Courtesy of Marcus Owens

Tamia Is Still Passionate About Music Seven Albums Later

Tamia gave our feelings—the ones we couldn't admit to our friends and even to ourselves—melody and meaning.

Tamia has always believed in love. Before "being in your feelings" was considered a handicap, Tamia told us she was "So Into You." Before bae started acting brand new, Tamia warned us there's a "Stranger In My House," and before scrolling through old text messages became a coping mechanism for a breakup, Tamia said she was "Officially Missing You." Tamia's love has always been stronger than her pride so when she sang,  it made everything okay. More importantly, she gave our feelings–the ones we couldn't admit to our friends and even to ourselves–melody and meaning.

After six albums and six Grammy nominations, Tamia is still eager about creating music that makes you feel, which in the age of RTs and DMs is as analog as you can get. But while others are quietly lusting after the photos populated under the "relationship goals" hashtag, Tamia and her retired basketball bae, Grant Hill, have been living it for 19 years.

The 43-year-old hopped on the line with VIBE to discuss her newest album Passion Like Fire. Having recorded it for about a year, Tamia says this record inspired the most songwriting she's ever done. We talked about keeping her passion for music alive, authenticity, and if she would respond to Grant Hill sliding into her DMs today.


VIBE: The musical landscape is totally different from when you first entered. Why did you decide to create another album?
Tamia: (Laughs) Just because the landscape changes doesn’t mean you stop doing what you’re doing. I think you change with the landscape. From my first album, of course, yes, things have changed. I was 19, signed when I was 17, and let’s just say I’m not 17 anymore. [laughs]  I’ve been able to navigate through the changing system. Certainly, there have been things that have helped artists like myself like social media. Being able to reach out to your fans directly and tell them, "I’m going on tour for the next two months. Come check me out." Although the landscape has changed, in any business, you sort of have to learn.

Your new song "Leavin It Smokin" has the line “passion like fire.” Why did that line stick out for you so much to name the album that?
You know you talked about the changing landscape and everything, but if you’re like me and you’re fortunate enough to have a job you love you definitely have to have a passion to grind. The reason I named the album Passion Like Fire is because I’m still passionate about the music and passionate about all aspects of it whether it’s writing, the independent aspect of it, whether it’s going on tour, connecting with fans. This is not something I play around with and I’m very passionate about it. Even after the seventh album I still have that same fire about the music like I was for the first album.

How do you define passion?
For me, I define it as what drives you, what keeps you up at night and what wakes you up in the middle of the night. What are you constantly thinking about and what you are trying to do better; trying to see how you could fix something or maybe seeing how you can change something. I’m working on tour now and everybody in my camp agrees that we talk whatever time we get ideas. For an example, for the album, there is a song called “You Are Loved,” and I was literally asleep and in my sleep I was singing the song verbatim, saying the chorus. I woke up and sometimes I forget things and I leave it. This time I was like I have to put this down, so I sang it into my phone. I was in LA and I’m sure it was super early in the morning, and I left a message for my producer like "literally I woke up with this, let’s figure out what this is." That’s passion. It’s something that you can’t stop thinking about because you want to make sure it’s right, to see it through, and you won’t stop until you see it through.

Your record "Today I Do" is a beautiful ballad. Why do you think we don't hear songs like that much?
Love is timeless, and I think you [still] do hear those kinds of songs. I’ve been super fortunate to have some songs that people play at their weddings. I’ve been to several weddings and had my own, obviously, and I remember walking down the aisle and I really just wanted a song that would represent that [feeling]. I think love never dies and a love song never goes out of style.

Your album is sensual and romantic. What can listeners learn about romance and sensuality in the age of sliding in the DMs?
(Laughs) Right. For me, it’s about a connection with a person. The mental connection is just as important as the physical. Communicating your feelings and being vulnerable and all of those things take time to develop. I think any relationship that’s sort of worth having needs to develop. Music, lyrics, the atmosphere. That’s why people light candles and turn down the lights and do all of those things to set the mood. So I think music is a great way to do that. There have been cases where people meet on a blind date and get married, or they slid in DMs and it works out. However, it works. It starts with communicating, and the mental and physical.

If Grant Hill slid in your DMs today would you be receptive?
(Laughs) I mean obviously, of course.

I loved the lyrics to “Lost In You.” I spoke with a very good R&B singer, and he said one of his biggest qualms is that singers aren’t writing any songs with real substance. Do you agree?
Well, he should write the songs. Being a singer-songwriter is super important because you want to be able to give your perspective on things. If he feels like there aren’t any songs with singers really saying something, definitely keep writing and say those things. Put your perspective out there.

Why do you think you’re writing more on this album than other albums?
I think it’s confidence. I think with age comes confidence. Knowing the perspective that I’ve wanted to sing about. This is what I want. This is what I’m feeling. This is what I want to say. This is something I want to say in the song. I think maybe it comes with maturity and confidence in who you are and in your perspective. That was just always important to me. It always starts with the song. The production comes later but you have to have the song and as a singer, I have to be able to convey what I’m singing about.

All of your songs make me feel feelings.
Well, that's good.

One of my favorites is "So Into You." Where were you in your life when you recorded that song?
I'm now celebrating 20 years of "So Into You." I was in California and Quincy Jones was in the room and we recorded that with Tim [Kelley] and Bob [Robinson] and I co-wrote that as well. I just remember when I first heard that it was a very feel-good sounding record. And that’s the great thing about music.

