The LA and AR in Malik Flint’s moniker, bLAck pARty, are capitalized in homage to the places that molded him: Arkansas, where he grew up, and Los Angeles, where he now lives. Flint’s music has a rare ability to nestle in the ebbs and flows of real life. “I make R&B music,” he told me at a diner in SoHo back in June,“but I’m not R&B. I consider myself the Sun Ra of R&B. I’m just this kooky spaceman that happens to make music considered R&B by certain people.”
When we spoke, Flint had recently played the annual Black Music Month celebration staged by RCA Records – a label he has been tied to since 2019, thanks to a deal inked with Childish Gambino (Donald Glover)-founded agency Wolf+Rothstein. At the event, I had noticed him standing on the sidelines of The Seville waiting for talkative bar patrons and boom-bap DJ mixes to quiet before takingthe microphone. He had shown up in a yellow t-shirt with gray sleeves and a matching pair of loose plaid bottoms – a welcome, laid-back contrast to the sharply dressed industry types there to see him.
This air of distance is a trademark of Flint’s character, registering him as both down-to-earth and “too cool.”He speaks at a slow, reflective pace evoking patience – something that may have been useful as he steadily built an underground reputation over the 2010s. He was adept at guitar, bass, trumpet, and piano before he had even entered high school, where he co-founded a rap-rock band called Flint Eastwood in his senior year. In 2013 he started producing for childhood friend Kari Faux, whose single “No Small Talk” caught Gambino’s attention – and thrust Flint into an entirely new creative sphere.
His performance at the RCA event started with an emphatic “When I say ‘Black,’ y’all say ‘Party’” call/response, after which Flint, a man of few words, took the microphone – and asked for more volume. He hummed through the opening chords of “Bloom,” the earworm hit single offhis debut LP, Mango, which has been streamed 30 million times on Spotify. His second album, Endless Summer, followed in 2019, and both productions are indebted, and not just conceptually, to an experience of nature. The same is true of Hummingbird, dropping on August 5, 2022 and named for a curious phenomenon Flint experienced while recording at the quiet California mini-mansion Glover rented to work on his TV show Atlanta and the album Awaken, My Love! Every time Flint played something featuring low-end bass notes, a hummingbird would float to the open doorway of his room-slash-studio. Hovering in the space between indoors and outdoors, the bird seemed to be eavesdropping on what was going on inside. “In a weird way, the hummingbird was my only friend,” Flint said. “It was just me and nature.”
The LP’s origin story is as unapologetically romantic as the music on it – the tracks boast melodies that beg to be hurled from below at closed windows of love interests’ bedrooms. In Hummingbird’s lead single, “Hotline,” Flint wistfully petitions an unnamed flame: “pick up the phone when a real one call you.” In bLAck pARTy’s tales, even the most sensationalist visions feel possible at times. When Flint announced at the RCA event that he was “back on his bullshit” before lurching into a rap-heavy album teaser, he seemed to mean a return to more straightforward hip-hop roots. But the “bullshit” he was “back on” could just as easily have been the charmed fantasy realms he has a career-long tendency to return to between visits to earth.
Even the most beautiful dreamscapes are bound to, at times, brutal realities, and when Hummingbird touches down from its ethereal heights, it is jarring. Midway through the recording process, bLAck pARty’s primary producer, Ian “Napolian” Evans, unexpectedly lost his life. Shortly thereafter this tragedy, a new life entered Flint’s. “Two days after I found out about [his] passing away, I found out I was having a baby.” Due to the sudden nature of his producer’s death, Flint was tasked with the phone calls typically taken on by family and next of kin. New responsibilities multiplied: for the album’s completion, and those of fatherhood. “Honestly, it forced me to grow up, because now I really have to be on my business,” he said. “I was losing a lot of friends. Since this entire recording process, I had so many friends that passed away between 2020 and 2022. Just even being at the studio was like a safe haven. Kind of like, ‘This is my space to not have to worry about anything traumatic, or anything else.’ Just focusing on this gift I was given, and this gift I’m supposed to give to the world.”
I spoke with Flint again about a month after our first meeting. In the intervening time, he performed on day one of Pharrell Williams’ annual Something in the Water festival, headlined by Pharell and “friends” Justin Timberlake and Clipse. It was his first ever D.C. gig, and, as part of a line-up that also included 21 Savage, Lil Uzi Vert, and Pusha T, a grand introduction of his gift to the world. “Just performing and seeing the Capitol – that’s not something you ever think of experiencing. Especially with the job of music,” he said. Slouched in his panel of our Zoom call beneath a brown hoodie and an enormous pair of studio headphones, he was recovering from a dental surgery he had recently decided he could no longer put off. “You don’t get that many moments like that, where it just feels hyper-surreal.” One other hyper-surreal moment, as unexpected as the incident that inspired the title Hummingbird, occurred in the moments following Something in the Water. After getting an inexplicable urge to take a later flight home, by chance, he ran into Williams in the flesh. “The only thing I could think of saying was ‘thank you.’”
Another major event, bigger than Something in the Water, that had taken place since our meeting in SoHo: Flint’s first Father’s Day as a dad. “It’s like finding out about a new holiday,” he said, beaming. Flint’s own childhood was filled with music, and it’s a lineage he wants to continue with his son. Flint has already taken a hands-on approach towards this goal, and while recording Hummingbird often navigated studio sessions with his son on his lap. But what Flint is looking to instill isn’t necessarily identical to what he had growing up. "I want him to experience life as a rich kid,” he said. “Because I always experienced life as a poor kid. I’m not one of those parents who are like, ‘My son needs to learn the value of hard work.’ I’ll lead you to the valley of nepotism if need be. I don’t want my son to struggle anywhere near the way I struggled.”
Musically, the struggles are certainly over. The track that put Flint “back on his bullshit” at the RCA event was “Bomb,” a boastful deep cut buried eight slots into the new LP. “They know we good in every hood, and we great in every stadium,” he brags in the opening verse after a series of triumphant bars ranging in subject matter from skinny-dipping models to social climbing squad members with questionable intentions. Now, when he raps, “I might fly to Japan just to cop some Human Made," it’s pretty close to Flint’s reality, given that he just performed for thousands at a Human Made co-founder’s festival on Capitol Hill.
On our Zoom call, he told me that between fantasy and reality — the perceived opposites fused by his music — he has no preference for one or the other. “I’m just grabbing from my own world,” he said, “and presenting that world to other people who don’t necessarily exist in it.”That world includes the natural one, and much of Flint’s work – be it through mangoes, endless summers, or hummingbirds – samples from our planet. As his family, work, audience, and responsibilities grow, though, his universe is expanding, the bLAck pARty story at its center. By the time he hung his head at the end of his set at the Seville, a subtle bow of thanks to the crowd, they had resumed their chatter — only this time, they were talking about him.