Local Artist Spotlight: Sarob
Last month, when Sarob released “Fear & Impermanence,” he announced it by saying, “I hope this work speaks to you.”
And while there’s clearly a message to be taken from the album, it isn’t a hollow PSA or soundtrack to an after school special, so much as his troubles laid bare.
Sarob says the album was like administering his own corrective surgery.
“The feeling came from me feeling that there was something wrong. There was something incomplete about myself,” he says. “And I had to break what existed in order to correct it, in order to find whatever is actually right for me.”
Throughout, he grapples with identity and purpose, his inherent worth and where he fits in as a human being and as an artist.
“What my actual value is,” he says. “What do I contribute? Cause there are a billion people who make music.”
“Where do I fit in and where can I feel fulfilled?” he asks.
“I’m from the generation of oversaturation and useless information and faulty idolation…”
In a line from “Viper,” where Sarob uses “idolation” instead of “idolization” because it didn’t fit the rhyme scheme, he looks at the effects of an era of social media, influencers and celebrity culture, where fans hold complete strangers in high regard. It’s something Sarob has fallen to himself.
Sarob describes himself as extremely humble, and spending time with him, he proves that he is almost to a fault. Consequently, he says his esteem for other people can border on self-diminishing. And for a generation of people just like him, it can lead to not recognizing their own power.
“We don’t see that we’re brilliant ourselves,” says Sarob.
“I don’t want no percent of crumbs…”
Self-worth comes in many forms. Self-worth can mean leaving a bad relationship. It can mean asking for a raise or promotion. And it can mean realizing your worth is more than being in spaces where you are not wanted.
Sarob, via “Look Like,” speaks to trying to “make it” in an industry that is ultimately shallow in terms of its benefit and meaning.
Sarob says music, and art in general, is one of the most exploited forms of business. And with hip-hop especially, the exploitation is historically motivated by race and class. It’s easier to exploit a marginalized group that is not used to having much and will take what it can get.
A 2017 year-end report by Nielsen named hip-hop the number one genre in consumed music for the first time. The report pointed to on-demand music streaming as the reason behind the increase. And while that may sound like a win for hip-hop artists and musicians, the genre is still ripe with executives and industry professionals willing to pay creatives the least.
Sarob has seen some of streaming’s benefits first-hand. His music does well on streaming platforms. A single from his last EP, 2017’s “Seeing in the Dark,” made it onto a number of Spotify’s official playlists.
And while he recognizes exploitation as the nature of the game, he feels there should be a better solution.
“While I am happy with what I get, in a way, I understand there’s so much more,” he says.
“I can be a light without the shine / It’s so many ways that we can touch / Spent my whole lifetime afraid that I won’t find a way and my worth just ain’t enough”
Sarob attended Denison University and the University of Oxford in England, studying political science and philosophy. He says that background has helped him create music that asks questions or leaves something to ponder. It all stems from an “insatiable curiosity,” he says.
At the same time, he takes philosophers’ knack for taking incredibly complex ideas on human life and existence and making it easy to understand, whether through a sound, lyric or arrangement.
On “Bite!” Sarob uses minimalistic production to represent uncertainty, emptiness and change. On “Where,” Sarob’s slow progression and a 13-second song break leaves a yearning for the next line, while lyrics express his issues with dependency, and ultimately, learning how to maintain happiness without longing to be with another.
Later, Sarob reveals that he has OCD, catching himself before he qualifies his experience with it.
“I shouldn’t diminish it,” he says. “It can be really tough.”
He says his experience with OCD, as well as anxiety and depression, aren’t particularly overt in his music. But with “Bite!” and “Where,” the sentiments are there.
“I try to use my sad moments to…fuel me to say something that’s more captivating, maybe more stimulating,” he says. “It’s more so like putting a hand on somebody’s shoulder as opposed to telling them about yourself. To let them know that things get better.”
For Sarob, music at this moment in his career means nudging whoever is listening to a “lighter place,” using his own experiences and understanding of the world to make people think, feel good and feel valuable. He does all of that, without taking himself too seriously.
“It’s just my form of expression, and it’s my way of sharing philosophy with people,” he says. “It’s my way to empower people. So hopefully my music does some of that.
“That’s really all I want at the end of the day.”
For more info on Sarob, visit sarobmusic.com.