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Liana Bank$ Debuts "Ghost" From Her Upcoming 'Apt 210' EP

The singer-songwriter spoke to Billboard about her upcoming project. 

Liana Bank$ knows how to make a bold entrance. Beyond her signature neon green locks that have garnered attention at New York Fashion Week, the Queens native debuted her first solo project last fall titled Insubordinate, a collection of 12-tracks that sifts through fluid R&B takes on infectious trap beats, outspoken odes to wild nights and overtones that tap into being true to yourself.

READ: Liana Bank$ “Pleads The Fifth” About Her Wild Nights

But she first jumped on the scene as a songwriter straight out of high school, and the 26-year-old has already made her mark on the charts as the scribe behind PnB Rock’s hit “Selfish” (which peaked at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100). She also has credits on Lily Allen’s forthcoming album.

Bank$ is continuing her own journey through the spotlight with the premiere of her slinky number “Ghost” -- which she created on the spot under boozy inspirations -- and the first single off her upcoming EP apt 210.

Billboard spoke with Bank$ about her new track, transitioning into a solo artist, crafting “Selfish” and working with Allen. The unsigned artist also opened up about navigating industry rejection and her genre-bending identity that she refuses to compartmentalize.

You grew up in a family of musicians. What kind of music were you surrounded by?
My grandmother would have Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown on. My mom would be playing Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston and she would have Shania Twain on all day. I started venturing out really cool, unique sounding artists. After that it was all over, I was grabbing everything.

Billboard: How did you get into songwriting at a young age?
Liana Bank$: It was really just writing my frustrations and thoughts down and turning them into songs. I was extremely shy for no reason but I had a million things to say. So I was like ‘maybe if I write them down it will help me get through the day.’ I always had a mouth but I was really shy.

Do you remember one of the first songs you wrote?
I was working at 14 at Cold Stone [Creamery, the ice cream shop]. I had a really bad altercation at the store, like a customer was rude to me, and I went home and I wrote this song called "I Don't Want to Work." I had to work because I had to help out around the house, but I wrote this song and it was really simple, fun and lighthearted, but still a powerful kid anthem. I think at that time I was like ‘yeah, this is definitely what I want to do’ because it empowered me. I was singing it every time I left work.

I remember at Cold Stone, if you tipped the workers they had to sing for you too.
Yes! That's why I liked the job. I also worked at Johnny Rockets where you had to dance. It was fun. I got to what I wanted to do while doing what I didn't really want to do at the same time. And I made great tips.

What made you want to pursue songwriting first?
Money. I think I wanted to do my other career first but it's going to take money. It's going to take investments. So I was like I might as well just write for people, I have a whole bunch of songs that don't necessarily fit what I'm trying to do.

How was working with Lily Allen?
She’s working on something coming out soon. The producer Dre Skull does a lot of reggae and works with Popcaan. We went in and we did some really cool stuff. It was crazy because I just never thought that I would be in the studio with Lily Allen. I used to listen to her stuff all the time. She was really quirky and cool, and she had this really thought out demeanor, which kinds of remind me of me. We had a great chemistry in the studio.

How did “Selfish” come about with PnB Rock?
It was actually really random. I've written for a lot of Atlantic artists in the past so their person at A&R called me up and was like ‘Hey, I want you to get in with this guy PnB.’ And I didn't even know who he was at the time, but I said 'Cool.' I got there and P happened to be with a producer that my manager used to manage, so it was kind of like a little reunion. And P didn't even know I was there to write. He was smoking, getting high, and I was listening to tracks. I'm sitting there and I guess I was nodding a little bit harder than most people nod. He came over and was like, "You're here to write? I saw your head bopping crazy."

It's weird because he had a girl in the studio that he was trying to talk to. He came up and was like ‘I want to write this song about her.’ She was just sitting right there and we're passing back notes and writing lyrics back and forth about her. He's awesome, actually. I'm working on his next project as well. We've got a couple of songs.

