Safia Mafia is a vibe. Her latest project, Love Kills is a kaleidoscope dream of R&B hinged upon the early influences of Motown soul, '80s synth pop, electronica, and psychedelic rock that blasted through her childhood Oakland home. Though the LA-based singer-songwriter is just gaining solo traction now (she performed at 2018 BET Experience in Los Angeles), her vocal credits date back to the height of the hyphy movement: Teaming up with Last King's producer Bedrock, Bay Area heads have been keen to Safia's voice through San Francisco's Killa Squad, the Baby Face Assassins, and the Bay Area classic, the Jacka's Tear Gas album.

Fully realizing her dream, she left the Bay Area for Los Angeles in 2008. After years of conforming to what R&B should sound like, Safia's Love Kills is a fully-realized album of owning her sound. A little funky, a little throwback, and a little alien, Safia Mafia's honey-eyed soul refuses to be boxed in. The Bay Bridged spoke with Safia on her how personal this record is and why now is the right time for this album.

The Bay Bridged: Love Kills is your third project and the latest entry into this music journey you've been on for 10-plus years. How is this record indicative of where you are and how far you've come?

Safia Mafia: Love Kills speaks to a more present and aware me. I started therapy midway through Innermission (2017) and that was kind of the impetus of me shifting musically. Lyrically (at the time) I came from a place with a lot of innuendo and double-and-triple-entendres, which can present really cool when you do that but can be difficult for people to really understand where you’re coming from or relate. But with therapy, I’ve been able to write very open lyrics about real-life experience. It’s real things I went through, ways that I really felt — my honest opinions, honest emotions, honest stories. I didn’t have the vocabulary to do that before. So this is the first time I’ve been able to do that and I feel very proud of myself, like for the first time! I’ve waited a long time to be able to have that kind of proud.

TBB: Yet, for all this vulnerability and depth you poured into the record, there's still a huge effort to make it fun too. Obviously a character like GUAPDAD4000 on "Weed & Wine" injects his own energy, but who else had their hands in this project?

SM: This album is 90 percent Bedrock but we did have some collaboration. We worked with this kid named Danny, he played those funky keys at the end (of “Weed & Wine”) and I think some of the synth pads in the beginning. We also did a lot of work with Dylan and Jaden Wiggins, who are D'wayne Wiggins’ kids from Tony! Toni! Toné!. They actually collaborated on “Cigarettes,” “Herb Wind & Fire,” “20/20.” They are so talented, very cool cats, they got their own a band. They’re all over the record. Also, there’s a guy named Chris Hooks who did “Better Days” with Bedrock too, which is a really cool track and that takes me to that electronic side, it’s a little house vibes going on there. In all my projects, I have some kind of little throwback vibrations going on. So I wanted to keep that thread in there, I didn’t want to lose that.

TBB: How long have you been working with Bedrock? Who else were you working with before you moved to LA?

SM: I started working with Bedrock two years before I moved and we recorded a couple of tracks at Skyblaze Studios (Emeryville), that’s where Goapele used to record out of and he was working with her heavily at the time. He cut a couple of tracks for me there and I did some features there — some background vocals on the Jacka’s album, for “Callin’ My Name” with Mistah Fab. I did a few sessions with Goapele, but I don’t have release tracks with her. I mostly wrote for myself as features for other artists’ projects; rappers and local artists. I did some work with Killa Squad, Los Rakas. There’s another songwriter out here, Sam, she and I did some stuff together with Baby Face Assassins. I definitely did my fair share of local tenure.

TBB: Talk about how you've been able to develop your sound over the years. I feel like modern R&B is so much more fluid — you've been compared to SZA, FKA Twigs, Lana Del Rey — and that's really allowed for more left-of-field, funky, nuanced takes on what soul is and should sound like.

SM: I’m very excited about it because I’ve been singing like this for a long time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, 'We just don’t know how to market you,' or 'What box to put your music in.' Or 'We just don’t get it, we just don’t get you,' when what they really meant to say was, 'You’re a Black girl that’s singing a different type of R&B; we don’t know what to do with it.' Early on in my career I was told to sing like Ashanti or sing like Aaliyah and I did it because I wanted to work with people. But now I'm done doing that. I’m going to stick with my sound because this is what resonates with me and this is what I want to do. I’m glad that there’s now this space and home for it, where Black girls can make whatever type of music they want and people are okay with it. You shouldn’t have to be in a box and only make this type of music. No, we’re multi-faceted just like everyone else. Listen to what we have to say and how we want to say it. I’m weird as shit and I’m OK with that and you should be too!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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