Some artists dedicate their creative process to the pursuit of catchy hits, irresistible pop beats and lyrics that beckon listeners to sing along, leaving them to forever chase after radio air time and the notoriety that comes with a chart-topping single. N3ptune isn’t one of those artists. N3ptune is, in his own words, “truly a slave to the music.” Music calls on N3ptune to serve. And the local artist dutifully obeys its commands. He gets vulnerable, whether he wants to or not, if it’s what the song demands. On his latest release, that meant abandoning his privacy and opening himself up to honesty about the ugly, nitty gritty truth of his emotions and the aftermath of trauma. That song, “MANNEQUIN,” is now officially on streaming platforms.
The single, which the artist jokingly referred to as his “little radio baby,” is N3ptune at his best, baring his soul for the sake of the art, replicating the sounds of his traumas and inviting audiences deeper into the music. But for N3ptune, it’s all in a day’s work. “As an artist, it’s my job to kind of tell my experiences, whether I want to or not,” he said in an interview with 303 Magazine. Beckoning listeners to sit with him in his experience and feel the full force of his emotion on “MANNEQUIN,” he does exactly what he says it’s his job to do as he recounts the sexual assault he survived as a young go-go dancer.
While it might sound dark – it is – it’s also incredibly empowering, channeling his emotion into something he hopes is powerfully healing and empowering for fellow survivors. But when asked if the song offered those same benefits to him, N3ptune paused briefly, then answered honestly: it didn’t. At least not right now. And it might never. In many ways, the artist feels that the song wrote itself, he was simply the vessel. And now, the song simply “is.”
Much like the songs on RENAISSANCE, “MANNEQUIN” captures a very real, and current, experience for N3ptune. But, despite the incredibly personal nature of the music, when N3ptune wrote the song, he was primarily thinking about the great beat he had created. “I had completely compartmentalized — I completely forgot that [the assault] even happened, to be completely honest.”
“I had made the song [before I even realized what it was about]. I just knew I had the beat and I loved the beat so much after making it. And in the height of the pandemic, I was just much more so focused. I’m like, ‘Damn. I made this really good song in the midst of a pandemic. This shit is crazy.’ And I was just writing stuff subconsciously – like my subconscious actually was just writing. I didn’t give a meaning [to the lyrics] yet.”
It wasn’t until people started openly posting about their own sexual assault experiences on Twitter threads that N3ptune realized what the song was about. “The topic [of sexual assault] made its way into my house and it completely unlocked the memory,” N3ptune said. “And I remember that it happened and I like was in my room for three days straight and was not okay.”
Since then, things have been less about healing and more about surviving. And N3ptune’s biggest hope for “MANNEQUIN” is that it can help others. “It’s a survivor’s song,” he said. And while the subject matter of the lyrics is heavy, the song itself sounds playful. N3ptune says the playful nature was intentional, a strategy to make the sensitive lyrical topics easier for listeners to receive, particularly those who might not always have an artist they feel connected to. “It’s the kind of song really,” he explained, “that I hope Black men can listen to and/or anybody who, you know, sees themself in me, and feel heard.”
Originally written in the midst of 2020’s pandemic isolation, N3ptune recorded the first demo a year later, in the summer of 2021, along with collaborative inspiration from his creative partner, Rusty Steve. The duo wanted to revisit and polish the song, but with the upcoming release of N3ptune’s debut album occupying large amounts of their time, “MANNEQUIN” ended up on the back burner. Until recently. With a re-release of RENAISSANCE in the works, this was the perfect time to revisit the single, which N3ptune feels belongs on the album, though it wasn’t quite ready at the time of the full-length’s release.
While the original demo took only a single session to record, the quick take was nearly perfect. In fact, only a few changes differentiate that original demo from the single release. N3ptune explained that the second verse “kind of strips back entirely,” as the artist powers through deeply personal lyrics like “I don’t sleep man, I’m scared to, locked away in my bedroom,” which replace the demo’s much less explicit verbiage, which found N3ptune alluding to his pain.
So, he tried something different, which still didn’t work. He tried another new angle, and version after version, something was still off. “It didn’t sound right because I wasn’t being vulnerable,” N3ptune said. “[I finally,] really just got to the nitty gritty of it, and just put out everything that has been my reality.”
N3ptune wasn’t sleeping, and the truth was that he was afraid of things he was trying to avoid. And while it might’ve been easier to avoid saying the personal truths, every attempt compromised the song. It wasn’t N3ptune. At the end of the day, the artist said, “It was a matter of just saying it and not sugar coating it.”
After that, N3ptune said, “it was just a matter of finishing the song.” And now that it’s complete, it’s time to share it — and N3ptune will make sure you don’t miss it. Along with this Friday’s single release, N3ptune will be headlining the Underground Music Showcase’s Underground Stage on Saturday night before heading out on tour with Brooklyn-based pop duo Sleigh Bells.
While taking “MANNEQUIN” on tour and performing the intimate track in front of live crowds is nerve-wracking, N3ptune isn’t shying away from the spotlight.
“While it makes me wildly uncomfortable — ‘cause everybody is in on my damn business — performing those songs and putting songs out that are so vulnerable, and me being so honest, it allows people to figure themselves out. Whether I have my shit figured out or not, somebody could hear that song and be like, ‘Yeah. I needed this way more than I knew that I needed it.’”
“MANNEQUIN” is due for release Friday, July 29.