Guest Mix 001: Sasha Marie

I first witnessed Sasha Marie grace the stage back in 2016 when she performed with the likes of Snoh AalegraIAMNOBODI, and ESTA. Since then, the San Diego selector and Soulection representative continues to reign as one of my personal favorites especially with “Current Mood” and “Rose Is A Rose” staying in heavy rotation. Sasha channels pure emotion with her delicately-crafted mixes for fans to indulge in, creating a truly unique experience.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Sasha about her creative process, Amy Winehouse, and what she has planned in the near future. Dive into her guest mix and our full conversation below.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Sasha Marie. I am from San Diego, born and raised. I DJ for a collective in Los Angeles called Soulection. I love music, I love film, I love art.

How did you get into the creative scene? Was it music first?

I was always inspired by my dad’s record collection. He was a lover of music of all kinds, but mostly oldies. We would just sit and talk about certain artists. I wanted to start exploring the different sounds. I loved old music and new music and I just started from there. When I was in high school, I saved up for my first laptop and I started playing with GarageBand. I started making these really terrible beats, me trying to sing with my terrible voice over them. After that, I asked my dad if I could have turntables and he got me them—I think it’s called a Battle Pak. There just super cheap, plastic-y turntables and a super cheap mixer. That’s when I started learning how to DJ.

Are you still interested in music production? How’s that going?

It’s going [laughs]. I actually just bought a new laptop because the laptop that I had I just used strictly for DJing. I also just purchased Ableton—I’ve been messing around with that. I really just need to keep going with it and be consistent.

What do you love about DJing and why is it something that’s stuck with you?

More than DJing, I’ve had a love for putting together mixes. I love creating soundtracks to people’s lives. I get to express myself a lot more with my mixes than I’m able to DJing, but I love DJing because I love being able to control the energy in a room and get people excited, happy, and dancing. With DJing, I’ve traveled all over and I’ve really had the opportunity to meet some amazing people and other artists.

Is there a favorite moment or memory that you’ve had that’s come from either DJing or people showing love for your mixes? You’ve got hella mixes [laughs]. That’s the soundtrack to my studying for sure.

Not so much a favorite moment, but the amount of love and messages I get from people who tell me how much my mixes resonate with them or have helped them either with studying, or maybe they’re going through a break-up, or they recently lost someone, or they’re just going through a hard time, or they’re happy and having fun. The messages I’ve received from people have been amazing like as if they know exactly what I’m going through and I know exactly what they’re going through. We can communicate through the music.

What’s your creative process like when you’re making these mixes?

It’s usually a reflection on what’s going on in my life. I’ve always resorted to music to being my outlet whenever I’m going through something. It’s really an embodiment of how I’m feeling at the moment.

In my research, I discovered that you’re also a very big Amy Winehouse fan. Can you tell us a little bit about what she means to you?

She was an artist that me and my dad really loved together. I remember showing her to him and he was just so ecstatic and just loved her voice so much. We really shared that connection. Amy is a talent, a voice, and a story that we’ll never get again. She’s one of a kind. I could listen to Frank over and over again. Her story’s so sad, honestly. She’s an amazing talent that was lost too soon. Being able to connect with my dad was something that really hit me in my heart.

I feel like it was one of those things that we started realizing too late unfortunately. The importance of mental health in general—we saw it happen live but no one did anything.

Totally. It’s so crazy watching that documentary, too, how you get a little bit more insight. It’s like, “How long did we get a healthy version of Amy Winehouse? How many more pictures are there of her looking skinny and rundown versus her being healthy?” It’s crazy. Mental health is so important. I feel like especially in the entertainment industry, people need to stop expecting so much from these entertainers. I remember my dad noticed her getting really thin and all these things. He went onto her website—my dad was a lot older so he wasn’t very knowledgeable about computers—and he found something where you could send them an email. I remember he wrote them an email like, “Amy, you need to slow down. Don’t let the drugs take you down.” I remember him doing that and being like, “Oh my god, dad, she’s probably never going to read that, but that’s really sweet of you.”

