Review + Interview by Evan Balikos
Saint Bodhi Brings Truthful Storytelling to the Forefront with “FlowerChild”
Contrary to what is known, there are millions of distinct artists that deserve attention and support for their art. Yes, we’re still very much engulfed in the SoundCloud rap phenomenon of scrappy, gimmicky showmen who hide their limitations by wearing the masks of rappers and Alternative R&B performers, but there are also tons of artists out there who are presenting themselves and their music in a commendable package; though, their music, as catchy as it may be, can sometimes lack substance.
As one journalist put it, the rise of SoundCloud has actually saved the industry from encountering a famine, in terms of notable, marketable, and valuable artists, but this has typically lead to the sacrifice of one crucial element in their music: storytelling. Put simply, it’s all about the hooks and beats behind the song, and the narrative is mostly considered as an after-thought.
Yet, for Saint Bodhi, who contains a wealth of industry experience after writing for big-name artists like Beyoncé and A$AP Rocky, the narrative is not just an ingredient in her music, but a necessity. This is evident from the go-hard-or-go-home efforts that are laden in her song, “FlowerChild,” a triumphant tale of escaping from a hellish gangland full of iniquities and domestic complications.
In addition to reviewing the track, I was given the opportunity to ask Saint Bodhi about the process of making the song and the video, and inquire about the meanings behind certain lyrics. I also got the chance to hear about what lies in store in her future as an unrestrained, storytelling artist.
The song begins confidently, offering its melancholy keys, two types of synth patterns in the background—one is diligently played and the other one is drunk and short-of-breath—and a mild boom-bap bassline that is set to explode in the chorus. There’s also a tying drum fill that sounds a bit inspired by the one used for “Knight” off of Earl Sweatshirt’s 2013 album, Doris. Bodhi enters the track and riffs for a bit, but she wastes no time when welcoming listeners to the truthful nature of this song.
“When I get older, I'ma get up out this bitch/ I'ma get rich/ My daddy bangin' on the walls/ N*gga drunk, always throw another fit (Oh, no, no)/ I go to 95th/ South Central's where I live/ Selling white widow to the kids/ Lord, get me out this bitch,” Bodhi confesses in the first verse of the song.
Her familiar aspiration to get rich finds its obligatory sympathy with a line about a less-than-loving father, and even more so once we learn that not only is she desperate to leave a toxic area, but she’s forced to be an active participant in order to survive. In less than 30 seconds, Bodhi is able to illustrate her troubled character through laconic storytelling. I wanted to know more about the environment that shaped her and this song’s meaning.
EB: Let’s talk about the song. It’s clearly informed by the culture of South Central, but it also has this internal dialogue throughout where we can see you fighting to survive in this chaotic environment. The tone is very confrontational, and that’s why I love it. Can you tell me about growing up in that environment and how it shaped the outlook of the song?
SB: I grew up in South Central, and I had to fend on my own. I grew up around very violent people. Very real people. I did have to sell drugs to my peers, and I don’t even know how to explain it. It was very real. It was more of reality than people understand.
EB: I think the average listener would never know what that’s like, and I think that’s why it’s such a tantalizing question too.
SB: I mean, I was like a chocolate girl who grew up in a culture where dark-skin, black girls were unappreciated, and I’d hear things like, “you should’ve been a boy” all the time. It’s a culture where you have to fend on your own, it’s a culture where people are more aggressive towards you because of your ethnic group and what you look like. Around that time I was growing up, you saw a lot of beautiful, modelesque girls on TV. My community was more influenced by media, and so—I mean, I grew up with some shit. I grew up in gang violence, and I grew up in prostitution. I mean, I grew up around a lot of heaviness. It’s real life. I’m speaking my truth.
EB: Yeah. I definitely get that from the song. It’s nothing but the truth.
