Comparison is known as the thief of joy, but on seFu’s eleven-song project, Stars Are Born In Pairs, the young DC by way of Houston rapper shows he is indebted to and worthy of being counted among the great young wordsmiths populating today’s rap underground. seFu’s words tether strings of thought together, creating Russian doll loops of scenes and pictures, revealing pieces of himself layer by layer. The unguarded candor in seFu’s subject matter guides you through the coated layers he paints, often leaving me needing to step back to appreciate the brush strokes that set the image in motion.
seFu released Stars Are Born In Pairs in the middle of June as a follow-up to his 3-track EP Nissan and second full-length project God Is A Black Woman released in November 2020. On this new project, the 18-year-old Houston artist delivers a 28-minutes of raps that warrant immediate repetition. My initial experience listening to Stars Are Born In Pairs reminded me of my first play-throughs of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Both projects set the tone from the onset and slowly filling in the details of the story as the tracks crawl along. They’re also both projects that reward attentive and repeated listens. With each spin of this album, I find myself locking into another bar or detail that hadn’t caught my ear previously. seFu opens the record with “Alton and Franklin” a track centered around unpacking his troubled relationship with his father in the wake of being faced with the loss of his mother. This open an introduction from seFu rips the band-aid off for his audience to be similarly introspective. The “Alton and Franklin ” Spotify cover photo displays an old photo of seFu’s father smiling wearing a Howard University sweatshirt, the “dream school” seFu currently attends, helping draw the connection between Snowfall’s father-son dysfunction.
“Alton & Franklin” serves as the project’s cold opening scene, placing us directly into the feelings and relationships of our protagonist. Behind the doughy vocal sample chiming, “That’s the easy thing to do” not even a minute in, we hear seFu address everything that’s keeping him from living a life reflective of how he sees fit. He quits his 9-5, focusing on turning his art into his job, all while dealing with moving from Houston to DC for college, and trying to maintain relationships with those he loves while trying to remember to take time to love himself. Providing perspective seFu raps, “My father Christian, we remind me of Alton and Franklin // Cancer riddled mother she battled in stages // It bothers me her story finna end, and I’m still turning my pages.” The change he wants in the relationship with his father mirrors the change he hopes in his mother’s condition, and with each strain increasing the burden on both sides, the onus falls to seFu to repair the damage with his father and cope with the pain of losing his mother simultaneously. In place of “running” or seeking help for these problems, seFu chooses to combat them himself, “I be closing off the world, and forgetting I got help // I often burn my bridges cause I figured that my swimming would be on fuckin’ Michael Phelps my nigga”. These themes set up the skeleton for how seFu illustrates different areas of his life over the project’s runtime. “Alton and Franklin” ends with a sample analyzing the disadvantages black people have even in areas we excel such as sports, nodding to the athletes on the project’s cover art.
The voice transitions to the start of “Kwa Moto”. Before giving way to its melancholic weeping choir which creates what feels like an end credit scene at last call in a blues cabaret. seFu saunters up to the microphone over the wailing vocalist and her ensemble and we hear, “My soul on fire I’m in need of dire attention // I’m a proud fuck up I’m done with trying repentance // I’m unsure of what to ever say it’s always sighs in my sentence”. The verse opens up and continues with this rhyme scheme, riddled off in a deflated tone. seFu is able to show his pain with effortless bars, rapping, “Me and my girl got chemistry, but our love fighting fissions // I swear we on fire, we creating life with our mixtures,” before continuing, “Her mouth top five like the senses // Can’t lie, I’m insecure so you know I slide through the mentions”. seFu’s gift comes with how easily he colors in scenes without focusing on rhymes. It always sounds as if he’s opened his rhyme book and whichever page he lands on the verse begins illustrating the canvas he’s curated for himself over weeping soul loops.
