The Open Mind of New York’s Salomon Faye

The young, Ratking-affiliated rapper is carrying the tradition of raw, soulful and empowering New York hip hop forward.

Justin French, Stylist: Maleeka Moss

“These days I’m just trying to write as much as possible.” Perched in a computer chair on the upper floor of what looks like a mix between an artist studio and a fraternity house on the outer edge of Bushwick, Salomon Faye can hardly keep himself from giving impromptu demonstrations of tracks he’s been working on lately. On the eve of releasing his debut EP, Stimulation, the 21-year-old rapper shows no signs of letting up. “I dedicate myself to this craft, and I’m only looking to reach higher levels of impeccability.”

Born in Paris, but raised in Harlem, Faye is driven by a desire to excel. The tracks on Stimulation are laden with dense wordplay, self-empowering philosophy and delivered by way of carefully composed flows. On “Alchemy,” which Faye describes as his “mission statement,” he proudly proclaims: “I fight to be a conscious being, armed with dreams that I blast into reality.” Faye commands the beat with an idiosyncratic flow, adding melodic texture through dynamic rhyme patterns and traces of the kind of New York patois pioneered by the Boot Camp Clik. His style hints at golden era boom bap, but never feels derivative.

Salomon Faye - Alchemy

Elsewhere on the record, “Black Power” sees Faye dish out razor-sharp allusions to systematic oppression, while elevating the meaning of “black” in beautifully scripted rap poetry. The line “When you took mine you lost one, mathematically” could be understood as a nod to Faye’s greatest hip hop heroine. “Lauryn Hill is my favorite. She drops so many gems. There’s so much passion in her expression. Sometimes it waters the eyes to hear it, to feel it, to understand it better when you hear it again and when you’ve grown a little bit. Through her I really learned the importance of communicating in my raps, as opposed to just rapping.” Hill’s influence shines through in Faye’s music, from its penchant for the soulful and the organic, to the way each syllable seems uttered with purpose, an open invitation for his listeners to connect.

Faye’s full-on pursuit of rapping started about three years ago. It was also around that time when he moved from Harlem to Brooklyn. Faye linked up with brothers Ki and Sei Smith, and began to help them run the art gallery / event venue Apostrophe. It was his time at Apostrophe that brought him closer together with a crew that would have a significant impact on his rapping career, XL’s Ratking.

I write very purposefully, because I’ve watched myself become things I write.

Faye actually crossed paths with individual members of the rap crew much earlier. After hanging out for a bit, they realized that Faye and Hak had gone to after-school together in third grade. Faye also connected with Wiki when his name first started to bubble up. “I was around 16 and I thought I was the best at my age,” remembers Faye. But when he first heard Wiki, Faye instantly became a fan. Fast forward a few years and Ratking is commonly hailed as one of the most promising groups from New York, and Faye’s feature on So It Goes album cut “Take” has carried his seething bars to new ears.

Their approach to rapping is compatible, as both Ratking and Faye boast an ability to juggle words with authority, reflecting their long schooling on the cypher circuit. But whereas Ratking channels the sensory overload of a life in New York City into high-octane cacophony, Faye tends to strip instrumental layers down to their backbone, leaving his words front and center. EP opener “Faye” exemplifies that formula. Booming low end, a dry snare, and the occasional synth streak are the only things added to Salomon’s lyrical acrobatics. “The mental temple but I keep it simple.”

Salomon Faye - Faye

Faye’s self-empowerment and wisdom seeking is reminiscent of another New York rap group, Flatbush duo The Underachievers. Although he’s never met them, they share a voracious interest in ancient Eastern philosophy and hermeticism. Faye’s eyes light up as he talks about the books he’s been devouring, reciting principles of the Kyballion and Falun Dafa with unmistakable passion.

“This is the stuff that drives me. This is the stuff I love. This is what I swim in on the daily. Those understandings, those curiosities, the exploring of them, is what life is for me and what comes out in my expression, in many different ways. I feel like being an artist gives you a special relationship with the divine because you interact with it all the time.” Faye approaches his art with clearheaded deliberation and acute consciousness. “I write very purposefully, because I’ve watched myself become things I write. I’ve watched my knowledge follow my curiosities.”

Towards the end of our conversation, Salomon obsesses over Jay Z’s rhymes on “Can I Live.” He pulls up the lyrics on the screen in front of him, but one gets the sense that the passage is firmly etched into his memory anyhow. “The homie said, ‘My mind is infested with sick thoughts that circle / Like a Lexus, if driven wrong it's sure to hurt you / Dual level like duplexes, in unity.’” Salomon catches his breath. “It’s just like, damn! That shit right there? Timeless. It don’t matter whether or not he’s spitting like that anymore, cause he did that. And that same mentality – actually the evolution of this mentality – is present in what he does and says now.” Salomon Faye is a mindful student, dedicated to perfecting his craft.

By Anthony Obst on April 29, 2015

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