ONE TO WATCH: YB. IS TAKING OFF
THE ARTIST CHATS EQUALITY, HOT GIRL ERAS AND BLACK INDIE MUSIC.
Yb. is happy to not be what you’d might expect.
VOID HQ learned this speaking to the Meanjin (Brisbane, Australia) based artist ahead of the release of his new album, Blackphemy. As the title insinuates, Yb. retains a particular glow and kind curiosity as he confronts constructions of blackness, racism in settled Australia, and his own embodied version of the identity crisis humanity is ever-vulnerable to.
Touring with San Cisco, and more recently AllDay, Yb.’s journey into artistic freedom is one he’s learning to enjoy with eyes wide open.
This is Yb. x VOID on equality, hot girl eras and black indie music.
VOID: Tell us, what does a typical self care/self-love day look like for you?
YB: I try to wake up at a decent time cuz usually I’m a sleep-in sort of person. I’ll wake up kind of early, wash my face, go for breakfast… Basically my self care day is just a normal person’s day. I feel like, every other day I’m working on a song and I don’t eat for hours. Self care really is just doing the bare minimum for me. *laughs*
VOID: What’s the last thing that made you laugh out loud?
YB: That is a great question. I’m always laughing at TikTok. I feel like my FYP [For You Page] is so random and it’s like the weirdest quality TikToks, as well. Almost pixelated vibes and like loud stuff and weird random things. They just make me laugh. My humor is broken. I lose a lot of time on that app.
VOID: Are you going to heaven or hell?
YB: Sadly, I think I’m going to hell. If I’m being a hundred percent honest, I like to think I try and do my best to be a good person, especially at this phase in my life where I’m more conscious of others and how my actions impact others. But I’ve definitely done some things that I’m not proud of. So, I mean, maybe I’d be in purgatory somewhere in between?
VOID: What’s your favorite curse word?
YB: *laughs* These are questions that I never get asked. Um, my favorite cuss word is probably standard “shit”, just because it’s so harsh. You just say it and that’s just what it is. It’s just shit.
VOID: I like that. It’s a classic, no frills. If it’s the last call at the bar, what are you ordering?
YB: This is something that might be a bit controversial for a lot of people, but I really love a vodka raspberry. I can slam ’em. It’s kind of dangerous cuz, after your third one, it just starts tasting like raspberry. So you just go nuts. So I’d say, yeah, vodka raspberry. I’m not scared to admit that.
VOID: So much respect. That is the realest answer I think I’m ever gonna get.
YB: Look man, I’m just being honest. I think a lot of people lie to themselves and say ‘Oh you know, it’s an espresso martini,’ or something. It’s like, no it isn’t. It’s a vodka raspberry. You know it, I know it.
VOID: I was listening through Blackphemy, and I was really taken by how you address such raw and controversial themes inside an album that has so much light coming through it. I think that’s a very incredible way of making music and creating art to thread seriousness with play. In terms of your identity and your sense of blackness, where did that come from?
YB: I was born in Ghana, and I came [to Australia] when I was three years old. I made all my friends here. The relationships and my schema were just sort of built from this experience of being in Australia.
I understood that, as a black kid, I was different. No kid is born with that sort of mentality. I see colour. I see my skin and I go, ‘Yeah, I’m different in that way.’ But other than that, a kid doesn’t understand how he’s different. Our skin colour is different, but we’re the same people.
Growing up in Australia, I was taught that I was different in other ways. I remember I had a crush on this girl in primary school and she told me that her parents wouldn’t let me date her because I was black. And initially, I was like, ‘Oh, you know, that’s understandable because of different cultures.’ Even as a kid I was thinking in that frame.
But when I grew up I realized that these aren’t things that the average person should go through, the discrimination and the hate speech. I got called a bunch of names and dealt with different things in high school, so in order to fit in, I felt I needed to take it.
It’s so insane. I gave people n-word passes so I could be cool. Growing up and passing that experience, I [began to] understand that I do deserve better. And also that things need to change.
