Earlier this month, SiR no longer had to keep a secret after Top Dawg Entertainment — home to Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, SZA and others — announced that the singer/songwriter, labeled as “John Doe 2,” was the roster’s latest signee. “I told people I trusted. And even still, I still have people coming up to me like, ‘I know you signed’ even though the news is already out,” he says during a recent visit to Billboard. “And then once we finally made the announcement, I felt like I f–king had a baby. It was just the greatest feeling.”
SiR didn’t always have dreams of rocking the mic, though. Raised by a mother who was a minister of music at the family’s church in Inglewood, he frequently sang with his four brothers from age four till he was 18 years old. SiR (real name Sir Darryl Faris) shunned the idea of making music, opting for a basketball career. When he was 23, his brothers were writers signed to Warner Chappell and he took a shot at piecing together a song. “I was just f–king around, just wanted to try it out. I wrote a song, took it to them and sang it to them,” he recalls. “I hadn’t recorded yet or anything like that and they were just like, “That’s tight! I like that!””
In 2015, he released his first proper mixtape with Seven Sundays — a nine-track set of love songs released via SoundCloud — followed by 2016’s Her EP, which featured “Tricky” and “Queen.” SiR — who is prepping the sequel to his Her EP due Friday, Feb. 10 — admits to pulling inspiration from real-life experiences, like his marriage, but ultimately wants listeners to, well, listen.
“I don’t like to set expectations, I try to just let things be because I know this won’t be the last batch of music I put out,” he says. “So I just want people to really listen because a lot of times people hear the beat, the first two lines and go, “That’s whack.” Take your time… I’m sure you’ll find something you like.”
Below, SIR touches on his gospel influences, working in the studio with Stevie Wonder and his new label home, TDE.
How did a church upbringing mold your sound today?
A lot of people just fail to acknowledge that gospel is really the heart of R&B and rap, and everything from our culture. So for me, just as far as how I like to lay my harmonies and certain cadences I use, if you really listen to gospel music from the ’90s, I’m kind of really jacking the vibe from gospel and rap.
There was a moment in your life where you didn’t want to pursue music because you were constantly surrounded by it at home.
Well, when I was 12 or 13, my brother was just Gung-ho about it and still, to this day, he is just a phenomenal singer. He can sing his ass off — puts me to shame. I didn’t want to do [music] because [my brother Davion] was so into it and I wanted to be my own person. I’m the youngest of four boys so I definitely didn’t want to be following my brothers around. I ended up playing sports. I played basketball until I was like 18, tried to go to college and stuff, but never got taller than 5-foot-11. It just didn’t work out.
I went from playing basketball to doing nothing for about five years. Was just working a job here and there. Shit got crazy at one point and then after that, I had to leave where I was, move back in with my family and just kind of get my life together. I just kind of took a little time and started following [my brothers] around and seeing what they did. Eventually, I was so curious I had to see if I could attempt to [make music] and I fell in love immediately. I think it was good for me because I don’t ever want to do things because someone tells me to or because it’s what everyone else is doing. I want to find things for myself, and I found music for myself and I never looked back since.
You’re also the nephew of Prince’s bassist, Andrew Gouche. Were you ever around high-profile stars in rehearsals and studio sessions growing up?
Somewhat. Me and my Uncle Andrew are cool. He’s been successful for such a long time. In ’85, [he was] the biggest gospel musician in the world. He was selling out arenas and stuff like that. So from there, my uncle’s played for everyone in gospel. He played for Chaka Khan — I see Chaka every once in a while. With Prince, that was later towards the end of Prince’s career so I didn’t get to meet Prince. But yeah, [my brothers and I have] always been kind of like on the outside looking in — looking in the window. But nowadays I meet more people that I want to meet than I would have wanted to when I was kid. I didn’t think about it much back then. I don’t know, I probably was.
You’ve already worked with the likes of Anita Hill, Tyrese, Jill Scott but what was it like being in the studio with Stevie Wonder?
It was crazy.
What did you take away from that particular session?
Don’t be afraid to be right. When we were writing [a song together], if he didn’t approve the line, it wasn’t going in the song basically. It’s just a control thing. When you’re an artist, you want to make it as relatable as possible but you also want it to be you. So any time I sit down and write, I try to make it my own, and don’t look for inspiration from anywhere or anything like that. I got that from Stevie because that one day in 2013 or 2014, he called Melanie [Fiona], who invited Stevie to Dre’s house. We were there for like four hours with him and he slept most of the time. But when he was up, he was attentive, just on the session. He was on the keys so he was leading the whole vibe, we were just sitting there like kids. Every time I go into the session where I’m working with artists or anything like that, I’m not just gonna let anybody hop in that circle. If you’re bringing something to the table, it has to fit the plate.