It feels like a sunny day.
It does. It feels like a good hug, like one of those good Oprah hugs. That’s the amazing thing about music, it does take people to a time and place. I’m very proud that when you hear my music you have feelings. That’s what it should do. It should make you feel and that’s important to me as a singer, but as a body of work, I do want people to feel and to be brought back to a place in time where that song spoke to them and makes them feel something.

When people listen to Passion Like Fire What do you want them to take away from it?
I am still super passionate about music and hopefully, they see the growth from my first album to this album. I’ve always tried to sing about love and all aspects when they listen to the album. I hope they feel. Period.

READ MORE: Through Thick And Thin, Tamia Professes Her Loyalty On ‘Stuck With Me’

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After learning The Alphabet Song as a little girl, Kiana Lede would always “get in trouble” for singing during class. “My mom was like, ‘why can't you focus?’” she laughs while reminiscing on her career’s formative years. “I was like, ‘I don’t know! Songs are just playing in my head all the time!’”

Whilst sitting in a shoebox-sized room at Midtown Manhattan’s Moxy Hotel on a humid September day, the now- 21-year-old Arizona-bred R&B songbird, actress and pianist speculates that she “may have had ADD.” However, she settles down after taking off her white cowboy boots and flops down on the ivory-clothed bed, demonstrating that her fiery Aries energy can be contained. Cool as a cucumber, Lede shuffles between chewing on banana candies and blowing smoke rings after taking drags from a pen, all while musing about her journey to becoming a Republic Records signee.

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After winning Kidz Bop’s 2011 KIDZ Star USA talent contest at 14 (which her mother secretly entered her into), Lede was signed to RCA Records. She was released from her contract and dropped from the label three years later. However, thanks to guidance and friendship from the Grammy-winning production duo Rice N’ Peas, (who’ve worked with G-Eazy, Trevor Jackson, and Bazzi), she released covers of songs such as Drake’s “Hotline Bling” while working to get her groove back. The latter rendition resulted in Republic Record’s Chairman and CEO Monte Lipman flying her out and signing her to his label.

“I got a second chance, which a lot of people don't get,” she reveals. “So I'm really happy that that all happened. I wouldn't be here right now in this room if that didn't happen.”

Thanks to the new opportunity she was given, Lede’s sound has evolved into something she’s proud of—equal parts soul, R&B and bohemian. As evidenced by the aforementioned ensemble, glimmers of each aesthetic can be found when observing her personal style as well. She released her seven-song EP Selfless in July, which features the bedroom-ready “Show Love” and “Fairplay,” which manages to fit in the mainstream R&B vein while also showcasing her goosebump-inducing vocals. The remix of the latter features MC A$AP Ferg. What pleases her most is that it not only garnered a favorable response from fans, but that those listeners found it so relatable.

“As an artist, it's really nerve-wracking for someone who writes about such personal things all the time,” she says. “Just the fact that it is my story… It's good to know that other people know that there's somebody on their side, and they're not the only ones going through it. A lot of people obviously feel this way, and have been through this same thing that I've been through. So I think that's cool.”

Although she moved to various places as a Navy serviceman’s daughter, Lede claims Phoenix as home. This means she hails from the same stomping grounds as rockers Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks and the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. However, growing up in a mixed race household gave way to tons of sonic exploration outside of the rock-heavy scene.

“My dad's black, and both of my parents are from the East Coast,” she says of her musical and ethnic upbringing (she’s black, Latina and Native American). “[My parents] listened to a lot of R&B. My mom listened to a lot of SWV, TLC, Boyz II Men. I didn't realize I knew the songs until I got older. I played a charity show with T-Boz, and I was like 'why do I know these songs?'” Lede also says her father was a fan of neo-soul and gangsta rap, but she personally believes the early-2000s was the best time for music.

“[That era] influences a lot of my music subconsciously, and also, singer-songwriter stuff,” she continues. “I listen to a lot of early-2000s music because I played piano most of my life. I listened to Sara Bareilles, John Mayer.”

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“When I'm anxious and depressed, it's really hard to be happy,” Lede says. “Most of the time, I can do it, but there are just some days where I literally can't separate the anxiety, and I can't tell anybody why, because I don't really know why myself… I was feeling very odd that day, didn't even know if I could write a song. Hue [Strother], the guy who I wrote the song with, he was like 'I totally get you. Lots of people go through this.’’’

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“My passion is really people. Music is just a way that I can get to helping people,” she says with a grin. “Helping people emotionally and physically are both very important. I never want to stop helping people. I feel if other people can respect me, and I can respect myself, then I'll be happy. Happiness is all that we strive for.”

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As for the future of her career, she’s looking forward to more acting roles. You may recognize her from the first season of MTV’s Scream, and after her recent Netflix series All About The Washingtons with legendary MC Rev Run was cancelled, she has been “reading for auditions” and is “negotiating” for a role in a film set to shoot in NYC. While her time with the Run-DMC frontman was brief, she says he taught her about the importance of “not compromising your art for money.”

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“I want to be able to look back on my career and think 'man, I really poured my heart into this music, and made music that mattered, and made music that made people feel a certain way, whether it's bad, good, sad, anxious, whatever it may be.’”

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