“I think for me, historically, a mixtape has always been a very cohesive story,” Bazzi tells the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen to the full interview, below) about how he views the difference between a mixtape and an album. “Mixtapes kind of point to the roots [of an artist]. And that's what Soul Searching was. It's a lot about how I grew up, and how I think, and my own personal struggles. Cosmic felt a little bit more commercial, you know what I'm saying? So, I wanted to do that so people would look at the entire project rather than look for a couple of star tracks that are singles or whatever. I wanted people to really hear my story and listen to it like that.” To Bazzi, mixtapes in general feel more “home grown,” as if the artist is saying, “This is the root. This is the dirt and existence of where I am, where I came from.”
Did Bazzi set out with an intention to tell a specific story on the 11-track Soul Searching?
“I think the story I was telling was a very broad one -- which is just my life,” he says. “So, there wasn't any specific elements or, you know, tastes and flavors I was trying to stick to … It was a conscious decision [putting] those songs [on the mixtape], because I had a bunch of songs I didn't put on the project. Because they didn't fit the story and the relevance of the music.”
The mixtape’s opening track, “Humble Beginnings,” sets the stage for the personal project, as Bazzi rhymes “nothing doesn't make you who you are, 'cause money buys designer shirts to wear over your scars" and "grateful for it all, but my wealth is in my heart." The Pop Shop asked him if that mantra was something he learned from growing up, or was that something he learned the hard way when he started to get successful?
“Definitely the hard way,” he says. “I mean, it's crazy. You're taught to consume, to consume. And you chase this American dream of being wealthy. I talk about it a lot on this project. It was important to me to start spreading the message that that has nothing to do with your internal happiness. It actually makes it more difficult, because you're raised on this idea that it will make you complete, and then you get it, and you're like, 'Why am I still so empty? Why do I feel more empty?'
“And I felt like it was so important because I've had the most validation out of having a cool interaction with a stranger, you know what I'm saying?,” Bazzi continues, “Or somebody doing something genuinely nice in front of me out of just the goodness of their heart. Those are the things that have made me the happiest. And just getting it, you realize things just can never do that for you. … Like, I got a Bentley, for instance. And it's like, sick. Tan interior. It's so cool, it's so cool. And then, like a month later, you know, you realize you're still stuck in traffic with everybody else, going the same place [as] everyone else. … you realize it's a bottomless pit. There's no end to that. So, I just realized that nice things are fun. I like them. I like nice things. 100%. But it's not even a percent of who I am. I'd be completely happy without any of it.”
Also in the interview, the Pop Shop team discusses with Bazzi how his music straddles and blends multiple genres – including pop, R&B and hip-hop, and if he sees himself as a certain kind of artist making a certain genre of music? Or does he see himself as just an artist making music and wherever it fits, it fits?
“I see myself as just an artist,” Bazzi says. “I obviously, clearly see myself as a musician. Man, I'm just having fun with it. I like to make stuff that sounds good to myself. All of Cosmic was composed of songs that I never even thought I'd put out. I was just in the studio with a really good friend of mine, making songs that I like to listen to, that I'd play for my friends and we would all listen to. There was no commercial appeal to it, or [thoughts of] 'I hope people are gonna like this' or 'I hope it will fit in somewhere.' And I think that's where the uniqueness came in. There's a million things you can do making music today. It's impossible to box everything and be like, 'this belongs here, this sounds like that,' that's why genres make no sense now.
“I wanna make music for everybody,” Bazzi says. “If I was looking at myself as a business and trying to sell a product to a specific demographic -- that's not how I think. I make music that I love. I think I'm a tasteful person. I jump from listening to Prince to Luke Bryan to Beastie Boys. I have no specific taste when it comes to music, and I think that people should be more open to that idea, which is how I approach my music.”
In addition to the interview with Bazzi, the Pop Shop team reviews chart news about Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello hitting No. 1 on the Hot 100 with “Señorita,” Young Thug notching his first leader on the Billboard 200 albums chart with So Much Fun, and how Taylor Swift is on her way to a sixth No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with Lover.
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard's senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)