Did the session become an actual song?
No. Of course not. That’s the music industry for you.
Describe the moment of clarity when you wanted to become a singer.
I never sat down and said I want to be an artist. I put music out [online] because I had so much and I didn’t know what to do with it, and the response was what made me want to be an artist. Seven Sundays, the first project I put out, was just a mixtape — it was nine songs. I put it on my SoundCloud and with all the shares and reposts I ended up getting like a million plays on it within the first month or two. And after that we re-worked it, added more songs, and I re-released it through a small boutique label called Fresh Selects. The response from that just really got me thinking different because I never took it seriously. And now it’s crazy because I really don’t see myself doing anything else. My lifestyle doesn’t really dictate for me that I’d become an artist because it’s a tough life. I’m married, I’m singing love songs. It’s tricky.
Your wife was the inspiration behind your Her EP. Are there any records that you particularly hold close to your heart?
“Tricky” is one, definitely. It sounds like I’m talking about a relationship with a woman, but I’m really just talking about what we’re talking about right now — just loving anything. My relationship with the music industry is tricky. That’s a song that definitely explains my situation directly. There’s another song on the new project called “Sugar” and that one’s just about temptation on the road when my wife is at home.
How do you balance a music career and marriage?
[Laughs] A whole bunch of coffee. I’ve got tunnel vision and I just try to stay as busy as possible, and stay low-key.
Who’s the SiR listener in your mind?
Well, for females, somebody that’s getting tired of getting called a b-tch. Somebody that wants to feel good. I make vibe-y music, and I try to make music that’ll make you feel good. So somebody who wants to feel good.
How did the TDE deal come about?
I met [TDE president] Dave probably four or five months after we finished Seven Sundays. It was on the Internet and it was doing crazy. He called [Fresh Selects label founder] Kenny and was like, “Yo, I gotta meet SiR.” And next day, he flew Kenny out — I was already in L.A. — so I just drove to Santa Monica. It’s like a 10 minute drive. I ended up doing a song that’s on Jay Rock’s 90059 project “The Ways.” After that, we just was building from there. It took some time for us to get everything together but once I was locked in, he didn’t know I was already sold but I passed whatever test it was.
That day, I walked into the room Dot [Kendrick Lamar] is sitting there on the couch and I’m just looking in shock, of course. So I straighten up a little bit, shake his hand and walk into the room. I was there, trying to write so I sat down, laid the hook down, got up and left. I wasn’t trying to hang out. So I’ve been signed since [CEO] Top brought out the whole “John Doe” thing. As soon as he said, “Oh I’ve got two John Doe’s,” it was official.
What makes the label the perfect home for you?
I’m from the West Coast and for the past 10 years, we’ve just been getting trashed in the music industry. No one respects us. They associate us with like Snoop, and Warren G, Nate Dogg and older artists. TDE is the first group of artists to really shift things where people have to look at Cali different. And I’m a huge Ab-Soul fan — been a big Ab-Soul fan since Control System. I’ve been listening to those cats for a long time. If I were ever to pull influence from anything, I would definitely pull from those cats. Their work ethic and their sound is just so unique. I felt like if I were to go anywhere that would be the best place for me to be able to expand creatively. So I wanted to be around artists who would motivate me to try harder. That’s my biggest thing — motivation. If I’m not motivated, I’ll sit here and not do shit, six months straight, and not give a f–k.
It also helps that you’re a singer and songwriter.
It definitely does and the one thing I definitely don’t want to be is the hook guy. I don’t want to be just singing on hooks. I want to establish myself to where I bring something to the table besides me singing. It’ll happen over time. I’m patient, I’m not rushing that. I’m not going to force a relationship on these guys because I know me signing to TDE is a great thing but it’s still their family. Because they’re family — real family. These cats have known each other since they were kids and in high school. Gotta respect that relationship, just try to help, and do whatever you can to fit in.
It looks like TDE has already built this family now with the newer artists that have come in. With Isaiah Rashad, Lance Skiiiwalker, and now, you. Do you feel like now’s the perfect time to do a Black Hippy album with everybody on it?
I don’t know. If they did a Black Hippy album, I don’t even know what I would do. I’d just want to be on mixes until they told me what they needed me for. Like I said, I’m a TDE fan so I’ll just say, I wouldn’t even want to be a part of it. I would if they wanted me to but I wouldn’t ask for that. That’s sacred — that’s been in conversation for years so I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole.