In September, I received an invitation to attend a studio session featuring an artist whose name I’d quickly commit to memory: Aiyana-Lee. I listened to the sampler her team sent over and immediately knew I had to see her for myself. To say I was impressed with what I witnessed in that intimate Los Angeles studio would be an understatement.
Signed to HITCO, a label co-founded by L.A. Reid, Aiyana-Lee hails from LA by way of London. The 20-year-old has the soul of someone who’s been here before, but balanced with youthful energy. She’s inviting in a way that makes you feel like a close friend whose relationship with her always picks up where it left off, regardless of how much time has passed.
Despite her black pixie cut and modelesque frame that’d convince you she’s a guitar-smashing rockstar, Aiyana-Lee isn’t confined to a single genre. Influenced by Amy Winehouse, Christina Aguilera, Motown, and her multiplatinum singer-producer of a mother, Nicole Daciana Anderson, the biracial songstress has an it factor that can’t be labeled, but is unmistakable when you hear it.
I caught up with the budding sensation to discuss her latest singles “Rich Kids” and “Gangster of Love,” as well as her long-term goals as an artist.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
Following the release of “Rich Kids,” how have things been?
Aiyana-Lee: Oh my gosh. It’s just honestly been so much, just sharing the music with people. Behind the scenes, we’ve just been sharing it and seeing everyone bring such a different take to the songs. “Rich Kids” [is] a story I’ve been wanting to tell for so long because when I got to [Los Angeles], [my mom & I] were broke, eating canned foods. We [had] lost my childhood home and struggled to make ends meet, so I thought it was the right time to drop something like “Rich Kids” because I know so many other people struggle through that. I’m like, yes, I’m not alone. ‘Cause you feel so alone when it’s actually happening to you. Music is that one connector in my life that I feel like just unified me with so many people.
You consider “Rich Kids” to be your debut, but discuss your growth since 2020’s “Inside My Sin.” Do you now feel disconnected from that song?
Oh wow! I think that “Inside My Sin” was such a great starting point. It really set the tone musically for where I wanted to venture, but there has been such a big growth since then. We really honed into who I am as a person, what my character is, the experiences I’ve [had] throughout the last five years. There is such a growth between “Inside My Sin” and “Rich Kids,” and even between “Rich Kids” and “Gangster [of Love].” Every song feels like an uncovering [of] a different piece of the puzzle to what this whole project is.
How would you describe Aiyana-Lee to new fans?
A lot of times people try to say that the artist is different than the person. But to me, the artist is like the extension of the person. It’s the way you express how you’re feeling. It’s the link between you and this kind of creativity. And how would I describe [myself]? I would say authentic above all else.
For me, this whole project has just been being really real and honest and raw about my emotions, which sometimes can be a little bit scary, especially when admitting when I’m wrong on the project. A lot of times I’m admitting emotions that I’m not proud of, but [that] I still want to share and be open and vulnerable about. So just vulnerability, authenticity, and being who you are. That’s what I stand for as an artist.
What kind of stories do you want to tell through your music?
Coming here, being super broke and trying to make it, and then kind of figuring out what Hollywood is and what lies here—the fake producers, the music creeps, the sexism—there’s so many factors and moving parts to this city. I have a song called “Hollywood” that dives into the fake things and people and those experiences. Then, something like “Gangster of Love” where it’s talking about falling in love with someone, but not letting yourself be taken advantage of in that love. It’s still such an empowering song. I feel like in love songs, you’re kind of a victim of love. But in this, I’m dominating it. I’m just excited for everybody to be able to hear the full [project] top to bottom.
I’ve been playing “Gangster of Love” since the listening party. This is my favorite song. What was the inspiration behind it?
This record is so special because, again, I didn’t feel like there was a love song. Everyone was talking about being a victim of love. [But] this [one is] conquering it, being very aware of the situation, being self-aware. And I feel like it’s almost a little bit of a warning as well. Like if you break my heart, it’s not going to be great for anybody. I’m not a heart you can break. I am not the one.
The lyrics are so visual and really paint the picture of what this song is. You can be vulnerable in love, right? You can let your walls down, but at the same time you are going to respect me. I can still see the red flags. I’m not blinded with rose colored glasses to not see what’s happening. So, you know, I am the gangster of love. I just love what it’s saying and what it encompasses, and I think it’s just an empowering love anthem.
I love that. I can’t wait for people to consume it over and over again. Let’s talk about some of your musical inspirations.
Oh my God, I love this. Well, first of all, my mom is my biggest musical inspiration. It’s incredible because she’s a single mother and there was always music in the house. There was always music playing. She had the best quality music playing from Christina Aguilera, [who’s] a huge inspiration to me. Of course, you have Amy [Winehouse], Adele, Bruno Mars, and a lot of Motown stuff that we encompassed and infused in this project. With this whole project, we were not afraid to experiment. Not necessarily [trying] to be like anybody else, but just close the door and really focus on what I wanna create as a person. I listened to so much music from rock to R&B to pop that I feel like this album has all of that.
I was gonna ask you whether the project is solely R&B, or encompasses several different genres.
It’s definitely several different, including R&B, for sure. On another song called “Miserable,” there’s so many different flavors, but the cool part about it is that it still feels cohesive because it’s like almost the same narrator and the same story is being told throughout, but we definitely encompassed a lot of different genres.
Can you give fans of sneak peek into the visual aspect for “Gangster of Love?”
Well, what I can say is that with any music video we do, I want people to just feel what it is through the visuals. It’s such an important part of the artist journey and really showcasing what that song is, ’cause it’s another layer almost to the story when you add a visual to it. So, all I can say is that it’s gonna be a shocker.
Do you feel you have to live up to the “Bedroom” video and its millions of views?
I think I always strive to, [but] I feel like it’s more. I want to reach people who will receive and enjoy the music. It doesn’t matter. Of course you always want to get to more people and have a bigger audience so you can really have live shows and experience it collectively with a lot of people. But to me, as long as it’s reaching people and they feel something, that’s the biggest goal for me as an artist. If I touch a hundred people and they’re like, “This really helped me,” I’ve done the job.
When can fans expect the full project?
The full project will definitely be dropped next year. And I definitely want to do shows. Whatever form that is. Whether that’s in Los Angeles and hopefully getting to [be the] opening act for a tour, that would be also incredible. Those are being worked out now, but you know, again, I’m just excited to touch more people hopefully and just broaden the audience and kind of create this safe space in community [with] people who just really love music and share the same stories… That’s the ultimate goal.
Watch the full lyric video for “Gangster Of Love” below.