From the moment I heard Pink Sweat$ and his track “Honesty,” late-night, sleepy, and a little wine drunk, I could tell he would be around a while. I tried to find the right combination of words to describe his music but I have to chalk it up a bit to, “you know it when you hear it.” However, one thing is for sure: Pink’s initial songs from 2019 have very little between your ear and their core. Through whatever speaker you hear him through, his music feels personalized.
Since those initial tracks, including essential, listens like “I Know” and “Call Me,” Pink developed more layered songs while never abandoning the pocket that revealed his ability. With his 2020 release The Prelude EP and tracks like “Not Alright,” Pink added some more rounded funk-pop tones, yet the centralized specificity remained fully intact. Now on the cusp of the release of his first full body of work Pink Planet, it seems he’s putting all of the elements he wants in his music out cohesively. The album has soul tracks rooted in his church-centered musical upbringing, head-bopping pop jams, and still the yearning exposed compositions you can’t help but crave. Somehow they all flow together like the school of different fish in Finding Nemo, except none stray off to touch the boat (butt).
The depth that goes into Pink’s thought process surrounding his music, career, and the state of the world is wildly enticing. He continually speaks in an analytical stream of consciousness with little fluttering unexpected moments of bubbly intrigue. In our interview, we discussed everything from Philly grit to lyrical tricks to familial understanding. Check out our — I admit a bit lengthy — conversation below slightly edited for content and clarity. See if you don’t find out what you didn’t realize you always wanted to know about Pink Sweat$.
To take it back first, what do you think made your first big song “Honesty” connect so much with people? Did you do something intentionally you thought would work?
I think I did everything intentionally but there was a little bit of luck in there. I genuinely believe my heart was in a place of openness and rawness. I got to a point in my life where I was feelin’ like I wasn’t livin.’ I got so engulfed in tryna make it. My dream was to be a songwriter and I ended up being this adapting person. I was always adapting versus tryna create what I heard and what I felt. It was like customer service. I just wanted to say what people needed to hear in a way that was palatable when I wrote “Honesty.” I was afraid to be loved and to love somebody.
The sonic style of that song is also very raw and stripped back, which really stood out at the time you released it. Have you seen and heard music move more in that direction since then?
My ego wants to say, “Yeah for sure.” But I don’t know if that’s because I’m super aware now. I have gotten calls about when artists are in sessions with producers and the producer will be like, “Such and such came in and said I want something like Pink Sweat$.” I’ve heard that from other people, but I don’t know. I hope I inspire people to be more open.
You, Anderson .Paak, and Mos Def are the only vocalists I’ve seen play drums live at their shows. When did you start doing that?
When I was young, probably mid-teens, I didn’t like singing in public in front of people. But because of my parents and being in church, I’d always end up singing. It was never by myself, though. The first time I did it, (played drums on stage) my parents had forced me and a couple of other guys to sing at church. I didn’t really wanna keep singing so I ended up creating it so I could get off stage and go to the drums. That was my escape from the spotlight.
Well, that’s clearly changed a bit. Can we talk about the guitar on your tracks? It’s always so elite and specific.
Somebody could send me the craziest guitar thing and I’ll find the simplest part in there and loop that one piece. That’s my producer side. I’m able to see a bigger picture with less. For one of my songs, “Body Ain’t Me,” I was in The Hamptons with one of my boys. He was just playin’ some loop and kept lookin’ at me. I was like, “Dude I’m on vacation I’m not tryna work,” but I just started singing and the lyrics started coming. Then I was like, “Damn now I gotta finish the song.”
Then for “Coke & Henny Pt. 2,” my creative director, who does all my videos and stuff named Dave, was learning to play guitar. He did a thing and I was like, “Nah don’t do that, do this.” Then I wrote to it and was like, “This is goin’ on the project.” There’s beauty in the madness when it comes to how I choose music. I don’t go with super established people. I like to give the underdogs a chance.
Do you think about genre before you write a song? Or do you let the song decide the genre?
I never think about genre honestly. I just write whatever I feel at the time. When I grew up, music was just music. It all was secular. The only music I wasn’t really allowed to listen to was R&B and rap. Everything else was up for grabs. I didn’t know what pop or what country was necessarily. Like I didn’t know this Johnny Lee was a country song and this Maroon 5 was a pop song. It was just music.
What’s the one thing you think you learned the most from the city of Philadelphia growing up? Are there any lessons you keep with you still?
Sticking to your guns. Usually when something is great, there’s gonna be a lot of backlash in the beginning because you’re doing something different. I learned that from Philly because I was always dreaming big and getting a little pushback from the older guys. Over time I realized it wasn’t because they didn’t like me, it’s just they didn’t see the vision.
Then I realized they were probably just replicating the energy that was given to them. Philly, to this day, I think is one of the hardest markets, even on radio. If you can make it out of Philly you can make it anywhere. It’s a supercritical city. So I learned how to handle criticism and how to handle people turning me down. The grittiness of the city I carry with me every day. For some creatives, it can fuck up your whole year if someone doesn’t like your song. For me it’s just like, “I don’t care, I like it.”