Did you expect the song to get the attention that it did?
You know it’s crazy. I knew it was going to work, be a single. I didn't think that it was going to chart so soon because they didn't put any video promotion behind it. It started to chart and I was just like ‘holy f--k.’ And then Kylie Jenner posted it, singing to it. The “cash me outside” girl posted a video singing it too. I'm like pop culture is taking “Selfish.”

How is that experience, as a songwriter, to hear your work from someone else?
It feels good! It feels amazing that people are connecting and it's able to reach so many different people.

What pushed you to do your own solo work?
I was working with a manager and we were supposed to be working on my project, but somehow it turned into me completely writing for other people. I would get all of these like almost placements where the label would love the record, and then the artist would cut in and be like ‘Oh it doesn't sound like yours. We’re not going to take it because it doesn't sound as good as yours.’ Well buy me out. Bring me to this record or something. I got really frustrated with that and I just went for it. It made more sense to put out my own work.

How was the transition from writing for other people to writing for your own work?
It was awesome because I get to be my truer self. A lot of the times when I'm writing for other people there's certain things that they won't say. And say whatever comes to my mind. I don't like to hold things in and I like to be as raw as possible. It’s nice to be able to have that complete open honesty in my music.

You play around with a lot of sounds. Do you think more people are embracing the idea of genre-less music?
Absolutely, and I love it. For a while, a barrier for me was that a lot of people didn't know how to market me. What I got a lot of time was ‘oh I love her, she can do that and do that, but let's pick one thing and stay there.' But I'm not that one thing. How are you going to make me dumb myself down? So it's pretty cool that now people are starting to get it. Where as before they were turning me down.

Talk to me about “Ghost." How did you come up with it?
I was leaving the studio with one of my producers, there are two of them, and the other guy was at the crib. I just moved in with them and he was working on a track in the living room. I heard it, I came in and I was like ‘What is this? It's giving me Casanova vibes. Loop it and add some drums.’ And then I just started recording on this little mic and I freestyled it in the living room. I'm like this is going to be my first single. This is it.

READ the full interview at Billboard.

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To rise through adversity is to prove to yourself that you are built for the game of life that is really no game at all. That's why when people enter industries that don't mesh with their ideals but the spirit compels them to continue...you have to salute them. So here we have a goddess of an MC in Tiye Phoenix, who earlier this year dropped the illustrious 9-track project, The Master's Program. A woman of many words wrapped in astro-heavy flows, she continues to shed light in the dark spaces of your mind with furious rhymes of deep thought and enlightened spirit. To have her still making music that hits with the power of righteous rebellion is a blessing for us all and it's evident on her latest offering, The Glow EP. From the inspiring opening words, TP proceeds to smash track after track with a strong vocal tone that could rival your hardest voiced male MC yet has a honey tone to make the lessons go down smooth. Peace Queen.

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A post shared by Marc Rebillet (@marcrebillet) on Sep 18, 2020 at 7:05am PDT

 

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Stonebwoy Spits Hot Fire On His "Blaze Dem" Freestyle

Stonebwoy had nothing much to prove when he and his entourage—known as the BHIM Nation—rolled up on a fleet of motorbikes this past weekend to a highly anticipated battle with fellow artist, Shatta Wale, his biggest rival for the title of Africa's Dancehall King. Stonebwoy has come a long way since his humble beginnings in Ashaiman, a seaside town on the outskirts of Accra, the capital city of Ghana.

The internationally renowned West African artist developed his own distinctive musical style, which he describes as Afro-Dancehall, fusing Jamaican dancehall and patois with Afrobeats, hip hop slang, and the local dialect Ewe. He established his own independent company, the Burniton Music Group, as well as a charitable organization, the Livingstone Foundation. He's also earned numerous accolades over the course of his career. He was named Best International Act at the 2015 BET Awards. He has won several Ghana Music Awards, including Artist of the Year. He collaborated with Morgan Heritage on the group's Grammy-nominated 2017 album Avrakedabra and recorded singles with many of Jamaica's top dancehall artists, including Grammy-winners Sean Paul and Beenie Man. His latest album, Anloga Junction, features a hit collab with VIBE cover artist Keri Hilson as well as Nasty C, a South African rapper who signed to Def Jam in March.