During the first verse, there’s some pleasant twinkling keys that coat the song in a dreamy layer. In the Pre-Chorus, some heavenly vocals are added that dip in and out of the track, making the instrumental hazier and ghostly, like something Flying Lotus might cook up. This lightness juxtaposes the lyrics, which are providing more color to the murkier scenes of South Central
Bodhi sings sequentially, “Feet hit the pavement, sirens are blarin'/ Crackheads'll get ya what ya need, how much you payin’?/ Orange El Camino, guns like Al Pacino/ Gold chain cost a couple bucks under a C-note/ I got this white girl if you need the fix/ My n*gga scopin’ out the next spot to hit the lick/ in the nighttime, zombies chill on 25th/ Mother Mary, please still get me out of this bitch.”
Bodhi cleverly obscures the character who is speaking about the white prostitute, which furthers the inevitability of audience interpretation. There’s also a clever use of “zombies” to illustrate a staggering, flesh-craving throng that appears at night.
Bodhi’s main focus in “FlowerChild” seems to be to figuratively shine a light on the darkness behind her. She’s telling her truth and proclaiming her longing for salvation, and though she admits she’s dealt with the devil, it was only so she could stay alive in an environment that she had no escape from. Put simply, her mentions of drug dealing and prostitution is what makes her a rounded character—one who is capable of changing—and these shadowy experiences define her in this narrative.
EB: You have a knack for descriptive storytelling in tow of Kendrick Lamar, curvy vocal cadences inspired by vocalists like SZA, and a fantastic tripped-out beat that could have come from Tyler the Creator’s earlier records. The reason this song is so good is because it has variety. How did you decide what to mix and match in the song’s construction?
SB: You know, it was like a “heart” thing. I mean, it just really came from—I’m a storyteller. I write poems, I write plays, and when I met up with the producer, J. LBS—it’s funny because Roc Nation was trying to sign me at the time, and they put me in this studio session at Blackwood where I met up with him. We just vibed. Like, “Yo, you’re from South Central too?” He just started bringing me back to my childhood, and I just instantly went to gold chains and crackheads and low-riders. Y’know, that era?
EB: Yeah, so, you wanted to hit all the marks for that era? Kind of really represent South Central?
SB: It was more so that I just felt it! It was very emotional for me. It wasn’t really like, “Let’s create the best song ever,” it was more like, “Hey, you bring out this emotion in me. I love this beat. It’s very earthy, and it’s very off.” Y’know?
EB: Yeah. And I think it should never be about creating the best thing ever when you’re doing music. I feel like you should always write from the heart. I think you can get kind of full of yourself if your hopes are for something to be the best.
SB: Yeah, I never think about that shit.
The chorus, as promised by the stifled bass line and cushioned snares, blows up considerably. The sonic boom of that bass is more dynamic, and the synth patterns are stretched out and now appearing at uneven points. Bodhi’s lyrics see her as paranoid as ever, acknowledging that, at any moment, death could be lurking around the corner.
“I'm in that all-black Cadillac/ Hope I don't die tonight, better watch my back/
Roll the dice and take a chance/ I pray to God shit don't get outta’ hand,” she sings with a tone and cadence that is emblematic of the danger in front of her.
This danger is an ongoing theme in “FlowerChild,” and in addition to Bodhi presenting herself as this incautious but conscious character, there is more to be taken away from the music video accompanying the song, which is trippy, sinister, and glitchy in its presentation.
EB: The video for “FlowerChild” is also excellent. It’s sharply directed, smartly paced, and vibrant in its colorful but foreboding scenery. Considering that this was your debut, I’m sure you were aware that you had to make something as bold and disruptive as this portrait of your life before making it big. Tell me about that conception. Who was the director and main informant for this vision, and how did you provide your voice and creative output to it?
SB: You know, it’s funny, I do not feel like that video was THAT crazy. I cannot wait til’ people see the next video.
EB: [laughing] Well, there you go. It’s like that association with danger, most people can’t grasp that craziness. They’re not familiar with it.
SB: I feel like people don’t even know where the fuck it’s coming from, but as far as me and the director Darren Craig, we linked spiritually, and as far as the idea. I let him know. I told him, “Yo, I am this South Central chick, but I do screenplays, I’m into Tim Burton, I’m into horror movies.” I let him know that I’m into all of these abstract things, like, I skateboarded, and I listen to rock music and goth metal. I let him know that I wanted to do something dark and kind of mysterious and that kind of contradicts the idea of the record. If you listen to “FlowerChild,” you’ll be like, “Oh yeah, this girl is in the hood and she’s just singing her song, walking down the street,” but we wanted to do something that was a contradiction of the actual record and not give you clichés.
