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A Talk with SayMo

Based in New Jersey, SayMo is an Armenian rapper who recently dropped his latest album, WORDS2KEEPUWARM (W2KUW). Besides his solo work, the MC has new collaborative projects in the works, including an album with Skip the Kid, and an LP with producer Filip Neuf named Autumn in Anatolia.

Starting off, SayMo talked about the process behind his latest release, W2KUW. He said: “I just wanted to make something really digestible for people. Something that wasn’t too long, not too short – just to go through various emotions, and give people 10-15 minutes of cinema, and I think I did that.”

Regarding what influenced the album, the MC rarely turned to music. “I looked more towards literature, honestly. At the time, I was reading a lot of biographies about painters, and the way they go into their works with intention. One of them was Ai Weiwei, who creates these big instillations and paintings. I was reading about his life and his overall autobiography, 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows. It’s really about being honest about where your work comes from.”

He went on to discuss the opener to the project, ‘WORDS’. SayMo said: “I just did a freestyle over one of Bei Ru’s songs and we slipped it into the email when he was getting his work done, so we kind of inceptioned that. He got back to me, and he was like, ‘Did you really freestyle this?’ While I was doing it, someone texted my phone – you can hear it in the background of the recording. So I was like, ‘Yeah, I did,’ and he sent me a pack of four beats. ‘WORDS’ was the first one I heard. I wanted to set the tone. At that time, it was when I decided to go seek therapy for the first time in my life, so ‘WORDS’ is a conversation with myself about that … With therapy, you just pay somebody, you can blab at them for an hour straight, but if you don’t go to them with intention and think about it between sessions, you’re really wasting your time. I guess that did have an influence on the project, in a way.”

The second track, ‘Andre AGASsi’, was also produced by Armenian beatmaker Bei Ru. SayMo touched on the writing process behind it:

“There was always an intention to make a song that was more chanty and repeatable, which is more appealing to people in general … This was mid-pandemic again. There was this epidemic of ‘rapper weed’, but not really rapper weed. It was weed that came in really shitty packaging and that was being overpriced. I thought it was a weird way of poverty shaming in a time when a lot of people didn’t have the money to do it … I got shitfaced, then I did it, woke up the next morning and was like, ‘Yeah, this is pretty cool.’”

After ‘Andre AGASsi’, the MC spoke on ‘Flood/Drought’, the only song on W2KUW produced by SayMo himself. He said:

“After my last project … I decided that for my next one, WORDS, I would produce one of the songs. That’s something that I try to set for myself as a goal. Between projects, have a new goal – whether it be production or creating a song – where it forces me to up my skill level. ‘Flood/Drought’ was my only attempt, one shot, one kill. It started off with a bunch of songs. Every day, I had this picture frame that I emptied out the white background that I use a marker on. I put together a poem, then I put together some abstract representation of it with objects that I found from my desk, and so the song started with that. And then my house back in Jersey, where my mom lives, actually flooded while I was staying with her, because she broke her ankle, and I was taking care of her. So the ‘Flood’ part, when you hear the rain, that’s actually a voice memo of rain from that night … The song kind of wrote itself without me knowing.

“I sat with it for six months, and then I was like, ‘What does this need?’ So I reached out to Fiyah – whose name is Nelly – she’s an Armenian singer. It made sense to add her because she adds a touch that my vocal range can’t add to a song. I’m working with her now, helping her write for her new album, and that’s something that I want to lean into, but overall, I think it’s something that organically emerged from life.”

After ‘Flood/Drought’ comes ‘Jerrz to Yerevan’, the album’s lead single which dropped back in April 2022. Despite avoiding politics on most of his tracks, SayMo used the song to discuss the poor treatment and neglect suffered by Armenia, especially in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. He said:

“Fast forward to now, there’s 120,000 people in Artsakh – which is Nagorno-Karabakh – that are being cut off from energy, food, medicine, and supplies. So, in a way, this whole thing is a continuation of the 1915 Genocide, which cost 1.5 million Armenians’ lives. It’s something that obviously hits home as an Armenian, and that song was really just an expression of frustration with the world not really paying attention to the situation …

“Overall, it’s a mad Armenian man’s perspective on the issue, and the producer, Gorgeouz Beats, sampled a classic Armenian song. He’s actually a resident of Armenia and a guy who fought in the war, so a lot of the things really interconnect. I don’t ever want to get political in music because I feel like you shouldn’t be looking to artists for your political views, so this was me dipping into that therapy well, using my art as a therapy to process, but also I have to just be honest about what’s going on in my life, and I was pissed about the situation.”

