Aluna George Aluna George
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AlunaGeorge Is Perfectly Fusing Dance With Meaning On 'I Remember'

One half of the musical duo talks forging a new path with their new album, keeping it real with listeners and more.

It's been nearly three years since British duo, AlunaGeroge have gifted fans with a studio album. But in that time, they've made sure their name hasn't been forgotten. They've toured the world from California to Europe, performed at numerous music festivals, and given fans something to bump to all year long. While a pat on the back is well-deserved, the journey is far from done. In fact, the group is forging an even brighter and eclectic path on their new album, I Remember. And they're tackling some majorly powerful social issues, too.

AlunaGeorge, comprised of Aluna Francis and George Reid, have something completely unique about them. Although they've often been thrown into the EDM category, they've made great strides to include a vision with their upbeat tempos and feel-good vibrations.

On their new album, I Remember, that giddy and overwhelmingly happy feeling doesn't leave, but they're also bringing a distinct perspective into the mix: their own. One of the album's lead singles, "Mean What I Mean," featuring Dreezy and Leikeli47, should give you a taste of what to expect. The feminist anthem, which is a chronicle of real life events, tackles the subject of consent and sexuality. But while it is darker in its content, it presents a sexy and sassy message than your average moral song.

I Remember is the natural progression for AlunaGeorge. It tells a story of vulnerability, sexiness, and transparency. Aluna Francis stopped by the VIBE headquarters for a brief chat. And while she admitted to always looking to the next great thing, she told us everything you need to know about I Remember, which debuts on Friday, September 16 on iTunes and more.

VIBE: It's been three years since your last studio album. Was there a reason for that, or was it simply part of your progression and creative process?

Aluna Francis: It’s not really that long when you think about what we’ve achieved in that time. We've gone around the world a few times and released tons of music since then. But writing an album for us is a very important thing. It’s not something you just wrap up in three months. We’ve written probably 70 songs for this album, and had maybe three different stages to the writing process. And we don’t double up on live shows and writing; we do it separately because they’re completely different things. We take the writing really seriously; it’s our number one priority. It can’t be done at the same time as touring because we wouldn’t get the right kind of attitude and concentration that we need.

In what ways do you think this album shows your growth and progression as artists?

Well, it’s different for both of us. For George, it’s more on the production side of things. And for me, it was all about the song writing, lyrical process. [In the past], it was easier for me to write from other people's eyes. As long as it was a real story, it was good for me to get perspective on someone else’s life. [It] was much harder for me to write about my own stories. But naturally, as I built my songwriting skills, I built this space where if I was feeling very strongly about something, I could bring it into that space and could still get a perspective. The writing tools help me to stand back away from a situation, even though I might be in the middle of it, and find a way to see it from another perspective. A song should tell a story and it should have a beginning, middle, and an end, and resolve – not just leave. I never want to leave my listener just feeling one thing. If it’s about heartache, I don’t want to be like there’s no way to feel better. It’s about finding empowerment within difficult situations.  I’m always looking for that. And it’s actually started to be good for me to get myself through these situations in life, get some kind of closure or understand why I overreacted to something.

It sounds like this album is going to be very transparent and vulnerable, especially now that it’s changing the perspective from looking out to looking within. Was this newfound openness an issue for you at any point?  

It’s a really great thing because there’s a strength in honesty, whereby it’s the truth; you can stand by it and you can keep building a relationship with that and having part of being human as a musician part of your career. Artists that don’t have that can start to detach themselves from having any kind of meaning from their career. And then you have to find meaning from something else. I feel very blessed that I found a way for the music itself to have meaning to me as well as other people who identify with those sentiments.

The single “Mean What I Mean” is super honest. It also speaks on consent, which is a very current topic of discussion. Despite the fact that it was a real-life story for you, was it a conscious decision to put it out?

It was something that I needed to feel better about by somehow working out how I would prevent something like that from happening in the future, by empowering my future self. How do you empower somebody to at least be outraged by somebody disrespecting them? That in itself sounds like a small thing, but a lot of women can feel caught off guard if someone disrespects them because it can seem normal, like you’re making a big deal out of nothing. Obviously I’m not going to become a black belt Samurai to protect myself, and I’m not going to carry around a sword, but I can at least be bloody outraged. And that was a real motivation for me, but at the same time, it was a motivation to feel really good, excited, happy, and sexy about protecting myself. That’s the key to bringing that into any type of intimate or sexual situation, for you to not feel like you’re going to kill the vibe by being like, ‘You know what? You’re not actually respecting me right now…’ No matter what happens from there on, whether we get together or we don't, you need to know whether I’m into this. And that’s important, and that’s sexy. But I think those are things I thought about later. And having Dreezy and Leikeli47 on that really made the decision to put it out there. It felt too corny on its own. There’s such an honesty to it that I wasn’t used to expressing. I was really unconfident about the lyrics. I was [questioning] like, 'Is this really a song that people could dance to?' So I was really blessed that they jumped on it and nailed it. It could never survive without them making it the right balance of seriousness and fun and sexy and protective.

