Sayth Ain't So
hard-working art rapper set to make a statement
Clothed in a billowy floral-patterned long-sleeve button-down, a throwaway scarf used as a headband, and hiking boots, Sayth raps: “Macklemore made a mil off of gay rights / thanks dude, this is actually my real life”
Sayth – the name Eric Wells raps under – is rhyming over a minimal beat from the floor, sitting pretzel-legged on a patterned sheet during a hot, crowded Tuesday night open mic at Pizza Plus in downtown Eau Claire. He’s assisted by nothing except the aforementioned mic and a small, boxy sampler which houses his beats.
“I definitely don’t want to just be ‘that gay rapper’ – don’t pigeonhole me,” Wells said. “Of course it’s part of my identity, but I don’t want it to be the main thing that people focus on. I don’t want to be ‘good for a gay rapper.’ I just want to be a good rapper.”
Wells started rapping at age 15 while attending Memorial High School, putting out a couple of mixtapes and releasing songs here and there, eventually hooking up with his good friend Dan Forke (who raps as Wealthy Relative) taking the stage for the first time at Memorial’s annual Uganda Rock benefit concert.
Fast forward to this spring, Wells and Forke – now 21 – rapped their way to the final round of the University of Minnesota’s Spring Jam 2014 battle of the bands and earned a spot opening for trippy alt-rapper Earl Sweatshirt (of Los Angeles rap collective Odd Future) and frat-rap king Mac Miller.
“All our friends came and it was really dope,” Wells said. “We were on JumboTrons.”
It helped being one of the only hip hop acts in the competition whose grand prize was opening a hip hop show, but to say Sayth and Wealthy Relative won solely off that would be irresponsible.
“I definitely don’t want to just be ‘that gay rapper’ — don’t pigeonhole me. Of course it’s part of my identity, but I don’t want it to be the main thing people focus on. I don’t want to be ‘good for a gay rapper,’ I just want to be a good rapper.’”– Local hip hop artist Sayth (Eric Wells)
“Though a lot of our content is somewhat experimental and abstract, we have conviction behind it. We care about what we’re doing, and we care when people take the time to listen,” Forke said. “There are very few people in the hip hop community that look like and act like we do. In some ways, I think this makes it more difficult to get a foot in the door, but we are working away with our chisels, carving out a niche.”
Following up recent success with fevered motivation, in mid-June Wells released Bad Habitat, a five-track EP with rhymes that show Wells delving into his identity, love, the death of a close friend, and Pokémon.
A collaborative effort, Bad Habitat features a guest verse and album artwork by Forke, production and beats by Sleepy E and North House, and Sayth on the mic bringing undeniable flow.
It’s at times sweet (“I flush the toilet twice / to sit and watch it swirl / I know it’s love ’cause I just want to sit and watch you watch the world”), heartbreaking (“Your RIP status spelled my friend’s name wrong”) and fun (“I’ll put on some brown / be a baked potato for Halloween”).
Wells is one of the hardest-working dudes in the area. When he’s not actively making his own stuff, he’s out in the streets promoting other people’s stuff, getting active on social media and flyering all over town, even if he’s not playing.
“I’ve been promoting my own shows and other people’s shows as long as I’ve been rapping,” Wells said. “I always just thought that if you want people to come to your shows, you should be going to other people’s things, being an active community member and being a part of your scene even if it’s not the same type of music.”
Forke said passion and drive for that sort of thing is one of the many reasons he admires Wells, and why they work and perform so well together.
“Eric is outgoing and he is a terrific networker, which is something that I don’t really do. In a lot of ways he is more directly motivated than I am to get out in the world and make moves, where I am somewhat reclusive at times,” Forke said. “When he makes a plan, he always follows through on it strong.”
EP in hand, Sayth will soon be embarking on a mid-size tour of about a dozen dates, performing everywhere from basements to bars to head shops all over the Midwest.
All in all, Sayth’s ready to speak, and he’s worth listening to.
“I want younger gay kids, if they hear me, to understand that it’s OK, you can be yourself. You don’t have to fit into the archetypes people want to place you into,” Wells said. “If you want to wear your grandma’s handkerchief around your head and scream about gay rights in a bar full of heteronormative people, you can do that. Just be as weird and off-the-wall as you want to.”
You can download Sayth’s newest release, Bad Habitat, at sayth.bandcamp.com.