When Billboard spoke to Bazzi back in February of 2018, his hit single “Mine” was garnering major success — hitting No. 29 on the Hot 100 and racking up millions of streams on Spotify alone — but it wasn’t totally clear what direction his blossoming career would take.
Now, over a year later, a lot has happened for the 21-year-old. He released his now-RIAA platinum certified debut album Cosmic, toured with Camila Cabello and Justin Timberlake, and has just released his new mixtape, Soul Searching, today (Aug. 9).
“It’s been a lot of work, but feels really rewarding putting energy back into something I’m incredibly passionate about,” the singer-songwriter tells Billboard via email. “I’ve met some of the best people and started some of the best relationships in my life. I’m travelling the world and seeing thousands of beautiful fans. It’s truly been an amazing year.”
Since Cosmic, the Detroit-born, L.A.-based artist has matured a lot as a progressive R&B/pop singer, sticking with his usual writing and recording process, but refining his habits. “I’m questioning myself less, I have a bit more confidence in the studio with knowing what I like and what I want to hear,” he says. “My sound is more definitive, and I feel more confident in experimenting and taking risks.”
The Soul Searching mixtape is his most personal work to date, and explores all of the battles he’s gone through over the last year and a half. Unlike Cosmic — which was more of a fictional story that surrounded the theme of love — it focuses in on Bazzi and tells his personal story.
On the opening track “Humble Beginnings,” the singer repeats “Can’t believe that we made it,” over a sinister-sounding beat, fittingly starting off the project by describing his jolting rise to fame. “I hope fans get to know me better and can connect to some of the struggles, issues and messages that I talk about. It’s very much a project for the people.”
“Fallin” featuring 6lack is a song about insecurity, anxiety and dwindling love — and it’s Bazzi’s personal favorite. “I don’t know if I’ve heard a record like it,” he reflects. “6lack did his thing and really brought a special energy to that verse, and I think what I’m talking about in the song is really important.” He adds, “Some heartbreak music is inevitable.”
Another track that’s good enough to follow in the footsteps of “Mine” is “I.F.L.Y.” The acronym stands for “I fucking love you,” which perfectly encapsulates Bazzi’s ongoing need to spread positivity. Sure, Soul Searching is more about the singer’s personal demons, but if we’re being honest, it’d be hard to imagine a world where Bazzi stops writing empowering love songs altogether.
It’s who he is, and he even shows that via social media, by expressing his love for his girlfriend. “Me and my girl were in Manila, and ordered a bunch of room service,” he says of one specific PDA-filled video. “She was like, ‘Yo, have you ever seen this app [Triller]? It’s really funny.’ So we cut the videos and were just having fun with it. I think there’s so much darkness and negativity all over social media, so just throwing something up that feels good and hopefully makes people smile a bit is really cool.”
It’s refreshing to see a rising star be so public about his relationship, especially when it actually pertains to his music. It’s almost as if he’s letting his fans go behind-the-scenes before the song gets made, and then when it’s out, they can sense that vulnerability, resulting in much more authentic lyricism. “I want people to really know me and not create some sort of façade and false image of me,” he explains.
He’s also made his love for John Mayer, Prince and Kanye West known in the past, and it’s evident through his romanticism, dark beats and melodic tendencies. He’s always looking for new artists to collab with, and has already featured 6lack and 21 Savage on this mixtape. “I’m really into Billie Eilish,” he shares. “I think she’s so unique and creative and it’s inspiring for her to be as aware and doing what she’s doing at such a young age. It gets me excited for the future of music and the future of thinking. I think she’s really important and I’d love to work with her.”
Finally, Bazzi has a couple of live performances lined up. He’s currently set to perform on The Late Late Show With James Corden on Aug. 12 and Big Summer Blast at the AT&T Center on Aug. 16, as well as “Paradise in Paradise,” an exclusive, intimate acoustic show taking place at Moon Palace Jamaica, on Aug. 18. He’ll also appear at the Made in America Festival at the end of the month.
“I look at my shows and feel unification. I’ve noticed that there is a continuum of energy that usually goes through the crowd, and it’s really special. There’s a lot of feeling and it’s really dynamic,” he explains, adding that a Bazzi concert is guaranteed to have a lot of energy.
With Soul Searching dropping in the universe via APG/Atlantic Records today, Bazzi admits that fans can never really know when something else might come next. “Definitely more art, more music, and more expression,” he teases.