It’s interesting that you went for a more upbeat club hit rather than the typical somber gloomy ballad.

I struggle with messages about feminism that are negative and sad and boring and very mature. I get easily put off by stuff like that. So if I try to give other people a message, I’m going to be aware of that. I don’t want to sit with somebody and [tell them], ‘Excuse me, you have to respect my boundaries because I’m a very important woman and I’m very empowered. This really isn’t acceptable.’ Can you imagine? You really just want to be like, ‘Don’t touch me! I’m not feeling it. Maybe I will later, but you’re not respecting me. Get your sh** in order.’ Be romantic or talk to me and have a really deep conversation; don’t just jump to use me like some kind of ho. That’s what I want to be able to say in those situations. I don’t want to launch into a monologue like I’m better than you because it just doesn’t apply. Everyone in those moments is trying to seem cool. So it had to be that way, or it wasn’t going to work for me.

What do you want the fans to take away from I Remember?

I don’t think about it. People can take what the hell they want from it. I have put everything into it that I have. And I will have more to put into new songs and new albums. At this point, it’s everything I have, everything that I’ve worked out about being a human being, [and] all things I love about different types of dance music and laid back hip hop and R&B. If any of that gets taken out by people that listen, then I’m happy.

On Twitter you wrote, 'Waiting for this album to drop is like waiting for a cake to come out the oven...it smells good but will it taste good?' That sounds like you have some doubts. What makes you nervous?

I am a pretty common artist in the sense that there are ways that say that you haven’t achieved what you think you’ve achieved or it’s not enough. I race ahead. I’m already thinking of the next album. I’m thinking of things we didn’t do. I think that’s what makes the artist so interested and invested in making this music. It is an obsession.

You’re going on tour with Sia. What are you most excited for?

I think that is home for us – an audience that is ready to listen to big songs with this feel good kind of music. We’ll probably bring a darker edge to it. And that’s refreshing for us. Because we’re known for our EDM features. We often get put on EDM stages. And that’s tough for us because everything is about the big build and loud noises, and we’re making songs. So being with two artists (Sia and Miguel) that are pros at presenting these songs is great for us. It feels like an opportunity to showcase us as the artists that we are trying to be, not how we might be perceived if you heard us on a Jack Ü track or things like that.

You guys always bring the upbeat, party music and focus a lot on making music that makes you want to dance. It may seem weird, but that type of energy is really on trend. What’s your take on it?

I guess we’re less weird than when we started out. But we always wondered about that because we thought what we were trying to do was really a normal progression. We heard a lot of weird, electronic music and then there were so many songs bringing those two things together. It seemed really obvious to us. But when we started working and trying to do it, we realized it was really hard. So anyone achieving it to success and getting people going, I’m pleased about that because the more music we get where you feel good and it has meaning, that’s great for everybody. That's what we need; that’s all we have. There’s so much negativity around. And anything that is going to make people feel that way and it have a lasting effect just for that cathartic moment, I’m pleased about.

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Aaliyah during TNT Presents - A Gift of Song - New York - January 1, 1997 in New York City, New York, United States.
KMazur/WireImage

Fans Rally For Aaliyah's Discography To Be Released On Streaming Platforms

As another day passes without Aaliyah's music on streaming platforms, fans are looking for answers.

Over the weekend, the hashtag #FreeAaliyahMusic appeared on Twitter in light of song battles between Swizz Beats vs. Timbaland and Ne-Yo vs. Johnta Austin. The latter opponents played their collaborations with the late singer, proving Baby Girl's dynamic relevancy in the age of modern R&B. As songs like "I Don't Wanna" and "Come Over" picked up plays on YouTube, the hashtag pointed out the tragedy of her songs not existing on platforms like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music.

Aaliyah's only album on multiple platforms is her 1994 debut, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. Other albums like the platinum-selling One in A Million and Aaliyah are being held in a vault of sorts along with other unmixed vocals by her uncle and founder of Blackground Records, Barry Hankerson.

Hankerson has built up a mysterious yet haunting aura over the years due to his refusal to release Aaliyah's music on streaming platforms. Reasons are unknown but Stephen Witt's 2016 investigation revealed business deals like the shift in distribution from  Jive Records to Atlantic helped Hankerson take ownership of the singer's masters. The deal was made in 1996 when Blackground featured artists like Aaliyah, Toni Braxton, R. Kelly, then-production duo Timbaland and Magoo as well as Missy Elliott.

