“I’m making being yourself cool again,” which is why Haiti Babii believes many who saw his bizarre freestyle on Bootleg Kev & DJ Hed’s radio show were left folding over in laughter or quizzically upset at his apparent lack of lyrical integrity.
Either way, his appearance (an off-kilter assemblage of vocal inflections) on Los Angeles' Real 92.3 went viral and earned Haiti Babii the attention of a number of celebrities in the process, including a phone call from pop empress Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty.
“She FaceTimed yesterday morning,” says a newly turned 21-year-old Haiti Babii inside BET’s headquarters. “She was like, ‘I can feel the island in you. You just have so much soul.’”
Born Amari Amil Proctor, Haiti Babii grew up in Stockton, California and listened to everything but rap: “It was too loud for me. I didn’t like that.” His uncle, an activist from Guyana who arrived to Oakland during the height of the Black Panthers movement, raised Haiti Babii on a diet of juju, soul and the blues. As such, the viral sensation credits the likes of Luther Vandross and The Gap Band as some of his greatest influences.
A true autodidact, Haiti Babii is the sole alchemist behind all his music, from songwriting to beat-making: “My mouth is an instrument because the studios I was in first was just basement equipment. I didn’t have autotune or none of that other stuff. I had to become the snare, the bass, or I would be the 808.”
Haiti Babii also writes his own rhymes, produces his own music and creates his own ad-libs, which lend to his approach to lyricism or spoken word. “You do it everyday in the bathroom, everyday in the shower,” he quips. “Everybody goes around doing ‘meeeh’ everyday, but when I do it on a major platform it’s weird.”
On the day he officially releases the audiovisual for “Blue Dragon,” Haiti Babii sits with BET to unpack the makings of his upbringing, musical background, Haitian roots, working with Hit-Boy, being charged by Rihanna with collaborating alongside Jamaican wunderkind Koffee, and so much more.
You can call Haiti Babii weird or crazy. What you can’t call him is unoriginal. Get acquainted.
BET: What’s Stockton like?
Haiti Babii: A distant city. People say we close to the Bay but we not in the Bay and we not in Sacramento. We don’t have no resources. It’s just farmland. We export nuts like almond and produce. Stuff like that. People grow up there and their first mindset is to play sports, and if you don’t make it, you work in a warehouse. That’s the day-to-day. That’s the life. Or people just make babies. [Laughs]
BET: Is this your first visit to New York?
Haiti Babii: I’ve never been outside the city of Stockton until a month ago when I went to Los Angeles.
BET: Then who are your influences?
Haiti Babii: Growing up, I listened to Luther Vandross, Patti LaBelle, The Gap Band and Andre 3000. I didn’t really like rap at first, because I didn’t know what it really was.
BET: You’re a rapper, but you didn’t listen to the music growing up?
Haiti Babii: No, it was too loud. It was too much bass and 808s. I didn’t like that. It was too loud for me. I liked it smooth, because my grandpa used to play smoother stuff. Then, my uncle John—he’s an activist, from Guyana, he came out to Oakland [during] the Black Panthers movement. He listened to juju, soul and the blues.
BET: So you took to music beyond your years?
Haiti Babii: Yeah, I fell in love with that, and thought that was what music was. My mom was influenced by rap, like the hyphy movement and stuff. When I got into high school, I started checking out the musical roots around the Bay Area and checking into artists like Drake. Then I got into Suga Free. After that, I started scrambling on YouTube and just started searching everything after that. I’m a late bloomer with rap.
BET: Tell me more about your parents.
Haiti Babii: My mom street hustled. She hustled a lot. Then she worked here and there. She tried to go to school and stay in church, but she had to hustle. My mom was the worker. She was always out and about. When she wasn’t working, she was networking. A real go-getter.
BET: And dad?
Haiti Babii: He passed away when I was two months old. Got pulled over by a fake cop car and shot in the head.
BET: Sorry to hear that… Any father figure at all?
Haiti Babii: My stepfather. He’s into coaching and worked as a janitor. He stepped in more as a friend to me.
BET: You seem… to have things figured out. But your freestyle, what was that about?
Haiti Babii: Everybody who said it was trash smiled when they watched that video. It’s because of my energy. And they laughed. So if it made you smile and laugh, that’s dope. I watched every reaction video and it was like, ‘This is so trash!’ but they’re smiling.
BET: If that was your approach to freestyling, what’s your approach to creating music in the studio?
Haiti Babii: I like to find inspiration first before I write a song. I don’t consider myself freestyling anymore, because I practice repetition so much.
BET: What do you mean?
Haiti Babii: So now I’ll say a hook and I’m able to memorize in my head so when it’s time to lay it down, I’ll memorize it and go through it layering it with adlibs falsettos and doubles, then keep doing that repetitively. People be like, “How you freestyle that?” But it’s just when you keep practicing something you get good at it like a jump shot. I’ll go on the Internet and type in something like LeToya Williams. I’ll listen to a song and be like ,”Ok, inspiration right.” I’ll go from there.
BET: Do you produce your own music?
Haiti Babii: Yes, I produce all my beats and I mix of my songs.
Haiti Babii: I build a beat around my voice. I start with my voice first. So, I’ll do something like [Makes noises] and I’ll build a beat around that platform. Then I make my adlibs and then I’ll lay down my verse and my hooks.
BET: Did you go to school for it?
Haiti Babii: YouTube University. [Laughs] No. I’m self-taught. Just practice and repetition. I would take pictures of the software I needed and would go into other engineer’s office and tell them, “Ay, may I use this software over here?”