I heard you say you want to “Expand people’s palettes for Black music.” Whose palettes? Then what specifically about their views of Black music needs expansion?
I wanna expand Black people’s palettes first. A lot of us grow up in these inner cities and we think that we can only rap. I grew up in the hood, but when I turned 15 or 16 mid-sophomore year I moved to the suburbs. It was a culture shock and my mind was opened to the possibilities of life.
Whereas when I was in the hood, I didn’t think much of my life at all. Even in school they’d come and tell you all the statistics of your neighborhood like, “This many people in your vicinity got AIDS. This many people in your vicinity are most likely to go to jail.” They always gave us statistics of what we gotta go up against and I thought that was normal. I think the intention was good, but the reality is you’re just conditioning people to think, “Damn I can never make it.” When I moved I experienced a certain freedom that I wanna give to kids who might not have a chance to move out when they’re 16. Drug dealers or rappers are the only black people I saw winnin’ in the projects. I want to show people being a singer and putting love out into the world is profitable.
Then secondly, for the people that aren’t in our culture. A lot of times people fear what they don’t understand. How I dress and my tattoos, that’s ‘cuz of where I’m from but I’m not a criminal. Sometimes I have my hair twisted down and my diamonds on and people are like, “Yo, you a rapper?” Then I’m like, “Nah, but check me out.” The amount of times people are shocked is flattering, but at the same time, it’s insulting. Any white guy in a suit doesn’t mean he owns a business. It’s my life mission to expand people’s palettes.
From Volume 1 & 2 EPs to 2020’s The Prelude EP (including songs that are all on the new album Pink Planet), it seemed like you switched tones from raw and stripped back to more fully composed pop-focused songs. Was that conscious and intentional?
Yeah, a hundred percent. I wanna be a Black pop star. We don’t have a lot of those, it’s rare. The person I am in public, as far as perception goes, that’s who I wanted to see growing up. I wanted so badly to see someone who looked like their life was a movie, but it wasn’t negative. Me and my brothers and sister used to sit in the morning and watch Saved by the Bell. For me, that was the biggest thing in the world ‘cuz my school was nothing like that. My school felt like a prison. I was like, “I want that, but don’t know how to get that. I don’t know anybody that looks like me who got that.” Give me an escape.
The new tracks from Pink Planet all feel like they lean more towards a soul-centered sound. Was that also intentional?
Yeah, man. I grew up in church, so that feeling’s all I really know. When you go to church, there are people from all walks of life coming there ‘cuz they need something. Their soul and spirit need that inspiration. A lot of times that comes from the music when the band is jammin’ and everybody’s rockin.’ I wanted to bring that energy to people without every word being Jesus and God. I wanted to inject that feeling into them. It’s like an urban church.
So let’s go from sonics to lyrics. The common thread or theme of the album I hear is a sort of utopian scenario of love. Is that a fair assessment, and why was that important to push right now?
I think the world is in such chaos because we have a lack of love. In my journey, the more love I got in my heart, the better my life was the more centered I feel, and the more close to this earth I feel. When you don’t have love you feel disconnected to everything. You just mean for no fuckin’ reason. We all experience people whose energy be so fuckin’ off and be like, “Damn they need some love in they life!”
Pink Planet is the epitome of escapism. Your existence on this planet might not be so pretty all the time. You need that place you can go mentally to connect, like on “Pink City.” That’s a song where I’m painting a beautiful picture of building the life that I want, not complaining about the life that I had.
My favorite lyric from the album is, “Can’t blame me for reaching when I’m falling for you.” As you know, it’s from the song “Chains.” What was your intention with that one?
That song and lyric was me expressing how when you truly love you become a seeker. You wanna keep diving deeper into whatever it is man. It’s funny when people want love, and then nitpick how somebody’s loving them. It wasn’t my girl, but it’s funny when I hear people like, “Oh they’re too on top of me.” Then I’m like, “You was just cryin’ when you ain’t have nobody.” That line was like, “They’re smitten by you, you can’t blame that person for acting like they’re falling deeper for you.”
Huh, my interpretation was different. That’s dope.
It’s supposed to be different for everybody! When I first started writing songs people used to criticize how I wrote. I always was so intentional and detailed while writing things, but not detailed enough. Enough to where you think you know what I meant, but the reality is you found your own meaning. Versus me telling you every single thing, I make the picture clear enough where if you don’t wear glasses you see what you see. So you think, “Oh he meant this!” But reality is, it’s supposed to connect to your psyche or view. How you think and how your heart moves.
Wow, I think you just told me your trick. (Both laugh) Like what makes people latch onto your music. You make the lyrics specific, but a bit blurry on purpose to allow space for people to view the lines in their own way. Amazing. Separately, I heard someone say recently that men don’t beg anymore in R&B; were you bringing that back a bit on “Chains” too?
