Believe Sahbabii, the New King of the Jungle – Noisey

"We just went barnacles," Sahbabii declared, addressing a warehouse full of fans who bobbed and swayed with his every word like the anchovies in Spongebob. Tall and skinny, with spiked bracelets and tight black jeans, he had pulled up minutes prior to the show in a red Lamborghini with his dad, who goes by Sup (pronounced "Soup"), both smiling through matching braces.

Sah's usage of the term "barnacles" itself originates from Nickelodeon's Spongebob Squarepants, and it is just a single entry in the Sahbabii & Friends lexicon. In Spongebob, it was used by characters to express anger or shame, essentially replacing any applications of curse words for children viewership. Sahbabii, however, uses the word for almost anything. And on this night, perhaps nobody in the world had gone as barnacles as the couple hundred phone-toting kids in an otherwise unassuming warehouse on the coast of South Carolina, all of them coated with sweat after couple of begged-for encores.

Sahbabii's inner circle create and constantly modify their own language. "When I go on tour, I'm gonna make a lingo dictionary for the merchandise," he considered, sitting down for an interview before the show. We'll need it. His music is packed with references and made-up words that sometimes offer little to no context. On his song "Eazy," he informs us that "all of these bitches moocheesey." When I asked him what that means, he laughed, said he doesn't know, and admitted it was actually his little brother who came up with the word. Later, when that same brother came into the lounge where our interview was taking place, we asked him in unison: "What does 'moocheesey' mean?" He laughed and told us: "I really got that from Spanish. It means 'too much' or 'a lot'. I really twisted that shit and made it my own lingo. And I got my own meaning to that shit. All of these bitches too extra, moocheesey!"

I gathered the spelling from the couple of times Sahbabii has tweeted the word. The etymology is rooted in the Spanish word "mucho" or "muchisimo"cognates for the English "much" or "very much," respectivelybut then, infused in the spelling, is Sahbabii's love for animals, a portmanteau of the sound a cow makes and its most beloved dairy product. This kind of breakdown is unnecessary to enjoy Sahbabii's music, but it does offer insight to his sense of humor and his tendency to toy with language however he wants.

In a music world dominated by hashtags and the invisible hand of SEO, being able to make up new words and catchphrases is valuable currency. The name of his most recent mixtape, SANDAS, itself is a Sahbabii original acronym: "Suck A N**** Dick Ah Something." It has become bigger than simply a title; it has become his brand. SANDAS T-shirts and bracelets abound, and this is no mistake. His father, Sup, didn't hesitate when it came to flooding the streets with SANDAS imagery. Even before the project had caught on, instead of pressing actual mixtape CDs, Sup printed hundreds of cards with a QR code that linked to the tape if scanned, along with a slogan that read: "#1 Mixtape in the Streets!" This turned out to be somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy: It took a few months, but before too long Sah started to see Instagram flood with hashtags of the acronym, accompanied by videos of people singing along, dancing, or just living their lives to his music. Cosigns from Drake and Young Thug, as well as a record deal through Warner Bros. followed soon after, marking Sah as Atlanta's next big rap export.

"Pops is like the Incredible Hulk, real aggressive with it," the 20-year-old said of his dad. "He believed in what we wanted to do." Sah's older brother, T3, was the first to take an interest in music, at the age of 12, and Sup supported his creative pursuits by buying equipment and a camera for shooting videos. When it came time to help his little brother, there was no skill T3 couldn't lend.

Photo by Gunner Stahl

"They say left-handed people got a lot of talent," said Sah. "He's the everything guy. That's what T3 means. Singer, writer, producer." But even that triple threat moniker understates T3's contributions. He designed the artwork on SANDAS, recorded and mixed the project in his bedroom, and spent years helping Sah with lyrics and videos.

"We had Cubase for years," Sah remembered. "That's what everything got recorded out of. We made a little group with some neighborhood kids called 1095. Because that was the house number. Osborne street. You know, we stayed with our uncle for a little while. So I was just listening to them, you know. Everybody in Atlanta was doing music at that time: Rich Kidz, Polo Kidz, young kids like me. So I said man, I wanna try it out. So I eventually joined the group 1095. We was doing music, man. Of course what it was ass at first."