That’s wild. Being on the road and being an overall busy person in general, how do you manage everything and take care of yourself when you’re balancing life?

I don’t think I’ve found balance yet in my life to be honest. Over the past couple of years, I have gotten a lot busier with music and traveling. I try to meditate as much as I can, although I haven’t been very consistent with it lately. That’s something I’d really like to get back into. I journal a lot in the mornings—that helps. Also seeing my best friends, spending time with my dog and my girlfriend—my girlfriend really holds me down. I really do struggle with balance. Sometimes I’ll be out and come home totally drained and exhausted. I’m trying to find a happy medium, y’know? We all have to figure out our own routines that make us feel better that we have to stick by day by day. Speaking about the mental health thing, I inherently deal with a lot of anxiety as it is, so I’m really in a space where I’m trying to find something that is going to help me when I’m on the road. It’s a lifelong journey. I don’t know if anyone ever finds balance. I think it’s just keeping yourself in check.

I think it’s all something we strive towards, but whether or not we actually get there, we’re still working towards it.

Yeah. I guess that’s the point right? You’re always trying to do something better for yourself or you’re learning. I’m definitely a lot better on the road now than I used to be a couple years ago, so I guess that’s the progress right there.

Can you tell us a little bit about Sevdaliza? You got to open for her, too?

She’s this incredible, not-from-this-world artist. Her music is like a combination between Portishead and Massive Attack and this industrial sound with hints of R&B and electronic. I love the way that she presents herself in-person and on social media. She always has some deep stuff to say. The way that she carries herself is really inspiring as an artist. I’ve read a couple interviews on her and her background and one of the things that really stuck out to me is that she also deals with anxiety and the things that she does for it as an artist. It just really made me feel connected to her. There’s a power that she has that I want to inherit myself—a confidence more than a power.

She’s toured for a while and that’s when I opened for her in San Diego and Los Angeles this year and she killed it—she did the damn thing. She hasn’t been singing for that long of a time, but it’s like she knew that it was in her all along. She has an amazing voice and presence to her.

One thing I realized is that I’m not afraid to fanboy or fangirl anymore. I just let all that shit out because people love that.

There are so many artists in the world, but there’s only a handful of them that make me feel like “wow.” Seeing Sevdaliza live hit every sense, every emotion, it was so beautiful. It was dark, light, a lot of different things in one. I love when artists can transport you to a different space in yourself.

Moving on to more things that start with S, can you speak about the Soulection family and how you linked up?

I love them so much. Andre [Power] was the first person I ever met in Soulection. I met him here in San Diego because he used to live here. I remember I was “DJing”—I wasn’t even that good—at my friend’s shop in North Park and Andre was like, “Let me hop on.” This was before ‘Dre even started DJing. He was going through my library and he was like, “Yo, you have good music taste.” We started hanging out more and he introduced me to Soulection. I was going to his events like Art in the Park—he let me spin at a couple of those—and it just happened. That was the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013. Soulection has been and will always be a huge importance to me. Being a part of this collective has seriously changed my life in more ways than one.

It’s been really crazy to see Soulection grow from a record label to this empire in a sense. It used to be just like, “Oh, we’re putting out stuff on Bandcamp” and now it’s like “Oh, we’re putting out stuff everywhere.”

It’s amazing. Joe [Kay] and Andre and the rest of the team have worked so hard to get it to where it’s at now. It’s beautiful.

How has San Diego influenced your career?

SD, 619! [laughs]. I grew up in Chula Vista. I used to feel like there was not a lot going on in San Diego. I felt very—not alone, but that I didn’t find a lot of people that were listening to the music that I was listening to until I met Andre and other people that he was friends with. We shared this love for the same sound. That’s when the sound that you hear for Soulection and other things started growing here. I felt less like I was the only person in San Diego that liked this scene and I feel like it’s been growing ever since.

I used to have a huge chip on my shoulder about San Diego because I felt like we weren’t doing anything that was new, but I really feel like we’re in a space right now where we’re pushing for community and different types of spaces where we can express ourselves and whatnot. I’ve always loved San Diego—I love living here—it’s just that for a while it felt really hard to find my niche.

