FLINT, Michigan — Within the dimly lit backroom of Soggy Bottom Bar in downtown Flint, punk rock music and the clicks of a camera fill the atmosphere. In front of me, standing on a chair with slightly bent knees is photographer Bryce Mata fervently capturing the inner essence of our subject, Flint music artist, Baybro.
He appears self-assured, dressed in all black, paired with Ray-Ban prescription glasses, posing nonchalantly in front of the pool table, reveling in the inherent swagger that oozes from Black men who are aware of their good looks.
Moving to lay his back against the wall, its burnt orange color compliments his gingerbread shaded skin tone. The light above him illuminates his well-groomed facial hair, and low-cut fade, of course, waved — but curiously, Baybro’s eyes betray his body language. They house a melancholy expression, conveying that there’s more to Baybro, and a delicate balance of trying to maintain authenticity.
“I feel like I’m an overall genuine person. I cannot feel like I’m lying to people. If you put something out, you gotta be able to back that up,” he says. “One of my biggest fears is being outed because I sound like I’m trying to do something somebody else is doing. That fear alone makes me want to do my own style.”
"I’m human, and that’s what I promote and who I am.” - Baybro
Having listened to Baybro’s music, relatable is one word I’d use to describe it — “conversation rap” is how he describes it. Stories of heartache, celebration, and struggle layer the production and lyrics of songs like "Escape," "Elevate," and "Lunazul."
His features and collaborations with artists Jeff Skigh
, G-S the DreaM
, Jada Ali
, and a spot on the Flintdustry’s Eupho Cyper Vol. 1
showcase his ability to talk and “make that sh*t rhyme” that meshes well with his contemporaries. But native only to Baybro’s music is this feeling of sitting at a bar alone drinking a chilled glass of whiskey. It is here that Baybro feels almost alien to the expansive Flint music scene.
He is not utilizing his conversation rap over distinctive Flint-styled beats or soulful R&B sounds, although he’s “always loved R&B.” Instead, his music finds him dipping back into the late 90s early 00s hip-hop/R&B crossovers. It is a style reminiscent of the lyrical flow of groups like A Tribe Called Quest
, who spoke hard truths through head-nodding beats.
As if reading my thoughts, Baybro's song "The Code" confirms my comparison as he calls himself “the new age Q-Tip.” And I wonder if he feels like he compliments the musical sound of Flint.
“I never thought about it. I would say yes because I believe Flint is very versatile as far as artists go. I feel like I set myself apart, but I don’t think I’m the only one who sets myself apart,” Baybro says, siping his drink. “I feel like I mesh well because everybody’s doing what they feel. Everybody got their lane, and that’s how I look at it. I got to give credit to the [people] I surround myself with [who are] going to do what they want to do.”
Baybro pictured smiling while explaining his “simple” way of staying true to himself.
He speaks casually yet articulate — an ode to his time spent in Marietta, Georgia, where he graduated from high school and at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago. His demeanor is pleasantly reserved as he smiles, gestures with his hands, and takes a sip from his drink. While hovering over the pool table, cue stick in hand, ready to pose, he hilariously reveals a secret — he doesn’t know how to play pool. However, you couldn’t tell from watching his Brief Intermission
music video shot by Travis Ricketts
Suddenly, as we sit down, that melancholy expression is back, wrapped up within the smooth energy he exudes — energy that feels highly protective of loved ones yet strikingly vulnerable. Our conversation about his life ensues, and I hope to find out about the man who occupies a distinct space within Flint’s music scene. About the man who says that he likes to keep things “human” and “relatable.”
“I feel like I always look at myself as being relatable. I think I’m human, and that’s what I promote and who I am. That’s why my subject matter is relatable,” Baybro explains. “I try to get people more involved and feel like ‘aye, I’m going through that too.’ I want people to be able to relate to my music, what I’m talking about, and know I like to have fun too.”
But in a plot twist of sorts, “I didn’t think I was going to go to college,” which positioned music at the center of his world, starting with a rap group in high school.
Although born in Flint, Baybro didn’t grow up in the city. Instead, he spent most of his life in Chicago and Marietta. Still, life wasn’t easy as he describes having to leave the Art Institute and ultimately move back to Flint. Nothing better captures this era of BayBro’s life than his debut project, No One Is Coming
“I was going through a lot at the time. My music was darker lyrically if you listened to my song called "2 AM,” he says, beginning to rap it. “‘2 AM I can’t control my thoughts/texting h*es I never come across/still confused I’m still alone and lost/feeling used with no one I can call?’
That’s depression, bro.”
"I’m not where I want to be yet, but you want to stay confident enough to feel like you can do what you gotta do.” - Baybro
The 7-track EP is a much “darker” affair sonically and visually and offers a sharp tonal difference between his earlier music and what’s currently released. The intimate cover of No One Is Coming
captures the artist staring out a window with a curly afro and an unkempt beard that together illicit feelings of the weight carried by generations of Black men. It is a far cry from the man presently speaking, but it alludes to this idea that somewhere inside of Baybro hosts a different being.
With a shift in conversation, he takes another sip and internally debates whether or not to answer my next question fully. With a song called "Brief Intermission" and a slew of performances at SXSW
, one can only conclude that he is setting the stage to release new music.
A playful grin appears, and he runs his hands through his beard, as I now take a sip of my drink and await his answer. Finally, he says that he is indeed in the studio “creating” multiple projects, one of which is an “all live instrumentation.” As our conversation ends, he takes a moment to reflect on the Flintdustry at large, how he remains humble and gives thanks to the group of creative “brothers” surrounding him.
“I feel that responsibility. I feel like I’m a part of [this], and if I’m not helping, I’m hurting the situation,” Baybro says. “I’m very appreciative because all I gotta do is take a peek back. I’m not where I want to be yet, but you want to stay confident enough to feel like you can do what you gotta do. But don’t stop. You only fail when you stop.”
Find Baybro on Facebook and Instagram. You can also stream his latest song 'Brief Intermission' on all media platforms and on Youtube.