Sadly, Aaliyah's music isn't the only recordings lost in the shuffle. Recordings from Timbaland and Toni Braxton have been hidden from the world with both taking legal action against the label over the years. There's also JoJo, who had to break from the label after they refused to release her third album. The singer recently re-recorded her first two albums.

With Aaliyah's music getting the attention it deserves, Johnta Austin discussed the singer's impact on R&B today. "It was amazing, she was incredible from top to bottom," he told OkayPlayer of working with the singer on "Come Over" and "I Don't Wanna." "I don't think Aaliyah gets the vocal credit that she deserves. When she was on it, she had the riffs, she had everything."

Earlier this year, an account impersonating Hankerson claimed her music would arrive on streaming platforms January 16, on what would've been her 41st birthday. A docuseries called the Aaliyah Diaries was also promoted for a release on Netflix.

Of course, it was far from the truth. Fans can enjoy selected videos and songs on YouTube, but it's clear they want more.

 

Aaliyah’s music is the landmark for a lot of your favs not only was she ahead of her time with her futuristic sounds she also was a fashion Icon dancer and phenomenal actress . The future generations need be exposed to her artistry and pay homage .#FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/LxZfxcqRgF

— Black Clover (@la_alchemist) March 29, 2020

Her first #1 solely based on AirPlay! She was the first ! #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/BHlANZjCGZ

— (@hodeciii) March 29, 2020

Makes no sense for someone still so influential to be hidden. Many try to emulate her. On Spotifys This is Aaliyah playlist, theres some great tracks not on her main Spotify #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/vLqLTVxqO9

— Blackity Black⁷ (@ClaudBuzzzz) March 29, 2020

Aaliyah is trending once again. She deserves endless flowers. This is true impact y’all. Her voice, her sound, her music...She’s been gone for 2 decades and y’all see the love for her is even stronger! We miss you baby girl! #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/ALDcT0ZQxR

— A A L I Y A H (@forbbygrlaali) March 30, 2020

Aaliyah said she wanted to be remembered for her music and yet most of it is not on streaming services #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/zwk0AWMCoE

— RJR (@MyNewEssence96) March 29, 2020

aaliyah’s gems like more than a woman deserve to be in streaming sites #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/mM2GWEg1pe

— k (@grandexrocky) March 30, 2020

I saw #FreeAaliyahMusic and IMMEDIATELY jumped into action! I can’t express how betrayed I felt when we were supposed to have all her music on Spotify by her birthday. Her discography is deeply underestimated and we need to make it right for our babygirl!pic.twitter.com/GfxBeJxUY1

— jerrica✨ (@jerricaofficial) March 29, 2020

Before Megan The Stallion drove the boat...

Aaliyah rocked the boat...

#FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/iXNwssD3sY

— Al’Bei (@_albei) March 29, 2020

i think we should have that conversation #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/cGl269tuTr

— AALIYAH LEGION (@AaliyahLegion) April 1, 2020

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Alex 'Grizz' Loucas

Blacc Zacc Looks To Put South Carolina On The Map With 'Carolina Narco'

Many rap artists claim to be closely associated with the plug, but Blacc Zacc's hometown reputation makes those ties wholly believable. Hailing from South Carolina, the former street entrepreneur has spent the last few years on a mission to transcend the trap while legitimizing himself within the music industry and becoming one of the most buzz-worthy artists to ever emerge from his state. Building his audience with projects like High Class Trapper (2017), New Blacc City (2018), and Blacc Frost (2018), Zacc elevated his stock to unprecedented levels with his 2019 mixtape, Trappin Like Zacc, which saw the South Coast Music signee coming into his own. The project, which boasted the Key Glock-assisted heater "Hahaha," was strong enough to help garner the support of Interscope Records, with whom he inked a record deal with last year, a move he hopes will further increase his profile.

“It wasn't more so about the money," Zacc says of his decision to make the transition from an independent artist to one signed to a major label. "Of course everybody's dream is to get a deal when you're a rapper and you really wanna be for real with it, but it wasn't more so about the money with me, it was more so about having the connects. I feel like with me being independent and having to move on my own, I don't really have industry connects like Randy [Interscope publicist] to be able to have me in this office with you right now, it's only so much you can do to get where you wanna be when you're independent. Like you can't buy everything, [but] certain stuff you gotta have connections to."