As a creative, what are your thoughts on social media? Is it more of a pro or a con?

I think it’s a pro and a con at the same time. It obviously helps me stay connected with people who don’t live it San Diego. It helps me promote myself more and what I’m trying to do—my shows and my mixes and whatnot—but the con part about it is how sucked into it I get sometimes. I’ll just be scrolling endlessly and being distracted instead of working on things I need to work on. I think we’re all guilty of this, but sometimes I find myself comparing my success to other people as well. Comparison is the thief of joy, and I don’t want that. I want to try to stay off of social media as much as I can, but I also can’t at the same time. Even the way the algorithm works—if I’m not posting, then nothing is going to be seen. It’s kind of this purgatory, I guess, and trying to find balance with it. We’re all zombies now anyways, right? [laughs].

What’s next for you?

I’m trying to work with more people in San Diego and elsewhere, creating more events. I’m really tryna explore my love for film, so I’ve been trying to shoot more videos and whatnot. If I have any friends out there that want to make a video or any people that I don’t know that have the resources, please hit me up! Just exploring all my creative avenues, traveling more for DJing, and everything.

What is one lesson that you want to share?

Tell the people you love how much you love them, honestly. That might sound kinda cheesy, but it’s so real. I think we take for granted how blessed we are—to just be waking up, you know what I mean? To have wonderful people around us. If there’s anybody wonderful in your life, you should tell them how wonderful they are.


Be sure to keep up with Sasha on SoundCloud, Twitter, and Instagram.

Event Recap | Marc E. Bassy & Rexx Life Raj Take Over San Diego

At the end of 2017, Marc E. Bassy unveiled his latest album titled Gossip Columns. With several features from contemporaries and frequent collaborators G-EazyKehlani, and KYLE, the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter channels a blend of R&B pop.

On the heels of touring with Ty Dolla $ign, Marc kept the ball rolling with a series of headline dates in support of his most recent project. Setting the stage each night was W&V favorite and fellow Bay Area rep Rexx Life Raj, who has been garnering his own success with Father Figure 2: Fluorish from last November. Rexx opened the night with tracks from both installments of Father Figure, winning over the crowd with his mellow and introspective raps.

Marc closed the night with a series of tracks from Gossip Columns and Groovy People, alongside some unreleased tracks. With the crowd singing along to every word, Marc and Rexx truly brought the heart of the Bay to SoCal. Check out a few photos and their recent releases below.

 

Il Trap Italiano | Charlie Charles

Paving the way for producers in the Italian trap scene is the Milan-born Paolo Monachetti, known as Charlie Charles. Having grown up in Seguro, Charlie stepped into the rap scene at only 14 years old. At 21 years of age, he released XDVR alongside Sfera Ebbasta, a record that placed him in the front of the Italian hip-hop scene and caught the attention of Roccia Music and Marracash, an independent Italian hip-hop label. Especially after the release of Rockstar with Sfera Ebbasta, Charlie sits at the top of international charts.

A few standout songs I recommend checking out are “Bimbi”, “RAP”, and “Tran Tran”. Each has a unique style featuring rap talent from across Italy. The tracks stand as a mix of modern American trap, combined with elements of reggae and old school hip-hop, with a dark, mysterious tone. From unique loops to nontraditional synthesizers, Charlie is often accredited with bringing new futuristic sounds to Italian hip-hop, breaking the norm and introducing new sounds in the emerging genre.   

Despite the immense amount of respect he’s gained while making moves for Italian trap, when it comes to the crazy life of a rap star, Charlie dejects it. Charlie claims to have “fired himself” from future live sets, and continues to produce music in the comfort of his home rather than traveling around.

“Non voglio passare per spocchioso, ma quello che sto facendo in Italia è distintivo… Sento, nel mio piccolo, di aver dato qualcosa alla trap senza scadere nel banale.”

In other words, Charlie isn’t interested in the luxurious, wild lifestyle that is assumed for such a big artist. Having rejected big labels, including Universal and Warner, it’s clear that Charlie wants the best for his art without the industry getting in the way. Rather, Charlie is set on molding the growing trap genre, bringing something new and distinct with the music he releases.