EB: I think that the song actually gets stronger when its paired with the visual for it. It kind of fills it out, gives it more vegetation.
SB: Yeah. I mean, we wanted to go left. I just really wanted to be dark with it. Honestly, the next couple of visuals are gonna be even crazier.
EB: I mentioned before that there’s this internal dialogue in the song, and I think the video builds on that by focusing on these multiple personas. I see these mysterious characters and accompanying themes of uneasiness throughout. Tell me about how the video pairs with the song lyrics? Was there an effort to provide clarity or alternative perspectives through the different outfits and personas you put on?
SB: Yeah. Like, the one part with the trash bag was supposed to be a bum on the seat. It was just me being in South Central and having a bum talk shit to me but still being friends with them. Most of the clothing represents different personalities. I have a lot of different personalities. So, with the trash bag, it was saying “I look like a bum, but I still have emotions.” The police officer—I smoked weed with the cops growing up.
SB: Deadass, seriously. I would smoke weed with the police officers on my block. We went through these different ideas of them being bad guys but still good guys. Even with the Grim Reaper scene, it was just like me letting you know that shit can get REAL real, but I never realized how real shit got as a child. I never realized the danger that I was in until I got older. That was another reason I put the Grim Reaper in there because I didn’t process the dangerous things that I went through until I got older. I lived without fear when I was younger.
EB: I was kind of getting that actually. All of the personas felt very spacious. They’re very spread out and irregular. Metaphysical, really.
SB: Up to your fucking imagination! Like, I had one girl tell me, “Oh, ‘white girl if you need the fix.’” She was like, “Oh, you were prostituting a white girl.” Then one person was like, “Oh, you were selling drugs.” I was talking about selling drugs, but people decided to decipher it however they did, so it’s like whatever you think it is, that is what it is.
EB: I love that. I love the idea that whatever interpretation you want is fine. We’re seeing a lot more of that in artists because a lot of art and media is consumed by diverse audiences now. So, young black girls might see another black girl killing her shit and might think, “Oh, I wonder if she’s like me,” and the truth is you don’t even have to be like her as long as she’s accepting you and sharing your art.
SB: Yeah, if I can make you feel something, whatever way it is or whatever your perception is, that’s my job. I don’t care how you feel. You can feel mad, angry, sad, whatever you want. Whatever the fuck you feel, I don’t care. As long as you feel it, I’ve done my job well.
EB: Love it.
In the second, we see Bodhi embody some negative, pessimistic voices. The use of double-tracked vocals alludes to a sense of double-consciousness, but in the music video Bodhi appears as the aforementioned Grim Reaper, suggesting that these voices are a known evil that she is just now recognizing and dealing with.
“‘Little black bitch, you ain't gon' be shit/ Get up on this pimpin'/ I wish you were a boy, you shoulda been a boy/ They shoulda took you instead of your mother/ I question God why you were even born/ I bet you'll turn into a whore/ If you wanna leave, there's the door’/ That's all I heard/ ‘No one will love you’/ A star was born,’” she sings menacingly, the track becoming warped at the mention of her mother.
In addition to this lyrical marriage of voices and characters, the song is getting more complex. A modulated voice is added onto the main one, which in the video is Bodhi’s reaper character singing. Also, those synth are patterns now coming down in pointed, eerie chords, which continues once the song enters its second chorus.
EB: I’m curious about the lyrics in the second verse. We hear you take on the voice of other people who have spoken to you negatively and have told you that you should give up and turn to pimping because you would essentially never be good enough. Yet, there’s some lines that suggest this isn’t just one voice, but a collection of negativity surrounding you. Are you willing to provide some insight on that section of that song?
SB: It’s like… there’s one voice on top of multiple voices from the same organ. They’re all from the same past lives of my life. It was just how I was born. I grew up in a really awkward family, and because I was very chocolate and dark-skin, I had a lot of people questioning my gender and trying to make me be something other than what I was. In my culture, to be lighter or whiter is more acceptable than to be a dark-skin girl and be a woman. I had a lot of stuff forced on me, and that was something that was forced upon me as a kid. I know how to, like, build a house because my care provider, at the time, was raising me to be a boy, not a woman.
