Over the past 15 months, I’ve had the privilege of listening to—and interacting with—two incredible young Black artists whose influence and goals differ tremendously, but whose rises have been consistent and ever-expanding.
Musti and Marc Indigo (Jason Phillip ’23) present two sonically different moments within the Black musical canon. But their youth, and the current confines imposed by COVID-19, suggest that they’ve yet to reach a career climax. Their influence promises to grow exponentially over the next five years or so.
I caught up with them both separately over the phone; I was excited to reconnect with two friends who I had built strong relationships with over the last few years (I’ve known Musti since my youth, whereas Indigo and I just met last year on campus). I was interested in how their processes have been affected by COVID-19 and how their relationships to music have shifted with the ongoing restrictions. Managing the pandemic is difficult enough, and while we know music to be a poignantly personal expression, the reality for both of these artists’ is that music is a career—so acknowledging the realities of juggling passion and profession are inescapable. Following that, what does it look like for an artist when their dreams collide with a global pandemic that seemingly limits their ability to engage in the musical process? Sonically, what comes out of it?
For Indigo, COVID’s initial pause came at a frustrating moment. He had quickly amassed a global following, with close to 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and songs that have breached nearly two million plays, the Grenadian artist was as established as any 20-year-old could be in the music business. In addition, Indigo had just finished headlining the Misc Music Festival. All of this had quickly solidified his place as one of Vassar’s premier artists.
Yet when faced with this disastrous timing, Indigo’s reaction was as laid back as ever: “Adjusting to COVID has been pretty fine, honestly,” he explained. “This is still the internet age, so I can still do everything I was doing for the most part in terms of gaining traction. The one thing that I wish I could do soon is perform. Hopefully if the situation starts to improve.” Truth be told, this kind of response is not surprising for the talented artist, who—in my view—has always chosen music over written word to express his truest feelings. His focus on his musicality is a clear reflection of the typically reserved figure whose passion is radiated through voice.
Much of our conversation shifted naturally to Indigo’s quickly changing style. Speaking on the relationship of COVID to these artistic changes, Indigo was quick to indicate what the time alone allowed for him. “I’ve been grateful for the time I’ve had to reflect,” he recalled. “To figure out what I want to do with my life and with music. I think that’s resulted in a really interesting sound that I’m going into soon.” A kind of sound that he harped on more than once, he described it as, “ [A] pretty big shift in my sound. A sound that isn’t going to be out for a little bit, but I’m going to be releasing much more this year. Starting on the 28th, then once a month.” Indigo was fairly shy about his plans for music release, but it’s my understanding that this new music seeks to bring in more elements of Hip-Hop for the traditionally alternative artist, with an ultimate plan to release an EP showcasing this significant change.
The humility and passion that radiate from Indigo, even via phone interview, are clear. This is somebody who not only takes music seriously, but whose expressive outlet for expression has become almost entirely musical. It’s the reason that COVID didn’t impact his creative consciousness or his desire to make music; rather Indigo became like a wave, shifting with the life changes and nurturing a new sound that he seems much more proud of. His growth has been a blessing to observe.
Where Indigo has thrived on the back of wildfire popularity, Musti’s rise has been quieter, a foundation built on the back of a rapidly growing reputation that has placed the Sudanese artist at the forefront of the region’s premier creative thinkers. For one, Musti was featured on “A 249 Experience, Vol. 1” an album highlighting Sudan’s most important rappers—headlined by none other than platinum-selling artist Bas.
To put it shortly and with some cliché, Musti has become one of Sudan’s premiere musical voices in the 21st century.
How that particular nuance of popularity manifests itself within the confines of COVID is something that reflects the budding rapper’s own personality. Similarly to Indigo, Musti made clear that while the pandemic was a brutal reality, it did little to stifle his motivations or his ever-growing popularity. He said, “Seeing over the past year, seeing everybody go through the worst of things, lose loved ones, it’s been a time to count my blessings, and be thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given and have…Musically I’m at a great place. Ideas are starting to grow more effortlessly. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, and have been experimenting with different styles, different sounds.”
It’s funny—knowing both artists personally, I would not have expected their responses to be so similar. Even the content of their music reflects a very different focus and consciousness. Much of Indigo’s hybrid, indie-influenced records settle on mellow grooves that discuss everything from love to loneliness, whereas Musti’s more punchy, aggressive, auto-tuned back rap become anthems for revolution, change and individual fame. Musti’s music carries itself with the largest of chips on its shoulder, whereas Indigo’s is more solitary.
The fact that their reaction to struggle is so alike—to dive deeper into their music rather than step away from it—and their mutual understanding that their work must grow alongside their characters, is perhaps the clearest indication of creative promise. Artists who gain success, whether that be slight recognition or fame, do so because they act like sponges, soaking in the world around them and seeping out tracks that elicit a whole spectrum of emotions.
Ultimately, I set out to write an article that explored struggle and intimately investigated how music manifests itself within that struggle. The reality, however, is that for these artists, music can never be struggle. When they rope melodies over instrumentals, the result becomes an opportunity to escape, not engage. Musti told me, “I don’t wanna hold nothing back, because I realized that the regret of not dropping something because I’m overthinking it. That ends up just making me think, “What if?” and I don’t wanna feel that. So I’m dropping everything and seeing what sticks.” He entered the musical space as a child, and left it an adult, no longer afraid of his insecurities, and understanding that with music by his side, he cannot fail.