Milwaukee’s own B~Free is a name you should get used to hearing. The R&B songstress/writer/producer has been doing music since the age of 2. And by age 13, not only singing but she was also playing the piano and composing her own music. With a B.A. in Music Performance and a Master’s in Music Education, B~Free’s love for music doesn’t stop at being a musician but also being a teacher. I caught up with the rising star to see what lies ahead for us fans.
I was introduced to you back in 2012, with the release of your debut entitled, ‘Open Mic, Open Heart’. What was that process like with you also at the time, working on your Master’s degree?
The process of creating OMOH was more fun than anything because it was my first time creating a full project in that capacity. Having full sessions in the recording studio, working closely with a mixing engineer and producing full compositions was all a new and exhilarating experience for me. Balancing my schoolwork with my music was very difficult but it taught me a lot about prioritizing and time management. Plus, the financial aid that I received while studying helped me get started in the entire creation process. After my school fees were paid, I set aside funds to purchase my first Mac & music production software (Logic Pro), which were solely used in the creation of my first album.
So, from 2012’s ‘Open Mic, Open Heart’ to your more recent release of ‘Ode 2 A Luv Affair’ (September 2016), and with so many dope collaborations in-between, did you naturally grow as an artist or did you see somethings that you had to change?
I definitely experienced a great deal of personal and artistic growth in the four-year break between my albums. While there have been a great deal of opportunities, experiences and people that I’ve come across, there’s also been an equal amount of letdowns. The largest period of inadvertent growth came in late 2013 when I contracted pneumonia and a throat infection that robbed me of my voice for 11 months. My inability to sing, as traumatizing as it was, caused me to slow down and find other outlets of musical creativity. I couldn’t sing – could I still write? Produce? Teach? What aspects of my brand could I solidify while awaiting the fate of my gift? These were the questions I was forced to answer and while doing so, it gave me a greater appreciation for life. Now that I’m able to sing again, I try my best to make the most of each artistic opportunity that comes my way. Things won’t always go as I plan them but it’s important to learn what I can from deferment, to make the most of my time here on earth and to appreciate my blessings while I have them.
During your career, you have opened for artists like, Slum Village and Dwele. What was that experience like? And who would you love to be an opening act for?
Having the opportunity to play on the same bill as some of my musical heroes has been amazing! I distinctly remember the show with Dwele where after performing, my friends and I watched in awe as he put on one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. His energy, command of the audience and the overall musicality of him and the band was extremely inspiring and something that I value to this day. It made me long for the chance to be in that same position and instill the same hope in an audience while I’m on stage.
There are a slew of other acts that I’m incredibly inspired by. At the moment, I think I would absolutely lose my mind if I got the opportunity to share a stage with Janelle Monae or Esperanza Spalding! I consider each of them to be my “spirit animal” and their shows are some of the most engaging I’ve ever seen! To place myself alongside that caliber of talent would be a dream come true. I also think it’d be really dope to be on the same bill as 9th Wonder, Rapsody and any other Jamla artist because that’s my dream record label to squad up with! Haha
When you’re not blowing us away with your voice, you’re an educator. How does that affect your music?
Being an active musician while teaching music gives me a direct correlation to pull from in my lessons. Not only do I get to be a living example of the product of music education, but I can also teach my students about the various styles, genres and tools of expression that music can offer. It’s an opportunity to help students find their voice and further their overall appreciation for the arts, which is something that I valued in my schooling. While it’s sometimes difficult for me to find a healthy balance between my work responsibilities and my solo career, I find solace in knowing that I’m acting as a liaison for my students to the very thing that I’m most passionate about.
‘A Seat at the Table’ and ‘Lemonade’, both gave us #BlackGirlMagic. As a woman and as an artist, how do you feel about artists using their art to ruffle a few feathers?
I think that it’s extremely important for artists to use their platforms to speak on social issues – especially ones that their audience of supporters can directly relate to. Being a woman, let alone a BLACK woman is hard enough in this world. But being a black female artist, there are so many roadblocks and expectations that are placed upon us. And more often than not, we fall to the wayside and don’t garner enough opportunities to express our opinions on the day-to-day aspects of our world. It’s very refreshing to see mainstream artists highlight this struggle, and in a manner that’s not exploitive but celebratory. Both of those albums evoked very strong emotions in me as a listener as well as a performer. It reminded me that my work has many heights to achieve with the content that I create.
And with the success of Solange’s ‘A Seat at the Table’, do you believe that the reign of Neo-Soul/R&B is on its way back or do we have a way to go?
As an avid listener to the genre, I don’t think that the essence of it has ever really gone anywhere; the focus has just shifted to what’s deemed as a “marketable sound.” There are a number of musicians in the genre, both mainstream and indie, who’ve continued to make incredible music under this umbrella of sound. If anything, I think that the willingness to talk about relevant issues with Neo Soul as a vehicle will hopefully make it a more comfortable genre for mainstream audiences.
With the release of ‘Ode 2 A Luv Affair’, what is next for you?
At the moment, my primary focus is pushing and promoting my project. It took me four whole years to get it out so I want to milk it as long as I possibly can! Lol I have another video to release, more shows to perform, etc. I’m incredibly proud of O2ALA and I want to take as many available routes as possible to get it into the hands of potential supporters. And now that it’s out, I have time to dedicate towards my third project – which I also started working on with my 2nd one simultaneously. Over the last four years I’ve come across a variety of sounds and artists who’ve inspired me to stretch outside of my musical comfort zone, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with them in my next endeavor. –Pooh Bailey