Sitting down with Pusha T for the latest issue of Interview Magazine , Desiigner was asked to name his biggest musical influence. Instead of obvious choices like Kanye West or Future, Desiigner dipped into his own family history and revealed a background in blues that helps explain the soulful sound he showed flashes of on "Timmy Turner."
"If anything, I would consider my grandfather," Desiigner explained after Pusha T pressed for the name of a specific artist he looked up to. "He's a blues player. I like the old soul—you know how it is, Pusha, that old soul. My grandfather, he went by the name Sidney 'Guitar Crusher' Selby; he formed that old soul, that old blues, that old rock that I put on my songs. He bluesed it out. And my pops, he was old-school, too; he played that old funk. I fell in love with that old style. You feel me?"
Long before his grandson became the first New York City rapper to top the Billboard Hot 100 since Jay Z, Selby carved out a name for himself as "The Big Voice From New York" thanks to powerful baritone vocals that earned him a spot playing alongside acts like The Isley Brothers, Ben E. King, and The Drifters.
Born in North Carolina in 1931, Selby grew up working in cotton fields, but developed his voice singing in the Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church choir on weekends. Moving to New York in the '50s, he played in a successful band called the Midnight Rockers, where he built enough of a following to eventually be signed by Columbia Records.
As for his attention-grabbing nickname, bandmate Hans McMiniman explains: “Someone got nasty with a lady, and Sidney crushed a guitar over his head.”
When tastes in America shifted away from blues after its heyday, Selby ended up heading to Europe in the '70s, where he forged a comeback. Catching new ears with his signature vocals, he was booked for a series of major festivals and continued to record original music.
Now, in his mid-80s, Selby doesn't seem to be slowing down: his website reveals a calendar full of 2016 shows. While a battle with rheumatism and an intensive heart operation has limited his mobility to the point that he says, "I can’t really use my right hand," a quick search through YouTube reveals spirited live shows from as recently as September of this year.
Known for energetic performances throughout his career, Selby's influence seems to have already rubbed off on his notoriously wild grandson—and Desiigner's growling ad-libs don't seem to fall too far from the branch either.
As Desiigner prepares to release his debut album, The Life of Desiigner, don't be surprised to hear Guitar Crusher's bluesy influence creep in as the 19-year-old rapper develops his sound. In the meantime, revisit a couple of Sidney Selby's finest moments below.