Treble Champions: How Sean & SazE Became S X S

The first thing you hear when you pop on S X S’s first single – a neon-lit, smoke and drive cruiser called “Bungalow On The Beach” – is Saz’s distorted voice echoing over a long, hazy guitar chord. Before the beat drops, before the flow kicks in and the production ramps up, all you’ve got is voice and guitar – and given this duo, that makes a whole lot of sense.

Osaze Akerejah - professionally, SazE - is a rapper, singer, and producer who’s been writing verses since the age of six. Sean Smith is a classically trained guitarist, pianist, and jazz composer. One of ‘em grew up on John Scofield, the other on Jay Z. And what you get when you put them together is something unique but cohesive that combines live instruments and trap beats in a way that pushes hip-hop sounds in a subtle new direction. With three acclaimed singles already out, and an anticipated LP on the horizon, S X S is showing what can happen when worlds collide.

Saz and Sean only met a few months ago – which makes the fact that they’ve produced 11 high-quality cuts together since April a bit ridiculous. Both looking to expand their musical horizons, Sean sent Saz (a complete stranger at the time) a message through Treble – just passing along some samples of a few beats he’d made, and calling out how much he’d liked some of the songs on Saz’s LP.

“He was just like, ‘I think your sound would fit really well with mine,’ and sent a few things he’d worked on,” as Saz tells it. “I listened, and pretty quickly we scheduled a time and started putting together some tracks.” Sean, who’d spent much of his college days producing fellow NYU students, and goes by the producing moniker “Don,” had hit a bit of roadblock since starting to work full-time for a bank, and needed a music partner to kick things into gear. Saz, similarly, got his start in earnest at Brandeis, where he laid the groundwork for that full-length release, “Sundown Therapy,” but after time spent teaching in Maryland, and a big move to Brooklyn, Saz was in the market for fresh collaborators. And he found a good one.

“Saz and I have a lot of different influences – a lot of my influences are jazz guitarists, blues guitarists, and obviously hip-hop and EDM artists – and then combining that with Saz’s encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop and indie rock, we’re able to bring together a unique sound.” You could call that sound Indie Rap, Alternative Hip-Hop, whatever – what it sounds like is the next wave.

Their latest is the single, “Runnin’” - available this Friday - which further shows off their range, but keeps constant an ‘80s-tinged smoothness, similar to what’s propelled Khalid’s American Teen to the top of the charts. That vibe is due in large part to Sean’s work on the keys and guitars, mixing together classic synths, organs, and slinky guitar work that fills up the soundscape in complex, but airy ways. But the other unifying factor is Saz’s voice, an intelligent, at times ferocious flow that runs the gamut from vulnerable to emphatic. The outcome is a set of complex sounds and beats that this LA resident finds perfect for cruising down Sunset at 4 in the morning.

It’s an exciting vibe that never would have happened without the power of collaboration. Both found Treble early on, getting involved in the community of artists Treble’s fostered out in Brooklyn. But when they finally met each other, they knew they’d found something good.

“There’s a legitimacy factor. When I checked out Treble, I was hesitant to reach out to people at first, but it was so easy to listen to their stuff. I think seeing how many people were actually outgoing and really responsive was cool, and then especially with Saz, we just met up and hit it off.”

“What’s cool about Treble,” adds Saz, “is it’s more than just a, where you’d go on there, meet your match, and never go again. If you meet someone on Treble, you still go back for the community.” Even though they’ve found a partnership that they’re both focused on, there’s still room for the platform to help them build their movement – whether it’s promoting these tunes or finding their next graphic designer. “We’re proud to be people that met through Treble. It just shows that Treble is fucking awesome. And it gives Sean and I that extra push, being involved in that community.”

“Given how well it’s gone, I’m just gonna keep cooking with Sean until it all blows up.” And it’s gonna blow up soon. With the album set to drop in November, Saz and Sean are looking to the future, and it looks good.

Feature by David Rothschild


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