The artist's vocals are accented by an exposure to ‘90s R&B and the operatic sounds of Andrea Bocelli, of whom his mother is a big fan. Sonically, Shinobi is just as multi-cultured as his background, fed by the auto-tuned sounds of T-Pain and Daft Punk, the instrumental side of Pharrell Williams and Metallica.
Shinobi, 24, doesn't play any instruments, but he's been making music since he was in seventh grade, when he and his friends formed a hip-hop collective called Young Cypher, which later rebranded as Promise of Excellence.
“We were just spitting bars,” Shinobi says. “I was the singer of our group, so sometimes I’d do the hooks, but we all tried to make sure we had the hardest lyrics.”
Outside of music, Shinobi is passionate about social justice movements. His father, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam, was a practicing Buddhist who later converted to Islam. Shinobi recalls hearing stories of the racism his father faced when he arrived in the U.S., which inspired Shinobi to stand up for “what is right, morally,” at a young age.
The singer's fire for social justice was fueled even further last year, when he discovered the popular online gaming platform Discord, which he used to share his music, connect with other gamers and create a safe space for conversation. Those connections proved invaluable when Shinobi was moved to action after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last summer.
As the footage of Floyd's last moments under the knee of a Minneapolis cop shook viewers around the world, Shinobi organized protests against racism and police brutality and took to the streets of Fort Worth. He and his "comrades" put together a list of demands, and met with Fort Worth Mayor Betsey Price to discuss dropping charges for protestors, diverting funding for the police department to education and mental health resources, access to healthcare and more.
“I never thought I would come out there and be something that would help other people do something more,” Shinobi says. “I just came to protect the kids. The things that we went through on the bridge [during the protests] were just unheard of. For me to step out at that moment, it just felt like the right thing to do. It was a fight or flight.”
Last month, Shinobi released a single called “Sussin’,” a pop-punk track with heavily auto-tuned vocals and elements of hip-hop and hyperpop. The single, which contains a shouty chorus (“Excuse the interruption, I saw you at a function, caught me by surprise by the way you were designed”) before he accuses a young lady’s friends of “sussin,’” was inspired by a woman Shinobi was dating at the time.
“Every time it was just me and her, she was head over heels for me,” Shinobi says. “She was into me, everything was great, sparks were flying. But every time we got around her friend group, she acted like she didn’t know me. So I was explaining that she was not acting like who she really was. If you’re ‘sus,’ that means you’re suspect, so ‘sussin’” is the act of that."
The video takes place in a Fort Worth skate park, where Shinobi and “Sussin’” collaborator Blake LaBella scouted out skaters weeks prior to the shoot and had those interested in appearing in the video sign a form. The video took about three hours to shoot.
‘Sussin’” precedes Shinobi’s upcoming three-track project Luc-iD, which he plans to release one single at a time throughout the remainder of 2021.
The next single, “Kiss Me,” slated for release at the end of this month, was inspired by a night out at a club, when his older brother met a woman with whom he had an instant connection.
“We were all just dancing and vibing,” Shinobi says. “Then there was this moment when nobody else was noticing anything that was going on, and they were just doing their own thing, and then they kissed each other. And that just sparked something, and it was so inspirational that I just had to write a song about it.”
In time for the New Year, Shinobi will drop the final track “Calibrate,” a song about leveling up and “evolving into my next step.”
“Because I’m a digital kid, I use the word ‘calibrate,’” Shinobi says, “instead of, like, ‘self-improvement.’”
As he calibrates into the next year, Shinobi has several projects in the works. He doesn’t have plans to release a full-length album quite yet, but he has several singles “in the vault,” which he looks forward to releasing. He plans on collaborating with other musicians via Discord and learning new musical instruments while vlogging the process.
In the meantime, Shinobi looks forward to introducing himself to the world through his brand of “Shinobi pop,” which he says is “neither here nor there.”
“The energy is there when it needs to be,” Shinobi says. “At one moment, I might not be for your ear, at another moment, I might be.”
Although Shinobi is focused on music for the time being, he still wants to be a voice for those fighting injustice and is ready to lead his generation in the fight for a better world.
“I'm here to help,” he says. “I'm here to listen. I'm here to learn and grow just like everybody else.”