When Nina Simone released ‘Four Women’ in the midst of the civil rights movement, it was a self reflection of the struggle faced by black women at the time. Blunt in its impact, it was intricate in describing the different plights experienced by the four protagonists. In Simone’s words, the central message of the song was that,“black women didn’t know what the hell they wanted because they were defined by things they didn’t control”.
Simone’s sentiments closely mirror those of burgeoning starlet Baby Rose, when she decided to cover the song. “It hurts my soul, when… black women are reduced to just, ‘you’re that’ or ‘you’re just this’. I think that song is beautiful because Nina Simone, in a time when she was popular, abandoned popular success to stand up for her people. And to tell the narrative of a black woman, whatever shade, where we come from, what our story is, what our plight is… something that was extremely underrepresented at that time… and even to this day not represented in the light that it should be. Everyone wants to contain the narrative of what we go through in a very small box like “oh she’s sexual, she’s this, she’s RnB”. There are layers to every one of us. Layers, upon layers.”
Impassioned in her reasoning, as we sit and converse in Hoxton’s ‘Hoi Pilloi’, I discover that Baby Rose too, is a layered person who possesses great depth, not just in vocal ability (which is uncannily similar to Simone) but in her essence as a human. An artist who is unrestricted in putting her feelings on display, her music is a sonic embodiment of irrepressible emotion that is purged with every note, whether a soft croon, or bellowing roar. Her petite stature belies her voice. She speaks at a frequency where I could literally feel what she was saying, a vibration felt in my chest when she was articulating each point. Her words carry weight in their truth, and although she is open about negative experiences, she would always temper them with a positive slant. “I’m a very balanced individual, but I can be very dark. And I feel bad because there’s so much love around me. There’s so much love. That it’s like, ‘I’m going to love you anyway, I don’t care’, and I appreciate that… because I also have that in my love for people.”
The love Baby Rose references, stems from her family, seeds of relationships that were sown primarily across Washington DC, where she was born. However when she moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, a “boring, slow pace of life” forced her to be introspective and come into herself. Her uncle’s gift of a piano, became her safe haven and way to sanity, enabling her to discover herself as a musician and singer. Despite working on her craft for years, a lack of direction led to little success, although Rose viewed it as a “period of sheltered development, where I could make a lot of mistakes that a lot of artists have to make in public”.
When my mom got sick, and was in hospital for two months, that’s when I realized that I can’t not do this.
It is a silver lining that can only be appreciated in retrospect given the tumultuous circumstances that were engulfing her existence at that time. When her mother became ill with cancer, Rose had to work to keep the household afloat, sacrificing her music in the process. Failing in college, rising tensions with her brother, and over reliance on her boyfriend (now ex), she was in a “delusional, fucked up space”. With these seismic waves threatening to capsize the boat carrying everyone that meant the most to her, she turned to music as her saviour. “When my mom got sick, and was in hospital for two months, that’s when I realized that I can’t not do this,” she tells me with an intense look in her eyes. “My mom might pass away, and she has been my main supporter since I was a child, and I’d have nothing to show for it. I decided to perform a song called ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ at a talent show organised by friend, and we made it last for ten minutes. When I did that show, it felt like a molecule bursting in my mind, like ‘fuck all of this shit, this is the only thing that can save me from whatever I’m in. This is all I have.”
With rejuvenated intention, things started to fall in place for Rose. Enlisting friend and producer Case Boogie, to work on her ‘From Dusk Til Dawn’ EP, random encounters led to meeting new bandmates and even her day to day manager, who she now describes as her “whole best friend”. Building up a community of like-minded musicians and creatives, her undeniable talent was swiftly recognised by anyone paying close enough attention. One of those people, was Big K.R.I.T. “Me and K.R.I.T both work out of Parhelion Recording Studios. He heard ‘Mortal’ playing from the C Room, when he was working from the A Room. He liked it, so my manager hit me up, and told me ‘KRIT wants to see if you want to work on a song’. I just pulled up, and we made ‘Everytime’. Voila… but I did not know it was going to be lit, lit, lit! (laughs), but honestly he’s such an awesome spirit.”
Big K.R.I.T has always been viewed as an emblem of substance. It is therefore no surprise that he gravitated towards Rose on hearing ‘Mortal’, one of the first songs released from her album, ‘To Myself’. The project is a visceral depiction of the plenitude of emotion experienced in a break up, the yearning for an elusive clean slate. An album full of patient build up, poetic lyricism and exquisitely crafted production owed to the masterful input from Tim Maxey, it leaves the listener breathless, submerged in Rose’s relatable ocean of despair. Songs like ‘Sold Out’ and ‘Borderline’ have a peaceful fantasy-like aura for a soundscape that blends paradoxically with Rose’s wistful lyrics. ‘Ragrets’ and ‘Artifacts’, explore her feelings of anger and exasperation, whereas the self-produced ‘In Your Arms’, is an allusion to her spirituality.
