Carving a lane for yourself in the music industry is always a difficult task. It is especially daunting in the digital age of social media. Amare Symoné, however, is up for the challenge, as the 19-year-old is already well on her way to making her wildest dreams come true.
Performing since a young age, the California-born, Brooklyn-raised singer is an artistic extension of her parents Mahogany L. Browne and Jive Poetic, both of whom tour the world as working poets. Symoné released her EP titled Glass Windows via SoundCloud on Oct. 12, and has performed throughout New York and Chi-Town whilst still finding time for her schoolwork as a student of Columbia College Chicago. She was featured on the #LTAB2016 Mixtape and Twitter Mixtape: The Spring Experiment 2016, and was a recipient of the 2016 Converse Rubber Tracks.
VIBE caught up with Symoné to discuss her musical aspirations, opening statement to the game, and how to remain authentically yourself in a society obsessed with what meets the eye and that lives to box you in. —J’na Jefferson
VIBE: Each of the music scenes you’ve grown up around or lived in are very different. How would you describe each of them?
Amare Symoné: I think New York is very obviously hip-hop based, and because there’s such an original sound, it’s very hard to do something different from that. New York is always super stubborn when it comes to their sound, they’re always trying to preserve it, if you know what I mean. It’s understandable though, because hip-hop was popularized there and essentially created there. Chicago is so versatile and it gives you space to do what you want to do. So there are Chance The Rappers’ and Mick Jenkins’ who are able to coexist in the same space, and still be successful like Chief Keef or G Herbo. So that’s pretty interesting, I love that they allow you to grow. That’s why I came here [Chicago] for college, because I needed another big city that could foster my growth but also challenge me. California is different because it’s a lot of funk. It’s a different type of sound, it’s more laid-back, smooth, R&B, funk. I think all three places that I’ve lived have definitely inspired me when it comes to my music, and all the different styles I try to include.
How would you say that your sound pulls from these places?
I’m still growing in terms of my sound, but I do know that the soul that I would hear in a lot of old hip-hop songs, my dad was a DJ so I grew up hearing a lot of late ’90s, early 2000s hip-hop and rap.
The good stuff!
All the good stuff, right? I don’t wanna throw shade [Laughs], but I like old hip-hop way more. Even the soul samples and the soul singers, I definitely take from that. That’s really why I love listening to old rap, because it brings me back to that stage, and it inspires me even more. In terms of Cali, I think that I do want to bring more of that funk element into my music. I have not yet, but I do want to work with more instrumentalists. I definitely want to bring that fresher sound into my music, and more live-sounding music. I think that’s gonna challenge me in a way, but I also realize as an artist, we no longer use instrumentalists as much as we used to, and instrumentalists used to have their own sound. People could tell, ‘oh, that’s so-and-so on the trumpet,’ or ‘that’s so-and-so on the piano.’ They had a distinct sound. But now, instrumentals have taken over, instrumentalists don’t really get to have their own sound in someone’s song. It’s no longer their own, it’s more producers. I don’t want my music to be so electronic, I do wanna keep the music as human as possible. I want a human handprint on my music, I don’t just want to work with various producers. I do want to try and produce my own music in the future as well. Chicago did a good job preserving jazz music, just like New York, and I think that’s really dope. I do try to implement jazz into my music as well. I do try to scat, even trying to bring as much of a jazzy feel as possible.
Where do you think your love of music came from, and who do you think influenced your interest in it?
My mom, when she was pregnant with me, she said that she sang in choir. Surprisingly though, I’m the only singer in my family. My parents are both poets and writers and activists, but I think my love of music came from my parents’ love of music. My mom was a journalist, she was around music when she came from California to New York, so she had a love of music. My dad was also a DJ, so I think my love came from my parents. I think it’s also just a part of African American culture, like music, art, even when they try to tell us that art isn’t important in life. It is, and it’s what we’ve done to survive for so many years. We’ve created music to survive.
Why is your EP titled ‘Glass Windows’? What’s the meaning behind that title?
Thank you for asking! [Laughs] Everything I do with my art is very much intentional, everything. From the way I titled my ‘Glass Windows’ EP to the way my song titles look. Everything is intentional, so thank you for asking that. Glass Windows means being vulnerable, and everything is on display, and you can’t really hide anything. Imagine being in a box, and it’s got glass windows. You can’t hide any of that. You have no choice but to be anything but vulnerable, and I wanted to bring that to the forefront for my EP because a lot of it was just me being really honest. Since it was my first EP, my first-ever recorded project, period, I just wanted to be really vulnerable with my audience and my listeners. I wanted my introduction to be as raw as possible, because that’s just how I am as a person. I just try to be as much myself as possible. Vulnerability makes you brave because you’re choosing to be vulnerable and you’re choosing not to hide all the things that society would say are too ugly to talk about.
Where do you come up with your lyrics? Are they inspired by the places you’ve been, the experiences you’ve had?
I’d definitely say a mixture of both. I’ve had the opportunity to travel a lot, and that could be because my parents are professional poets and artists, so they get to travel because of their careers. I’ve been to Paris, the Bahamas, Jamaica. I’ve gotten to experience many different cultures in Brooklyn and California. The ability to travel has really helped with my writing, as well as my poetry background. I like to read a lot, I think we should really take advantage of it. Even if you can’t afford to go on a trip to here or there, you can at least travel in a book. You can go somewhere for a minute. You can be outside of yourself and your mind, you’re just in somebody else’s world that they’ve created for you. I definitely try and keep up with poetry and books, other people’s music, other people’s art, visual art, performance art, all of that. That’s where I get my writing from.