The album closes with ‘Half a Watermelon’, produced by Skip the Kid. The two crossed paths after SayMo freestyled over one of Skip’s beats, eventually leading to the single ‘Warclef Jawn’. SayMo spoke on the inspiration behind their latest track together:

“I was just looking at a photo on Instagram of this guy Armen Yeritsyan – who I mentioned in the song –and he had a watermelon on his head. I don’t know if I would call it inspiring, but it was a very distinctive photograph, and I was like, ‘This is what I want a song to sound like.’ So I kind of just did that. In the song, I talk about balconies, feta cheese, and watermelon, which are very distinctly Armenian things in the summertime. For me, a home only really needs a balcony and that makes it a home, so I thought I would delve into that.”

Months after W2KUW, SayMo and Skip have plans to collaborate for a full album. SayMo said: “Skip is very authentic as a person. He likes to sit down with the people he works with, and talk to them, so that really serves itself in my process as well, because being honest with the person I’m working with is pretty huge … There’s nothing really to reveal about the Skip project other than it’s coming.”

Aside from his work with Skip the Kid, SayMo has been working closely with underground beatmaker Filip Neuf. The two collaborated earlier this year for the single ‘Shoot the Piano Player’, and a full-length collaboration titled Autumn in Anatolia is in the works. On the project, the MC said:

“The process is like jazz. I sent him vocals for a song, he would send them back to me, and there would be a beat switch on the second half of it. It’s really a competitive thing where I have to put something crazy together for him to get pushed to do something crazy on the other end. The concept of Autumn in Anatolia is really about ancestral, native lands, because Anatolia is traditional, western Armenia, which was taken in the genocide. ‘Autumn in Anatolia’ is a very red scene, so it’s going to be a lot of cultural references, but also the same SayMo eccentricities – you know, off-the-wall shit. It’s really been interesting working with Filip because he’s got a great ear for samples and he’s also got a great ear for song structure. When you hear ‘Shoot the Piano Player’, at the end there’s the Bukowski sample, and that was never part of it. Even the beat switch, I had never heard that until Filip sent me the final version.”

He went on: “Filip is very versatile. He does lean into the jazz thing because he’s really good at it, but Filip has sent me shit with 808s before. I never thought Filip would do it, but he does do that … I think when he makes projects he just does what he enjoys. I do enjoy the jazz rap as well, and that’s something I cut my teeth on when I first started making music, but in terms of projects, I always want to push the sound to a different place.”

Apart from Filip and Skip, the rapper has a number of collaborations in the works, and even more he’s planning for the future. “I got a couple of joints coming with Drums … I’m going to do something with Matt Draugos eventually – we just haven’t sat down and done it … I have two more Bei Ru tracks coming, which is kind of insane … Fiyah, I’m helping her with a couple of songs on her project … She’s got a ridiculous voice, and sings in three different languages, which is mind-boggling … I’ll probably be doing something with Twogeebs for his new album, so that’s something to look forward to.”

Turning back to his previous work, SayMo described his 2020 compilation, SAYMO. In particular, he touched on the opening track, ‘INTRO HRAGZINI’, a collaboration with art critic Hrag Vartanian. He said:

“He’s one of the most honest and brutal art critics in the world – he’s an Armenian guy – he goes against the establishment of museums and this ass-kissing culture. I respect him a lot for that … The whole idea was to have someone else read out a poem I had wrote, and I thought he was the perfect person for that because of what he represents, and what he does. He’s a futurist; he’s an art critic who doesn’t appease to the art culture of payouts and such. It was important to have him, and I thought it would be great juxtaposition to have him over a trap beat … I think it really set the tone for the whole project.”

He went on to discuss another highlight from SAYMO, ‘BAKLAVA’. Regarding the song, he said: "I don’t think an artist should be forced to put themselves in emotional turmoil to put out a love song. I was just talking about baklava, which is one of my favourite desserts, and diabetes-inducing. There was a specific kind – I used to work at a bakery during college, where this dude who was brought in from Turkey would make it. Completely green, pistachio on all levels. So I put that together just based on my love for food and for desserts.”

From SAYMO to W2KUW, the Armenian MC has been assisted by Haikoo Studio, his executive producer. SayMo said: “To have an executive producer who doesn’t really work in music is probably not intuitive to most people, but it makes sense, because Haikoo brings a high art standard to it. He’s a visual artist, a 3D artist … The idea is that we keep a high art standard for the music, just like somebody like Westside Gunn would. I think that Gunn is a very good curator, so I think Haikoo really brought that aspect to my music. Before that, a lot of the stuff I was making was freestyled in essence and in concept, because there wasn’t much intention beforehand. Whereas on something like ‘BAKLAVA’, Haikoo really took the reins … It’s really important to have somebody you can collaborate with and be open with.”

With WORDS2KEEPUWARM racking up streams, Autumn in Anatolia in production, and a full Skip the Kid collaboration on the horizon, times have never been more productive for SayMo. Find his latest LP and social media links below;

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