Bryce Savoy has been making music since he was a kid in East Oakland. When he was 11, his late uncle Gregory Savoy “G-Nut” Brown III made him rap his first lyrics in the studio. From there, he became addicted to music. At the same time that he fell in love with hip-hop, his grandmother, Isabelle Payne-Brown, who lived with Savoy and his mother in the same house, encouraged Savoy to pray with her and develop his sense of faith in a higher power.
Savoy has since graduated from Howard University, started a cannabis business with his mother, and co-founded an Oakland-based nonprofit that organizes community activities such as group hikes, a book club, and gifts of toys and food. He also released his second full musical project titled “King Diamond” in December 2021.
While he was working on the album, his grandmother Isabelle was living with Alzheimer’s disease. “It was close to my heart in so many ways,” Savoy said in a recent interview. He lived with his grandmother for most of his life and decided he wanted to write a song that would serve as a tribute and cathartic release to her.
Savoy’s melancholic but love-filled act of poetry would become the song “Granny Said,” for which he released a music video in late July. Isabelle died in April at the age of 74 and the video features video clips from her funeral.
The Oaklandside spoke with Savoy about the process of creating the song and music video, his grandmother and her influence on his life.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Near the end of the song “Granny Said”, you call yourself “your grandmother’s favorite grandson”. Why are you your grandmother’s favourite?
It’s a joke in our immediate family. My grandmother has about 10 grandchildren. Growing up in the house, there were probably four or five of us constantly growing around her. She loved everyone equally, but she called each grandson her favorite.
I was probably the only one of them who had lived with her for most of my life. We all took that and used it as a running joke. I used it as a tribute to her and her personality. She was very clumsy and silly, so this joke is an example of that.
This song is on your last album “King Diamond”, which you released last December before his death. When and how did you first find the concept of the song?
It was a song I recorded after releasing my first full-length project, “Neighborhood Diamonds.” It was just before that. The song’s producer, Nicky G, had randomly sent it to me and as soon as I heard it, the lyrics started writing themselves.
It was at the same time that my grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. I witnessed his decline in many ways, so that was what was on my heart at the time. I wrote what I felt, which was a tribute to her.
She speaks at the start of this one, which was captured at a time when she had sort of a steady flow of thought. So I wanted to tie all of these things together.
What made you decide to shoot a music video for the song and use footage from the funeral?
I was hesitant to do this because I was pretty much in charge of planning his funeral, and we wanted the service to be a celebration of life. I didn’t want my art to bother me. I asked my mother [Isabelle’s daughter] what she thought about it, and when she said she was okay with that, I thought, ‘Okay, let’s make this happen.’ I wanted to capture the essence of this moment. My grandmother was so special to so many people, having family and friends around town and around the world. It would be right to capture that energy and use it as a keepsake.
It made sense because when my grandfather passed away in 1991, I remember they had a videotaped recording of the funeral service. It’s just something that’s done in the black community. We use those memories as something to come back to and feel that energy and love, although that love may no longer be physically with us.
I watched the video several times. It feels like it’s done with respect.
I owe all this to the videographer, my boy Shooter7seven, because the service people didn’t even realize he was there. He has experience shooting videos for funeral services, so he’s very low-key.
He had all the footage from the actual service and contacted me a few weeks later saying we should take pictures of the performance. I didn’t want to play serve. His encouragement to include a performance is what led to getting these shots months later. We shot them with my family members at Sound Wave Studios in West Oakland and I think that took the video to another level.
What words do you think best describe your grandmother?
I would say fashionista, entrepreneur, idiot, benevolent. More importantly, I would say a God-fearing woman. Even in her last days she forgot everything else, but she never forgot God. I think it speaks to the type of woman she was.
Tell me a bit more about your grandmother’s life in Oakland.
She was born in Madison, Illinois and her parents were from Arkansas and Mississippi respectively. In her early twenties, she moved to Oakland. She and my grandfather eventually moved to Hercules. She did a lot of things in Oakland. She pursued a career in hospital administration. She was a serial entrepreneur. She and my grandfather had a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, she owned a bridal shop, owned a jeans store, and owned a hair salon. She had so many hustles and different ways to make money.
She left the house early in the morning and didn’t come back until dark because she was shopping, hanging out with her friends and, of course, going to church. She was a member of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in West Oakland.
In what ways do you think your grandmother influenced her community?
I think she brought a lot of wisdom and advice to other people, especially young black women. She always mentored them when she had the chance. She had that refreshing energy and spirit that she always carried with her. She had that sense of style and fashion, and she had her periods where she had nice cars like a Mercedes or a Jaguar, so people know her for that.
She never let her age stop her from living her life and having fun. She lost my grandfather in 1991 but never remarried. She made her presence felt as a single woman and people loved her wherever she went.
Do you know how your grandmother became such a strong woman of faith?
It just started in his home growing up in a black family. I feel like since the beginning of time, church or faith was the only thing we had at many times in our lives. Growing up in the Midwest, that was reinforced by her parents. As she grew older and matured, she realized that faith was important to the Black family, especially to migrants. At that time, you wanted to know where you could go to church, where you could belong. When she moved to Oakland, got married, and started having kids, it made sense.
She was into the spiritual aspect of religion and she taught us not to base our relationship with God on anything a human says is true or false. Focus on the word and let it guide you, that’s what she taught us.
I think she instills in me that faith is why I’m still here, still persistent. I still believe that if I do the things I need to do, if I work, if I grow, if I learn, and if I’m the right person, then the life I imagined as an artist and musician will work on.
I don’t know how to quit, I don’t know how to give up, and that comes from the seed of faith that my grandmother planted in me at a very young age. This industry is unforgiving and full of ups and downs, but these conversations she had with me about faith keep me pushing.