Safia Mafia's new album, 'Love Kills,' is a collection of thoughtful R&B songs that champion self-love.  Courtesy of the artist
Safia Mafia's new album, 'Love Kills,' is a collection of thoughtful R&B songs that champion self-love.  (Courtesy of the artist)

Safia Mafia's Wise R&B Is Perfect for Your Self-Love Playlist

Safia Mafia's Wise R&B Is Perfect for Your Self-Love Playlist

With her honeyed voice and sporty-chic style, Safia Mafia isn't the first person you'd peg as a Metallica fan.

But over scrambled eggs at an old-school breakfast spot near Oakland's Lake Merritt, she geeks out over the fact that she recorded her new album, Love Kills, at 17 Hertz, the studio where the Bay Area rock stars laid down "Enter Sandman" and other famous tracks.

Scooping a forkful of avocado, she chatters excitedly about recording in the 17 Hertz's prestigious Studio A room. "You can feel the energy like, f-ck, Metallica was here, in the same space, making the Black Album in this very room," she says, beaming.

If Safia Mafia isn't on your radar yet, it's likely she will be soon. The Oakland-raised R&B singer and Berkeley High graduate has put a long, steady grind into her music career over for over 10 years, and it's starting to finally pay off. Her live show debuted this summer at the BET Experience music festival, where chart-toppers like SZA, Ella Mai and Teyana Taylor also performed—not bad for her first time singing in front of an audience.

Now working with manager Francois Wiley, who helped take the East Bay's Kamaiyah from local mixtape star to Interscope signee, Safia hopes her music will take her even further. Love Kills is out today via Rockit Music. The album's lead single, "Weed & Wine," features Guapdad 4000, the scamtastic Oakland rapper who's having a big year himself, including a collaboration with J. Cole at his Dreamville recording sessions in Atlanta.

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Safia's love for Metallica is only one dimension of the eclectic tastes that inform her work (other favorite artists include Nirvana, Amy Winehouse and John Coltrane). Those open-minded sensibilities make for a deliciously varied palette on Love Kills, which moves from sexy Trap&B to vocal-driven art pop to a throwback sound steeped in '80s Oakland R&B acts, like Tony! Toni! Toné! and Sheila E. (Tony! Toni! Toné!'s Raphael Saadiq is a major influence; Safia recorded her first EP, Pure, at his studio, Blakeslee.)

It took Safia a while to hone in on her bright, airy vocal style. When she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her music dreams 10 years ago, she spent years locking herself in a makeshift recording booth in her closet, experimenting with vocal techniques without the input of engineers or producers. In many ways, her zigzagging path to her music career—which included many unglamorous day jobs and dropping out of a music journalism program in college—put her in the position to write the wise, thoughtful lyrics that give Love Kills its strength.

While the sunny, playful "Weed & Wine" is about the kind of sexual partner we've all told ourselves is a bad idea but hooked up with anyway, other tracks on Love Kills deal with the most trusty BS-repellent one can arm oneself with in life: self-love. On "Little Darling," she gently coaxes herself to stay motivated: "You still have some fight in you left / And your light shines brighter than them all," she sings as tenacious horns and sweeping strings buoy her soft coos.

Safia says she owes a big part of her inner confidence to her regular therapy sessions. She's not afraid to talk about them openly, either—it's about time mental health stopped being a taboo subject, she says.

"Newsflash, we all have issues, so what about it? I’m just doing something about mine," she says with half-joking annoyance. "Therapy has really helped me musically because I can now talk about other things, I can express myself in a broader way."

That's why on Love Kills, she says, she doesn't restrict the definition of love to the romantic variety, using the concept more broadly to sing about love of self, love of one's hometown and love of the black community.

"The unhealthy side is love can kill you self-esteem; love can kill your spirit; love can kill your self-worth," she says. "But on the positive side, love can kill hate; love can kill self-doubt; love can kill the naysayers."

 

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