With a machine like Interscope behind him, Blacc Zacc finds himself asserting his boss status with his 2020 debut. Carolina Narco is inspired by incarcerated drug kingpin El Chapo, who garnered headlines worldwide with his epic escape from prison in 2015. Accompanied by a short film that finds Blacc Zacc tapping into his skills as a thespian, Carolina Narco is the newcomer's biggest release to date and builds on the momentum of his previous offerings. Boasting guest appearances from DaBaby, Moneybagg Yo, Yo Gotti, and Stunna 4 Vegas, Carolina Narco captures Zacc displaying the breadth of his artistry across the project's eleven tracks, resulting in an LP that positions him as not only one of the more promising prospects out of the south, but a trailblazer within his home state. 

VIBE sat down with Zacc to get the scoop on the making of Carolina Narco, expanding his business portfolio, his plans to put South Carolina on the national radar and much more.

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VIBE: 2019 was a breakout year for your career, as you expanded your fan base while reaching multiple milestones. What's a moment from that year that made you realize that your hard work was paying off?

Blacc Zacc: When I started going to shows outside of my city and I started realizing people knowing who I am and recognizing the song and stuff like that. And of course, when I got my deal with Interscope, that's when I knew it was real. Like I really got a chance and an opportunity at this.

Musically, you've garnered comparisons to Gucci Mane, who you've also listed among your biggest influences. What are some things you picked up from watching and listening to Gucci and how has that benefited you as an artist?

Gucci Mane was just like one of my favorite personal rappers just from what he stands for. His delivery, the type of songs he made and I feel like he'll always be a trap legend. So it ain't necessarily that I'm trying to be like him, but I'm so influenced by him that it probably rubs off, like people will probably just get that vibe from me.

For those who may be unfamiliar with your backstory, how would you describe the man you are behind the music and your outlook on life?  

My outlook on life, I'm a thinker. I know in my music it may seem like, “Oh, he's one of those dudes that just talk about the trap or the hood,” or the bad that comes with the trap, but I got sense, too. I'm a deep thinker, I think a lot and I got kids so I gotta think for them and me. I'm the first from my family to really be on this type of level I'm on so I got a lot on my plate, but I don't really complain about it because this is what I signed up for.

You recently released your latest project, Carolina Narco, your most high-profile project to date. How did it feel to take this next leap in your career and what's the reception from the fans been like?

It's been a good one. This project might be one of my biggest I ever have done because I been getting so much feedback from it. Like from Twitter to everybody just calling and just having all positive stuff to say, and the feedback I was getting from everybody just really rocking with it. But this is what I set this out to. Because when I was planning it and I knew this was gonna be my first project from being with Interscope and having my situation, what I got going on, I wanted this to be one of my biggest projects to show people I really can rap. I'm an artist for real. 'Cause like I tell people all the time, a lot of people was respecting me from other stuff, so it never was from music. They wasn't respecting me for music, but now I'm transitioning over and making them respect me for being a rapper and an artist.

Speaking of that transition, was there a moment that really spurred you to use your musical talent?

Like I said, just being a thinker. You got to know, like, if you really in the streets and you're really doing your thing, you got to know that don't last forever. So you got to have your turning point, whether it's rapping or whether you're gonna hustle to start a legitimate business, but you gotta have some kinda way out of it. And I know I wasn't gonna get no job with nobody and I was getting good feedback from rapping. And then, I always knew I could rap, but I learned the hard part about rapping is not making a song, it's getting it out there and marketing. Once I realized that's what really matters, that's when it became like a real job to me, when it came to that, but I always knew you can't do that other stuff forever. So I knew it was gonna have to be a turning point someday, anyway.

How do you feel about rappers speaking about the trap life, but not living it?

I feel like... like if it's working for them, but it's gonna catch up 'cause when you come around somebody that really comes from that and they may ask you something and you don't know about it, or it might even be an interviewer, but some way it's gonna come out. Whether you're acting like a drug dealer, whether you're acting like a gangster or a shooter or whatever, and you walk outside on these New York streets or anywhere and somebody come snatch your chain or do something to you and you don't do nothing about it, it's gonna come out so it's not gonna last long. Either way, it don't matter how good it's lasting right now, it's not gonna last long because the universe is gonna make you stand on everything you're trying to be.

Last year, you released the song "Carolina Narco," which inspired you to build on that theme throughout an entire project. Tell me how that song came together and why you decided to run with that concept?

That song came together when I got in the studio with Youngkio, me and him locked in. I wouldn't even expect Kio to make that kind of beat because he made the "Old Town Road" beat, which is a banger, of course, but I didn't expect him to be on no trap shit like that and his vibe and he's such a cool person outside of the music. But once he came in there with that beat, it had like a Narcos feel and I just started freestyling and that's when I made that song and I was like, 'You know what, I like the song so much, my next album is gonna be like a Narcos feel.' I wanna do a movie with it; I want the front cover to look like when El Chapo got arrested; I wanted the actual song, "Carolina Narco," to be like how when he was getting out the plane and he escaped. Everybody knows El Chapo escaped, so I wanted it to be like him escaping and stuff like that. I just wanted everything to be on some Narco sh*t but in a Carolina way.

