Most things have a place, a category, to which they belong. Sterling Hayes, however, cannot be so easily labeled.
The Chicago artist transcends music industry boxes, refusing to be identified by a single genre. There’s no box for himself, nor Black artists like him, and he wants to make it known. Vivid Seats had the opportunity to chop it up with the Southside native about the music, the influence and the future of Sterling Hayes.
Vivid Seats: If you had to describe yourself and your music in five words, what would those words be?
Sterling Hayes: Influential, educational, necessary, soulful and powerful.
VS: You’ve specified that you are not a rapper, you’re an artist. What does this mean?
SH: To be completely honest, I’m done using that cliche. Hip-hop has never been my favorite genre, and is rarely involved in my creative process/inspiration. I blend other genres, from rock to pop to blues; The majority of my records aren’t raps, so therefore I don’t consider myself a rapper. Especially since I do not use the hip-hop fundamentals when creating records. But since I’m African American, any song I make would be considered rap/hip-hop, so me saying I am an artist and not a rapper just lets folks know that you can’t put me in a box. I’ve used writing techniques from all genres: pop, rock, gospel and even country music. Like when Lil Wayne made that rock album, he will always be Wayne, an elite rapper. But in that moment in time he was a rock artist. Y’all remember what Tyler said at the GRAMMYs right? Well that’s what I’m tryna say here.
VS: Why is it so important for you to make that differentiation?
SH: It’s important because it involves our freedom as creators and as people. Who wants to make a pop album then be nominated for best rap album only because you’re black? If you ask me Lil Nas X is a country artist, get it?
VS: How did growing up in Hyde Park, Chicago influence you as an artist and what role does it play in your music?
SH: Growing up in Hyde Park has a tremendous influence on me in all aspects. I was introduced to hip-hop, cyphers, graffiti, dance, the clothes and the attitude at an early age. it diversified my inner circle, which was the gateway for me to become friends with creatives all over the city. I was able to get guidance from the big homies in the neighborhood, who’ve already experienced success in the industry and in real estate. Hyde Park residents seem to have a hand in everything cool these days if you ask me.
VS: At what point did you realize that you were passionate about music?
SH: When I was making people laugh, and cry and just become emotional in general. I felt like Michael Jackson. I love film. If a movie can make me cry, make me become attached to a fictional character; it was powerful, it was damn near perfect. I wanted to be able to do the same with my music. Music has also helped me tremendously. In a therapeutic way. Music is also a great tool to educate, I’ve learned a lot from other artists, good and bad. Also artists like Kanye West have made records that got me through some of the hardest times. I can feel music in my soul. I’ve been to church and some good ole gospel music had turned my day from bad to good, and I’ve done the same with my music. Misery loves company. If you express that misery and be vulnerable, you might end up with a cult following of friends/a support group all over the world since you have the platform and the voice for the people. Artists like Kid Cudi, who was courageous enough to reveal his demons to the world and himself so he could heal. For a plethora of reasons, maybe he didn’t have anyone reliable to talk to. But now I can thank Cudi for being my company when I was miserable.
VS: What’s the biggest thing you want your listeners to take away from your music?
SH: I don’t want anyone to take away anything, I’m just doing what I love and trying to respect this one and only life I was gifted with. Music helped me heal when I was and am still in tremendous pain emotionally. I’m not trying to spread a message, bring awareness or talk politics. As I mentioned, I believe music Is an essential service that I love to provide. I also provided other services in the community outside of creating art. I’m just documenting the story of a lost boy becoming a man, maybe one day this blueprint might help a young man do the same.
VS: What can we expect to hear from you next?
SH: Next is more collabs. I have some huge features ready to drop soon. Doing more records with Chicago artists, having my own production company is in the works. Signing Chicago artists to good deals etc. I'ma keep breaking down doors and beating the odds so I can inspire my peers. And we are working on a special project that's long overdue, but it’s a secret. I’ve also been learning how to work all the tech side of the business as well as the corporate side, in which I have great knowledge already. I also want to become savvy enough to provide free game, because that “The game is sold not told” quote is bull crap to me.
Follow Sterling Hayes on Instagram: @sterlinghayes and Twitter.