EB: Is that the perspective that you want to be interpreted by audiences, or is that something that is personal to you? Like, is it something that only you’re going to understand?
SB: I feel like what I told you previously, which is like, however you perceive it and however it communicates with you intellectually, is how I want you to process it. For me, those are my emotions. I’m giving you my vulnerability, and if I’m giving you that outlet, you can take it how you take it, y’know what I mean? I was just being honest. I was just being very brutally honest. Like, that’s my thing, I’m very brutally honest.
After the second chorus, Bodhi transitions into a gentler sounding bridge, which sees her taking a moment to observe the person that she’s become, or rather forced to become.
“Yeah, all red on my call log/ Watch the money pile up/ Bitch, you shouldn't run up/ You know I got my gun up/ Number one stunna’/ Oh Lord, they comin' for ya/ Get your shit right/ Keep the tummy tight,” she sings in a softer and less-urgent tone.
After this moment of shadowy introspection, a male voice enters the song and beckons Bodhi to keep striving. This is actually the voice of the song’s producer, J. LBS.
“Listen, baby/ Believe in me because I believe in you, so we can believe together/ Understand that I understand/ So what's understood don't need to be explained, right?/ Hit the blade/ Do it for me, baby,” he says to Bodhi, tempting her to dive deeper into danger with that last line.
There’s one last return to the chorus after this section. In the video, the flash of Subliminal Message and a teddy bear with two X’s on its eyes are seen for just a second after that. The song ends abruptly, even more so when one of Bodhi’s characters appears dead on the floor in the last scene of the video.
“FlowerChild” manages to outweigh the cultural meaning of ambitious. Bodhi takes her concept and transforms it into a multifaceted journey through her subconscious, but her attention to the common notions of dealing with these kind of demons makes her experience appear grounded in real-life scenarios that emotional and perceptive listeners should be able to grab onto immediately.
Amazingly, she evades self-indulgence and the glorification of her content by focusing on the vulnerability and truth surrounding this narrative. Now that I know what she’s capable of, it’s hard to not be excited for her future.
EB: In addition to your honesty, I think “FlowerChild” is so undeniably distinguished. You have such a soulful singing voice, but you can definitely ride a beat very well. Do you think you’ll be making more breaks from the restrictions of genre, seeing as you’ve been labeled as an R&B-leaning artist instead of a definitive one?
SB: You know what, I’m actually going to leave that question unanswered and give you a very vague answer [laughing]. I want people to think what they think now, but the things that are coming—so, next we’re going to shoot two more videos and we also have different lanes that we want to try. I want people to think whatever they think now, and then be amazed that like, “Oh fuck, I don’t even know that this person did that.”
EB: That’s a great strategy. I have one last question: what is the meaning of the song’s title? My guess was that it’s a brilliant allusion to Tupac’s poetry book, The Rose That Grew From Concrete. I’m sure I could be wrong though.
SB: I’m gonna give you the most “Wow, I can’t believe it’s that simple” answer [laughing]. That was the name of the beat.
EB: [laughing] Really?
SB: Yeah, J. LBS named the fucking record “FlowerChild,” and we just made the record. We were like—me and my management and everyone were in debate. Like, “Is it a pun?” It was weird. “FlowerChild” went through a very awkward process, and we just stuck with it. We never even decided to name it. We just like—when it bounced out from the engineer, we just bounced it as “FlowerChild,” because that was the name of the beat. We never thought about it, never changed it, that’s just the way it was. And it made sense.
EB: It does make sense. To be paradoxical, even things that don’t make sense can make sense sometimes, and that is a perfect example of that. Just because there isn’t a direct “oh, I get it” kind of feeling to it, that doesn’t mean that it’s a mess. Because it isn’t, it’s beautiful.
SB: It literally named itself. We never even thought about it. It was just like, “Oh, ‘FlowerChild,’” and then, all of sudden, we got ads about “FlowerChild,” and we’re making a fucking logo for it.” We never even thought about it.