Over the last few years, Kiana Ledé has proved herself time and time again. Having growing from strength to strength, the songstress is now at the forefront of R&B.
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona the 23 year-old took it upon herself to chase her dreams and move to Los Angeles at the flourishing age of 16. In hope to pursue her career in music, it’s been nothing but an up-hill climb for Kiana. You may recognise her from various mash-ups and covers that circulated the net a few years back, amassing millions of views Kiana started to attract the right recognition needed for her to grow. Fast forward to now, the Phoenix native is one of the very few artists to have successfully broken away from YouTube. Now indulging into full blown stardom, this is only the start of what’s looking like a very successful career.
With a variety of projects and singles behind her including 2018’s “Selfless”, 2019’s “Myself” EP which featured no other than Offset. Kiana recently returned with her highly anticipated debut album “KIKI”. Spread across 17 tracks of pure vulnerability, vitality, anger, lust, loyalty, joy and darkness this album has a sense of empowerment that’s woven throughout. With boast-worthy appearances from 6LACK, Ari Lennox, Lucky Daye, Moneybagg Yo, BIA, Col3trane and Arin Ray – “KIKI” has definitely been worth the wait!
I caught up with Kiana to talk things “KIKI” and more…
Prior to releasing the album you released “Mad At Me”, what made you decide that this was going to be the lead single?
A lot of factors were taken into account when we were thinking about what song to release next. It was the song that would bring in a wide range of people but also presented me in this new space that I was in for the album. Those were the two main factors that played into the release!
You’ve recently stated that “KIKI” was the sound everyone was expecting to hear when emerging from doing covers as opposed to “Selfless”. What factors do you think postponed this? Was it more about finding growth in your sound and playing around with that before releasing this album? Or even the transition from being known for covers into your own artist?
I think “Selfless” was the closest I had been so far to what I had wanted to do! I said that people would expect that from me because I am very natural and authentic, even when I do covers I make them my own.
I think “Selfless” was close but myself was further away and “KIKI” is it now! I am young so I definitely grew into myself a little bit. The second thing being I also stopped listening to opinions – for every artist you to come a point where even if you have just a little bit of success, everyone has money in the pot and wants to win with you! It’s such a blessing and I’m so happy that so many people care so much, but at the same it’s a curse and because it’s team work once there are too many opinions it’s really hard for the artist to shut it out – at least it is for me anyway! It was really about me shifting through the opinions and trusting myself more than I trust everyone else. We go through waves of that especially as you get older, I didn’t have a backbone at all when I was 19 and then I got one for my music, not for myself but for “Selfless” and then I got one for myself *laughs*.
For the curation of “KIKI” you went on a camp with your team which you documented. Do you think being in that type of free environment played a role in the overall sound as opposed to going to the studio and saying ‘right today we’re going to get this, this and this done today…’?
Yeah! I think it definitely changed it! The purpose of me going to the Malibu camp was to be able to write music that I’ve wanted to write with no opinions. I locked myself and my team away and I wasn’t allowing anyway to come, ‘that’s what she said’ *laughs*! I was only supposed to be there for a couple of days and go off to a camp in Atlanta but after Derrick (co-writer) came in I didn’t want to mess that up because we were in such a good flow! We are literally made for each other musically! Taking the pressure off and going into a camp and saying ‘we hope we come out with something good’ and make music purely because we love it. In my opinion this is one of the best albums of all time!
No I agree completely! It’s such a good album, it felt a lot more awakening and empowering this time!
Hahah yes, thankyou!
So, in this album you showed a lot of sides to your personality, from vulnerability to anger to loyalty to darkness. What emotion for you was harder to get across and why? I’ve had this conversation with quite a few artists and they’ve said sometimes it’s the songs that you think would be the easiest ones to make from a fan point of view lyrically that are the easiest but they turn out to be the hardest…
Yes, that’s very true! I think for me all the songs were pretty easy and Derrick for me was like a cheat code! It was pretty easy for me to get all my feelings and some of Derrick’s stories to out on paper! We almost freestyled everything together, it was very back and forth. I think the hardest thing, well there was only four songs we did outside of the camp; “Attention”, when I was writing this song it was pretty difficult because it was very very emotional, very real and very personal for me. I’m sure other people feel this way but I have this constant fear, I know that I do it but I nitpick things just to get a reaction or even have something to talk about just for the other person to show that they care! That’s something that I’ve been working on but it’s hard to be that honest with yourself and about your faults – but I’m glad I wrote it!
Yeah, I read that your an Aries right?
Yeah I’m an Aries! *laughs*
Hahah no way, twins!
As an Aries, I find it difficult sometimes to communicate things with other people so for you to bare all in your album and knowing how many people are going to listen to it, you must find it overwhelming or even daunting sometimes?
I think for me it’s scarier to tell my man how I feel in comparison to writing a song because I don’t think about who’s going to hear it – it’s more ‘I just need to get this out today!’. That’s easier for me rather than being able to tell people, but I think the connection is knowing that the people that I care about or I’m talking about are going to hear this song – that’s definitely a little stressful! I think for us Aries we are so fiery, thats the reason why “Attention” was so hard was because I’m fucking insecure sometimes and I need reassurance! I fucking hate admitting that because I am a strong independent woman!! *laughs*. No, but having to admit and show that little bit of weakness is definitely a little scary and because I’m an Aries that’s normally why all of my songs are sassy! In “Cancelled”, my feelings were really hurt in that song and I was just a bitch! *laughs* It’s harder to be vulnerable, when it comes to being vulnerable about myself, with “Heavy” for instance when I was talking about mental illness and depression. However, when it comes to being at the mercy of somebody else that’s where it’s fully hard for me! It was definitely a challenge putting in on paper but it was good – I needed to do it!
