Bryndon Cook’s musicianship belies his young age. At 24, the Maryland-born New Yorker has been an integral member of Solange Knowles’s band for the past six years, and he even took over as bandleader and music director for the entire ensemble last year, following in the footsteps of the legendary producer and singer-songwriter Raphael Saadiq. He’s found time in between these gigs to collaborate with the likes of Dev Hynes, and most recently, he took part in Telfar’s familial musical of a show that took place this past New York Fashion Week. And just last week, Cook released his first full-length album as Starchild & the New Romantic, Language, which is a tender collage of old-school funk and slow-burner R&B ballads.

A musical historian of sorts, Cook picks up on the distinct styles of his influences and wields them to his own advantage, whether he’s playing the piano like Bernie Worrell, making synth sounds like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, or drumming like Jellybean Johnson. “People will always listen to my music and say, ‘Oh, this sounds like Prince,’ but in actuality, it is a conversation not just with Prince, but with the people who inspired him and the people he inspired,” he explains.

And while he also describes his personal style as an homage to some of his childhood heroes—namely Deion Sanders, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Tupac Shakur—mostly, it’s a tribute to the various looks he’s sported throughout his own life, whether his teenage rebellion (he didn’t want any part of the ever-popular Nike boots, Levi’s, and Hugo Boss shirt combination), his time working at American Apparel that made him value a gender-fluid uniform of sorts, or his theater background, which led him to experiment with makeup and dramatic dressing. His memories from elementary school, in particular, are a major source of inspiration—and he’s recently been wearing pieces that bring him closer to these memories, like NFL starter jackets and velcro shoes.

Cook’s style is a natural extension of the themes of his record, which explores his intersectional identity through personal experiences like difficult breakups and confrontations. Having felt “too black” in Maryland and later “too white” in Atlanta, where he also spent time growing up—and having experienced a similar catch-22 when it came to his sexuality—Cook wanted to lay out self-acceptance for himself and others on this album. “It was never feeling like you have a space, and that’s followed me throughout my life, in different places,” he says. “That takes you through a lot of self-esteem issues. . . . Your talents and strengths get muddled, and there’s confusion. I’m happy to say, I feel like through all of that so far, I’ve managed to retain who I am and just start to celebrate it.” He adds, “I want to show that there’s a whole world of people like me, and the spectrum is not linear. It’s everything.”