Sudan Archives' sophomore album 'Natural Brown Prom Queen' resists categorization
(SOUNDBITE OF SUDAN ARCHIVES SONG, "NBPQ (TOPLESS)")
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
After dazzling the alternative music world with her first full-length album three years ago, Sudan Archives is now trying to tell the world who she really is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NBPQ (TOPLESS)")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) I be seeing things. I be seeing things. You know what I mean? It's so hard to be judged by all of the TV screens. Get that camera out of my face because they be lady things. I'm a natural, natural brown prom queen.
RASCOE: Her sophomore album, "Natural Brown Prom Queen," has been described as a homecoming. It was born out of her homesickness for her native Cincinnati after being stuck in LA during the pandemic. The project's been praised by music critics. Pitchfork gave it a 9 out of 10, describing it as having a frenzied energy that resists easy categorization. Joining us now to talk about "Natural Brown Prom Queen" is Sudan Archives. Welcome to the program.
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Hey, Ayesha.
RASCOE: OK, I like that. I like that. Usually it's just a hello. But I like that.
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Laughter).
RASCOE: But you were originally going to call the album "Homesick." Why? And, like, what made you change it to "Natural Brown Prom Queen"?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: The album was supposed to be called "Homesick" because there was a lot of elements of home on the album, right? But it was like - it felt to me that that wasn't the title. I think it was just almost, like, the mood board word. So I remember my manager was like, so what are you saying in that bridge? I was like, I'm saying, you know, I'm a natural brown prom queen. He was like, that sounds good. So I was like, all right.
RASCOE: Like, when you say natural brown prom queen, it seems like the emphasis, listening to the album, is on the natural part. Like, you know, you talk a lot about colorism. Then you got this song, "Selfish Soul."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SELFISH SOUL")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) If I cut my hair, hope I grow it long, back long, back time like way before. If I wear it straight, will they like me more? Like those girls on front covers. Long hair make them stay little longer. Stay hair, stay straight, though we feel ashamed by the curls, waves and natural things, curls, waves and natural things. OK, one time, if I grow it long, am I good enough? Am I good enough? About time I embrace myself and soul, time I feed my selfish soul.
RASCOE: Are you talking about being accepted, like, in the music industry, being accepted in this world? Obviously, you know, I'm a Black woman, too. I know the hair. I know the color. I know what that is. Like, what - why did you want to kind of expound on that?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: I honestly made that song - that was one of those songs that I was just, like, up til 7 a.m. one day. So I was just like, whoa, dang, you really trying to say that, girl? This album - like, everything was like, I pressed record, and I just kind of said some things that when I listened back, it made me cringe because I was like, am I really about to say this?
RASCOE: I know you got another line, like, sometimes, I think if I were light-skinned, I'd get into more parties.
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Yeah, that line made me cringe so bad.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NBPQ (TOPLESS)")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) Sometimes, I think that if I was light-skinned then I would get into all the parties, win all the Grammys...
SUDAN ARCHIVES: I remember thinking, oh, that's just a placeholder. Like, I'm going to redo that part.
RASCOE: (Laughter) Why didn't you redo it? And why does it make you cringe?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Because I do not want to be fake, like, saying what I want to say and covering it up. Like, why? It's about talking about the things that nobody wants to talk about and breaking free from those expectations.
RASCOE: So breaking free from the idea that you got to look a certain way...
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Yeah.
RASCOE: ...Or even sound a certain way. I mean, because as an artist, you've been described in a lot of ways - R&B, pop, pop experimental.
(SOUNDBITE OF SUDAN ARCHIVES SONG, "FLUE")
RASCOE: Like, how do you define your music, your sound?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: I don't know how to really describe it, but I'll, like, joke around and say it's like electronic fiddle funk R&B. Like, I don't know how - R&B? Oh, I don't know.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLUE")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) Doesn't even know. Green like aloe. You don't want to see...
RASCOE: I talked to Santigold last week about this idea of, like, you know, Black women sometimes in music are thought - like, you've got to do R&B.
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Yeah. And if I was one of them Black women that looked, like, ethnically ambiguous, then it wouldn't be R&B. But because I'm brown-skinned, you know, and I got the body of Janet Jackson...
SUDAN ARCHIVES: ...I'm R&B. I'm soul. Dream girl (ph).
RASCOE: Is that frustrating, though? Like, is that - or do you not pay it any mind?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: I'm like, look. As this brown-skinned woman that y'all see and that y'all try to put in a box, it's not my job to care. And it's my time to have joy, to have Black girl joy, making art, loving, dancing. And so I'm not trying to be vibrating low thinking about all those things. And I just kind of feel like it's a trap in a way. It's like once I start thinking about that, then I'm in a box, so - I'm free.
RASCOE: Yeah. I mean, you were born Brittney Parks. So how did you get the nickname Sudan growing up?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Oh, yeah. So my mom gave me the nickname Sudan because at first I was going to call myself Tokyo. I don't know why I was going to do that. So she was like, I really like the name Sudan, and I know you don't like your name. Let's just, like - what about that name? It's so beautiful. And I was just like, OK.
RASCOE: And why the archive part?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: So, you know me - I'm so random. I looked at my music theory book, and it said archives on it, and then I just put one and two together. But now when you think about it, I noticed that Sudan means land of the Blacks, and archives means history. So in a way, my name just means like, you know, Black history. So that's kind of cool because I'm just an archive. Like, I'm little - like, I'm like - when you think about it in, like, a sci-fi way, I'm just, like, this, like, hard drive.
(SOUNDBITE OF SUDAN ARCHIVES SONG, "HOME MAKER")
RASCOE: You know, another song that you made is "Home Maker." It opens up with this really inventive, like, 80 seconds. Like, why did you decide to open up the album with that?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: I just envision, like, what I'd envision, like, of a movie. Like, I just envision me opening the door, and it's like that's how the story starts. And I just kind of knew that "Home Maker," how I was talking about, like, welcome to my home - the narrative is it starts in this place that you necessarily never called home, but you finally have been able to settle in. So it's kind of feeling like a home now, so you kind of want to show it off.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME MAKER")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) I'm a home maker, home maker. Don't you feel at home when...
RASCOE: The last track is titled "#513." That's the area code for your hometown, Cincinnati. You seem to have - like, you were feeling homesick, like, have some longing for that place. But I know it's more complicated than that. What were you trying to do with that song?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: I just knew that since the first song was about opening up my home and, like, letting people come into my life in LA and how it feels, like, finally, it's coming together. I knew that, like, the last song was going to be about my real home, like, where I'm from. And I just wanted to just talk about how, you know, I've got a really good balance going on of mixing the roots together and becoming this person I am now. Like, I feel good.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "#513")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) Soldiers, not imposters.
RASCOE: That's Sudan Archives. Her sophomore album, "Natural Brown Prom Queen," is out now. Thank you so much for joining us.
SUDAN ARCHIVES: No problem.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "#513")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) Hollywood will make you hollow. I'm too rooted in my ways. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.