Alternative R&B artist Q explores visual art and vulnerability in his latest EP, The Shave Experiment.Photo by Noah Krieder
At just 21 years old, Q has already started carving out his own lane in the alternative R&B space. The Broward native doesn’t complicate his sound with excess noise. Neither does he get caught up in overcompensating for his identity in either the how or what he’s communicating.
“[The Shave Experiment] means something to me, but it also feels like I was going with the flow,” he says of his debut EP release on Columbia Records.
On a serene Saturday afternoon, he maintains his relaxed mien during an interview with New Times. Throughout the conversation, his candor reflects the type of emancipation conveyed in his music. He’s OK not having all of the answers.
The Shave Experiment is just as elusive and stripped down as its name suggests. In keeping with his shirtless pose on the EP’s cover art — against a smoky backdrop, holding a Fender Stratocaster so it obscures his head — Q works in sync with his instruments, allowing his electrifying, '70s-inspired production to tell as much of the story as he does.
“I was just floating, existing in it,” he describes the songwriting process for the EP.
Unlike the ambiguous aliases of R&B cool kids, Q (real name Q Steven Marsden) was given his mononym by his musical parents. His father Steven “Lenky” Marsden is the famed Jamaican producer who created the popular dancehall "Diwali Riddim" that was sampled in early-2000s hits like Wayne Wonder’s “No Letting Go,” Sean Paul’s “Get Busy,” and Rihanna’s “Pon de Replay,” while his mother worked with Beenie Man and Bounty Killer.
Growing up watching his father in the studio, Q developed his ear for music at an early age. He recalls traveling to the studio with his father as young as age five. However, when his mother caught him mimicking the same chords she was playing on the piano when he was just a toddler, she knew his talent had to be nurtured.
“She told my dad, and my dad flew down the next day. And that’s when he flew me to Jamaica to test me,” he says.
As he got older, he would teach himself how to play the guitar and piano. By the time he got to high school, Kodak Black, XXXTentacion, and Ski Mask the Slump God were popularizing a new generation of South Florida artists. Like most teenagers aspiring to break into the industry, he set out to emulate them.
“I started off with a lot of rap. I was listening to Drake, Meek Mill, Migos, and Childish Gambino before he started singing. I used to do a lot of experimenting,” he recalls. “It was fun, hype, and easy to make. But when I got introduced to [XXXTentacion], that’s when I saw a more vulnerable side of music.”
A self-proclaimed Michael Jackson fiend, Q began to piece the dots between the spectrum of artists he was listening to. Between Summer Walker’s acoustics, Steve Lacey’s drums, Drake’s Nothing Was the Same production, and Kendrick Lamar’s flow, Q nestled into a magnetic sweet spot by the time he arrived at his acclaimed 2019 album, Forest Green.
A seven-track project that bridges elements of funk, pop, and R&B, Forest Green wraps Q’s diaristic musings in an intimate delivery. There’s “Lavender,” a sexy, thumping track that captures the refreshing moments of love (or lust). And then there’s “I Get Tired,” a sinister glimpse into his mental discord.
“I hear these demons/They be talking/And they gotta go,” he belts over haunting percussions.
Q says that battling anxiety and learning to relinquish control fertilized those subconscious lyrics.
“I remember when I first felt it, I thought it was something special to me, and it was going to be hard,” he notes. “But everyone goes through it. Anxiety may come in different ways for people, but the effect of how we feel is always the same.”
Riffing on the same chords from Forest Green, he creates an even more expansive landscape in The Shave Experiment. In “Garage Rooftops,” his affection for his partner is accentuated by his falsetto and a slow, seductive tempo. He escapes love’s utopia in “Alone” but circles back to where he feels the safest on “Take Me Where Your Heart Is.”
He also followed up the project with a series of cinematic visuals to accompany the tracks. Helmed by his creative director Sophie Fabien and his manager Brandon Payano, the visuals split The Shave Experiment’s narrative into a series of videos that converges into one storyline.
“Nothing was glamourized or over the top. It was his day-to-day as friends with Sophie and what he likes to do outside of music,” Payano explains.
As the visuals depict Q in all his manifestations: frolicking through the beach, flirtatiously dancing at the bowling alley, isolated in the dark. It also subtly divulges his organic relationship to his art. Some things are black and white for the multifaceted musician, but he’s also just as fine existing in the gray area, because that’s where he bucks expectations.
Currently working on releasing an extended version of The Shave Experiment, he’s still honest about the things he’s working through in early adulthood.
“With Shave, it came from a place but not an honest, honest mental place,” he says in retrospect.
Whether he’s reflecting on his journey or inspired by a wave of thoughts or emotion, Q radiates what most of us struggle to acknowledge: Sometimes it’s OK to just be.
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