JayCinema and Chimezie jump on “R(EVOLUTION)”. Cinema and seFu linked up on JayFROwNS’ “In the Air” released earlier this year in May. That track was ane of my standouts from that project, and the ascension JayCinema achieved on “In the Air” is present on “R(EVOLUTION)”. A violin blares triumphantly throughout, quickening the song’s tempo. Cinema ends his verse showing gratitude, keeping it short and sweet, “Peace and love to my ancestors, the ones that battled all oppressors // I promise you it’s gonna get better” before Dallas’ Chimezie spits, “I got a subtle distrust, my upper lip has been stiff, pouring out buckets of blood from the veins of triple six”. Chimezie’s bars match the militancy of the violins and song title. seFu anchors the track, snapping every line. “I brought bars to a gunfight” seFu raps in what feels like an acceptance speech rapped at the podium with a grin and both middle fingers raised.
“STAR FORM”’s beat immediately caught my attention on my first listen. seFu’s beats on this project usually center around a looped vocal sample that helps create this cinematic feel around how fast the bars come. “STAR FORM”’s vocal sample bellows a Little Rascals-esque childlike love ballad. The song plays with the parallels of a star’s creation and his own as SeFu raps, “Never will I stop on this journey seeking what I lost or // Gas pressure in a cloudy space that’s how a star form // And I’m a star boy”. The line draws back to the project’s title, whether referring to stardom or in reference to Boris Gardiner’s “Every Ni**er is a Star” seFu’s star is unquestioned. With this realization he continues, “Sitting on a cloud, thinking how I’m a star but don’t get paid like it”. Pondering his place in what he knows he’s owed. Using a similar refrain from Some Rap Songs’ “Veins”. Proving stars are born in pairs, “STAR FORM” also acts as an ode to seFu’s relationship with “T” and the stars they create behind closed doors, “Load off, now she out my mind // Pro moves when she arch her spine // So I could not leave even if I tried”.
The project’s standout to me comes via “Me and Your Mother/ Out 2 The Sky” a two-part interlude, beginning with “Me and Your Mother”. seFu’s creativity shines with how he chooses to manipulate this sample. Spinning the vocals in a cauldron until it’s just right the indiscernible lyrics allow you to sit in seFu’s talent for creating a setting. I’m often groaning along to the beat before the track switches and we’re interrupted by, “And I’d be lying if I said my head always reaching out to the sky // I know every nigga a star, said Sly”. Paying homage to Earl Sweatshirt once again and all but confirming the double meaning of the lyrics on “STAR FORM”. seFu masters this pocket and with his shortest verse, delivers a line I shout with him every time, “Remember sharing that air mattress when we ain’t have enough // Now I’m up 40, Now I’m up 50, Now up I’m 60 // And look who fucking with me, man I can’t brag enough”.
Aside from aloisius’ production on “Bill O’Neal”, Stars Are Born In Pairs is entirely produced by seFu. The project is vivacious thanks to how fervently he’s able to tell his story, exposing much of himself, not just through his poignant and elite poetic ability but through his beat construction . When I press play now, the stand out tracks that initially mesmerized me with its instrumentation such as, “Kwa Moto”, “STAR FORM”, “Chained by Paris”, and “Me & Your Mother/Out 2 The Sky” have flipped to mesmerizing me twice over with seFu’s word composition. His unique flow and often despairing tone in combination with every word purposefully adding to the portrait Stars Are Born in Paris’ story is auditory theatre.
On the outro “we gon’ tear it up (Outro)” pianos and horns escort us stage left during seFu’s final act. Before taking a bow, opening up his rhyme book one last time a cathartic release is spilled over the sanguine chords. Still dealing with the loss of friends, the loss of youth, his father losing his sight and hearing, and his mother potentially losing her battle with cancer. The swell of the horns grow as we’re left with only seFu center stage. “I fear how shit will be when I’m gone cause I am leaving this bitch // Stars are born in pairs like fucking Lilo and Stitch // But they die alone”. The entire project centers around the idea Stars Are Born in Pairs and the conclusion we’re left with is it’s true, but they die alone. Still, at the epicenter of his own story for as much as he’s lost, what he’s gained with how his music affects others may fill some of those gaps. In just eleven songs seFu opened us up to the many layers of his life, and proved that his bars and beats are on par with the young iconoclasts who clearly helped inspire this record. Stars are born in pairs, and seFu is the brightest star I’ve seen since the Sun talked.