But after years of training under T3, Sahbabii grew into himself, releasing two mixtapes of his own titled Pimpin' Ain't Easy and Glocks & Thots. SANDAS didn't officially come out until October of 2016, but he had the title track since 2014. He anchored the whole project to that song, creating a tape that had a consistent sound all the way through. In a SoundCloud and YouTube ecosystem that encourages focus on individual songs, SANDAS stands out as cohesive, smooth experience from beginning to end. Listening to it is like waking up to morning bird calls, a few of which Sahbabii has purposefully placed in the space between his melodies, populating the album with a natural cast. SANDAS feels like a vibrant tour through a fantasy world of animals, cartoons, and superheroes, a place where Sahbabii's lingo is the first language of all inhabitants.

"You really have to hear it front to back and allow each song to fade into the other. And it creates that whole vibe. It's a lyrical joyride," Sup said, gushing over his son's work at an Airbnb they'd rented near Savannah. "I tell people man, get yourself in a real acoustic environment, mellow, get yourself some red wine. Me and my wife drink Liberty Creek red, and man you vibe out to some SANDAS, it's over with."

Photo by Gunner Stahl

To get a better idea of what excites Sahbabii, I asked him to consider an empty room of any size, which he could customize it in any way he sees fit, with the goal of imagining a place people can walk through and emerge happier. Without hesitating at the prompt, he began to fill up the room: "The green grass is sprout up. Sunny day. Blue skies. Trees. You see a butterfly pass. You hear birds chirping, stuff like that. You'd probably see some superheroes fighting in the background. Wolverine. Hawk. Little kids playing, watching Spongebob. Animals running around, talking. Probably have the Wayans brothers up in there, they're my favorite comedians, cracking jokes," he starts. He paused to consider more, then continued, "Got all my friends and family in there. You know, Mom Dukes cooking. It smell like chicken alfredo. Uh, I like Mexican corn. She cooking that. Pops talking to everybody. You know, you got a couple of my friends playing 2K. Some SANDAS playing in the background, a real nice melody."

In SahBabii's realm, the fantasy that ties together Animal Planet, friends, and family isn't just an escapist vision, though. It's a way of viewing the world. He described his idea for the video for SANDAS highlight "King of the Jungle": "I was thinking about making the hood look like the jungle. On the outside, the police officers. Like the people on the outside, they see it as just a jungle, like trees sticking out of the houses and stuff like that, birds. But for me, it's just walking through the everyday hood. You know, in one scene I'ma have in there, I'ma dap up one of my friends, and I turn around, and a snake tongue come out, his eyes turn colors. Trees sticking out, noise, it's gon be crazy. Vines growing."

His first hit, "Pull Up With Ah Stick," was a viral YouTube success, but SahBabii is the first to admit it was a pretty standard and recognizable kind of rap video. "I'm more creative and artistic than that," he says. "You feel me? Just standing in the videos flashing guns? My mind too out of the box for that simple shit."

SahBabii sticks to a unique brand of spirituality he calls "Unknownism," which encompasses his compassion for animals, the environment, and the people around him. His open-mindedness, his ability to withhold judgment, and his sense of tolerance all seem to stem from this philosophy, which bears some resemblance to the Socratic concept that a wise man knows that he doesn't know shit. In Sahbabii's own words, "It's just accepting the fact that we really don't know."

He has face tattoos that represent that way of thinking. "That's what I created," he continued. "That's why we have the inverted crosses on our foreheads. The 666: six protons, six electrons, six neutrons," which he said is linked to the chemical components of melanin. This is what motivates him to engage the outside world, to learn more about what he doesn't know, and to take an active interest in changing the world for the better. That attitude manifests itself through an environmental lens"We keep polluting the air, the ozone layer [will] go away, the earth [will] catch on fire," he considered, at one point in the Airbnb, "And global warming, if it melt all these glaciers and shit, we can drown." And it also factors into his vision of a world in which black people reclaim what they deserve from their cultural contributions. "I think we value material too much," he sighed. "We need to start making our own stuff. That's why I wanna make my own clothing line. And if you look at it, all these materials and these belts and all that, that's people's real name. Versace, that's a real name. Gucci, we can be the next one of them."