Other than El Chapo, who are some other gangsters or hustlers who you got inspiration from or just have a level of respect for?

Of course, like all of the popular people that everybody may know of, like Pablo [Escobar], El Chapo, Griselda Blanco, those types of people, but I mostly was influenced by a lot of people that I seen with my own eyes coming up in my neighborhood. Like Hot Boy, this guy named Boss G, those type of people was getting a lot of money on my side of town that I seen and I was kind of in tune with them, too, but I most definitely know all of the popular people. Pablo, Frank Matthews, Frank Lucas, all of those people. I knew all of them, but I was influenced by a lot of people that were from my neck of the woods, too.

Another song from the album that's been gaining traction is "Make A Sale," featuring Moneybagg Yo. What led you to reach out to him to hop on that song and what was it like recording the music video with him?

For that particular song, how it came about, we was on the Baby On Baby Tour or the Kirk Tour, one of 'em and he was backstage. And we was introduced and I was like, “I wanna do a song with you,” and he was like, “Send it to me.” So I sent him the song, I'm thinking like, 'He gonna take forever to get it done,' you know how these rappers be sometimes, but he sent it right back to me. And as far as the music video, we was both in Miami and I was like, 'Shit, let's shoot the video,' and he was with it. Moneybagg Yo, he been solid, anything I done ever asked of him to do, he's done it.

Over the years, you've collaborated with a number of artists from Memphis, Tennessee, including Yo Gotti, who appears on the Carolina Narco cut "Fucc Up A Check.” Is that a coincidence, and if not, what's the backstory behind your connection to the city?

I ain't never been to Memphis, crazy part about it, but I most definitely done worked with a lot of artists from Memphis, but they just be like my personal favorite artists at the time that I really can rock with and vibe with. When I got a feature from Dolph, I paid for that 'cause I was really rocking with that. I was rocking with that, and with Gotti and stuff like that, that just came later on down the line from just working. They just shot me the feature, that was on the love, that was on the house. Sh*t, it's just a coincidence, I guess, that I work with people [from Memphis]. I even worked with Key Glock from down there.

What are three songs from Carolina Narco that you're excited for the fans to hear and why?

"Cocky" stands out because I like the instruments in it. It got that Narco feel like I wanted and, of course, I put my brother on it because of some other stuff. Stunna, I put him on it 'cause of course, I know he's dope, but that cocky means something else different for him so I was like, “I'ma put him on that one.” And "Bang" came across like...  with DaBaby, I put a snippet up and he wanted to jump on it. I didn't even hear Baby on that song, to be honest, but I wasn't gonna tell him no. But he snapped on that and then it got that aggressive feel on that. And the "Murder For Hire," I feel I started the album off right with that one. I like how the sample in the background gives you that feel like, “This sh*t bout to be hard.”

North Carolina has produced stars like J.Cole, DaBaby, Little Brother, Rapsody, Petey Pablo and many others, but artists from South Carolina haven't been able to attain that same level of success. What would you attribute that to?

It's probably the opportunities, cause South Carolina is not as lit as North Carolina. North Carolina got the Panthers, they got baseball teams, they got all kinds of little stuff up there. Like their city's way more lit than South Carolina but you can't use that as no excuse, it's just that nobody from South Carolina hasn't made it yet because I guess they ain't working how they're supposed to be working. But that's why I'm here to open that door and break that curse.

Being one of the more popular artists to come out of South Carolina in recent years, how does it feel to have the opportunity to put your state on the map?

It feels real good because if you're that person that do that, you're forever a legend you're gonna forever be known for being that one that did that. And just being able to show people from South Carolina that it's possible to do 'cause at this point you ain't gotta act like you're from nowhere else but South Carolina. You can go somewhere and be like, 'I'm from South Carolina, I'm a rapper,' or North Carolina or Carolina, period. Back then, you couldn't really do it.

You launched your own record label, D.M.E., a few years ago, and have been vocal about your focus on being an entrepreneur. Where did that business sense stem from and are there any CEOs in particular that you've modeled your approach after?

To be all the way honest with you, I didn't even know what a CEO was when I was calling myself that, I just knew it was a high position [laughs]. But once I got knowledge of what was going on, people like JAY-Z, Diddy, and even Rick Ross, those type of people motivated me because I got more of a CEO lifestyle than a rapper, people. I had to mold myself into wanting to talk and stuff like that, you can't be anti-social, people will take it the wrong way and take it like you're being cocky. So you really got to be a certain way when you're a rapper versus being a CEO, you ain't gotta be in everybody face all the time, you can kinda play the background.

