It’s been nearly four years since Sebastian Mikael released a project. His last two efforts, I C U U C ME Pt. I and Pt. II were released on longtime label home Slip-N-Slide Records, in partnership with Atlantic Records. The former of the two imprints also distributed his 2014 debut album, Speechless.
Now, the emerging Swedish-Ethiopian singer has it all under control. He does have some assistance from his tight-knit team, one of which is his publicist, who goes dark on his Zoom call on a September afternoon.
Mikael, dressed in a black graphic tee, has an exhausted but excited look. He describes his current feeling as “stressed,” but for a good reason. He is doggedly working toward raising his profile with Phileo, his new EP available now.
“Just trying to get a lot done kind of last minute with certain things,” Mikael tells Rated R&B, shrugging. “But it’s just a part of it. I can’t complain.”
For Mikael, moving from a major label to a grassroots situation has perks. “I choose to go independent because I feel like it’s a better fit for the music. I’ve never had full ownership before — this is my first time, so that’s exciting.” But, of course, that’s the short-term effect. And the long term? The one thing many artists strive to achieve in their musical tenure: complete agency of their art.
Mikael breaks it down. “Let’s say somebody wanted to include your music in a show or a film, they would have to get it approved by you personally versus the label owning your master, and they only have to go to the label to get approval for whatever it is, even if they want to sample a song that I did. It’s also [about] being more in control of your art, the things that you put out and being able to kind of control it a little more,” he informs.
Even though Mikael is in independent bliss, his time signed to a label yielded rewards. His most recent was in spring 2021 when “Exit,” a standalone 2020 single, reached No. 13 on Billboard’s Adult R&B Airplay chart.
Describing the success of the song, Mikael says, “It was awesome that people loved it and the song still being something that I’m like, ‘Wow. Such a personal record.’ We don’t hear songs talk about vulnerability and just being not okay. I feel like it was cool that people really related to it and felt a connection to it.”
On his latest body of work, Phileo, Mikael sounds as comfortable as ever, as evidenced by the noodling first single, “Overgold,” which was released in early September.
“It was something that I wanted to hear right now. I wanted to put it out, and it gave me a good feeling,” he says of releasing the mentioned song to precede his new EP.
As the EP’s title suggests, phileo is known in the Greek language as having brotherly love. Besides finding an attraction to how the word looked and sounded, Mikael was adamant about that specific source of affection being the focal point of the new material.
“I wanted to talk about having love for your people, sisterly or brotherly love, loving your peers, and loving the people around you,” he explains. “It’s mentioned in the Bible when Jesus and his disciples built this bond in brotherhood.
I wanted to include the different aspects of love that feel more like the fundamentals and core of who we are and in a deeper sense. I wanted to kind of take love out of it — the romantic aspect — and talk about the misconceptions of love.”
Conventional themes of love are present on Phileo, and will be in future music by Mikael he assures. However, he was intentional this time with the message he wanted to convey.
“It was more about getting out the thoughts I had in my head. I will talk to myself a lot about stuff (laughs), and I just used all of that and poured it into the music. It felt more of a relief for me to get that out,” he says.
Mikael recorded most of the songs for Phileo and reproduced them this year by “using the vocals and creating new music around it.” He was more satisfied with the second round. “I feel like now it’s in a place where sonically, it represents what I’m on, just the feeling of it and [the] concept of it,” he adds.
As part of the campaign for Phileo, Mikael teamed up with Tidal for a special Metaverse performance that is soon to be released. “It was filmed in 360°, so when you see the space we performed in, you can look around and see the whole room in full spectrum. That’s gonna be really cool.”
Mikael also was a recent guest for COLORS, performing “Scene 1” (more on that later).
With luck that fans enjoy Phileo, Mikael will take it out on the road. “I’m sure it’ll be some kind of tour. I’m waiting to see what happens when we drop [Phileo]. Once the music gets out, I think it’s gonna speak for itself. We’ll see what happens from there.”
In Rated R&B’s interview with Sebastian Mikael, the singer-songwriter breaks down every song on his Phileo EP.
“Sky” feat. Pink Siifu
It’s a song about going through circumstances that we all go through [in] life. It don’t matter what obstacles you face or what you’re going through in life, but if you have real love in your life, for me, God is love. Having God in my life [and] having that trust, it don’t matter what you go through and the things you face, you’re gonna be fine. It’s just a part of it. If anything, it’s gonna strengthen you [and] build character.
“Tubbs Krueger (Skit)”
It’s like a cool little classic radio-type skit. It sounds like how radio used to be back in the day. My boy Tubbs Krueger was the one that did it. It’s just fun [and] just a vibe.
It’s a feel-good, fun record — something I just needed to have. It’s not really about anything specific. It’s feel-good music.
If you’re in a relationship or single, but you’re out here doing your thing, it’s how women be teasing you on purpose, saying, “You’re acting up,” but you like it. It’s turning you on. So it’s kind of like that, but it’s also fun — just [a] vibey song.
It was like a [Usher] “Confessions” type song. I recently broke up with my girl in May. I wanted to kind of air out some things. It felt very heavy in the beginning. I was a little scared to put it out, but being single, I was like, “Might as well.” I definitely said some things I couldn’t say while we were together. I’ve never been the type of person to be super specific and mention that person’s name in the song.
Marvin Gaye did that, for example, back in the day — Drake did that too. It’s dope for the people listening to [it], but also for me, I’m like, “Man, I gotta protect my mental and also not offend this person too much.” I think it’s still tasteful. When you get to be creative, you channel everything in a different way and see something beautiful come to life. You turn something you went through that was heavy into something that’s inspirational [and] dope.
“GOD is LoVE (Outro)” feat. Tubbs Krueger
I had so many thoughts and experiences I had been through, newfound knowledge that I had, and things like that I wanted to share and put out for the people. Out of everything that I’ve gone through, I think having a deeper spiritual connection [and] getting closer to God is how I kind of received more knowledge. [It] also came from reading, but most of it came from just experiencing things in life.
You go through it, see the light at the end of the tunnel, and look back like, “Wow.” It’s like things that happened you just know couldn’t have been anything but God. That’s why love is, to me, the foundation. It’s the reason. So I wanted to talk about that.
Stream Sebastian Mikael’s new EP Phileo below.