“I’ve always felt like I have no room to fail,” Sean Lawrence says to me. It’s a fear that’s worked in Sean’s favor, who has one of the most polished discographies of any rising artist I’ve discovered. Known professionally as sectiontoo, who prefers to go by his stage name, masterfully produced his first album Portrait with the lyrical maturity of an experienced artist. sectiontoo’s commitment to his craft is minutely eclipsed by his talent, and he’s not shy about taking credit where it's undeniably due. 

Photo: Tara Anand


Sitting across from me under the glass panels of an atrium on Madison Avenue, New York, sectiontoo is immediately open to share and be heard. Dusk sets in slowly on a sunny afternoon as he tells me about the power music held in his childhood. Born and raised in Queens, he first began actively experimenting with music at 15 when he taught himself how to make beats on a MacBook. He credits his interest in music to his parents. His Puerto Rican mother played the flute, and his Guyanese father built speakers from scratch for his work as a DJ. He had taken saxophone lessons in the third grade, but it wasn’t until his teenage years that this fascination grew into a vocation. “I go to school, I come home, I work on music. I go to school, I come home, I work on music,” he says of his routine at age 18. “I remember thinking that everything I needed was in this MacBook,” he laughs. At this point, he was focusing exclusively on music production and selling his beats, without a single song written yet. 

College changed everything. Studying music and living with musicians at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, sectiontoo realized there were a lot of people who felt the same devotion and sacrificed a lot more. Instead of letting his roommate’s non–stop work ethic dissuade him, it only encouraged him. “From then on, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I told myself I needed to work much harder,” he says. This self–critique guides him today, too. When speaking about his most recent release, NEVERNOTHING, he is quick to describe it as “just an EP.” “It was seven songs that kept me creative, but it wasn’t super topical,” he explains, lucidly demonstrating his pursuit of perfection given the fact that the album is artfully written, produced, and mastered.

After his first year in New Haven, sectiontoo transferred to the City College of New York, where he began to collaborate with high school friend William Fisher, whose stage name is identite crisis. The two would use the college’s recording studios each Friday to lay down beats and experiment, stockpiling ideas. In January 2018, sectiontoo decided to try his hand at songwriting. His first attempt resulted in "Girls Like Anita," a track that now has over 10,000 streams on Spotify. “It’s based on a girl I had a Spanish class with. She seemed super mysterious, and would show up once a week and sleep when she did,” he says smiling. “I was so enthralled by her. She seemed like she didn’t care about anything—I envied that a little bit,” he continues. Although barely having interacted with this drowsy mystery girl, his song bursts with affection and attitude. The product of this extended time spent in the studio with Fisher became sectiontoo’s first album Portrait, which includes tracks like the funky "Trophies" which has amassed 649,000 streams on Spotify.

Although he describes himself as genre–fluid, he maintains that his music will always be rooted in R&B. Having fallen in love with the genre from the moment he heard Ginuwine’s "Pony" at age five, sectiontoo’s passion for R&B is palpable from the manner in which he speaks about it. “When 'Pony' came on, I remember thinking that I had never heard anything like it. I was so enticed by the sounds coming out of the speaker,” he says. Instead of abandoning this infatuation, sectiontoo cultivated it. Today, with three projects released, his passion and ambition are only increasing, and it's obvious that he intends to walk the talk. 

Photo: Tara Anand


sectiontoo’s proclivity for perfectionism is well–paired with affable self–awareness of his inclinations and intentions. Speaking ahead of the release of his most recent song, "Walk Right," he says, “I’m very nervous, because I haven’t put anything out like this before. I know how good it is, but sometimes I care too much about what people think.” He has a clear sense of how he wants his music to be perceived, and the irony lies in the fact that he aims to be imperceptible. “I wanted to prove myself to anyone who would listen, that I am more than what you have heard from me previously. I’m super versatile and can do any and everything musically,” he says, describing how NEVERNOTHING came from a desire to subvert expectations. For a young creator, this approach is radical. Rather than hone in on a specific sound, sectiontoo aims to master many. It would seem an outlandish objective had his past three releases not reflected the calibre of artistry that they did. 

In direct contradiction with this active effort to establish his image as an artist is sectiontoo’s view of social media. “I’ve been made to feel like if I’m not hyperactive across social media, I’m falling out of the conversation, which to a certain extent is true. But if the music’s not good, it doesn’t matter how many followers I have,” he says. Even when discussing what appeals to him in a record label, he highlights that “these people really believe in me, it's not about a social media gimmick.” Given the increasing popularity of authenticity on the internet, sectiontoo’s focus on quality content and honesty could enough benefit his public image. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook are paramount in blowing up artists, and if sectiontoo is able to channel this influence in a sincere manner, he might find that it acts as valuable support to the sense of self he shapes in his releases.

Most central to this sense of self is his identity as a Black creator. When asked about how this plays into his work, he immediately says, “It’s damn near everything. Being Black and Puerto Rican, the two communities tend to go hand in hand. Especially when you live in places like the Bronx. The music, the movies, all things culture—the way I’m introduced to things has everything to do with me being Black.”  Hearing him speak, it becomes far more conceivable that he wrote some of his best songs in 15 minutes. sectiontoo’s education reflected the complexities of navigating these overlapping identities, having attended an all–Black middle school and then being one of a handful of Black students in high school and college. The release of his second album, 2020's Cascade Effect, coincided with the Black Lives Matter protests across the United States—leading sectiontoo to reconsider the timing of the release. Ultimately, he released the album and donated the $1,500 proceeds to GoFundMes for the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Describing his Blackness as “all–encompassing,” he chooses his words thoughtfully, saying, “My Blackness spans and ranges. It’s so wide, but at the same time, it’s concentrated in this small world.” 

If our conversation was not indication enough of the sheer joy sectiontoo derives from his craft, watching him perform live at the nightclub East Berlin certainly is. Gripping the microphone, he closes his eyes as he sings the opening to the wholesome love song "Butterscotch." He engages the crowd while he focuses on the musicians surrounding him on stage, swaying to the rhythm of his own tracks and dancing between verses. Eyebrows shoot up across the room at his vocal control and magnetic musicality. Although I’ve lost count of the times I’ve streamed “Butterscotch,” hearing it performed live felt as if I was listening to it for the first time.

sectiontoo’s appeal lies in his ability to continuously surprise. Even the live version of a released song offers something new for listeners. This is no accident, and to accredit it to beginner’s luck would be foolish. “To whoever’s reading this, please approach whatever you hear from sectiontoo going forward with an open mind,” he says to me while the sky dims around the silver skyscrapers behind us. “As a listener, I like variety. I want to be challenged by an artist. From the moment Portrait came out, I set out to never do the same thing twice,” he says. Given how sophisticated and experimental his music has been from the get–go, I think it's safe to say this is a promise we can trust. Whether it's mellow romance or energetic irreverence, sectiontoo probably has what you're looking for. And if he doesn’t yet, he will soon. 


Comments

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.