(Laughs) Who said that?! I wouldn’t say beg, but I think it’s expressing how you feel rather than begging someone to feel how you feel. It’s like seeing a romance movie where he’s not begging but he’s like, “I really love you and I just want you to see that.” Rather than, “Will you please love me back?!” (Both laugh) That song is saying in so many words, “There really isn’t much I wouldn’t do for you.”
When two people are really in love, at times you feel like this person can do no wrong. I’ve heard stories of dudes fighting people cuz their girl got them in a situation and they know the girl was wrong. But you gotta protect her, so in a way you’re a slave to love. In the strangest way it’s a beautiful place to be cuz you’re acting out of body instead of thinking about yourself all the time. A lot of parents like my music because they can connect certain lyrics to their children, and the things they do for their kids no matter what they do wrong.
I think love is the stripping of all that you think you know. Actually, it’s the submission to, “I don’t know anything.” Real love is action. Real love is sometimes silence. Real love is protecting and sometimes covering.
How you’re talking about love is how many talk about religion and faith. You’ve talked before about how you don’t necessarily align with traditional religion now, but you have a song on the album called “Heaven.” Can you explain that dichotomy?
I feel like there’s so much psychological battling that happens with anybody who’s raised religious. Whether you believe in it or not, it’s still a part of you. It was given to me. It’s a path but it’s not the whole journey. It’s the foundation like treat people well and mind how you walk this earth. Cuz what if there’s a place? To me to say there is or isn’t makes you absolute, but I say I don’t know. Belief and knowing are two different things. I believe in Heaven, I believe in God, but my truth is my life.
On “Pink Money” you have a very cool and bright horn section. What was the influence for that?
For me it’s a mix of Stevie Wonder and a very specific childhood memory. I went to a funeral and I didn’t know the person. It was just one of those things where your parents bring you along. It felt like a party. They had a New Orleans style band and this was in Philly. I was like, “I’ve never seen nothing like this at church.” They had a drum line and a horn section marching around. I remember thinking, “This is so cool, I’ve never seen it done like this before.” When I was making that song I wanted to feel that. They was jammin’ and I was like, “This is how you go out!”
Hell yeah that’s dope! We gotta talk about “At My Worst” and the lyric, “Stick by my side even when the world is caving in.” Was that made during the pandemic and about it specifically?
Bro, no, I made that over a year ago. The crazy thing is in this phase of my life I’m very in tune with myself and the energy happening around me. I literally was just writing how I felt. Everybody has the idea of their perfect person, but the reality is that person don’t want you! (Both laugh) The reality is you’re gonna have somebody who’s gonna challenge you. They’re supposed to sharpen you. That song taps into the different nuances of relationships. You don’t want someone who’s only gonna be there for the good times. So many people probably broke up during COVID. The reality is that’s your worst! That’s when you want somebody to really be there. We do desire that sense of connection and love when we’re at our lowest.
Thus, why I thought you must’ve made the song about love during the pandemic. Why was Kehlani the perfect person for the remix?
She gives it a different flare. Publicly she’s always been fluid. She could be dating a guy or a girl, you don’t know. That perspective of love was important to have. People like to think our generation is so liberal and open, but a lot of times people can be so close-minded about things. Love is love. I feel like having her on there was deeper than just the lyrics.
What was the final message and feeling you were trying to leave the listener with on the last track of the album “Pink Family”?
That’s my song right there, bro. The strange thing is my family never really knew what I did until I became an artist because they don’t know what a songwriter does. My whole family sings, but like church stuff. It gave me an opportunity to invite everyone to the studio. They were like, “What we doin?” Then I told them, “I wrote the song you gone sing these parts,” and they were like, “OK!” So they got to see me doing my thing. It’s just promoting black love.
That doesn’t always have to be relationships. It can be family. Seeing black families isn’t as common as I want it to be. At the end of the day that’s all you got. I’m just a boy from church playing drums behind my mom with my brother playing the keyboard and my mom yelling at him, “That’s the wrong note!” That’s who I am at the core and I wanted to display that via the energy. I’m not the best singer in my family also so I wanted to give them a platform to show other people in their life and be proud of it.
OK last question. From releasing Volume 1 & 2 to now bringing out Pink Planet, how have you grown as an artist and a person?
As an artist I’ve grown so much in my comfortability of people knowing who I am. Also understanding the unspoken responsibility I have as an artist. Before, I just wanted to make music in a hole somewhere. Now my heart has grown for people. I’m so grateful. I have so much more empathy for people on their journey. I genuinely feel like I’ve found my purpose. I remember feeling like my life was going in a circle. Now I just am. I’m not worried about going up or left or right. I’m fulfilled daily.
Today I was at the gym with my girl and the girl who usually does, was making our smoothies. I guess she’s really Christian and she was like, “I don’t really listen to secular music but when I heard your songs it was very heartwarming.” I was like wow. I’m making music for kids who have parents like my parents growing up. Even a person who’s minding what they’re listening to can listen to my music. That adds so much value to it. It’s like McDonald’s versus vegetables. It’s like I’m for someone who’s taking more time and money to get organic fruits. Shouts McDonald’s though.