You said in “The Making Of KIKI” that at first you couldn’t find your footing and flow with the album until Derrick came. What do you do when you experience things like writers block? Do you have techniques or do you step away from the song and come back to it?
I think when I’m experiencing writers block there’s just no saving it for me. I’m all about energy! I have walked out on sessions before where I haven’t felt it. Every writer that came to the Malibu camp was amazing and I’ve written with them multiple times before – for some reason I just knew it wasn’t what I expected and wasn’t what I had wanted from the camp. If we stayed in that element it wasn’t going to give us what we wanted, it felt too much like work at that time! It’s not even about the writers though, its about that way we set up the camp and once Derrick came and I saw how we flowed and how we worked together it was like a jumpstart into what exactly the camp was about.
You said that when you first moved to LA you were a dreamer but now you’re more a realist. I think it’s easy to get caught up in being a dreamer with a city like LA – what expectations or ideals really changed for you when fulfilling your life in LA as an artist or even in general?
When I first moved to LA I had all these expectations like my life was going to change, I had a record deal, a team, I was ready to release music and I was in the studio all the time. I had been going back and forth from LA already for a year before that but visiting a place is completely different to living there! I was staying with friends when I would come, one really good friend Brandon who I grew up with let me stay at his place for months at a time. I would visit and I would make all of these dreams up in my head and when I moved there I expected them just to happen and that wasn’t the case! When I had a record deal I was still working at CVS, doing demo sessions and performing at Jazz nights underage – I was doing all kinds of shit because I had a horrible deal. I think once I had moved here and I started paying rent it all started to become a little more real *laughs*
Life hit you hard! *laughs*
Yeah! *laughs* Life really hit me! I was super young though, I was only 16 when I officially moved so the realist in me clicked very quickly and from very early on. Since then, I’ve just been through a lot of shit! I’ve been in this music industry for a very long time and being very young I had to deal with a lot of grown up shit as a teenager. I’m happy I did it because now I’m a lot more realistic about things, as we get older we learn things that we need to un-learn as life goes on! It’s still good to have skills, I have learned enough to be realistic about my present and my future but I want to bring it back a little bit! I want to be able to say ‘I can win a Grammy with this album’, I want to be able to say’ I have a No.1 album’, I want to be able to say all these things because that really is the secret you know, putting it out there! The crazy thing is, that coming where I have come from, we don’t have a lot of shots, we don’t have a lot of chances and for me to able to be lucky enough to say that everything that I’ve said up until now in my career and in my life has actually happened and come true is incredible!
Yeah, I really did put it out there and there’s nothing wrong with intention! I think intention makes the dreams become a little bit more of a reality once you’ve said it!
If you could have a conversation with your younger self living in Phoenix, having experienced and gone through what you have now – what would you tell her?
TRUST YOUR GUT! I always say that but I really feel it! Out of all the things that I’ve learned that is the most important one! As a black and brown woman we are raised to not take up space. It was really hard for me to learn that I’m not a burden and I’m not taking up space and that my opinion matters just as much as anybody else! Especially being young too, no-one listened to me when I was younger, so I let people push and turn me into whatever they wanted me to. I knew what I wanted though, what I’m doing now is exactly what I wanted to do when I was younger. It’s all the things that I knew I was going to do. I wish I would’ve stuck to myself a little more and listened to my gut, I knew what I wanted but I never acted on it because of everyone else – but they don’t know shit! *laughs* Everybody is guessing!
You have various great features on the album! When you go through deciding who you would like to feature, what factors really implement who you would want on your album? Do you listen track by track and think ‘does there tone go with my tone’ or even lyrically…
It’s two different things and it’s really simple for me – maybe not for other artists but for me it’s very simple! One, who I love as an artist and who I listen to, the people that I admire – I take all that into account. Two, it’s really just listening to the song. I feel like I have a really great A&R ear, I can just hear a song and think ‘Oh! This person would be great on this pretty quickly and that’s something I love doing. So yeah, very simple!
Is there anyone else you would still love to collaborate with?
Oh! There’s so many people! I mean obviously Beyoncé… Rihanna – I don’t smoke weed but I would if she asked me too *laughs*. Sara Bareilles and John Mayer, those are two curveballs that I don’t know if people would know, but there two my idols! Oh and Alicia Keys obviously… who wouldn’t want to collaborate with Alicia Keys?!
When people think of you, they think of this fresh and nostalgic figure! I know you grew up listening to 00’s and 90’s music – If you were to make a song with two artists from that era, who would you make a song with?
Omg did you hear him?!
My boyfriend just went ‘Usher!’ – that was literally the first person that came to my mind as well! Wow you know me so well *laughs*. Yeah, Usher and Destiny’s Child…that counts as one person right?
Oh, of course! We’ll count that as one person *laughs*
Exactly! Three girls, one artist!
We are living in crazy times at the moment! What have you been doing to stay motivated musically?
I have been doing way too many puzzles! I have also been doing a lot of press and talking about the album. I’ve been doing a lot of Instagram lives which are fun! Oh, and playing my instruments again which I don’t give a lot of time to! Oh, and reading!
Any Netflix recommendations?!
‘Tiger King’! Everyone is watching that though! I heard ‘Money Heist’ is really good as well but I haven’t started that yet!
This year is going to be a big year for you! What are you most looking forward to? What more can we expect to see from Kiana this 2020?
A Deluxe album! I’m working on that whilst I’m trapped inside *laughs*. A tour! Once we can go back outside I’m going to go on tour! A couple other things as well that I can’t really talk about – one of them is really cool and really different that’s all I’m saying!
You can listen to “KIKI” here and keep up to date with all things Kiana via her Instagram here.