BET: So you’re an an autodidact, through and through.
Haiti Babii: Yeah. My mouth is an instrument because the studios I was in first was just basement equipment. I didn’t have autotune or none of that other stuff. I had to become the snare, the bass, or I would be the 808. [Makes noises] In some songs, you can hear the shakala, but there’s no beat. It’s just me beating on my chest and backing it up.
Then we would just modify it with effects. It’s little stuff you got learn how to do. You just got to be nerdy with it. You got to be really nerdy when it comes to computer because you can really sound like anything. But instead of sounding like anything, I would put myself in the jungle environment. Like I’ll be in the rain and be a real lion and you’ll be like ‘Is that a real lion?’ No that’s me. It’s a jungle effect.
I also got a bat flying around in the background. Random sounds like that keep people distracted and then if I can find a way to put my message in there, cause I know the attention span of a child because I have ADHD. ADHD is considered a disorder, but I can look at it as my advantage. So I use that to my advantage. I just flip everything.
BET: And your music videos?
Haiti Babii: I draw up the video concept after every song I do.
BET: So what are your intentions with rap?
Haiti Babii: Nothing they ain’t ever heard—sounds, different aspects of sounds. Colors. Visuals. Basically, music brought back to life. A lot of people listen to music now and forget that all of this stuff was already done years ago. People think what I’m doing is very new but then you listen to Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Mystikal or Silkk the Shocker, you’ll be like, “Oh, okay.” It’s not new. You just don’t accept it anymore and I’m making being yourself cool again. All I’m doing is being myself. Being myself, that’s the main goal, too.
BET: Any dream collaborations?
Haiti Babii: It’s already finna happen. Rihanna, Lauryn Hill, Koffee… Basically all my wishes are coming true. They’re already hitting me up. Now, that I know that all eyes are on me, I’m gonna get those features regardless.
BET: Really? Those are some big names…
Haiti Babii: She was just basically saying, she was like, “I can feel the Island in you. You just have so much soul.”
BET: Wait, who are you talking about?
Haiti Babii: Rihanna. She FaceTimed yesterday morning when the song dropped. It was night time wherever she was. She was in a club partying. She was like, “I like this song, yo. It’s dope, yo.” I was like, “Alright, yeah. She’s messing with it.” I asked her, “Ri, what’s up with Koffee? Do you know who that is?” And I spelled the name wrong at first, but she was like “Koffee? Yeah, that’s one of my writers. You guys definitely have to link. I need something now.” I was like, “I’m on it, Ri. I’m on it.”
BET: Wow, congrats. Super major for someone as new as you. Are you currently working with anyone else?
Haiti Babii: Hit-Boy.
BET: Nice! What are you working on?
Haiti Babii: I honestly don’t even know, because I just be working. We was really trying to make a song to pitch Rihanna. We was just building and it got to a point where he was like, “Yeah, because all the songs slap.” He was like, “With these singles, let’s just keep working.”
BET: How’d you both meet?
Haiti Babii: In Stockton. He messaged me before the freestyle, before I went viral. I already knew S.O.B. and the Boy and all them. They were like, “Oh yeah, this Haiti.” Hit-Boy was like, “What’s up, G?” Locked his number in. He was like, “Yeah, I’m trying to get this Cali sound out there to the world. We finna make hits.” I said, “Your name is Hit-Boy.” [Laughs]
BET: On the subject of California, how’d you react to Nipsey’s death?
Haiti Babii: Losing him was like warzone mentality. My mentality is totally different now after losing him, because his message came to me. Now, I’m strictly on like his mindset. That’s the end goal. To inspire.
BET: What are some of the stories you want to tell that you haven’t approached yet?
Haiti Babii: Stories about my mom and how my peoples got over here. Stories about when I finally go to Haiti and [places like] Florida. I want to start getting more inspired and to start learning. I want to tell those stories.
BET: And your name, you only recently found out to were Haitian, correct?
Haiti Babii: Yeah. I didn’t know until I was 19. On my biological father’s side. His father, which is my grandfather, and my grandmother from dad’s side. I’ve never met her. The crack epidemic hit her bad. She was [involved with] prostitution, on dope, strung out.
BET: What does finding out you’re also Haitian mean to you?
Haiti Babii: I didn’t know it was like a big thing. To me, it was a personal thing. It was like, I’m Haitian. I’m not just a nigga from Stockton. I’m not just a motherfucker from California. I know who I am and I know my roots. I know we all come from Africa but now I know my roots. I was happy with myself. But I didn’t know how many Haitians were in the industry and how much support I was going to get. I didn’t know that that was going to be the impact. Now that I’m seeing that, it’s like [things] are on a whole ‘nother level.
BET: So much so, that you named yourself after Haiti.
Haiti Babii: I really named myself after Haiti, but it was really a cry for help. Like crying wolf. Like, ay, I want to reach out to know myself more, to go out there to learn the language, eat the food, and vibe with my people. I haven’t even been to Haiti. I haven’t been to Florida.
BET: That’s commendable, it’s inspiring. Visit Miami first, then head to Haiti…
Haiti Babii: I got to go there! I tried some fried bananas for the first time and that taste like—I love candy and sweets. I love Mike & Ikes and Skittles. When I tasted [the plantains], that’s what it tasted like. I thought I could eat this all day. I was like, “I’m definitely Haitian, this taste is fire.” [Laughs]
(Photos: Matt Somers)