Introducing Oakland’s finest. Safia Mafia is starting off the new year right by debuting her first full-length album titled Love Kills, home to standout single “Weed & Wine” featuring fellow Bay Area native Guapdad 4000. Read more…
With records stemming from real-life experiences and moments, the singer-songwriter has turned her love for poetry into a mean pen game, collaborating with dope producers and creatives on the daily. Finding her own niche somewhere in between the realms of pop, R&B, and hip-hop, Safia is not letting her foot off the gas pedal, chasing her dreams until they become a reality.
For those who don’t know, who is Safia Mafia?
Safia Mafia is a badass singer-songwriter from Oakland, CA.
Talk about being from the Bay.
Being from the Bay is amazing. There’s so much talent there, so much inspiration in terms of scenic beauty. It’s a melting pot of a bunch of different cultures and backgrounds. I love being from the Bay.
What about Oakland specifically?
That’s where the heart is. In terms of culture, arts, all that, Oakland is the heart of the bay. Growing up in the community, there was so much for me to tap into. That’s where you find the hustler’s spirit without all the frills and pretentiousness, but you also get a beauty and a sensitivity at the same time. It’s a weird dynamic that Oakland has, but you don’t find that anywhere else.
How long have you been in LA?
10 years. It took a long time. When you come to LA, it’s like hitting the reset button. You make your little pathway in Oakland. You’re like “I’m just gonna dive in when I get to LA,” and it’s not like that. [laughs]
What your favorite part about the city?
It took me a while to figure out what I liked about LA because it was hard to me in the beginning, but now I really like the accessibility of everything. And that it’s such a small world here. You meet one person and you’ve met five people.
Talk about how you got started in music.
I always wrote. It started in poetry, then it grew to writing songs. I did the Black Repertory Theatre in Berkeley. I worked with any of the local rappers. I was wanting to be on everybody’s song. I just really hit the ground running when I came to LA, but that came with its own set of challenges. I was couchsurfing. I didn’t have my own place to live. I didn’t have any prospects or a job. I had to really start from the ground up and re-establish myself. Fast forward to now, it’s working out.
At what point did you realize this music thing was for real?
More recently actually. It’s one thing to feel it in your heart like “this is something I need to do “ — which I felt early on — but to see people resonate with you as an artist. That’s fairly new for me, within the last couple years. I first knew I wanted to be an artist when I was 8 or 9.
Talk about your mashup of genres & experimenting beyond R&B.
I like to give people an idea because most people say “it’s too many different things to say at once.” I usually say if Lana Del Rey, SZA, and Tierra Whack had a baby, it would be me. That gives people idea of what headspace to expect to be in when they listen to my music.
What was the inspiration behind your name?
Well Safia is actually my birth middle name. Mafia rhymes with Safia and I thought it gave it a badass tone. Safia also means pure in Arabic, so leading with that name meant more than it being a nice sounding name. It’s pure, authentic me.
You just dropped the visual for “Weed & Wine.” Bring us back to that studio sesh.
I recorded my vocal prior to meeting Guap. Bedrock and I were in the studio, we were like “this song needs some male energy.” We tossed around a couple names and couldn’t really land on one. My manager came into the session one day and was like “what about Guapdad?” At the time, I had never heard him rap. He really just took off hella fast recently for music, but back then, he only had a couple songs out. I had only seen him on Instagram talking shit and being funny.
I said “what songs has he done?” He said that song “Shameless” with Buddy. I listened to it and I really liked his tone. He has a really dope vocal texture. I thought it would mesh well with the song and it did. He came into studio B here at 1700 Hertz and wrote 3 options in 5 minutes. He’s like “this is the one I wanna go with, but I wrote a couple others too.” I’m like fuck! He knocked it out in 2 takes. I was very impressed.
Did ya’ll know each other from back home?
No, that was my first time meeting him. He’s super dope.
Talk about bringing the visual to life.
Obviously, the song is pretty light-hearted, so I wanted to make sure that the visual respected that. I didn’t want it to be too heavy or too deep. My creative team Creative Upperclass (Dot & Milli) plotted out the visual with me and Damien, the director. Lots of color, lots of light, lots of energy. Just a fun visual for a fun song.
Congrats on Love Kills. What was the creative process & how long did it take you?
Oh gosh. It took me a long time because some of the songs are a couple years old. The process of getting to a space where I could make a full-length body of work took some time too. Some emotional growing up and some healing that I had to do to be able to talk about some of the things I’m talking about on this project. Now, I’m able to show breadth of subject matter, breadth of emotion. Before, I was on a down kind of emo, it’s a hard time out here. You have those songs but you also have “I really love you and you’re fucking dope.” I have songs about self-love and the whole love spectrum, which is where the name came from.
I know artists tend to have their own favorites that aren’t singles. Which records mean the most to you?
