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SiR Went Through Hell and Back to Make His New Album, ‘Heavy’

When singer-songwriter SiR started growing his dreadlocks in 2010, he didn’t know the level of maintenance it would require. He was initially enthused by the Rastafarian concept of locs and their spiritual significance, finding meaning behind the now-popular hairdo. Although not as invested anymore, he realizes how his loc journey coincides with his personal development. There’s been plenty of breakage but also restoration. 

When we first met at Sony Music’s New York headquarters in 2022, he was promoting his latest album, Heavy — which was supposed to drop that fall — now releasing almost two years later, on March 22, due mainly to personal reasons. Heavy is a prologue to SiR’s life — the 16-track project serves as an entry point into his struggles dealing with celebrity, addiction, romantic turmoil, and the process of healing and forgiveness — be it receiving it from others or oneself. “Heavy,” the album’s titular song, is a cry for help. SiR says he wrote the nearly four-minute track before coming clean to his family about his addiction to Percocet, alcohol, and cocaine. “I been killing myself softly,”  he croons in the song’s chorus. “Waking up remembering, I’m losing sleep over dreams that were coming true.”

“The worst of the worst started during the pandemic,” SiR says. “I was going through depression like a lot of people and some family issues that I wasn’t talking to anybody about, so it just kept building and building until I had a breaking point. I turned to the wrong things for my coping and not talking to people was my biggest mistake.” When he began opening up about his addiction, he also began therapy, with his therapist recommending he use his music as a diary of sorts. “I translated everything into a song and it was immensely therapeutic,” he says. SiR’s music, which is gospel and soul-influenced, is riddled with themes of love, yearning, and heartbreak. Now, with this third album, fans are getting a glimpse into his vulnerabilities, which range from messy to graceful refinement. 

SiR has been in the industry for more than a decade, working with artists like Tyrese, Warren G, and Jill Scott, but he’s received recent recognition for his solo projects. His debut album, Seven Sundays, which came out in 2015, and 2016’s November gave him an official standing within the R&B genre, leading him to open for Miguel’s 2018 War and Leisure tour. His 2019 release, Chasing Summer, catapulted him even further, spending three weeks on the Billboard 200. SiR’s music is at the cutting edge of soul and R&B, and is rooted in gospel. His smooth croons, about real life — often over live instrumentation — satisfy the listener, be it a trained musician or layman.  

SiR is private, opening up for the first time about his personal life and most of all — his faults. Raised in the Christian church (where astrology isn’t a favorable topic), he knows both his rising and sun astrological sign — Scorpio. Still, he’s not big into astrology, but when I explain the essence of Scorpion energy — which if used for the greater good is like the phoenix, capable of rising from the ashes of destruction — he agrees: “You read the story of my life.” 

He’s transparent without disclosing his full hand. He’s justifiably careful when talking about his wife and daughter, not outwardly expressing some of his family issues that burden his spirit. But when I inquire about some of the lyrics to his songs, he reveals a bit. “Satisfaction,” on the album’s later half, is a slight peek into the turmoil he caused within his 15-year marriage. “See, this was never meant to be what it feels like/This ain’t your real life/And, nah, I’m not real,” he sings in the bridge, followed by the chorus “This isn’t as simple as satisfaction, I wish the future never happened.” 

“It sucks to say, but it’s true, that song was about a real-life situation,” SiR confessed back in 2022. “My marriage was on the rocks, and I started dealing with someone that wasn’t my wife. Rules were established but that shit didn’t work because people started catching feelings. Before things got to a point where it was out of control, I decided to have this conversation but was a bitch about it and wrote that song instead of talking to the [other] woman.” 

At the time, he and Kelly-Ann — who he has been with for 20 years — were still technically married but were at a bit of a standstill. Their focus was solely on being the best co-parents they could be for their (then) two-year-old daughter. “I really shot myself in the foot with that,” SiR said. “Nobody can replace Kelly, that’s my love. I really love that woman and am blessed to still have her in the capacity that I do. I didn’t want to replace my situation, our relationship was [just] emotionally torn and I started looking for some type of emotional stability for myself, and I fucked everything up. Now, I just got to take what I can get.”

The next time SiR and I meet, it’s a rainy Tuesday in early March, and we are sitting in the second-floor lounge of SIXTY LES Hotel, where he’s staying. He’s wearing a Namacheko multicolored, leopard-print vest over a cream T-shirt, paired with black flare jeans, and his eyes are a tad squinty from the joint he sparked up midshoot. “I still smoke weed every once in a while,” he tells me as we discuss his sobriety. “But I had stopped smoking for a long time.”  

His relationship is in a much better place, though still a work in progress. The song “Only Human” was written eight years ago, before he cheated, but manifested itself in recent times as well. “It became the song of my life for two years. Me and Kelly listen to it now, and it’s kind of crazy how much of a God moment that song was eight years ago to how incredibly prevalent it is now,” he says. “We’re good now, but I did a lot of dirt. To have a woman who loves me beyond my mistakes.…” He gets choked up and his voice trails off. 