You signed with a deal with South Coast Music, home to Da Baby and Stunna 4 Vegas. What's the backstory behind that partnership?

I think I signed with South Coast in the end of 2018. I been knew them, like (Daud “King”) Carter and all of them, but just being part of that, it's good 'cause being in the same loop as the winning squad. It's a lot of people that probably just hate that, just not being in the mix of all that's going on, but that just came from everybody working

In what areas would you say you've grown as an artist over the years?

I got more confident on the track. I got more confident performing, I got more confident talking in interviews. It's just a growth, it was a learning experience. I learned the business more. The main thing I learned about it is my audience, I learning who I'm catering my music to. you gotta learn who you're rapping to. You gotta really realize what's your message and who you're trying to deliver your message to.

In 2017, you teamed up with Hoodrich Pablo Juan to release the collaborative mixtape, Dirty Money, Power, Respect. How did that project come about?

Really, I always knew Hoodrich Pablo, but I wasn't really no big fan of his music, my brother felt like it was a good move. So we was in L.A. and my brother brought him to the studio and we knocked out three or four songs. And they wanted to drop it like a little slick collab, so we just put it out there like that.

If you could paint a picture of what your life and career will look like in five years, what would the portrait look like?

One of the biggest in the game and South Carolina being known as a music capital. I want a lot more artists to come behind me, at least five to ten artists to come behind me within these five years and be like megastars including myself.

You've mentioned making a short film to accompany the album, what inspired you to do that and how did it feel to tap into your talents as an actor?

It was really good to see how I can really transform from rapping to acting. I feel like I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it, though, not on no cocky sh*t, but I feel like I can do anything. But it was some real good experience just from testing myself and putting myself in that lane where you have to get in character mode and be serious on the camera all the time and really get into that mode, but then I wanted to do something different. There's nobody I can think of or nobody that's done it in a while where they dropping a short-films with their project. Because a lot of people listen to music, but it's a lot of people that will go look at a movie, too.

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Phillip Harris

Jessie Reyez: The People's Pop Star

Love isn’t an afterthought in our current time of self-isolation. The mélange of it all is felt in the spirit of singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez. Resting with her family in Toronto in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, her tribe of fans waits patiently for her to jump on Instagram Live. The intimate meetups were provided in the past but with her debut album Before Love Came To Kill Us in the ethos, fans are eager for Jessie’s magnetic energy.

One of her Lives, in particular, was life-changing as aspiring artists had the opportunity to sing for her. Diligently listening to every nayhoo, chord, and harmony from Israel, Florida, and Brazil, Jessie gives strong advice to her young fans. From taking advantage of studio time to the perks of platforms like Soundcloud, the gems are passed from one growing artist to another through the telephone screen.

The transfer of loving energy is something that comes easy for Jessie. At 28, the Colombiana embodies the wisdom of her ancestors and wit of a whiskey-toting millennial. The world’s current apocalyptic omens would shake some, but Jessie is focused on the brighter elements of life. “Love can help with actual survival tactics; survival not for the individual but for the community,” she says on her current mindstate around the outbreak. “The only way I think it could hurt us is if we don't think about the community and approach this selfishly. Anyone that’s scared of losing people to this is hard. Every day I’m calling every single one of my elderly family members to make sure they’re good. There are so many celebrities and politicians talking about it so I feel silly reiterating the same information but it’s literally about the curve.”

Our conversation comes days before the release of her debut, a concept album ripened with the everlasting relationship between love and mortality. We have her fans to thank for its release. After an online poll pushed for the album, Jessie committed to the March 27 release date. “I had a hard time too because the title is literally Before Love Came To Kill Us, like, the whole premise of the album was to trigger people into thinking about mortality and now it almost seems like it's a theme song to what everyone is going through. Everybody is thinking about how to survive right now so I’m embracing it because I made the decision to go with it. I've been connecting with fans online, which has been a nice silver lining. I'm not mad at this. It can be worse for me right now.”

The project arrives four years after her breakthrough hit “Figures” lodged a dagger into our musical hearts. With just a guitar and her signature messy up-down hairstyle, Jessie highlights her worst fears—giving love but never receiving it. It made her stand out in 2016 and soon become a notable rising act and fan-favorite alongside fellow newbies like Khalid and SZA.

”I’ve been chasing this sh*t my whole life man, don’t ever think I take this sh*t for granted,” she said during a VEVO Halloween show in 2017. Her debut EP Kiddo proved this with diary-entry songs about her journey in the industry. The harrowing “Gatekeepers” dropped in the middle of the #MeToo movement and pointed out a producer who attempted to pressure the young singer into sleeping with him. The single showcased Jessie’s lethal songwriting skills and her bravery in a competitive, and at times, misogynistic industry.