A photo posted by #GlassWindowsEP (@amaresymone) on
When you do poetry and writing, do you find yourself writing in a similar style to that of your parents? Or do you have your own voice?
I think that we are all products of who we are influenced by. So, if I read and listening to only Nina Simone and Maya Angelou, I’m gonna be inspired by them. If I listen to Beyoncé and Alicia Keys, I’m gonna be inspired by them no matter what. We definitely take a lot from our influencers, but it’s our job to take it and make it into our own, because that’s what they would want us to do. They wouldn’t want their art to be stolen. So, I definitely feel like my poetry and lyrics have been influenced by my parents, but I try to recreate it in my own way for sure.
On your Soundcloud, the description to your EP read, “I reintroduce my humanity and fearlessness to be brave and accept the person I have always been.” Have you ever tried to be someone you’re not?
I can easily remember being in Brooklyn and trying to claim to be all of these different ethnicities and races. “Oh yeah, I’m this! Oh yeah, I’m that!” Just to be a different black, because I was made to feel like if I’m not hella Caribbean, and I don’t speak the perfect patois, or if I’m not Latina, these boys ain’t checkin’ for me. I’m not beautiful. So, I would try to be something I wasn’t and people I wasn’t, instead of just taking pride in who I was. For sure, that was a time that I can remember off the top, just me trying to be someone I’m not. Even freshman year, it was really hard. I was growing into myself, and I realized I was around people who wanted to stunt my growth and didn’t want me to become a different type of person. They didn’t want me to grow, they didn’t want me to change. They didn’t want me to evolve and prosper and progress.
How’d you snap yourself out of that?
I snapped myself out of that by making sure to cut off those people that just had negative intentions. I made sure to cut those people off because I figured, “you know what? You’re not letting me grow into this woman that I want to be. You’re not allowing me to grow into the person I want to become, that I’ve always needed to become.” There’s a reason why I moved to Chicago, there’s a reason why I chose Columbia College Chicago, there’s a reason why I met the people I met and why we’re here. There’s a reason for everything. I recently lost a friend, and he’s the first producer I ever worked with, and when I first moved to Chicago, I met him and we ended up cutting my first song, “DWR.” But there’s a reason why I was supposed to meet him. There was a reason why we were supposed to make music.
Sometimes you just have to get rid of the mud to get to the clear water you choose to surround yourself with.
Tons of the songs are pretty personal, so what would you say is the track on the EP that is the most personal, and why?
I think “Not Enough” is my most personal record because for years, as a black woman in America, I felt like I was never enough. I didn’t resemble the women on TV who always looked made up and done. On social media, you’re like “I don’t look like this girl on Instagram, I don’t look like this girl on Tumblr,” and “if I post a picture, I’m not gonna get as much love.” Sometimes you have to take a break from social media because it literally breaks you down! I even had a moment the other day where I was like, ‘I don’t feel pretty,” and I know I’m beautiful, but I don’t feel pretty. Social media does a great job of making you feel like you are not enough. So, I have moments, and I really needed to write that song because I knew that I wasn’t the only one out here feeling like this. I need to make a song, I need to make music that’s going to save somebody’s life other than mine. I need to put this out in the world, and I want this to do something in the world. So, I definitely feel like “Not Enough” is very personal.
I feel that a lot too. People measure their self-worth more in likes and comments and followers rather than just looking in the mirror and believing in themselves what’s actually true. I find myself like, “do I want to post it on this, or on another site that will get more love?” And I shouldn’t be like that!
Oh my gosh. Yes! So scary!
To be a millennial and to have these things dictate the way we think and the way we feel and act, unfortunately, is how it is. You’re only 19?
Just turned 19, yep!
You’re so young. But it’s nice to talk to a 19-year-old who sees that things are different, not only for millennials, but for black millennials and black women. You don’t let it tear you down.
Thank you! It is hard, especially after this election. This was the first election I voted in and I’m like “oh my god, why does this have to be the first election that I got to vote in?” The sexism has gone too far. Even in the music industry.
What has been your favorite venue to perform at, and what’s the energy like compared to other venues?
I think my favorite venue was performing at NuYo. I love performing at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. My mom hosts on Friday, but even those who don’t know me, I get so much love with my art. The other venues, they’re just as supportive, but don’t feel like home as much. I like performing at YCA, Young Chicago Authors. They’re dope, but New York is my home and NPC, I grew up around the people that work there, you know? It’s just different, it’s nothing but love when I go there. Chicago is so prideful though. That’s really hard for me as a New Yorker, sometimes it’s overwhelming, but I love this city. I’ve had tons of firsts in Chicago, a lot of growth here. It’s a beautiful city.
What are you hoping 2017 brings you?
I want to be able to do things to help me accomplish my goals. My goal is to get attention with my art. I want to inspire people and I want to break genre boundaries and talk about many of the things that aren’t talked about in music. I’m happy that there’s more awareness with certain things in music. I just want to talk about it in different ways. I hope that 2017 brings me more opportunities to meet the people that see me and hear my music and see what I’m fighting for. I need a challenge so that I can become better. I want to travel! I want to be able to live off my art. I want to perform at Afro Punk and Lollapalooza and North Coast. I want to just be able to continue to perform and later on my career, I want to be able to mentor aspiring artists and people of color. I just want to help those who love the arts, and want to help in a different way.