None of the songs seem to portray her choked desolation more so than ‘All To Myself’. Residing under Maxey’s canopy of melancholy, Rose unabatedly expresses her innermost feelings to heartwrenching effect. Captured perfectly in Lacy Duke’s visual, the importance of the song is underlined by her choice to perform it on COLORS, although, it nearly didn’t make the album. “That’s a song I did in one take. Usually I hear little things that bother me, but honestly when I heard that shit for the first time, I was like ‘we need to stop fucking everything’ (laughs), this has to be on the album. This was after the tracklist was finalised, but my team agreed with me. I still get those feelings, especially when I’m on tour, hearing people sing it back to me. And when I’m in places where English isn’t even the primary language, like Paris, and the fans are loud as hell, it feels so rewarding. This is what we do this for.”
A stunning debut that almost acts as an ablution of her ex-boyfriend, it also serves as a lesson in loving too hard. “We broke up last year in May. That shit was horrible… I was delusional, like that meme of the person in the fire and being like “it’s okkkk” (laughs). It was over, and I wasn’t taking it well”. Her reaction was understandable given the events preceding the break up. At the height of her career at the time, as she was recording in the ‘Revenge of The Dreamers 3’ session alongside Ari Lennox, following a “petty argument”, her boyfriend deleted all of her music. An inexplicable act of betrayal, she could only attribute it to him harbouring some sort of “internal resentment”. When I ask her how this experience has impacted future relationships, she replies with comic lament. “Oh I’m fucked (laughs). He was literally the closest person to me, outside my mom and brother. I depended on him for so much. My stability, security, love, idea of myself, I found in him. I was so invested into that. But I knew at the same time, it wasn’t that fulfilling. I realised that’s a bad quality about me… like I’m not mature enough to walk away until things are really fucked up. But that’s just one of my top goals of success in my mind, finding a balance, and know when it’s right to go. And that it’s ok to let go.”
Because love is just one facet of life, but life in itself… like God, spirituality, time, mortality, health… all of those other things matter.
Her self-awareness and proclivity for growth is endearing. Her nature to look inwards, and search inside herself for answers rather than bemoaning external forces is what has led her to having a deeper understanding of real love, and how to eventually achieve it. “I think that’s why my subject matter extends beyond love. Because love is just one facet of life, but life in itself… like God, spirituality, time, mortality, health… all of those other things matter. You’ll never be able to enjoy anything if your mental or physical health is not on point. If you can’t tune in to your spirituality or into yourself, none of that shit matters. I want to be able to write about those things and sing about that too. Because that’s the shit that people need to face… so that they they’re not sad all the time.”
There is strength in her willingness to face the inevitable. Bad things happen, and that’s ok. To confront them head on rather than indulging in escapism, makes for a powerful individual that can inspire others. Through her vulnerability, and nakedness of her story, the listener is galvanised into a self-acceptance of their flaws, but more importantly, into finding resolutions to those they feel are worth fixing.
Still a hidden gem, Baby Rose wants to be remembered amongst the pantheon of greats in music, not for fame, but to help others. “I just want to be… hopefully in that time span I will have written songs that stand throughout time. Like Nina Simone, Carole King, Elton John. Those are people I really look up to, because I want my music to outlive me. I want to be regarded as honest. An artist that you can’t really put a finger on or classify the genre, because I hopped around so many times. Whatever the song, or writing, is supposed to be saying, I will accompany the production to that. I don’t want to be just RnB or Alternative, I want my music to traverse the globe and be able to help people sort through what they’re going through in their mind. Getting on that stage is fucking terrifying. It’s terrifying. But what is even more terrifying, is to tell a story that’s not true. The vulnerability, the power you have in that moment, in front of all of those people, whether it’s small or big, equally it’s a lot. It’s a lot of power in that moment, and you have to be honest with yourself in that moment. I’ll always be honest about my situation where I am and be present in that. As I sort through my shit, I hope other people can find that introspective moment to get through it. Laugh with me, cry with me. Go through things. Play in their rooms… pay some bills! Do whatever you need to do. All the things that are ordinary but have a big impact”.
‘To Myself’ the debut project by Baby Rose is out now to stream.