Jessie’s resilience paired with her unparalleled voice has kept her shining in R&B. With the release of her EP Being Human In Public in late 2018, Reyez began to align herself with other fearless women in the game like Kehlani and Normani. The project, featuring sobering tracks like “F**k Being Friends” and “Sola,” earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards. Despite losing to Lizzo, Jessie’s voice in R&B had finally been heard.

Women of Latinx descent have always been entwined in soul music. Lisa Velez, known for her groundbreaking group Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam in the 1980s, released songs like “I Wonder If I Take You Home” (1985) and “From Head to Toe” (1987) in a time where Latinas were expected to sing in Spanish or constantly keep the party going with 120 bpm tunes. The release of their tender, 1986 ballad “All Cried Out” would go on to be sampled by R&B quartet Allure in 1997. Sheila E.’s vital percussions not only inspired Prince but are also infused into the tracks by Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, and Lionel Richie.

These steps would also go on to enlighten artists like Amy Winehouse and Ms. Lauryn Hill–two pivotal artists who Jessie Reyez looks to for inspiration. With fearless grit, Reyez takes risks like her sheroes. For one, she’s not afraid to tap into her latinidad by singing in Spanish (hear the touching “La Memoria”) and incorporating the Mexican traditions of Día De Los Muertos in her new video for “I Do.” As R&B turns a new corner with acts like H.E.R., Ella Mai, and Tory Lanez topping the charts, Jessie's abilities make her a new leader Latinx R&B heads can stan and the music industry execs can take note of.

The combination of mindfulness and rustic songwriting taps into a new kind of pop star for people of color today. With love taking a new shape through apps, FaceTime dates and social media, the love songs have become more brutal with Reyez hitting every wrapped high note.

Speaking with VIBE VIVA, Jessie shares the tragedy of soulmates, creating Before Love Came To Kill Us, her consistent chemistry with Eminem and the perks of being yourself.

Before Love Came To Kill Us seems to be here at the right time. How are you feeling about the release?

Jessie Reyez: I'm definitely nervous and I hope it's the best it can be, I hope it is. I tweaked the sh*t out of it. I kept loving it Monday and hating it on Tuesday. Then I would love it on Wednesday and hate it on Thursday. It was very tumultuous. I wasn't feeling pressure when I started. I was free. The more you fu**ing talk to people, the more you risk their perspective affecting your core. Like when people say, “Oh, it's your first album, did you feel pressure?” “Uh, Nah.” And then the second person asks I say, “Nah.” But then the tenth person is asking if you let that sh*t seep in. You're getting closer to the zone where you might be second-guessing your intuition and that never ends right.

On top of that, we had certain people being like, “We have to make sure the album is cohesive.” I remember dealing with song selections and having this word in my head. As a human being, my innate nature and soul are sporadic. I am polar. I am high and low. I am a Gemini. I am a loving woman and a violent woman. I am all these things and for me to comprise and make this album cohesive, as opposed to making the first album me? I had a window of clarity where I was like, f**k that. People are gonna cry and people are gonna bop. The same way they did on Kiddo and the same way they did on Being Human In Public. I didn't want to make everybody cry for the sake of having everybody cry. F**k that. If I'm a rainbow, I'm the worst ends of the rainbow. If it's a bloody rainbow then it's gonna be a bloody rainbow, you know?

I enjoyed the highs and lows of the album because that’s what love is. I enjoyed the collaboration with Eminem. How was it hearing his verse for the first time on "Coffin"?

He's actually one of the last features of the album. To be honest, Eminem could've sent me the verse saying “Quack, quack, quack,” and it still would've been dope. He's a legend and to welcome a legend on my project, someone I listened to as a kid, it's an honor. When I got it, and it wasn't “Quack, quack, quack,” I was like, “Ahh this is dope.” It could've been nothing and I still would've been honored. The fact that's it dope it's a double W.

There’s a quote about soulmates I heard on The Good Place. It goes, “If soulmates do exist, they're not found, they're made.” Do you believe in soulmates?

I'm one of those people who are reluctant to love because I know that the moment I do, I'm f**ked. When I say I'm f**ked I mean it's an uphill to get me to fall in love. Once I get there, it's like I'm crawling out of hell. Like a vertical crawl. It's the worst because now I'm at the point where...everybody's great because everybody starts great. I'm trying not to let my past experiences harden my heart. Sometimes it feels like the hell always wins for me. I think it's a beautiful sentiment.

