Bibi Bourelly describes her master pen game in the latest installment of our semi-monthly series on songwriters and producers called “Views From The Studio”
In times of crisis, life usually offers two options: run with it or from it. For 20-year-old singer/songwriter Bibi Bourelly, controversy has already tried to knock her work (see: Rihanna’s latest “Bitch Better Have My Money“) but her ability to turn a negative into a positive has only made her success stronger.
The Berlin native, whose father is guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly, sees music as a second language. Regardless of the picture she wants to paint on wax, Bibi has a knack for connecting with listeners and has zero problems getting deep.
“I think that I can’t help but put my personal pain in my music because there’s a lot of it. That’s my therapy,” she tells VIBE. “My pain is such a huge part of who I am, like my mom passing, [growing up in] Berlin, and all the struggles that I went through as a young artist and a young creator.”
Here, Bibi details her creative process, meeting Rih and Kanye West, and why she thinks a revolution is underway.
VIBE: Describe the first song you wrote.
Bibi Bourelly: Oh God, that’s a really hard question. My dad is a professional musician so I was born into making music. I must’ve been probably three or four years old but the first song I recall making, like actually making words rhyme and feeling like it had actual structure, was when I was probably six years old. I thought I was Beyoncé or the best writer in the world. I remember it went something like, “Yes it’s me/ I’m so proud you even recognized,” some real weird stuff but you know what, I don’t write out my songs. I kind of freestyle them.
Did you grow up in a musical family?
My dad is Jean-Paul Bourelly, a really prestige guitar player in Europe, and he toured with Miles Davis. I was always surrounded by the most prestige kind of musicians from Senegal, Trinidad, Poland, Nigeria and all around the world. Whether or not I wanted to listen to it or not, I would go to concerts at three and four years old, and went on tour with my dad at 11. Growing up, I inherited a really good understanding for [music] because I’ve heard African music from Africa, and I’ve heard country music when I came here. My dad raised me on everything from his music to Stevie Wonder to A Tribe Called Quest. I learned the Midnight Marauders album in-and-out.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I was in high school at the time and I was really bad at school, but I was still in communication with a producer called Paperboy Fabe, who met me online. I went to summer school to graduate in 2013 and was like ‘Fuck it, I’m going to L.A.’ But it ended up working well.
What inspires your songwriting?
People inspire me. The world inspires me, just the whole concept of life. I think that at an early age, I lost a lot of people to certain elements and I just began to have a real appreciation of how the dynamic of life works. That’s basically what a song is. It’s really unpredictable, it’s rocky, and it moves you.
Are there any other songwriters you turn to?
There’s a bunch of songwriters that I think are super inspiring from James Fauntleroy to Sia to Stevie Wonder. He was really one of the biggest inspirations to me growing up. I remember hearing Stevie Wonder sing at like six or seven years old and being like, ‘Okay, that’s how it’s supposed to sound. That’s what I’m supposed to evoke. That’s how it’s supposed to be.’ As far as songwriting, I’m not sure if they wrote all of their own stuff, but I love the Dixie Chicks. A lot of country [music] writers are dope.
How do you remedy writer’s block?
The first idea is usually the best idea. When I feel like I can’t come up with anything, I just say, ‘Let’s move on.’ I don’t think a song should take longer than two or three hours to write. I think that if it takes longer than that, it’s too thought out, too generic and too technical. It’s not coming from the soul and you’re not saying exactly what you want to say, from my experience.
Walk us through the process of writing “Higher” and “Bitch Better Have My Money” for Rihanna because those two tracks are total opposites in terms of content and production.