Il Trap Italiano | Sfera Ebbasta

While alternative rock dominates the Italian music market, new genres are beginning to emerge amongst growing communities across the country. Various forms of hip-hop, from trap to R&B (with an Italian twist), are becoming increasingly widespread. Il Trap Italiano is my attempt to touch on the key figures, international influence, and business foundational to genres avant-garde to Italy’s dynamic music scene.

With over 8 million plays in the world within 24 hours of the release of his latest album, it can be said that one of the leading figures in Italian Trap is the bold and compelling Gionata Boschetti, more commonly known by his stage name Sfera Ebbasta. With the help of the talented producer Charlie Charles, he has received both Gold and Platinum records certification for his music, released his own brand with Charlies called BHMG, and plays a huge role in the emerging Italian Trap scene.

Rockstar is Ebbasta’s second album curated by Charles and Daves the Kid under Def Jam Recordings and Universal Music Italia. There are two versions of the album for the international market, allowing Ebbasta to catch the attention of listeners worldwide. With features from big names, including American artists Quavo and Rich the Kid, his name is spreading rapidly across Italy.

With massive sub beats, heavy hip-hop synthesizers, and skilled use of autotuning, Ebbasta’s music is undoubtedly classified as trap with the influence of reggae, Latin, and electronic styles strongly prominent throughout Italy.

What’s next for the artist? “Ho girato l’Italia e l’Europa, ho fatto featuring internazionali, mi sono evoluto molto. E non ho intenzione di fermarmi qui.” In other words, Ebbasta is confident in his international presence, stating “I’m not going to stop here.”

Don’t Sleep Spotlight | Dae Zhen

Earlier this year, we introduced our first official Spotify playlist titled Don’t Sleep. Named after our efforts to put you on to our favorite upcoming talent, the W&V crew will also be digging deeper into their backgrounds, recent accolades, and plans for the future in our latest spotlight series.

Our first Don’t Sleep spotlight features Dae Zhen. The Los Angeles resident introduced fans to his lyrical prowess with YouTube freestyles, which segued into his Polaroids EP with KATO and the Mike Derenzo-produced “Dipset.” The catchy tune has feel-good vibes throughout as Dae weaves between punchy verses and a sweet hook.

Following the release of his Women & Wordplay project, Dae stayed pretty lowkey aside from a few covers and features. He returned from his hiatus with “Friday,” which also appeared on NPR. The track essentially picks up where “Dipset” leaves off, serving as another weekend anthem fit for any celebration.

2018 marks the true return of Dae. As the next peak at his forthcoming album, “Hotline” shows Dae at his finest. Self-produced alongside Derenzo, his latest offering rides smoothly with a gentle piano riff and an explosive chorus. Dae’s warm return leaves us excited to see what he has in store in the near future.

Get familiar with Dae Zhen and check out the complete Don’t Sleep playlist below.

Event Recap // Tropicália Fest 2017

With a little something for everyone, Tropicália Fest united a wide range of audiences at The Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA on November 11. From headliners like Chicano BatmanJhené Aiko, and Kali Uchis to rising stars including Yellow DaysSmino, and Jorja Smith, the festival’s sold-out debut gave fans a truly unforgettable experience.

In addition to all the lovely music that filled the air, attendees were also given access to a taco buffet featuring a wide range of vendors from along the West Coast. Fan favorites like Carnitas El Mono and Burritos Del Palma served up their classics among many others.

Tropicália gave light to many Latino artists and beyond. Being able to catch artists like King Krule and Smino in the same day showcased their ability to bridge multiple audiences and genres. While we await more information on the next one, check out a few photos from Tropicália below.

Artist Interview // MIKNNA On Their Breakout Year

Coming to the end of their first headlining tour, Mike B. and Ken Nana are still full of energy and ideas. The duo, united under the neon-lit name MIKNNA, has had a landmark year since dropping their debut album 50/50 (Side A) back in 2016. Since the release, Mike and Ken have embarked on a tour sprawling from their hometown of Los Angeles all the way to Stockholm and Berlin.

