Hailing from Toronto, 21-year-old artist singer-rapper SAFE has garnered some much-warranted accolades. Since writing his first song at the age of 13, he’s teamed up with DVBBS on the velvety smooth “Listen Closely,” earning a Platinum certification, and later appeared on Khalid’s Billboard Hot 100-charting Free Spirit cut, “Don’t Pretend.”
The bubbling talent (real name: Saif Musaad) has since garnered praise from music’s top heavy hitters, including rap juggernaut Drake. SAFE’s debut album Stay showcases his ability to glide through hip-hop, pop and soul while tapping into his Eritrean roots. This versatility has allowed him to stretch beyond his imagination, and cultivate an album that features appearances by Quin and Playboi Carti.
Below, the multi-talented hyphenate talks with Billboard about those collaborations, as well as what happened during his record session with Khalid, and the making of his debut project, Stay.
What inspired the title of Stay?
I would say destiny inspired the title — just out of the fact that everybody from my family to friends wants me to stay in Toronto, but knowing that in order for me to really like grow and move forward in my career, I have to be on the move.
What song on the album was the most difficult to complete?
“Are You Scared Part Two” — just because when I was working on that track, the first time I heard the beat, my homie played it for me and I did a freestyle to it, and that was the part one we put out. We dropped it on SoundCloud just for the fans, but it wasn’t finished. When we finished it [me and one of my best friends, Mustafa] wrote the song together, and I brought in a lot of different producers. There’s probably like 10 to 15 different versions of “Are You Scared Part Two” on the production side. But yes, just because it was really musical with live instruments being played, that was definitely the hardest song to put together.
There are two collaborations on this album — Quin and Playboi Carti. How did those collaborations come about?
Working with Quin was an idea that came from my manager, Steve. Steve was the one who got Quin on the record. He was like, “I think Quin would be dope on this.” I said, “Yeah, let’s see how it works.” And then, she did her thing and I was like, “Perfect!” I feel like it fit perfect on the record. With Playboi Carti, I knew him for a couple years when he first came to Toronto. He was cool. We showed him around, and then, we became homies. It felt right to have him on the record.
Speaking of collaborations, you recently worked with Khalid on the Hot 100 single, “Don’t Pretend.” Can you describe that studio session?
That studio session was great! We did that song a couple years ago and the song was sitting there… So I was like, “Yo. What if I was like I want to put this out?” And he’s like, “Let’s do it.” The song developed over time, but we both loved it.
Your video for single “Red Light” was recently released, can you tell me what inspired the treatment?
We wanted to incorporate some sort of culture and religion in it just a little bit. It’s like, if you know, you know. But we started brainstorming and we’re like, “Yo. We should definitely shoot it somewhere where people don’t really know where it is, but they know it’s somewhere that’s hot — or like somewhere that just looks like a vibe.”
We didn’t want to pinpoint and let people know exactly where it was, but I feel like with the treatment, it was like we just wanted to get the perfect fit. I feel like just getting the right girl for the video was important too, and I definitely wanted to make it more of a cultural thing more than anything.
How important is it for up-and-coming artists such as yourself to get recognition from music industry peers like Drake and the OVO crew?
I feel like it’s always cool to know that people are fucking with what you have going, especially coming from Toronto. There’s not a lot of people making it up and out of there. There’s just a lot of nonsense going on there, but it’s always cool to see when people from your own city are fucking with your movement, or fucking with whatever you do, because it gives you more motivation and inspiration to go harder.
When people listen to your album for the first time, how would you want them to describe your music to someone else?
Well, it’s hard because a lot of these songs — I hate being placed inside of a box. I hate being called just an R&B singer, because there are a lot of songs on the project that fall into different categories like pop and can live on their own. I recollect on my own, like a ravish record that has live drums and is also very versatile. So I just feel like with this project, I would call it soul, but like, futuristic soul. It’s not really a genre, but it’s very avant-garde. I’m just showing off my capabilities.
What’s the first thing you did to celebrate the Stay album release?
A lot of my homies wanted to go out — wanted to go to the strip club and stuff. But honestly, I couldn’t go, since the album’s completion came during Ramadan and I’m a Muslim. So I couldn’t really go and actually celebrate. I’m not saying that I would go and get like shit-faced drunk if it wasn’t Ramadan, but I didn’t want to take away from the holy month and make it about myself. I feel that’s kind of what I did unintentionally, but I just chilled at my crib and smoked.
Being Muslim and in an industry that often invites temptations, how do you deal balance those kinds of situations, especially as a your stock continues to rise?
To be honest, I’m connected to God, and not even being corny. The more you pray, the less worries you have, and the less you judge yourself and are less insecure about who you are. You know what I mean? So, a lot of times, when I be in a situation, I just be like, “Is this me? Is this really what I should be doing?” Whatever situation I am in, I always have to keep that in mind. I feel like sometimes it gets hard, but I feel like if I were to do something fucked up, I won’t bash myself for it. I just try to pray more.
The more you stay connected, the more you pray, the less you worry, I think. We’re human beings. We are all sinners and that’s a fact.
With the album’s release and your continued celebrations, what do you have next coming down the pipeline?
I definitely have a lot of catching up to do to be honest. I just want to be able to put out some more fire and shoot some more videos and put out some more music. I just want to be able to stay inspired because I feel like I took a long — I wouldn’t necessarily say a break, because I was working throughout the whole time, but I kind of fell off the map for a while.
I feel like now that I’m coming back out, it is all about consistency, and just like feeding people with a lot more content. So I feel like just staying on top of everything, always being in the studio, which I’m already doing. I just feel like hitting people with more visuals, more music because a lot of these songs on the project, to be honest, are songs I did two, three years ago. So I have a lot more fire coming.