The rapper on dream collabs and the creative process.

Boasting white lions, fire eating, and tai-chi esc dance moves, the music video for Siimba Liives Long’s debut track, “Cocaine Bimbie” is all kinds of extra. Managing to look zen, regal and, to be perfectly honest, kind of crazy, all at once, Siimba’s mere presence in front of the camera is undoubtedly captivating on its own, but it’s when paired with his uber chilled, jazz-infused beats and fluid rap style that he truly becomes a hip-hop force to be reckoned with.

“At the end of the day I’m just a cool ass n****,” he chimes over a drowsy brass accompaniment while walking a lion by its tail. You’ve got to see it to believe it.

Thanks to his dual heritage and a cross Atlantic upbringing that saw him calling both Ethiopia and the United States home, Siimba has honed a style of whimsical eclectism that’s without incoherence.

It’s pretty difficult to pull off wearing sunglasses while posing with a Staff in the planes of Africa, but Siimba does it effortlessly. While his daily life may not consist of lounging with lions, when he does so there’s an air of authenticity in its visual purpose: at ease with both the ferocious felines and his smooth lyrical technique, he achieves a harmonious eccentricity that doesn’t feel forced.

Following the release of debut album Zemenay’s Geminii – swiftly accompanied by a US tour – 2017 has been busy for Siimba, but, thankfully, he still found time to answer our burning questions. Read on to learn how this dynamic rapper came to be.

How did you first get into music?

Growing up, my brother used to play a lot of rap music and would get into arguments with my mom for blasting it throughout the house, because she didn’t like the content, but eventually I got into it. As far as rapping, I wrote my first rap in 7th grade and everyone gassed me up – I think it’s because I was “American” so they just thought it sounded dope, haha – but either way that was enough to keep me going! If I didn’t do that I’d be a lame.

You were born in New York but raised in Ethiopia, right? How has this influenced your sound, if at all?

Don’t forget Jersey – I lived there too! I grew up traveling a lot, I think just every place has had an impact on my experiences which has had an impact on my content as well as sonically. Since I feel like I’m from everywhere and nowhere, I feel like the best thing to do is just be myself in every aspect of my life. That’s how I’ve done it thus far and it’s been working, so I think I got to just keep going. If I didn’t do that I’d be a lame!

The music video for “Cocaine Bimbie” was shot in South Africa, Brooklyn and Ethiopia. Why was it important for you to include all of these locations?

I love all those places! I’m in a unique position as someone who identifies with being an American but also very much an African as well, so I figured the only way to accurately represent is to have a synergy of those environments in my visuals when need be and not limit myself, because if I limit myself I’d be a lame.

Who are your main musical influences, and your dream collaborator?

I’m influenced by everyone, but off of the top of my head I’d say growing up I listened to a lot of 2Pac, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Outkast, 50 Cent/G-Unit, Jadakiss, Eminem, The Fugees. As far as dream collaboration? I’d want to do a record with Andre 3000, James Blake, Thundercat, Pharrell, Kanye West, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Scarface. I don’t know what everyone would be doing as far as vocals or production but I know it would come out dope. It would be so dope that if you didn’t respect it you would be… a lame.

Tell us a bit about your album Zemenay’s Geminii, what were the main
inspirations behind it?

Zemenays Gemiinii is a project about my experiences and the duality of my existence in the spaces I’m in. The “negative” influence would be the people I was surrounded with and the only thing that keeps me becoming fully engulfed in it is my mother who is the most “positive” influence in my life. I feel really good about the project and gave it my all because, if I didn’t, that would make me a lame.

What is the creative process like for you?

It depends, sometimes I write really quickly but most of the time I just listen to a beat for a few weeks and create the song structure/melodies/mood/concept then usually fill in all the words right before I record. I spend a lot of time recording, then I send records to a secret trusted group of fellow lions and get their thoughts. I think it’s important to get feedback from people who you respect, because if you aren’t willing to even hear what anyone in the world is willing to say…that would make you…a lame.

You went on tour earlier this year, how was that?

It was dope! I got a lot of love and was able to connect with people on a personal level. My live show is a big part of my art and since I’m eating fire and putting myself at risk, it’s a big rush every time, but I think it’s worth the risk to give people the best show possible! If I didn’t I would be a lame of course.

And finally, what does the future hold for Siimba Liives Long?

I just want to be the greatest, the greatest version of myself. I want to be bigger than music, I want to help people, I want to get really really rich and feed a lot of people, I want to push culture forward, I want to make my mom proud, I want to be able to sit with my small circle of friends and family and be able to talk about how we did things that we thought weren’t even possible. My dreams are so vast I haven’t even thought of them all yet, but one thing is for certain, I will be killing a lot of lames on the way. Murda, murda!

Manuel Zúñiga
Olive Pometsey

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