Stonebwoy entered the clash arena wearing a full-face gas mask, leaving no doubt that he was taking this competition very seriously. Sponsored by Ghana's Ministry of Health and broadcast by Asaasse Radio in Accra, the virtual clash between him and Shatta Wale was designed to raise proceeds to "crush COVID 19"—but Stonebwoy's mask was more suited for mortal combat than preventing Coronavirus. The first of the 40 songs he unleashed against his nemesis was a hard-hitting new freestyle called "Blaze Dem." Shortly after the clash, Stonebwoy released a music video for the track, featuring visual highlights from the hard-fought battle against Shatta, which has been compared to the epic Verzuz clash between Beenie Man and Bounty Killer.

Best known to international audiences for his appearance on "Already," a Major Lazer–produced from Beyonce's album Black is King, Shatta's provocative style included theatrics, personal insults, and throwing money all over the stage. Stonebwoy, on the other hand, let his melodies, lyrics, and big tunes do the talking. You can watch the full battle here, and stay tuned for Stonebwoy's live chat with Reshma B of Boomshots today at 2 pm ET / 6 pm GT on VIBE's Instagram Live.

Stream his latest album, Anloga Junction, on Apple Music, Spotify, and/or Tidal.

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Toots Hibbert performing at Hammersmith Palais, London in 1983.
Photo by David Corio/Redferns

Remembering Toots Hibbert

The best singers don’t need too many words to make their point. Otis Redding could let loose with a sad sad song like “Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa” and get you all in your feelings. Bob Marley got pulses pounding with his “Whoi-yoooo” rebel yell. Gregory Isaacs melted hearts with nothing more than a gentle sigh. Toots Hibbert, who died last Friday at the age of 77, could sing just about anything and make it sound good. One of the world's greatest vocalists in any genre, Toots paired his powerful voice with the understated harmonies of Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Mathias to form The Maytals, a vocal trinity that never followed fashion and remained relevant throughout the evolution of Jamaican music—from the ska era to rock steady straight through to reggae, a genre named after The Maytals' 1968 classic “Do The Reggay.”

Whether they were singing a sufferer’s selection (“Time Tough”), a churchical chant (“Hallelujah”), or the tender tale of a country wedding (“Sweet and Dandy”), The Maytals blew like a tropical storm raining sweat and tears. The lyrics to Six and Seven Books,” one of The Maytals' earliest hits, are pretty much just Toots listing the books of the Bible. “You have Genesis and Exodus,” he declares over a Studio One ska beat, “Leviticus and Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, Judges and Ruth...” Having grown up singing in his parents' Seventh Day Adventist Church in the rural Jamaican town of May Pen, Toots knew the Good Book well.

The Maytals broke out worldwide in 1966 thanks to the song “Bam Bam,” which won Jamaica's first-ever Independence Festival Song Competition, held during the first week of August as the island nation celebrated both independence from Great Britain in 1862 and emancipation in 1834. They would go on to win the coveted title two more times, but “Bam Bam” was a singular song with a message every bit as powerful as Toots' voice. “I want you to know that I am the man," Toots sang. He was young and strong, ready to "fight for the right, not for the wrong." The trajectory of "Bam Bam" would not only transform Toots' life but make waves throughout popular music worldwide.

"Festival in Jamaica is very important to all Jamaicans," the veteran singer stated in a video interview this past summer while promoting his latest entry into the annual competition. "I must tell you that I won three festivals in Jamaica already, which is “Bam Bam,” “Sweet & Dandy” and “Pomp & Pride.” Toots described that first festival competition as a joyous occasion. "Everybody just want to hear a good song that their children can sing," he recalled. "Is like every artist could be a star."

In 2016, on the 50th anniversary of "Bam Bam" winning first place, Toots looked back over the legacy of the tune that made him a star. "I didn’t know what it means but it was a big deal," he told Boomshots. "You in the music business and you want to be on top and you write a good song and you go on this competition and if they like it then it becomes #1." After The Maytals won, the group was in demand not just all over the island, but all over the world. "We start fly out like a bird," he says with a laugh. "Fly over to London."

