On “Starz,” Pradia Rhymes Sings About Black Power, Harsh Realities & Hope
Written by Shelby Kluver on August 4, 2020
The multi-disciplinary artist, activist and world traveler Pradia Rhymes landed on our July “In Rotation“ with a song as timely and powerful as it is sonically beautiful.
“Starz” collides modern day and historical realities for Black Americans while also looking forward with hope. Inspired by a local student’s poem, the lyrics promise to stay bright, find direction and ask, “Tell me what do you see/ When you see/ Those who look like me?” We spoke to Pradia Rhymes about her musical beginnings, internal versus external parallels, and manifesting inner peace.
Vocalo: Tell us about yourself… Who are some of your musical influences?
Pradia Rhymes: I define my music as “HipHopJazz” – Hip Hop in terms of my lyricism and rhythm and more jazzy in terms of note placement and vibe.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Whitney Houston, Phyllis Hyman, and Ella Fitzgerald in terms of vocalization, but lyrically I find myself more enamored with writers like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston and rappers like Jean Grae.
Did you grow up here in Chicago?
I’m actually from Tennessee! My dad is from Chicago and I would always come and stay with my aunt during the summers.
I was always so enamored by the beauty of the city and I always knew I wanted to live here one day. The magic hasn’t faded on me, even after living here for five years. I’ve garnered such a sense of community from Chicago and it inspires me daily.
Could you tell me a story about when you first fell in love with music? When did you know you wanted to become a musician?
When I was a kid and had a rough day or felt alone or misunderstood, I would sing myself to sleep. In many ways music is my first love, my safety, my comfort, my home anywhere. I knew I wanted to be a musician when I found out I could make other people feel like that too.
You’ve said you use music to asses the parallels between your intra and extra personal world. Could you expand on what that process is like?
I believe in living a very inward-out life and I always find my external world to be a reflection of my internal world and vice versa. There is one form of individualism very much so rooted in narcissism and the self-serving ways of capitalism. Not that one.
By inward-out I mean nurturing self so that you have something to pour into others. I feel like when you cultivate what you put in, you are simultaneously cultivating what you take in, and as an extension of me, my music is one medium I use to explore those parallels.
Let’s talk about “Starz.” First of all, it’s an absolutely stunning song!
Thank you so much!! You should be watching out for a music video.
“Starz” tackles the harsh realties of being Black in America…but also the hope that grows alongside it. What are your hopes for this moment?
Firstly I hope we see human life as inherently valuable and not as collateral in rich white men’s economic wars – especially Black life. I hope we have more things to celebrate, I hope we develop deeper empathy and compassion for each other, and I hope we see our own value and power.
There’s a line about needing to stay bright and knowing you’ve still got direction. Where do you find direction from these days?
The ancestors and universal spirit, ashe.
Interestingly, you wrote this song before the movement took off in early June. How have you grown with the song over the last few months?
I wrote the song when I was lost … kinda just manifesting peace and direction for myself, really. Just seeing people connect and seeing that my music has uplifted people and meant something to them has made me actually take care of myself a lot better knowing that the things I do positively impact people.
How did the creation of this song come about? Did you work with anyone else on finishing it?
“Starz” is actually eponymous of a beautiful poem by a young writer named Olivia. I often volunteer my time with nonprofit organizations, one of which, 826CHI, asked me to write a song based on her poem. I think one of the beautiful things about Black Culture is shared experience. When I read her piece I instantly felt a kindred spirit. Like girl I feel you!
I really tried to convince my musician friends to help me make the song, but no one was available. I made this song before I learned to play the piano! I had been making covers of songs just by layering vocals, but this was the first [original] song I made in this way. I ended up showing it to my producers, Che and Steven, and they thought [we] could work with it, so that’s how we arrived at the finished product!
Speaking technically now, your vocal control on this song, especially on the runs, is such a treat to listen to! When you write, do you plan to add those in or did you ad lib them?
I just let it all come as it comes, honestly.
What’s next for you? Are you currently working on any other projects or songs?
“Starz” is actually the first single from my upcoming EP!
Pradia Rhymes has put together a playlist of a few songs that inspire her. Check it out here:
Interviewed and edited for clarity by Shelby Kluver
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