Bryce Savoy with his grandmother Isabelle Payne-Brown at a family picnic. Credit: Bryce Savoy

Bryce Savoy has been making music since he was a kid growing up in East Oakland. When he was 11, his late uncle Gregory Savoy “G-Nut” Brown III had him rap his first lyrics in a studio. From there he was hooked on making music. At the same time he was falling in love with hip-hop, his grandmother, Isabelle Payne-Brown, who lived with Savoy and his mom in the same home encouraged Savoy to pray with her and develop his sense of faith in a higher power. 

Savoy has since gone on to graduate from Howard University, start an equity cannabis business with his mother, and co-found an Oakland-based non-profit that organizes community activities such as group hikes, a book club, and toy and food giveaways. He also released his second full-length music project titled “King Diamond” in December of 2021. 

While he was working on the album, his grandmother Isabelle was living with Alzheimer’s. “That was heavy on my heart in a lot of ways,” Savoy said in a recent interview. He lived with his grandmother for most of his life and decided that he wanted to write a song that would serve as a tribute to her and a cathartic release. 

Savoy’s melancholic yet love-filled act of poetry would become the song “Granny Said,” which he released a music video for in late July. Isabelle passed away in April at the age of 74 and the video features video clips from her funeral. 

The Oaklandside spoke with Savoy about the process behind making the song & music video, his grandmother, and her influence on his life. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Towards the end of the song “Granny Said,” you refer to yourself as your “granny’s favorite grandson.” Why are you your grandmother’s favorite? 

It’s an inside joke in our immediate family. My grandmother has about 10 grandchildren.  Growing up in the household, there were probably four or five of us who consistently grew up around her. She loved everybody equally but she would call every grandson her favorite.

I was probably the one out of all of them who lived with her consistently for most of my life. We all took that on and used it as a running joke. I used it as an homage to her and her personality. She was very goofy and silly, so this joke is an example of that. 

That song is on your latest album “King Diamond,” which you released last December before her passing. When and how did you first come up with the concept for the song?

It was a song that I had recorded after I had put out my first full project, “Neighborhood Diamonds.” This was right before that. The producer of the song, Nicky G, had sent it to me randomly and as soon as I heard it, the words started writing themselves.

This was at the same time my grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. I was witnessing her decline in a lot of ways so it was what was heavy on my heart at that time. I wrote about how I felt, which was a tribute to her.

She’s talking at the beginning of it, which was captured at a moment when she had some type of regular stream of thought. So, I wanted to tie all of those things together. 

What made you decide to film a music video for the song and use some footage from the funeral? 

I was hesitant about doing that because I was pretty much at the helm of orchestrating her funeral arrangements, and we wanted the service to be a celebration of life. I didn’t want my art to get in the way of that. I asked my mother [Isabelle’s daughter] what she thought about it, and when she said she was okay with it I thought, ‘Okay, let’s make it happen.’ I wanted to capture the essence of that moment. My grandmother was so special to so many people, having family and friends in town and worldwide. 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 VCR recording of the funeral service. That’s just something that’s done in the Black community. We use those keepsakes as something to go back to and feel that energy and love, although that love may no longer physically be there with us. 

I’ve watched the video many times. It feels like it was done respectfully. 

I owe all that to the videographer, my boy Shooter7seven, because people at the service didn’t even realize he was there. He has experience shooting videos for funeral services so he’s very discreet.

He had all the footage from the actual service and hit me up a few weeks later saying that we should get performance shots. I didn’t want to perform at the service. His encouraging me to include a performance is what led to getting those shots a couple of months later. We shot those 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, silly, kindhearted. Most importantly, I would say a God-fearing woman. Even in her last days, she forgot about everything else, but she never forgot about God. I think that’s a testament 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 originally from Arkansas and Mississippi, respectively. When she was 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 had a career in hospital administration. She was a serial entrepreneur. She and my grandfather had a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, she was a bridal store owner, a jeans store owner, and a hair salon owner. She had so many hustles and different ways to make money. 

She would leave the house early morning and wouldn’t come back until dark because she was out grocery shopping, hanging 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 that she provided a lot of wisdom and counsel to other people, particularly young Black women. She was always mentoring them when she got the chance to. She had this refreshing energy and spirit that she always carried with her. She had this sense of style and fashion, and she had her periods where she had nice cars like a Mercedes or Jaguar, so people know her for that. 

She just never let her age stop her from living life and having fun. She lost my grandfather in 1991 but never remarried. She made her presence as a single woman felt and people loved her wherever she went. 

Do you know how your grandmother came to be such a strong woman of faith? 

It just started in her household growing up in a Black family. I feel like since the beginning of time, church or faith was the only thing we had in a lot of periods in our lives. Growing up in the Midwest, that was reinforced by her parents. As she got older and matured she realized that faith was important for the Black family, especially those migrating. In those times you wanted to figure out where you could go to church, where you could belong. When she moved to Oakland, got married, and started having kids, it just made sense. 

She was into the spiritual aspect of religion and she taught us to not base our relationship with God on everything that a human says is right or wrong. Focus on the word and let that guide you, that’s what she instilled in us. 

I think her instilling that faith in me is the reason why I’m still at it, still persistent. I still believe that if I do the things that I need to do, if I put in the work, if I grow, if I learn, and if I am the right person, then the life I’ve envisioned as an artist and musician will work out. 

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 cutthroat and full of ups and downs, but those conversations she had with me about faith allow me to keep pushing. 

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.