It’s clear skies just a few hours into Weekend 2 of Coachella, and one of the more intimate festival tents is already booming with the sounds of genre-bending “future brass” group Brasstracks. A few songs into their set, the duo have captured the packed-out crowd with their Jazz, R&B, and electronic-influenced live instrumentals, but can they keep them?
That’s when they introduce Harlem rapper S’natra, and he’s ready to knock it out of the park. You would never know the rapper felt any pressure to hold the attention of what can be a fickle festival crowd, he just let his smooth, confident delivery speak for itself. It’s a perfect match for the lively horns, riffing piano, and thumping cymbals and snare that Brasstracks’ Ivan Jackson and Conor Rayne have cooked up.
The chemistry is immediately evident, but it shouldn’t be surprising—S’natra, 30, is just closing out a whirlwind tour with the duo, while preparing to drop music off his upcoming EP Subject to Change (featuring his latest single “Paper Straight,” a collaboration with Jackson).
HYPEFRESH spoke with the up and coming artist a few weeks before his Coachella appearance about the tour, new music, and finding his perfect match in music production.
Q. When you first got started, what kind of artist did you want to be, and how has that changed, or evolved over time?
A: Good, good first question. When I first started rapping, I thought I was Jay-Z, Lil’ Wayne, André 3-thou’, like I thought I was all those dudes (laughs). It’s kind of hard to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, and I feel like that’s why those rappers are so good because they make you look inward. Through me looking up to these rappers, I found my own story.
Q: When did you really get started with making music?
A: Hmm, I took it really seriously—well my parents took it really seriously— when I dropped out of college. I told them, my mind is just not here right now. That must’ve been when I was around 20, and I just kind of knew I couldn’t think about anything else, I knew it was now or never.
Q: Where did the name S’natra come from—did you already have the name when you decided to focus on music?
A: I already had my name. My dad was in the military and he used to travel all around the world collecting music. He didn’t even know English at the time, [but] he had a really good ear. So he started collecting vinyls and I grew up listening to a bunch of dope shit like James Brown, Otis Redding. When we moved [Editor’s Note: S’natra was born in the U.S., but spent his childhood in the Dominican Republic.], a lot of those records were stolen, so a big portion of the records left were a bunch of Frank Sinatra records. That was the first time I ever knew what I was listening to, and that just kind of stuck with me ever since. When I got older I started going back and reading about Frank Sinatra, [and] figuring out his whole approach to music—he did everything music, film. There was something that he brought to the table that [resonated with] a lot of people. I would later learn to use that and apply it to my own path.
I was battling at an early age so that got me a lot of confidence in my raps, in my voice, in my whole approach to it. It taught me you have to really be confident in the shit because there’s a bunch of people trying to do it, but not everybody believes in themselves.
Q: How did you end up linking up with Brasstracks?
A: It’s one of those things that when I look back, it feels as if it was already written, and I just had to keep doing what I was doing.
I started in a rap group, but I felt like I was just recording and not elevating. So I decided to take a year and a half off of music and really figure out what I was doing.
I met Ivan around high school time, but I didn’t really know him like that or his musicianship. I saw him at [a] show—this was after like a year—and I told him, “We need to get in the studio.” We linked up about four years ago I want to say, and the first week we recorded like four songs. They were the best songs I had ever done. I [realized] this was different. The beats were more musical, it wasn’t just the old “boom bap” shit that I was getting sent by everybody, and through that I learned more about music and figuring out different layers.
Fast forward, I started going on tour with him and here we are. It’s just crazy. Because of Ivan, Conor, and all the other musicians that I met through them, it gave me a leg up in terms of being a rapper and how I approach music and tracks.
Q: Shifting gears a bit, 2018 is off to an exciting start for you—what are some of the things you’re most proud to have accomplished thus far?
A: I think the biggest thing for me is getting my own set on tour, and having these 45 minutes where I come out every night and really share my story with people. I’ve been touring with Brasstracks for three years and I was always a part of their set, but now I’m really getting to talk to people and hopefully allowing them to know a little bit more about me. A lot of states that I’ve never been to that I’m going to now, [the] people are still as receptive to the music as if I was just rapping for my homies on the block.
Also new music. I put out a song with MadeinTYO and Alexander Lewis that’s definitely helped me. I’m just starting to see more and more people paying attention, little by little.
I’m always down with the slow and steady grind. I’m trying to build something that’s going to last a little bit longer than I am.
Q: Do you have any funny stories or anything that’s been really eye-opening for you while you’ve been out on tour?
A: There was one time in Seattle, this girl came up to me and she was crying saying that she drove six hours to see me. That tripped me out. People don’t even travel six hours to see their family! That’s something that’s real personal. That person is not going to forget, and I’m not going to forget.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give a new artist who’s going out on tour for the first time?
A:I think the main thing I want to tell them is it doesn’t matter how many people are in the room, play that show like it’s your last show. People are always going to remember when you go above and beyond for the show and be yourself, because nobody has that story but you.
If there’s ten people in the room, you don’t know if five of them are A&R, you don’t know if three of them have the best blogs in the world—[though] at the end of the day you should be having fun.
Q: What are you trying to speak into existence for the rest of 2018?
A: This year is my year to really let people know that I’m here to stay. I’ve been doing it for a long time and now that things are starting to pick up, [I’m] connecting with people that have never been to where I’m from, or had a real conversation with me, but still feel like they know me—that’s the whole thing.
I’m here to make some dope shit and help people get through their day, or help people wake up in the morning, or whatever it is. This isn’t something for clout, it’s not for money—it’s strictly because I love doing what I do.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.