Mod Sun leans over a table in the green room of The Shelter on the final Sunday of January with a smile as wide as his mouth will allow. He’s laughing at something someone said while rolling a joint when a man wearing sunglasses indoors at 7 pm sets a comically large bottle of Jack Daniels down on the tabletop in front of him. Mod Sun laughs, again, and says thanks to the man before greeting the latest in a slew of diverse faces to roll through the door with a loving, “what up, baby?”
This is the Detroit stop on Mod Sun’s first headlining tour of 2018. It’s also the first he’s booked on his own in some time. It may be his only one this year. He hasn’t decided yet. “There are some big things happening right now,” he explains. “I can’t really talk about them, but they’re big and they’re already in motion. Knowing this I’m trying to not think about it too much. I want to be here right now for this show and just let that happen when it does. My focus right now is the twenty-five songs that make up this set.
It’s hard to explain everything that has happened to Mod Sun in the last seven months. After a surprise bump to the main stage at Soundset in Minneapolis gave him a moment worthy of his early 2017 album Movie, Mod returned to Los Angeles to re-evaluate his career and the people around him. That lead to him cutting ties with his booking agent, publicist, and label – all on good terms. “I give everyone I work with a chance because I respect them,” he explains. “That being said, that does not mean I am okay with complacency. If things don’t happen at the momentum that I want then we need to make a change. At this point in my career, you know, I am kind of restarting once again. I booked this tour on my own. I released BB without a label. I’m very self-sufficient and I hate to sit still, so I’m very okay with having more to do.”
The release of BB in November 2017 was unexpected. When Mod Sun released Movie earlier in the year he told Substream he could die happy because he had made the album he felt he was born to create. To have another album ready so soon after what he himself claimed to be his own creative high point came as something of a surprise to everyone, including Mod himself.
“It really started with “Happy BB,” he says, referring to the first song he recorded for the project. “Putting that out and seeing the reaction was something of a viral moment for me. It got people excited for new stuff again, and it made me realize there is still no one doing what I can do. That moment reminded me of what I’m able to do with positive music because since I started no one else has tried to fill that space. I came to understand that I’m not late into my career, I’m far.”
The press agrees with Mod Sun’s fans in regards to BB being his best work in some time. He believes this is largely the result of his decision to shrink his inner circle. “I essentially produced this entire record on my own,” he admits. “That is how I started my career, by making my own shit, and to do that again ten years later with all that I’ve learned and experience really brings things full circle. People connect with that. I know what I want my material to sound like, and when I work with other people I can only get it so close to what I want it to be.”
Mod Sun continues, citing BB cut “Poundzzzzzz” as being indicative of where he plans to take his music in the future. “That is a special cut. The tone of my next project will be that song and “#NoShirtOn” mixed with “Free Love” [from 2015’s Look Up].
Before that material sees the light of day Mod Sun will first be heard collaborating with viral rap sensation Lil Phag on a yet-to-be-released single. “That’s one of his songs,” he begins, “but it’s super positive. He’s a really positive, super cool guy. He knows an old lady who was assaulted and robbed. He wasn’t there, but he posted on Twitter looking for assistance in finding the people responsible and got justice for her. This song is kind of about that, and I’m excited to see what people think of it.”
Lil Phag recently released a single titled “Clout 9” featuring Mod Sun’s girlfriend, actress/model/rapper Bella Thorne. “She wrote her verse on her own,” he says. “I did write and produce a song for her that is coming out soon, but beyond that, she’s done everything on her own. I remember being in the studio and telling her it may take some time to figure out how to rap, but I’m not kidding when I say she blew me away on her first attempt. She’s nasty.”
Mod Sun has also collaborated with Thorne, though the world has yet to hear the result of those efforts. “She has over a hundred songs right now. We have 10 songs we recorded together, but we make music all the time. Neither one of us likes to sit around, so if we ever are we just choose to make a song or some kind of at instead.”
Thorne’s popularity on social media and various celebrity tabloids has brought a new kind of attention to Mod Sun. In the time since the couple went public, he has become a staple of TMZ and DailyMail stories, often in reference to a Snapchat or Instagram post he made featuring Thorne. “The whole thing with that is, I’ve never had anything to had. A lot of people are worried that when attention from those types comes their way that something will be exposed or that they have to behave differently than who they are. They have to stop having fun, in a way. That doesn’t happen to me. They might post ‘Mod Sun is seen smoking weed,’ but of course, that happens because I do that. Everyone knows I do that. Some things I say may get taken the wrong way, but that’s just how things go. Look at me. Every room I have ever walked into in my entire life I have run the risk of being misunderstood.”