I think that Blackphemy was my conscious effort to shed light on that, but also to shed light on me – my love life, how I feel and the little quirks about me as well.
VOID: I feel like we’ve been through such an intense period of time as a collective. A massive part of that was obviously Black Lives Matter, which was intensified by how it coincided with COVID.
Do you feel like Black Lives Matter and that time period has pushed our social discourse closer towards or away from where we need to be?
YB: If I’m being a hundred percent honest, I think we are getting closer. I think we’re getting closer every day with the types of things that we’re pedaling. We are hearing from other black people and understanding their experience with the media. We’re trying. I feel like we are making a collective effort to understand. You know, obviously it is appreciated.
We still have a bit to go. There’s still a lot to be done in terms of feeling equal. Just growth and understanding that people aren’t really different.
Everyone’s the same, we just come from different backgrounds, but everyone should be treated the same. I believe that wholeheartedly. I don’t go from person to person believing that they’re any worse than I am because of the colour of their skin or because of how they were brought up. That’s just how I’ve been raised.
I think we’re doing like a great job of at least shedding the light on the issue of discrimination and racial discrimination. But yeah, we do have a bit to go.
VOID: With cancel culture, do you feel it has become easier or harder for people to talk about race and racial issues?
YB: There’s an extent to which I do believe in cancel culture. I do feel like there are moments in which people go too far. But we are still learning and understanding it all. It is very easy to hear someone’s opinion and form your own opinion to combat that instantly. That creates discourse. There are always positives and negatives, and I think that a lot of the time the positives do outweigh the negatives. We have a platform where we can speak, and find communities and people that share the same opinions. It’s just about finding the right ones.
It’s such a crazy concept because I was just on TikTok today and there was a video about these kids – who I’m sure are still in high school- and they were doing blackface. And it has become such a huge thing. I was reading the comments because I was wondering what people were saying about this and a lot of people are comparing the movie White Chicks to blackface.
Although I do understand the comparison of white face and black face, you can’t dispute the fact that there are years and years of oppression behind one and not the other. There are things that people don’t even know. It’s just not the same.
VOID: One thing that’s very clear about your outlook is the fact that you choose to see the positives and live in that frame of mind. I would love to know, what hopes do you have for the future of culture and the representation of blackness in music?
YB: I love that question. I hope that in the future, we do start seeing a lot more contributions from black people in music in general. Not just as artists, but as people of power – people that run labels and people that are at the top of the top.
The idea of doing indie music for me initially was almost a taboo thing from both perspectives. From black people, you almost get like, ‘Oh wow he’s a surfer dude, he’s super like, ‘tubular, man…‘ They come for you like that. And you’re like, damn what did I do? I’m just being myself.
And then I guess from the other side of the community, they haven’t really seen anything like it before. I feel like it’s only recently that you’re starting to see people in the indie industry who are black.
Blood Orange, Spencer, that’s just a bunch of artists that are really paving the way right now. Steve Lacey and Bad Habit. Like that’s such a cool win to have influential people who are black, who paved the way. It lets kids know that it is possible to make it out there, and it is possible to get your name out there and it is possible to be heard by the people that you want to be heard by.
VOID: What barriers have you had to overcome to reach the point of expressing yourself in music in the ways that you want to?
YB: Naturally, there’s my skin. I feel like it’s something that I have dealt with. The people that hire me, they know me. They know the package. They know a black guy is going to walk into the room. But then I get an Uber there and get some sort of snarky remarks from the Uber driver like, ‘Make sure that you don’t touch this,’ or ‘Make sure you close that properly’, like actively coming for me. Little interactions like that, they do add up.
There’s also barriers in the family because culturally, I feel like Africans really do want the nine to five because it’s reliable. It’s stable to be a lawyer, or to be a psychologist. They want you to go into the job space that supplies security. Being in the creative industry, there’s no promise that I can say in a year’s time, I’m gonna be rich. I have no idea. *laughs* A lot of the time it is about living off the hope that, at some point, everything starts running on its own and works out fine.