In between international flights, the two have carved out enough studio time to cook up “Mona Lisa,” “Cues,” and “MPH,” all of which received major attention following their release as singles. Industrious and dedicated, Mike and Ken haven’t looked back since their chance encounter on the street brought them together in the studio. From the outside, MIKNNA comes off streamlined and natural. However, the duo faced a massive uphill challenge growing MIKNNA from the ground up. At its core, Mike, Ken, and their group of friends and family behind the curtain have grafted since coming together to define what MIKNNA means to them and what it should mean to listeners.

I caught up with Mike and Ken before their show in Berkeley to chat about what the path leading up to their solo headlining tour, what they’ve learned since hitting the road, and where their group is headed:

“We linked up two years ago. I came out of work for a break and Ken was just skating down the street. The chances were so random, and at the moment we were like ‘we need to get into the studio and do some work ASAP.'”

Ken and Mike found an instant chemistry after hitting the studio together. Ken found in Mike the type of complimentary and consistent vocalist he had long been looking for. In Ken, Mike was able to link up with a versatile and experienced producer whose musical style just as capable as solo work as it used underneath Mike’s vocals.  The difference, however, between linking up for a few songs and committing to each other as a duo is huge. Mike and Ken had their work cut out for them cultivating the chemistry and balance that MIKNNA boasted on its debut album. Ken emphasizes the importance they put on cementing this chemistry before anything else.

“Before we started making music we sat down and had a long conversation about our styles, our backgrounds, and what pushes us to make music. We really took that time to get to know each other and feel it out to find that balance.”

The time and work put into crafting MIKNNA shows through. As a group, they have an incredibly salient conceptual drive. From the music to videos to press photos, MIKNNA is a shadowy, neon-lit fusion of classic R&B and neo/electro-soul aesthetics. Outside of the group, Mike and Ken work with their team to create their collective Nana Lifestyle, another conceptually driven creative brand born out of the coming together of minds from different backgrounds and influences. As Ken describes, “the whole package” is evidently important to the entire team. Mike places a similar importance on connecting the minutiae of their work to the broader elements.

“A lot of it comes down to our taste level and what we want to do aesthetically and sonically—it all needs to be complimentary or it doesn’t work.”

The balance between Mike and Ken has racked them up millions of listens on leading singles such as “Trinity Ave” and “302,” as well as over half a million streams on their most recent release, “MPH.”  With the numbers to back them, Mike and Ken took the next step in translating their studio chops to the stage on their tour.

“You really have to be on your game all the time. There’s no lower gear you can be in when you’re performing, but it’s a challenge that helps to motivate. Really we just try to take it one day at a time. Work as a team trying to think about how we can just elevate and move forward. That’s the fun part! Figuring it out.”

On the stage in Berkeley, MIKNNA look as comfortable as anyone. Ken, vibing and stationary at his drum pad and mixer cuts a distinct silhouette opposite Mike, who bounces around the stage with verve and enthusiasm. Playing through 50/50 (Side A), MIKNNA boast the same intimacy live that their studio work benefits from. The duo make it a point to engage the audience, creating an atmosphere that buoyed and was buoyed by the performance. Mike and Ken are up on stage to enjoy themselves and their music over anything else. At one point even taking and audience request to play “Mona Lisa,” they both came off relaxed and positive, relishing the moment and how far they had come. With shows on November 29 and 30 in LA and San Diego respectively, MIKNNA look to finish off 2017 and their tour strongly.

“What’s next? Just working to finish up the next project and a lot of new music. Think of it like an evolution of everything that we’ve gone through over the last year, building and working out the kinks. And hopefully we can keep up with our consistency. We’ve been grinding, but consistency keeps us all on the same page so everything can keep moving. We’re excited.”

Coyly describing the upcoming project, Mike and Ken can’t seem to stay away from the word “fun.” Mike characterizes their work as a “sonic vacation.” At their most simple, the musicians behind MIKNNA are music fans. Their technique and style helped them cultivate a unique and eye-catching sound, but it’s also an entertaining endeavor for two super musicians. Evolution, coalescence, fusion—however you characterize MIKNNA, what is undeniable is the pure enjoyment that drives the group. From top to bottom, the MIKNNA team’s appreciation for and ability in their trade is evident on stage or over headphones.

