Serpentwithfeet’s Music Is Otherworldly. But His Message Is Down to Earth.

“I’m not sure how many people care about the arc of my life,” he said. “But with my own personal document, I didn’t want to go down in hi...


“I’m not sure how many people care about the arc of my life,” he said. “But with my own personal document, I didn’t want to go down in history as the sad boy, because I’ve just experienced so much joy.”

Singles released in advance of “Deacon” announced a new playfulness in serpentwithfeet’s music. In “Same Size Shoe,” which delights in finding similarities with a lover, he suddenly turns his voice into a scat-singing trumpet section. In “Fellowship,” he, Sampha and Lil Silva shake and tap all sorts of percussion as they share a jovial refrain, “I’m thankful for the love I share with my friends.”

Three songs on the album — “Malik,” “Amir” and “Derrick’s Beard” — name men the singer lusts for. They are “men from my imagination,” he said. “People ask, ‘Who was this song about?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, part of it, I was talking to myself, and the other part, I was talking to a person in my head.’ I think sometimes people just think that everything’s autobiographical, but for me, it’s, like, ‘Well, this happened to me. I wonder what would happen if I augmented this scenario? What would happen if I threw this off the edge of the cliff?’ I try to use all my experiences as a diving board, or as the beginning of a question.”

While serpentwithfeet’s own story is full of singular details — Baltimore, the church, the classical choir, Blackness, sexuality — none of them, he believes, should separate anyone from his music. “The brilliant thing about individual stories is that the more specific you are, the more universal it is,” he said. “There’s a lot of artists that I connect with and I can’t identify with necessarily. But I can identify with that human feeling of love in the club, or missing your partner, or hope when you get to visit that country one more time.”

He added, “They say gay artists don’t make universal work. That’s a lie. I’ve really listened to a lot of straight music. And I enjoy, and I can identify with being heterosexual. I don’t know what that is like. That ain’t my story. But I can still shed a tear.”

He expects his own songs to reach everyone. “I want to be an incredible facilitator,” he said. “I won’t say storyteller because I want the audience to participate with me. I want people to feel part of the process, and I want people to feel like the thing they are witnessing is alive. I want to make work that people feel part of, that people feel like ‘serpent needed me here.’ Like ‘If I didn’t listen to this album, it wouldn’t exist.’ I want everybody to feel like it’s theirs, which is a very particular art form.”

“I don’t know if I have accomplished it,” He added. “But that is something that I’m in pursuit of.”

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