“I don’t want to be here,” I tell myself while the frigid DC air numbs my ears on a Thursday evening. I’ll be upfront — I was having a rough day. A 9:00 a.m. final, an 11:00 a.m. presentation, a 12:00 p.m. realization that I most likely failed both. I would’ve been content to drag myself back to my one story home and fill my stomach with cheap pink moscato and fall asleep to whatever glided past my bloated Netflix queue. Instead, I found myself at the end of a curled line outside of U Street Music Hall shivering my way into the sold out Masego early show.
Masego, born Micah Davis, made in Kingston, Jamaica, and raised in a Christian community in Newport News, Virginia, is a trans-generational experience. I’ve seen him be referred to as “the youngest old head,” a testament his penchant for old school jazz sensibilities over bouncy trap production, making him a fan favorite for all three generations of a family cookout. Walking this fine line of musical acrobatics, Masego calls his style “TrapHouseJazz.” It is a fitting combination for an artist made in the DMV, where all three genres have strong roots in the nightlife culture. I got a chance to interview Masego after the show, where he gave me a specific definition of his homegrown style..
Capitol Sound DC: Please explain to the uninitiated what TrapHouseJazz?
Masego: It’s like: if you get in a fist fight. With a ballerina. That’s a man. And then afterwards, a shawty comes through. She a stripper but she also a college professor. And y'all make music together. It’s like ignorance meets elegance.
CSDC: That’s my favorite description of anything, ever.
There’s a lonely disco ball dangling over me in the packed basement. To say I was surprised that Masego could fill a space would be disingenuous to what I think of his talent. He is a skilled performer and big personality, but also decidedly jazz. While listening to “Lady Lady,” Masego’s debut LP, I always imagined hearing his music with an expensive dinner and red wine, Masego and his band dressed in all white atop a burgundy platform, serenading us into the midnight with multiple saxophone solos. Old head shit, as they say.
Instead, more realistically, I was gifted with Davis, both parts gangly and chiseled, opening with this most popular song “Tadow.” The song, along with its viral video, shows Masego at his best, an even-tempered improvisionist. Even in live performance, he seems like he’s making it all up on the fly, every word being spoken for first time and at first thought. With his two wonderful backup singers added to the equation, it feels like you’re watching a musical conversation take place before your eyes and it’s groovy as fuck.
The wide appeal of this type of performance, and Masego himself, is evident once you take a quick scan of the crowd. To my left, there is a 23 year old man shaking his arms and legs with reckless abandonment to the groove of an aptly name song “Shut Up and Groove.” To my right, I catch sight of a 50-year-old couple melting into each other while the husband croons “Babygirl you looking like a goddess/Don't be so modest (while I have you here with me)” into the cheek of his wife. A circle surrounds them and they start to Kid n’ Play. In the center of all this, Davis comes up for air (he’s just performed his second saxophone solo of the night), washed in a daze of red and blue light, he smirks, “My wife might be in this crowd, based on numbers only.”
CSDC: Tell me about the role DMW women have play in shaping your music and your life?
Masego: I feel like you’re going to meet the perfect ignorant-elegant mix here. The chick that look mad good and can probably fight. The shawty that can wear that dress can also probably rock some Yeezy’s, too. From the style to how they act, [DMV women] aren’t weak. All the women walking around here, they can beat all y’all, know what I’m saying? That’s the energy I see out here, that perfect balance.
Masego’s voice tends to crack in the midrange, his rotund shade voiding out his eyes like a long limbed Ray Charles. It all adds to his appeal, as a soulful singer and even sexier instrumentalist (the tally on jazz solos tonight: six). The term that is often throw adjacent to Davis’ name is an old soul. The 25-year-old Virginia product has made a name out of channeling the sounds of Stevie Wonder while spouting lyrics reminiscent of Marvin Gaye, all while remaining savvy to today’s trap sensibilities. The entire cocktail is uniquely millennial; the ambition, the industriousness, the fact that Masego self taught himself how to play piano, saxophone, drums, bass, and guitar in high school. In my mind, it’s only natural for someone growing up in the world we live in to look at these collages of pieces and say “I bet I can make something beautiful with all this.”
CSDC: I’ve been a fan of your music since 2016, but I only found out recent that Masego means “Blessing” in Tswana. What blessings have come your way by being a product of the DMV?
Masego: My friends have been from different places since I could remember, you feel me? So I figure it helps when you go to college, and it’s your surroundings are diverse. It’s like, this dude’s Japanese, this dude is from the hood, this dude is from Ethiopia. My music has always been eclectic because my friends have always been eclectic. Virginia has a bunch of everything, that’s the real blessing.
CSDC: So like a hodgepodge, basically.
Masego: Hodgepodge, global citizen, ‘ish like that. That’s what makes music better.
Masego carries himself like a man who’s built himself to exactly where he’s supposed to be. It is a gravitas that compels you to move closer to whatever stage he strides across. So when halfway through the show, he removes his shades and his eyes glint in the spotlight, it feels like the show is just starting all over again.
All photos by Leigha Jenkins for Capitol Sound DC.