2018 looks set to be a big year for MIKNNA. Before then, catch MIKNNA’s closing shows in Los Angeles and San Diego here, and revisit 50/50 (Side A) below.

P-Lo Parties With The Bay In Tour Closer

Touring on the heels of his latest album More Than Anything, Bay Area native P-Lo returned victoriously to San Francisco to play a final show in front of a hometown crowd at the Regency Ballroom. Joined by fellow Bay Area artists Pluto Mars and Rexx Life Raj, P-Lo brought his music home, delivering song after song to a deafening and energetic crowd. The show was a testament to three things: P-Lo’s growth as an artist and performer, his authenticity, and the powerful love that shines between P-Lo and his Bay Area fans.

A founder of the HBK Gang with Iamsu!, P-Lo has always involved his contemporaries in his music wherever and whenever he can. His unique, consistent, and quality level of production has seen him produce for and collaborate with countless other artists in and outside of the Bay. As a result, P-Lo has garnered a distinct level of recognition and respect that was evident at the show. Speaking in a short interlude during his set, Rexx Life Raj, himself a Bay Area centerpiece, had nothing but praise for P-Lo:

You meet a lot of people in the music industry. P-Lo is one of the most genuine and talented people I’ve met. That’s why I fuck with him.

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P-Lo and Rexx Life Raj link up to perform together at the Regency Ballroom, SF.

His fans seemed to agree. Even before P-Lo had touched the stage, his name had been chanted countless times. Entering to deafening cheers and with his all too familiar tag echoing around the Regency, P-Lo dove straight into his More Than Anything lead track, “The One.”

Playing through his new album, P-Lo took time to bring out some oldies to pay service to his fans. Rexx Life Raj emerged again to join him on the Cal-A track “Real One.” Performing just some days after the late Mac Dre’s birthday, P-Lo paused the show to pay tribute to the Bay legend—in his words, an “inspiration”—taking a moment to wild out with the crowd on “Feelin’ Myself.”

Moments like these encapsulate P-Lo’s image as an artist. Grounded, talented, and entertaining, P-Lo has never let his accomplishments eclipse his origins. He is a leading figure in the resurgent Bay Area movement, which he admits “for a second… was pretty dead.” Yet, he is always ready to shine the spotlight on others, whether it is bringing up young artists like Pluto Mars or standing back and letting Rexx Life Raj do his thing.

The concert wrapped after just under an hour and several layers of clothing later with P-Lo playing his smash hit “Put Me On Something”—twice. Fellow HBK man Kool John made an appearance on stage to wild out during the song; no one seemed to want to miss out on partying with each other in the atmosphere that P-Lo and company had created.

P-Lo has been essential to the new Bay scene that so many are enjoying now. As a performer, he is experienced, energetic, and enthusiastic. As a person, he’s just another music fan who loves to have fun with his crew. Friday night at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, P-Lo made countless new friends and went dumb with them all.

Revisit our piece on More Than Anything and stream the album below. Make sure to catch a P-Lo concert as soon as you can.

Artist Interview // Meet Rayana Jay, Richmond’s Sultry Songstress

Just over two years ago, Rayana Jay unveiled her 21 EP, a four-piece offering featuring lead single “Coffee.” From the moment I pressed play, I was mesmerized by her impressive vocal work. The Richmond songstress went on to appear on Caleborate‘s breakout album Hella Good and P-Lo‘s Before Anything, continuing to captivate listeners with her alluring voice.

After keeping the ball rolling with Sorry About Last Night, which taps talent from the likes of Mikos Da Gawd and Elujay, Rayana is gearing up for her next project titled Morning After. The first single from her forthcoming EP, “Magic,” is a dancefloor ready track produced by ROMderful. Whipping basslines and a steady groove allow Rayana to command the track with ease. It has that type of energy that makes it easy to keep on repeat for hours on end.

