s our philosophy in my generation.”
Speaking about debut EP And God Said… Sipho explains, “I make what needs to be made by me at that moment. I think the themes came down to the multiplicity and the duality of the young black man because I was coming from a place where, whenever I said to someone, I made music, they were like, do you rap? And straightaway, I had to be like no. Though I’ve only experienced the minor parts, it’s also about those people that aren’t being spoken, for in that kind of situation, it’s life or death sometimes. Because of that typecasting, they should be allowed to cry, they should be allowed to say these things, but they’re not being given that chance because of whatever is going on in whatever system they’re set up in. So, there’s that theme, there’s also aspects of religion and relationships. But it all comes down to the smorgasbord of thoughts that is within me and my existence in the context I’m in. And fortunately, that speaks to other people.”
In the end, his journey through music has been quite a smooth one but all Sipho wants to do now is add value to people’s lives and project an experience like no other: “Anything’s possible,” he shares. “Up, down, left or right, and enjoy the moment!”