Most visibly and immediately, though, his mindset is apparent in the way he treats everyone he meets. He seems to open up with love to new people, reserving judgment and showing respect liberally until given a reason to do otherwise.

Photo by Gunner Stahl

A few days after the show, I met Sah at PatchWerk Recording Studios in Atlanta, where Young Thug's engineer, Alex Tumay, was in the process of remastering SANDAS for a re-release under Warner, with the help of T3. The plan was to add a few songs (one is called "Geronimo," another is "Marsupial Superstars," while another called "Gas Mask" was cut at the last minute) to the original tape, and get it the attention it deserves worldwide before putting out any new projects. I'd brought a couple friends. There was Su$h! Ceej, a producer whose use of lush chords and bright melodies resonates with the sound Sahbabii has hitherto cultivated: "No trap beats, Melodic Sound With Hard 808s," Sah has tweeted on multiple occasions in calls for e-mail beat submissions. And there was Zack Fox, a comedian and writer who has become perhaps SahBabii's most vocal online fan (he's even mentioned in the press release for the upcoming re-release).

Upstairs, with little to do, Sah and Co. were shooting pool and play-fighting among each other. "It's a squidshuation!" yelled someone when a particularly spirited slap-fest broke out among two friends. The word "squid," by the way, is another essential Sahbabii vocabulary entry. It can also mean anything, but some specific instances include referring to women as "squids" as well as any close friends, so it's gender neutral depending on context. It can also be a verb upon conjugation to the "squigged" form. "Squid can mean you fresh, you squigged up," explains Sah.

Ceej, Zack, and I made our way into this lounge room, where Sahbabii was gracious as ever to each of us. After an hour or so of casual hanging out, Zack took the aux cord to play something a bit different than the Future-centric playlist that had been running in the background. He selected a song entitled "Suck My Nuts" by Lil Toenail, in which the artist screams to an anonymous third party, asking desperately for a reason that she refuses to orally engage his nuts. The song change completely altered the mood of the room, which was populated by several of Sah's friends, most of whom didn't know us.

At first, it appeared that someone might get upset and that our presence might no longer be appreciated, but Sah stepped in, one-upping Zack's weirdness. He pulled up a song called "My Neck, My Back" by someone named Richard Cheese. It was a swing cover of Khia's song of the same name, and everyone in the room broke into raucous laughterexcept Sahbabii. He just walked away, completely stone-faced.

Photo by Gunner Stahl

Sahbabii's belief in himself, instilled and supported by his family, is no gimmick. Perhaps his most characteristic trademark is his use of the phrase "Believe it" to express affirmation, or to signify the end of a thought. This is not just lingo, it's his anchor, the key to his identity. Just six months ago, he was still stacking pallets at Dick's Sporting Goods. "This on my soul bro, when I was working at that job, I was dreaming about boxes," he remembered. What kept him going at the time was an unbreakable belief in himself, despite discouraging peers: "They was trapped, they mind was already gone, like this was what they was gonna be doing for the rest of they life. They didn't believe me, they just see a nigga like 'Oh, he talking.' Like 'this nigga's talking, everybody do music.' They think it's a joke."

Though he eventually became one of the facility's top workers, stacking upwards of 1000 pallets a day, an altercation with one of the security guards ultimately led to him leaving the job. "They talking 'bout some 'What you gon do now?' 'How you gon get money?' Laughing and shit." Within a month or two of his terminationcall it divine intervention or poetic justicehis music finally took off. Every day, it seemed, another handful of people had discovered "Pull Up With Ah Stick" and posted their own video to it on Instagram. The dominoes fell accordingly, labels started calling, and he'll probably never have to touch another pallet again.

Now, he was in the same studio where countless Atlanta rap and R&B hits had been made. As we walked outside to take some final pictures for this story, Sahbabii began to proclaim loudly to no one in particular: "Before you achieve it you gotta believe it. You gotta achieve it before you can succeed it. You gotta succeed it before you can complete it. Ya dig." I, for one, believe it.

Alex Russell is a writer based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter.

Gunner Stahl is a photographer based in Atlanta. Follow him on Instagram.

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Believe Sahbabii, the New King of the Jungle - Noisey

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