Ahead of the projects full release on July 21, I had the opportunity to chat with Rayana on Sorry About Last Night, her inspirations, and plans for the future:

Who is Rayana Jay?

Rayana Jay is just a soul from the soil. I’m a singer, a lover, a story and truth teller.

How did you get started with music?

I started in my church choir at a very young age. I think as soon as I started talking, my mom threw me into the choir stand. As I got older, I went on to direct my church choir. I was always writing little songs and poems in my spare time; I still stumble across old notebooks and cringe at how corny I was. While in high school, I was told about a place called Youth Radio in downtown Oakland, and the rest is really history. That’s where I saw my first professional studio, that’s where I was offered the time and space to try the music thing out, and I loved it immediately.

Was music always something you wanted to pursue?

I don’t think I had plans to go as far as I am now, but music has definitely always been on my mind. I actually wanted to be a veterinarian when I was younger, then when I was going to college, I wanted to be a AFRAM teacher. Music was always going to be in the plan.

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Rayana Jay // Photo by Lauren Formalejo

Back in October you dropped Sorry About Last Night. How did the project come together?

Sorry About Last Night just happened. After meeting Evangeline, who would later become my manager, and putting together “Sleepy Brown,” we just decided it needed to happen. Two months after dropping “Sleepy Brown,” Sorry About Last Night was practically done. It felt natural and it felt as if I’d had those songs already written for years how they just poured out.

What kind of personal growth have you experienced since 21?

I experienced my first real heartbreak when I released 21 and I think for a long time I was really jaded and guarded and didn’t really want to do too much of anything. Since then, I’ve become more forgiving, softer, and more attentive to the real love around me. I’ve learned to cherish friendships more. I was freshly 21 when that project came out, and I was new to the whole adulting thing that I was supposed to do, but now I do think I’m more responsible and more focused on future goals.

Can you tell us about the process behind “23,” your track with ESTA.?

That was really brought to you by a blessing we call the Internet. ESTA. tweeted that he was looking for singers to work with and Mikos, who I’ve made a lot of great music with, looped me into the tweet thread and in the next 5 minutes, Esta had DM’d me. He sent over a bunch of great beats and the one called “bleu” was the one that hit me. I wrote “23” almost instantly and was in the studio maybe the next week to record it. It was fun to do and ESTA. has been one of my favorite producers for a while, so to be able to make that song was a dream come true.

You were also part of a stacked line-up for the Women in Music festival—can you tell us a bit more about your experience has been like and what the festival means to you?

The WIM festival was one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve ever had the honor of being a part of. To see all of these amazing and talented and sometimes overlooked women from the stage and behind the scenes come together to just love and shed light on each other—it was heartwarming. Knowing that my manager and DJ turned an idea into a weekend that has changed the Bay forever—my heart is full of pride.

What’s been the biggest challenge for you in your music career so far?

Every time I write a song, it’s like I had a baby and i’m a very protective parent. Putting your art, your child, on display for everyone to see and judge and pick apart is one of the scariest parts of it all. You love your kid so much and the moment one person has a negative critique, it hurts. I’m very sensitive—that’s another one of my biggest challenges.

Any dream collabs?

Gucci Mane, Migos, Young Thug, Anderson .Paak, Solange, Xavier Omär.

How do you define success?

Success is when you do things only because you want to and not because you have to. It’s that moment when you no longer worry about what tomorrow brings because you know you can handle whatever it is; success is happiness. I think I’m successful. I think the big issue is when people make success synonymous with wealth; if you’re rich but unhappy, how successful are you?

Any advice for the aspiring musicians out there?

Just do it and do it from the heart. Make the music you needed to hear when you were feeling low all those years ago. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. The world needs your story, and only you can tell it, so get to it.

What’s next for you? Anything else you’d like to add?

Just working on my album and hopefully we get to the U.K. this year.

Keep up with Rayana on Twitter and SoundCloud, and expect Morning After on July 21.

Creatives Corner // Meet Blake Showers

I first came across Blake Showers when Father of Awful Records featured his artwork for “Heartthrob.” The Birmingham artist crafts a vibrant and dynamic style, often bringing to life icons from hip-hop, anime, and video games. Blake continues to fill our feeds with his wide array of art, leading to his recent event at Alchemy 213.

