The image on the cover of bLAck pARty's EP "Mango" shows its creator — Malik Flint, a quiet 24-year-old raised in Little Rock in a military family — suspended over a lily pond somewhere in California. His eyes are closed, and the word "Mango" is written in English and again in Japanese above his head. As photographer and creative director Ibra Ake told Greenlabel magazine, it's part homage to Flint's lush, green home state, and part homage to an Instagram account Ake and Flint favored, a collection of images of fruit stickers. Flint left Little Rock for L.A. in 2014 with friend and collaborator Kari Faux, and the two are now the youngest members of Royalty, the creative collective that surrounds Childish Gambino (a.k.a. Donald Glover), the Golden Globe-winning creator of FX's comedy series "Atlanta" and a musician who made waves last month with his third album, a funk throwback called "Awaken, My Love!" With a carefully managed gestation in a "factory" in Los Angeles' Glassell Park and a boost from Gambino's high-profile Twitter account, bLAck pARty (a stylized reference to Flint's ties to L.A. and Arkansas) released "Mango" in November 2016, and I spoke with him shortly afterward.
I want to ask about the video for "Best View." I can say pretty confidently that I've never seen a love story played out while a taxidermist was sewing eyeballs into a dead fox, but apart from that, it could be construed as a pretty straightforward love song. What went into the decision to keep things weird?
Personally, I feel like because it's such a sweet straightforward love song, I wanted it to have some sort of edge, some sort of twist to it. Anything that feels too sweet feels kinda weird to me.
Because of the trippy production, you don't go into, like, Maxwell territory. Seal territory. Sugary.
Yeah. At the end of the day, I don't consider myself an R&B singer. People kind of put that label on me, but I don't want to be that type of artist. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just not my personality.
Maybe part of it is the romance on tracks like "Wanderlust," and the implied reverence for the women to whom the songs are addressed. It's sort of a keynote for the album. "Bloom," in particular, could be about a friend or a lover, but it sort of floats above the baggage that sometimes we as adults tend to carry into relationships with us. It's just a benevolent sentiment, like "I want all good things for you."
So, the first three songs I did for the album were "Low End," Bloom" and "Best View." My dad actually wrote "Best View." He's written poetry my whole life, and he was taking a songwriting class at that time. A few days before I was leaving for L.A., he gave me the lyrics and said, "See if you can do something with it." So, I ended up finding melodies, mixing it with music that worked for me, and it was such a sweet song. "Low End" felt much more like a drug trip to me. "Bloom" is for my little sister. She's 11. We have a strong connection, because we're 12 years apart, and I was there when she was born. She's missed me a lot — like, she did not want me to leave. So that's my song for her. This sounds kinda dark, but I wanted — if, God forbid, I ever died or something — I wanted to leave her something.
"Feel Good" is subtitled "Amindi's interlude." Who's Amindi?
Amindi K. Frost. She's like 16 or 17, and she's a singer I stumbled across from being on Twitter. She has a sort of Ella Fitzgerald voice. I like really weird voices, so like, I was just drawn to it immediately, and I love how it turned out.
You turned in the song "You" to Justin Bieber, and although I'm sure it would have been a great thing for you, I'm glad Justin Bieber didn't end up doing that song.
Yeah. When I moved to L.A. I didn't really have intentions of making my own project. ... I'm not really a project finisher. I usually take a year of doing my own music, and a year of not doing my own music, but I got an opportunity with a publisher through a friend of ours, and one of the people she told me about was Justin Bieber. I was like, "I can make a Justin Bieber record." So, I played "You" for her, and we submitted it and never heard back about it. Then the album came out.
And that's your rejection letter.
(Laughs.) Yeah, so I was like, "OK, cool." I ended up keeping it.
Ibra Ake, the photographer and creative director you've worked with closely on this project, has a real eye for making you guys look unique. He lends this beauty and this bizarre quality to your aesthetic, and Kari's.
He has a really well-rounded view of art in itself, and an understanding of our individual personalities, so he understands how to convey our personalities through pictures or art. He comes from a fashion photography background, and he's originally from Nigeria, so I feel like he takes what he sees in the world and brings that to an American realm. With us, everybody comes from different backgrounds, so having those different perspectives kinda rounds us out.
The outro to "Mango" is a thank-you note to the people who helped you put this together. Could you talk about a couple of those people?
I'm one of those people that feels weird about people helping me. So, it was a shout-out to everyone who helped me work on music up to this project. Ludwig [Goransson] and a lot of people from Donald's band: Lynette [Williams] plays keys for the outro, Chris [Hartz], Donald's drummer. Doc [Allison] does a lot of production on Kari's project and also my project. He's also a cellist, so all the strings you hear on "Lost en Los Angeles" — that's him. I feel like saying thank you is important, especially for people who might not hear "thank you" enough — like a musician.