The last one is called “Little Darling,” and that’s actually a letter to me. That’s the song about self-love. That song was a long time coming because it’s a very new concept to me. It took a lot of emotional growth and healing to get to a space where I can even talk about it. Let alone practice it. The first song is called “All Ways.” That one’s special to me too because it’s a healthy, positive, nurturing, loving, song, which again took awhile for me to get to.
How are you feeling tonight ahead of your listening?
Aside from being sick, I’m very excited. This is my first full-length album. I feel very proud of this body of work. It’s been a long time coming. I’m really excited to share it with people. It’ll resonate with a lot of folks.
What is it you want fans to get from your story?
That anything is possible. You can really come from the fucking mud and be great. You don’t have to be a product of your situation. You don’t have to be a product of your environment. You can become whatever you want. Obviously I haven’t made it but I’m on my way. I’m way closer to it now than I was when I first moved here.
What is your take on the music industry?
It’s evolved a lot since I was a little kid. It’s way more open now on an independent level to self-promote and self-release. That comes with its gifts and curses. It’s very saturated now but it gives people an opportunity to either search for and find what kind of music they want, as opposed to back in the day. You were only allowed to listen to what the record labels put out, but now if they’re not playing the music that you wanna hear, you can find the music you want to hear. I like that, it’s just wide open right now.
What are some goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
More songwriting for other artists would be dope for me. Getting my music licensed would be a dream come true. I wanna hear music scored in movies, TV shows, etc. Those are 2 major goals.
How important is social media for your career?
Right now, if social media is not important to you then you’re not doing nothing. It’s a necessary evil, that’s the way I look at it.
What’s a normal day in the life? Walk us through.
Usually, I train 5 days a week. I have a trainer at Equinox. Doesn’t really show right now because the holidays were very good to me. [chuckles] I start my days pretty early. I’m not in the in the studio right now because I just finished my project, but usually in the studio late in the day. I do beauty appointments. I get my nails done and my eyebrows, which keeps me busy. A lot of errand running. I don’t have an assistant so I’m doing all my shit myself. I’m very hands-on with my music and the process of my releases, video editing, and all that. I’m sitting down with the editor doing the final edits. I’m helping to flush out the treatments, so I’m running a lot.
3 things you need in the studio?
Warm water with honey. I don’t really use tea because after awhile it makes a harshness in my voice. I like the room to be warm, so heat. And very comfortable clothing. Sweatpants city, sweatshirt. It has to be super cozy.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
Before I was doing music full-time, I was a secretary at a hospital. I was a unit secretary and I was fucking miserable. I would hope that I would be doing something creative in some capacity. Maybe acting. Something creative otherwise I would lose my shit.
What do your parents think?
My father passed when I was a little kid. My mom is still wrapping a her head around it. For a long time, she was like “oh it’s your hobby, it’s just something you’re into.” But now when I call her with achievements, she’s like “what? Wow!” I’m like “yeah, I’m telling you I’m doing it. I’m working out here.” She’s proud for sure. She wants me to have kids though. She’s like “that’s cool, but don’t lose focus.” [laughs]
I was performing prior to this project but I brought on my manager and he actually wanted me to stop performing until the project is released, because the music changed a bit. Once the project is out, we’ll start re-focusing. I would love to perform.
Who’s your manager?
Fran. He used to manage Kamaiyah and some other folks.
What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
I did the BET experience this past summer. There was a group of 3 or 4 girls. I didn’t see them while I was performing but Bedrock caught them on tape, wilding out to my music. When I left to get food, we went this street and they found me. They were like “omg Safia, we just saw you perform!” They completely stand out, it melted my heart. They’re probably 13 or 14. I was like “I can’t believe this happening.” ‘Cause I have a soft spot for young girls. They’re young kids watching me so I try to be mindful of how I present myself. To see my stuff resonate with them, I was floored.
Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
It changes from time to time. Right now, Summer Walker is in heavy rotation. I’m also listening to Comethazine right now. I have a wide musical taste. I might be on some zen shit one day and some ratchet shit the next.
My obvious dream collab would be Jay-Z just because I respect him so much. His music got me out of some dark places. Also, I really, really love SZA. Rihanna. Amy Winehouse if she was still alive.
What advice do you have an aspiring Safia Mafia?
Don’t quit. There’s always people and tough situations that are gonna make you wanna quit. Your own family, your friends will tell you to quit. Shit will be hard, but there’s a reason why there’s only 1% of the population that does this. Because most people quit. It get better. Don’t quit. Don’t take what you’re seeing while you’re in the shits and think it’s always gonna be like that, because it won’t.
Anything else you want to let us know?
We just finished the video for “Drive.” Really excited about that video. Have some really cool shit. We got a Mustang Shelby in it, lots of really cool footage. Just out here trying to kick ass and take names.