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Blake on his work, his 4strikes project with Daniel Williams, and his plans for the future:

Thanks for taking the time for this interview! For starters, please introduce yourself.

Hi! My name is Blake Showers. I am a 24 year old illustrator from Birmingham, AL. I work on a manga with my editor, Daniel Williams, called 4strikes.

How did you get started with art?

I think my first starts with art were from just doodling at home watching cartoons. It was a really fun thing to do and it would help me concentrate. I would draw a lot in elementary school as well and kids would like my work! My mom used to draw a lil in school and stuff and I guess it just got passed on to me [laughs]. When in high school, I was exposed to more mediums and techniques. It was a good time too because the Internet was getting more advanced; if there was something you wanted to learn, you could Google it and all the steps would be there.

What does art mean to you?

Art means a whole lot to me. This is really the only thing I would do even if I didn’t get paid. If I’m having trouble communicating something to people, it was the best way for them to understand me. When school would start and I didn’t know anyone, kids would see me draw and it would break the ice. I was really shy and still get kinda shy in certain situations, but art really helped me break out of my shell. It got me to do some incredible things and connect with some amazing people.

Can you tell us a bit more about 4strikes?

Yes! It’s a idea I been working on for a while! I wanted it to be a traditional superhero story, but then it just didn’t feel right. It’s something I been playing with since late high school. Finally, I redrew some designs—I drew some clothes I thought were cool and went from there! The main character is loosely based on myself as a highschooler. I’ve really always been into scary and spooky stories so I decided to make it that genre.

I was getting further along with it around 2013, but needed help. My friend Daniel Williams, a urban graphic artist from Birmingham, would be there to message about stuff. He was really into anime and music like I was so we would vibe on the same concepts and knew bout the same content really. One day, I asked if he could be co-storywriter and editor for 4strikes and he was down! He has really been a super big help with the whole project in general—whether it’s reviewing panels for the manga, getting me any materials I need, or even making suggestions for story arcs, he has always came through and I’m grateful he’s on the team!

Where did the name come from?

The name really came from the weapon of the main character being a baseball bat. I know in baseball it’s 3 strikes and you’re out the game, but what if you had one more chance to change the outcome? Also, in Japanese culture, how “four” is pronounced sounds like death. “Four” in their culture is kinda like how “13” is in ours. It’s funny because we were making pages already for it and found that out. [Laughs] I was like “This is perfect!”

What else inspired the manga?

Things that inspired the manga are my life as a college student and I would walk alotta places. Night was my favorite and I had a big imagination. I would always be nervous, but excited to be walking around in those late hours. We also use a lot of Japanese folklore in it as well. There is such a rich culture in myths and legends in Japan and it was great source material to read on. Some manga I liked a lot were Dragonball, One Punch Man, TOUGH, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Full Metal Alchemist. Fight scenes were always a thing I wanted this manga to be know for, but also good humor. I also didn’t see alot of POC in manga. This was another thing that inspired 4strikes. A lot of the characters in it are POC or people that don’t get repped in mainstream media.

Where else do you draw inspiration from?

I draw a lot of my inspiration from just music really and thoughts in my head. I love music so much, mostly trap and underground. I like spooky videos on conspiracy theories and urban legends. Also, when I used to paint more, graffiti art would a big influence too! I was more drawn to the character-based graffiti than the letter ones.

Any advice for the aspiring artists out there?

My main advice would be to keep putting stuff out. Like even if you feel like no one cares, just keep it up. I promise it all will work out in the end! Everyone gets their turn and everyone will eventually be on your side and in your favor if you keep putting the work in.

What’s next for you?

My next move is to finish up my character design portfolio for Cartoon Network and hope for the best! I also got alotta pages to finish up for 4strikes aswell!

Major thank you to Blake Showers for the interview! Be sure to check out 4strikes and follow him and Daniel below.

Blake Showers: Instagram // Twitter // Tumblr // YouTube

Daniel Williams: Instagram