"Bam Bam" went on to inspire numerous cover versions, starting with Sister Nancy, Yellowman, and Pliers. It would also be sampled in numerous hip hop classics, and interpolated into Lauryn Hill's "Lost Ones." But according to Toots, he did not benefit financially from these endless cover versions. "People keep on singing it over and over and over, and they don’t even pay me a compliment," he told Boomshots. "I haven’t been collecting no money from that song all now."

 

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“This man don’t trouble no one... but if you trouble this man it will bring a Bam Bam” Original Maytals Classic @tootsmaytalsofficial 🎶 All them a talk, them nuh bad like Niya Fiya Ball ☄️🔥💥 via @tonyspreadlove . 💥💣🔫#Boomshots

A post shared by Word Sound & Power (@boomshots) on Sep 12, 2020 at 8:19am PDT

When Toots began singing in his parents' church, music was not seen as a career prospect, and the profits were slim for Jamaican recording artists in the 1960s. "Those days we get 14 cents for the record to play on the radio," Toots said. "I get three shillings and five shillings for a number one record, which I had 31 number one record in Jamaica... It’s not about money for me. It’s about the quality that Jamaicans need to go back in the festival jamboree... You gotta talk to the children."

On the poignant “54-46 (Was My Number),” Toots recalls the dehumanization of his arrest and 18-month imprisonment at Jamaica's Richmond Farm Correctional Center for what he always insisted was a trumped-up ganja charge just as his music career was taking off. The song's crescendo comes two minutes in when Toots breaks into a scat solo that cannot be translated into any language known to man, delivered with palpable passion that made his message universal. During Toots' ecstatic stage performances he would follow this riff by commanding his band to “Give it to me... one time!” Then the 'd make 'em say Uh!  (Way before Master P!) “Give it to me... two times!” Uh! Uh! And so on and so forth until Toots worked the place into a frenzy.

The Maytals' live show was so explosive that Toots began touring all over the world, opening for rock megastars like The Rolling Stones and The Who. While Bob Marley richly deserved the title King of Reggae, his friend Toots was performing internationally before The Wailers, and remained a force to be reckoned with throughout his life, blazing a trail for generations of reggae artists to follow in his footsteps.

On his Grammy-winning 2004 album True Love, Toots recorded some of his greatest hits with a host of legendary artists, many of whom were also good friends, including Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, and Eric Clapton. His 2006 cover of Radiohead's "Let Down" was a favorite of the band's, who used to play it on their tour bus. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood called Toots’ version “truly astounding,” according to Easy Star Records Michael Goldwasser.

Toots supported himself and his family by touring all over the world. During a 2013 show in Richmond, Virginia he was singing John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" when a teenager in the crowd threw a vodka bottle at the stage and hit him on the head. He suffered a concussion and had to stop touring for several years. As his first album in a decade, Got To Be Tough was highly anticipated when it was released on Trojan Jamaica label August 28. On the cover the former boxer and lifelong fighter can be seen throwing a punch. Just a day after the album dropped, Toots came down with symptoms similar to COVID 19. Within a few days he was hospitalized where doctors placed him into a medically induced coma from which he never recovered. As his Tidal obituary pointed out, he passed away exactly 33 years after his old friend Peter Tosh died by gunfire.

Songs like "Just Brutal" from the hit different now, with Toots pleading for more love in a world gone wrong. "We were brought here," Toots sings. "Sold out. Victimized brutally. Every time I keep remembering what my grandfather said before he died."

“I’m feeling alright,” Toots said the last time we spoke, while he was still sidelined with stress issues due to the bottle-throwing incident. "I’m feeling alright. I’m feeling alright. I’m feeling just cool because is Jah works. You seet?" I asked him if the song "Bam Bam," was about him—a peaceful man who should not be provoked—or else. "Nooo don't trouble him," Toots said with a laugh. "It’s gonna be double trouble, triple trouble. A lot of trouble."

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