To hear Mod Sun talk about Bella Thorne is to understand true love. You don’t have to ask him about her because he finds a way to praise her constantly, regardless of how the conversation is evolving. Even when discussing his relationship with her as it relates to the business of music and the paparazzi he cannot help pausing the flow of conversation every few sentences to emphasize his love for her. “She’s so great,” he explains again and again with a look in his eye that says his mind is wherever she is in that moment. “She’s just special.”
One of the people on tour with Mod is passing through the room as he gushes over Thorne. “Did you mention FaceTime,” the person asks. Mod laughs, then confesses that FaceTime is key to maintaining his relationship. “I call her every night,” he explains. “We never hang up. We talk until we fall asleep and then hang up after we say good morning. It’s the best way to start any day”
The conversation pauses briefly so Mod can play some music he’s recently completed. As promised, the material sounds like a further evolved take on BB with references to happiness and his home state of Minnesota playfully woven through upbeat production. A short while later, he pauses the music to FaceTime his mom. He doesn’t announce this, he simply rings her and the room falls quiet when they realize he’s addressing his mother. “I just called to say I love you,” he exclaims. The conversation ends less than thirty seconds later.
Hanging up, Mod Sun begins shuffling some papers on the table in front of him. “This is my next book,” he explains. The pages look as though they have traveled everywhere he has in recent weeks. Some are crumpled, others have been folded over and over to the point you could perfectly tear them in half with the slightest tug. “It’ll be done soon, I think. We have a lot to do this year.”
When asked what those plans might entail, Mod chooses to share his intent rather than details related to his career. “I think I’m starting to see more people in this industry being honest about who they really are, and that excites me. Every rapper talks about having sex with all these girls, but now you’re starting to see people talk about their relationships, like me and Bella. I haven’t changed at all, but I understand the circumstances have changed. My girlfriend is cool as fuck, like, things are going really well for me right now and I know her presence in my life is part of that. That’s cool as fuck. I’m really happy.”
The room sits quietly for a moment before a few more guests wander in, this time offering gifts. There is a celebration, a few quick photos, and then Mod Sun returns to the same fake leather couch he’s been on all night and begins listening to a meditation app through his boom box. A light rainfall plays as a female voice offers instructions on how to focus on the best parts of yourself. Again, the room falls quiet.
In this moment Mod Sun is calm. His high energy music demands to be matched by a high energy performance that will be watched by high energy fans who hope to meet their high energy hero at the end of the night. Right now, with just over an hour before his scheduled stage time, Mod Sun is taking a rare moment to himself. People file through as the program continues, but he remains laid out on the couch wearing nothing more than Playboy bunny flip-flop and blue jeans. He only breaks his silence to make one request, and that is to demand the sound guy play some “turn up shit”. Once someone acknowledged the request he closes his eyes once more while pleading emphatically to his meditation guide, “teach me something, baby!”
Feeling relaxed once more, Mod Sun picks up the energy by cranking Norman Greenbaum’s classic hit, “Spirit In The Sky”. He leaps from the sofa and begins performing for his camera person who, having just spent the better part of the last half-hour watching Mod meditate while trying to capture the perfect look of deep thought from various angles, was delighted by the uptick in activity. The room begins to sing and dance along, with everyone pocketing their phones and leaving their seats for an impromptu party that continues as Mod curates a playlist of similarly timeless cuts from the late 1960s and 1970s era of rock. Those gathered may be there for what most would describe as a hip-hop show, but this moment proves otherwise. This night is about the celebration of how music can make you feel, and the energy emitting from that tiny green room as songs older than everyone in said space booms through Mod Sun’s hot pink boom box speaks to that power. Not one person is thinking about their bills or the concerns of the world beyond the venue walls in this moment, nor at any point that will follow this evening. People are present, some for the first time in longer than they could remember, and it makes all the difference.
After his tour manager pops in to offer a five-minute warning, Mod Sun puts on “This Plane” by Wiz Khalifa, the fourth Wiz song he would play that evening, and starts preparing for the stage. He stretches, dances a bit more, and swigs the Jack Daniels for a good three-second count before ripping open the packaging on a freshly bought disposable toothbrush. He disappears long enough to rinse his mouth and returns, but instead of stopping to chat or entertain further he heads straight toward the stage. A stagehand passes him a microphone as he crouches behind the entrance to the room and speaks to his fans. “Detroit,” he exclaims. “Are you ready to have a good time tonight?”