Lalah Hathaway isn’t interested in labels. After all, her Grammy wins this year for her self-titled live cover album prove it. Back in February, the Chicago darling took home the most wins in the Traditional R&B category– within minutes of each other.
“I was having dinner with Anita Baker and she said, ‘Who gets a Grammy for a cover?,’” the singer tells me at a cozy studio in Inglewood days after the ceremony. Her relaxed attire fits the mood, with her long purple tipped dreadlocks sitting in a bun. From the outside the studio would go unnoticed but inside, it’s housed legendary sessions with Snoop Dogg and now, Hathaway.
“It is a honor and it’s what I represent in a large way,” she added about her wins. ”The tradition of people that make that music and push it forward.”
Even after making history, the singer would rather test the limits of her resounding vocals than float comfortably on one sound. While listening to cuts from her forthcoming album honestly, there’s an electronic-bluesy presence, a stark difference from her 2015 project. There’s also bold stances on love throughout tracks like “change ya life” and “what you need,” paired with joyous cuts “i can’t wait” and the revolutionary Lecrae-assisted jam, “don’t give up.”
“I’ve always felt like my intent was to do as much as I wanted to do,” she explains. Her green demeanor would almost make you forget her veteran status. The daughter of music legend Donny Hathaway released her first album 1990 and has ruled the charts ever since. “I don’t want to be limited by the box I go in at the record store. Or by the page I go onto on iTunes. I wanna be able to make as many types of records or contributions as I can. So I’m still at the top of figuring it out. I’ll think to myself, ‘Well this year let’s [work with] Kendrick, Snoop, Gladys Knight, Blink 182, Missy Elliot, Kirk Franklin, etc.,’ just as many as I can.”
Months later, Hathaway paid a visit to VIBE offices in New York, cozy once again with her dreads flowing freely while rocking her signature camo jacket. Pleasantly listening to the album once again, its title track holds a greater meaning than falling out of love. Released earlier this month, the music video for “honestly” translates into a love affair with America.
Children depict the iconic war-related images in modern history, from The Burning Monk to the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute. Footage from Ferguson, Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter marches are included, showing just how much pain lives in our relationship to the soil we’re taught to honor and respect.
“My Twitter and Facebook feeds right now are off the chain right now and have little to do with music and more to do with the resistance,” she says. “The music is also that because I refuse to let the world steal my joy.” Her song with Lecrae is the clear byproduct. “We’re really trying to get people to sing the songs and act out but it’s still out of love,” she says about the message in “don’t give up.” “It’s still out the expression of hope for the future and faith. All of those concepts go with love.”
Lalah wasn’t alone on her journey to the creation of honestly. There’s Steph Thom, her creative partner who summed up the album in three words; “Real Music Rebels.” It happens to be the name of their music collective that includes pal Robert Glasper and cool kids like The Internet and Thundercat. Not in the room but in spirit was the talented singer-songwriter Tiffany Gouché, who helped produce the album.
“I heard her music and loved the sound of her voice so I started looking for her,” Lalah says. “I hit her on Twitter and said, ‘You are dope, we both have super chalky, dark mellifluous tones, we should do something.’”
The singer spoke highly of Gouché’s talents and importance of working with women in the studio. “A lot of times, you don’t have the opportunity to work with women as you would like,” she said. “She’s so on point, so about her business. As soon as I showed up to the studio, she was ready. So really, the first feelings of working with her were ones of kinship, there was something really beautiful about meeting a young woman that was ready to go.”
While Lalah is aware that the swerve in sound will surprise listeners, it’s one they will appreciate. “If you’re familiar with my work, the record might seem a little more forward,” she said. “For me, it’s a big deal to be transparent and honest. The music will speak for me which is why I became an artist. It’s just another part of me.”
Honestly will be released in stores and streaming platforms Nov. 3. Peep the singer’s tour dates below and how you can be the opening act in your city here.