VOID: What would you tell your younger self about it?
YB: Just do what makes you happy. At the end of the day, I think people will come around. When you first start this music thing, you feel as though no one’s gonna listen and no one will ever listen. You can tell yourself a bunch of things that just aren’t true. But I think that the most important thing would be to stick to your guns and be honest with yourself and make honest music. The rest will sort itself out, you know?
VOID: When was the moment that you realized you could actually make a career out of this?
YB: It still hasn’t 100% hit me. The moment when I knew that this could be something that I can do as an actual job – a job that can take me places and get me traveling and make me money – is supporting acts like San Cisco. Because to even be in a conversation, and even in the same room as these people and to share the stage with this band who we loved, so, so, so much is such a win for me.
I think it is that mixed with the love I’ve been getting on Spotify. From those points on I was sort of like, I’m going to do this and I’m gonna be raw and I’m gonna be myself and I’m going to really try and integrate myself into this music industry.
VOID: What would your ideal future look like then?
YB: I know this might come off as superficial or weird, but I really just want to travel a lot and see things. I’ve only been to Ghana and that’s the only place other than Australia I sort of know. I want to experience stuff. I wanna go to Europe. I want to be around different cultures and different people. My girlfriend is very well traveled, so she does show me a bunch of photos of where she’s gone. I’m just like, I have to see this for myself.
I also really wanna work with other artists internationally. I just wanna solidify my place in the indie scene and be able to travel, work with more artists and build my fan base. And also build my body of work and build my sound so my sound is a bit more structured.
VOID: If you had to describe what season you’re in right now or give this era of you a title, what would it be?
YB: I haven’t felt this confident in a while and I think I just have good people around me who sort of make me feel good about myself. And so more than anything I feel like I’m in my hot girl season / in my hot girl phase. I’m gonna keep riding it out. I don’t want to lose that sense of confidence because I feel like it took me a while to get here.
VOID: What do you think has contributed to your sense of confidence?
YB: One thing I think is maturing. Just growing up and understanding that not everything has to be the way that it is. I can choose to be a bit more confident today and that will mean something for me. I get a choice now and I understand that. I feel like when I was a little younger, I was living this life that was played out for me.
Like I said before, I’ve got a lot of people around me that make me feel really good about myself. The music helps, as well. Just seeing people connect with [my] music. It’s like wow, I never knew I could do that. I never knew I could get someone to sing the lyrics that I made in my bedroom one time. It’s just so insane.
VOID: When you write songs and record in the studio, what sorts of food, media and music are you fueling yourself with?
YB: I’m listening to a lot of Beatles and almost lo-fi inspired indie. I feel like that’s where a lot of my newer stuff is going. It’s quite mellow, it’s quite calm.
I dunno if I told you this, but my favorite food is a chicken pad see ew. Whenever I can have it, it’s literally the best day for me because I just love it so much. And so that’s what I’ll be consuming on like a really, really good studio day.
I do try to keep it light. I don’t wanna go into the studio thinking too much about what I wanna do, because I find that when I have a loose definition, it sort of lends its way somewhere nice.
VOID: Have there been any parts of the touring experience that you never would’ve predicted were part of the package?
YB: *laughs* Every artist wants to be asked these questions.
No one ever tells you that it’s gonna be as stressful as it is. You have to be at the airport at a certain time. You’ve gotta get all your instruments in and everything is so heavy. You need to order a lot of Ubers and it’s just money and time. But it makes it so worth it when you’re on stage and you get to chat to people, and you get to sort of be in a room with all these people and music lovers.
VOID: As an important final question, what song should people start with on the EP?
YB: Okay so I have curated it in a way that I think it should be listened to from start to finish. So “Blackphemy” is at the top and then “Sandra” is at the bottom, and in terms of all the others that are in between, you’re gonna have to find out.
“Blackphemy” is a hell of an opener. It starts off really, really quiet and ends really, really big. And I think that when people start to listen with that song, they’ll be more inclined to sort of listen to the entire thing from start to finish.