L.A.-based house producer and DJ Sage Armstrong has always incorporated elements of hip-hop into his music, from rapping in a down-tuned robot voice to mixing in the occasional bass-heavy instrumental break. But now he's on the verge of dropping a straight-up hip-hop project, and he can't decide whether to release it as Sage Armstrong or under a new alias.
"You don't hear hip-hop songs at house parties, and you don't hear a house track at a rap show," he says. "I'm trying to figure out if I want to do it all under the same name and make it fit together."
Armstrong, an Orlando native, will play Treehouse Miami Friday, October 5. He tells New Times that as a teenager, he fell in love with the music of Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne, right around the time he began making his own house and breakbeat tracks. He moved to Los Angeles a few years ago to dive headlong into his music career. And though he misses his friends, family, and the culture of South Florida, he's found that being away from social obligations has allowed him to concentrate more on his work in the studio and as a touring DJ.
"It's a gift and a curse," he says. "I get a lot of work done, and I'm more focused because I don't have my direct friends and family around. But it's tough because I grew up with my family, my mom, and my grandparents, and I miss seeing them every day. The good thing is that I perform in Orlando and Miami all the time, I'm probably in Florida every other month."
After he relocated to California, Armstrong signed to Claude VonStroke's San Francisco-based electronic music label, Dirtybird Records. It was a refreshing change. Earlier in his career, he was often ripped off by sketchy record companies.
"A lot of labels will steal your money and not say anything; you'll have to ask for it over and over again," he says. "But Dirtybird is how a label should be. They promote the music well; they host cool events; they actually pay their artists when they say they will. It's done the most for my career."
With the backing of a legit label, Armstrong has transformed into an in-demand act on the festival circuit. This season, he played Coachella, Southern California's Hard Summer Music Festival, and the Dirtybird Campout at Forever Florida. As a hip-hop fan, he says one of the summer's highlights was watching Eminem's and Cardi B's performances at Coachella.
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Unlike some fans of old-school hip-hop, Armstrong embraces the surreal new age of rap headlined by Lil Uzi, Lil Yachty, and Playboi Carti, who are dismantling the genre's long-held conventions.
"I'm down with the evolution of hip-hop," he says. "I love when people combine the new-age stuff with talent because there's obviously some stuff that's not very lyrical, more melodic. That's cool too, but there are a lot of rappers with good bars and really cool beats right now."
He's been receiving conflicting advice regarding his own hip-hop evolution. Regarding his rap project — a mix of instrumental beats, his own raps, and several guest features — some say he should put it out under a different name. But Armstrong is still hesitant. "I've never put out a hip-hop song, you know? It's just a risk. I'm trying to make sure the time is right."