I'm not sure if I believe this anymore but there was a point in my life where I really thought that you choose to love. You choose who you love because it's not always going to be easy. But you fight through it when it's hard because it's not always gonna be there. Some days I'm an optimist and some days I'm a pessimist. It just depends. Today, I guess I'm just indecisive.

Does it ever get annoying being the "deep girl?"

Well, I did when people were telling me to make the album cohesive. But sometimes I just wanna go nuts and it's not that serious, it's just who I am. I definitely feel that sometimes people have that expectation but I think I have that discernment to not let that affect how I'm gonna move. So when Monday and Tuesday show up and I feel like I want to be an intellectual, then on Wednesday I wanna post some ridiculous f**king meme or like Sunday I wanna just mess around with my nieces and put it online, I'm gonna do that. I feel like people expect it but I don't really care (Laughs).

What do you think of people still looking for love via FaceTime dates during the coronavirus outbreak? I don’t understand how dating can be a priority right now.

It's funny how situations like this can pull people in different ways. I was having a conversation with someone about this too and they were like, “How the f**k can you be thinking about this right now?" They had the same reaction as you. I don't know but that's just people are different. If you push someone towards death, some are going to figure out ways to get out and some people are just going to accept that it's the end and they're going to see what else they can do before the end. Go find a King or Queen.

The pandemic put a hold on the music industry and like many other events, your tour with Billie Eilish has been postponed. How were the first two dates you got to do together?

We got to do Orlando and Miami together and that was nice. It was great man, she's got puppies on her rider which has gotta be the smartest most potent way to happiness. To see a little baby puppy everywhere you go while you work, that's been my highlight.

If you had to pick the “Best Part” and “Worst Part” of your life, what gets put on the table?

The best part is (pauses) not dealing with slimy dudes anymore, like when I was a bottle service girl/bartender. There were a lot of times where I had to bite my tongue and just thug it out. Especially when I was a bottle service girl, that job is f**king hard. At least when you're a bartender, you have the bar standing in the way, so there's a little bit of protection against you. But the bottle service girl, you're in the trenches. You have to slide through there and cover your ass because guys will slap your ass and be matter-o-facto, it's a f**king jungle and I'm happy I went through it because it made me thicker skinned and it made me hustle more.

The worst part would be (pauses) I read this often in books, the f**ked up part is that when you get everything you want and you're still not happy. There are a lot of things I have been blessed with; a career right now that's blossoming right now and I've been blessed to help out people in my family financially, but I still battle a lot of demons internally that I haven't been able to grab a hold of yet. There are just times on the road where I'm like, “I gotta figure it out.” I gotta figure out how to make my psychological health a priority because as good as my brain and my heart are, I wonder, "Am I doing life right?"

It’s so amazing to watch you grow. How do you keep yourself so centered?

When I started, I made it a point to be as authentic as possible. From the jump, it's been that and I owe a lot of that to my parents. My family was very strict in regard to me not being able to go to sleepovers, not having boyfriends, being raised in a Colombian household in Canada because kids are allowed to do whatever they want but you're not.

Your a** is still getting beat, your ass is still in the house. So that's the case with a lot of minorities, the culture is just different in regards to what we're allowed and not allowed to do as kids. I wasn't allowed to do a lot of sh*t but the stuff I was allowed to do was through self-expression. Even if I wasn't allowed to go to sleepovers, have a boyfriend or leave the block, I was still allowed to wear all my brother's clothes. If I didn't wanna wear any girl clothes, it was fine. I was still allowed to bleach my bangs if I wanted to bleach my bangs.

My dad was prepared for me to cut my hair off and dye it pink, I used to take the old curtains my mom was going to give away and chop them up and make dresses and make hairpieces and all this sh*t and if I wanted to go to school like that I was allowed. My parents were very liberal in that regard, allowing me to spend time writing and doing poetry all day.

I remember once when we moved, they were taking down the (switch border light). The place we moved into had a ton of those that were metal and embellished and my mom hated them so then she took them all down. They all had them downstairs in a box and I took the whole box and brought them to my room. I thought it would be so dope if I took them and hammered them all over my room. So my mom came in and saw and was like, “What the hell did she do? This looks ridiculous but okay.”

Now, I'm grown. If I feel like someone is telling me what to wear, or if I feel like someone is strongly suggesting I need to be in this, the first thing I think of is, “My parents don't tell me what to wear. You think you're gonna tell me what to wear?” I've had that feeling of self-expression since I was a kid. That's not something I'm willing to give up cause I know that it was a gift from my parents. A lot of kids have that repression. You have to make sure your hair looks like this, your shoes are f**king this, all that sh*t and I didn't have that. So I honor it by being true to myself now.

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