Songs like “Karma,” where he sings “Lately, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends,” reemphasize SiR’s awareness that he isn’t always the “good” guy and that the pressure of celebrity — something he never actually wanted for himself — comes at a price for everyone. “I’m Not Perfect,” featuring his TDE brethren AB-Soul, sits in the middle of the album, serving as a pivot in musical form. “Life Is Good,” which was originally named “Ray Liotta,” after the Goodfellas actor, is meant to encapsulate the essence of the famous meme, in which Henry Hill (Liotta’s character in the film) is laughing hysterically just before all hell breaks loose. “We shot the video for that a week after he passed,” SiR says of the 2022 single. “Before he passed, we reached out to try and get him in the video, and his team was confident that he might be able to do it and then he passed, so we changed the name out of respect.” “Only Human” is an example of what fans love most about SiR’s music. His lyrical storytelling encapsulates the complexities of existence, love, and messy humanity. 

Fans have justifiably been anticipating this release, but the hold-up has been personal. Since coming clean about his addiction to loved ones, SiR has been to rehab three times, the latest being shortly after our interview in 2022. These days, a year and four months sober, he’s 60 pounds lighter, and the tone of his physique is a testament to his dedication in the gym. He’s been a bit more social lately, too,  participating in February’s celebrity All-Star basketball game, where he played point guard and got eight assists.

Griffin Lotz for Rolling Stone

I’ve only met him on two occasions, but the essence of his being and energy feels similar, yet there’s a difference. He remains gentle, but this time seemingly more grounded and more thoughtful. There’s an apparent internal pull of what parts of himself he wants to be exposed and what he wants to keep to himself. After all, admitting is the first step to healing, and authenticity is the plight of the artist — and yet, before his celebrity, he’s human, prone to genius and fuckups. 

A couple of weeks before we meet, there’s a bit of a stir on X (formerly Twitter) surrounding SiR using the word “bitch” and his outward liking of the popular and sometimes controversial YouTube streamer, Kai Cenat. In February, Cenat brought on the concertgoer who made headlines after his then-girlfriend danced provocatively with Nigerian singer Omah Lay at a concert. Cenat had attempted to get both parties on his show to share their sides of the story, but the girlfriend wanted compensation. Unwilling to pay her, he hosted the boyfriend instead, organizing a “20 Girls vs. Me” — the recent dating format on YouTube where contestants are rated (sometimes embarrassed) by others — with the hopes of him finding a romantic connection. The boyfriend walked away with a potential love interest and a $20,000 payment from Kai. SiR tweeted at Cenat saying, “A real one. Got a nigga a whole new Bitch on Twitch,” with a laughing emoji. X users were split, some expressed disappointment about SiR being a “misogynistic loser,” others excused it as him just being a “nigga from Inglewood.” 

SiR apologized publicly and reached out to fans individually via DMs (to which, he says, they didn’t reply). He doesn’t really want to talk about it, but I see it as part of the theme of one of his battles: SiR the person versus SiR the celebrity. “It’s a learning curve,” he says calmly about how presentation matters on social media. “I think, with anything in life, the first thing should be grace. In these settings, we are all vulnerable and capable of making mistakes, and that’s why I don’t take myself so seriously. But at the end of the day, I don’t ever want to come off as something I’m not, and being a misogynist is not in my personality.”

Even if the world turned on him, God and family have been the true sounding board that SiR depends on. It’s heard throughout the album, with his mother singing background vocals for  “Six Whole Days,” and his older brother rapper D-Smoke playing keys throughout. His eldest brother, Davion, is credited for penning some of the songs with SiR. Not to mention, his uncle Andrew — who played in Prince’s last band — contributing bass chords. SiR’s church background is apparent in songs like “Brighter,” the album’s outro, which has a choir-like feel for its chorus. His musicality comes from his mother, who sang background for Michael Jackson and Chaka Khan, but didn’t allow her four boys to listen to secular music. His father, who was in jail for some time as the boys were coming of age, shares life experiences with SiR, the baby of the family, and his brothers. In the interlude to “Ricky’s Song,” a dedication of love and warning to his nephew that “Crenshaw and Florence is forbidden,” his father is telling a story about a past robbery he committed and the dangers of being alone with “dope.” 

“It’s like a tale of us talking to our own,” explains SiR. “Passing on the message to be better than I am.” His love for his nephew is strong. In a selected Instagram group chat that posts updates leading up to Heavy’s arrival, he and his nephew can be seen in screen-recorded videos, doing home workouts. As we talk, he gets a text regarding good news for Davion and his music. “I’m just happy to see my brother making moves on his own,” he says, smiling. The fight for sobriety is continuous. He’s still applying his therapist’s advice to journal via song and already has a concept for the fourth album. He won’t go into detail but confirms it’s the reverse of Heavy. “Where I am in my life is the exact opposite of where I was,” he says.

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