I’ve been in the industry in L.A. for a year-and-a-half. When I first came out here, I didn’t really know a lot of people. I have songwriting experience because I’ve been freestyling my whole life but I didn’t know specifically how to write. I never laid down a completely urban record. My stuff is more like “Higher,” more soulful. But “Bitch Better Have My Money” came when we were vibing in the studio with the producer [Deputy] and he pulled up a beat. [The song] came about in like two or three hours. We [were] trying to get that record to Rihanna for a year because it was just an urban record. I wasn’t going to keep it. When she finally heard it, it happened. “Higher” was a little bit of a different process because I went into the studio with Kanye [West], who introduced me to Rihanna. He said he had something that he wanted me to write to and he played the beat for “Higher” that No I.D. did. The first time around, I didn’t really nail it because I was nervous. It was my first time being in the studio with Rih and ‘Ye. I was like, ‘Oh crap.’ I hadn’t known anyone prior to that but then when I locked myself in a room on my own and decided to just be free and be myself, I finished “Higher” in 30 minutes. I sent it back and was like, ‘They’re either going to hate it or love it.’ They loved it and that record opened up a lot of doors for me.
When you found out that “Bitch Better Have My Money” was the next single from Rihanna’s album, what were your initial thoughts?
I’ve been working with Rihanna for a little bit so I knew that was going to be the first single. When she posted it and it became official, I was like, ‘Okay!’ It’s hard because I’ve heard that song for over a year and it’s been in my email for over a year. You get all these people telling you your life is about to change and you’re just like ‘What are you talking about? It’s just a song that I wrote,’ you know what I mean? I can’t really tell you what my thoughts were. My thoughts were scattered. When it dropped, my phone started going off and people were going crazy on Twitter. I was just so grateful. I feel so honored to work for somebody as great as her.
What was it like working with Kanye West?
At first I was really, really nervous because you have to remember, stuff really did happen overnight for me. I went from graduating high school to coming out here and working with Kanye. I was super nervous but when I went in there, he was super cool. It was a cool vibe. After you calm yourself down, you realize he’s cool as hell.
When you listen to other singer-songwriters, do you pick apart their songs? Do you ever sit back and think maybe they could’ve put this word here, change this hook, or use a different melody?
Writing songs is such a personal, spiritual thing that I think it’s not my place to pick apart anyone else’s words or records. What I feel like I want to say may not be perfect for them to say. That might not be the message they’re trying to relay. You often realize when you’re writing a song, especially with other writers, that there’s several equally good options for phrases or melodies, and it just comes down to personal opinion and what you decide or what message you want to relay.
What do you think makes a lyrically good song?
That conversation. I think that it’s important not to just say things. There’s a lot of different styles of writing but for me, it’s saying things the way you would say them to a person. I think there’s truth in that and it relates to everybody. Instead of making up a metaphor for ‘I love you,’ just say ‘I love you’ in a song. I think that grasps a lot of the attention.
You really rep Berlin. How has your hometown influenced your artistry?
Berlin is everything about my artistry. We used to fucking run from police, chill on rooftops, paint the city and do crazy shit—it’s such a huge part of my personality. In Berlin, I went through a lot of pain because my mother passed away there, and I was terrible with school there. I was fighting to be understood, but I also went through so much victory and I met so many incredible people. A lot of these people were worn people, but they were such sweet people. It’s everything, it’s my heart. I love Berlin.
What are five fun facts about yourself?
I play Sims 4 a lot. It’s like the only other thing I’m good at other than music. I can speak fluent German. My mother is Moroccan. I lived in D.C. for like 10 years, back and forth, and when I was in the fifth grade, I was in a group called the Leopard Girls. It was like a rip-off from the Cheetah Girls. We totally copied them. (Laughs)
What’s next for you?
We’re putting out music very soon. I don’t want to give specific dates, but it’s super soon. I’m going to really focus and hone in on myself as an individual, as a person just expressing myself. Hopefully, the world likes it. Would be cool if they did. (Laughs) I’m focused on developing myself, and I have so much music, dude. I have 400 songs that I’ve just worked on for the past year. I’ve been creating every day, like two or three sessions for one year and I’m ready to put it out for the world to see.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I pray and hope that I’m at a high enough level in order for me to really move humanity forward. I think we’re really close to a revolution and at the height of my career as an artist, I think I’m going to be a voice of a revolution in my generation. I hope that at that point in my life, I have enough sense and strength within me to lead a lot of people.
Photo Credit: Instagram/bibibourelly