Music

Interview: Courtnie Talks Single “What’s Up,” The Creative Process, And Making Music For Young Black Forward-Thinkers

Courtnie is an independent artist from the Midwest, whose sound is wrapped in warmth, offering a refreshing mixture of neo-soul and r&b with lyrics that narrate emotional and carefree experiences.

Courtnie is an independent artist from the Midwest whose sound is wrapped in warmth, offering a refreshing mixture of neo-soul and r&b with lyrics that narrate emotional and carefree experiences. The relatability of her lyrics make for an honest and enjoyable listening experience.

When asked what music means to her, she explains, “I think music is the one thing that everybody in the world loves. It’s a universal language, it’s brought me closer to people, and it’s carried me out of my deepest holes and elevated my highest moments.”

Tell us who Courtnie is.

I’m Midwest-bred (Chicago & St. Louis) and I come from amazing parents and a super warm extended family! I love all types of art, the outdoors, and I can’t wait to travel again. My proudest accomplishments lately have all involved working with other incredible Black women who inspire me to go harder, whether it be creating beautiful visuals with my director friends (Marisa Truitt, Jordan Caldwell, and Annie Bercy to name a few) or modeling pieces from my friend Amira’s Pan-African brand collective The Folklore.

How long have you been creating music?

I fell in love with music via my Nana’s hums from the church pews, my Dad’s vinyl collection, and V103/WGCI radio, but I didn’t start to create music for myself until college. A friend of mine was getting into producing and we decided to write a song together. From there I fell in love with the process and never really stopped.

You have a distinct sound, which reminds me of oldies with a modern twist. Did you ever experiment with your style?

I did! And I continue to. Honestly, I still consider myself a baby musician who is very much still discovering her sound. And I think I’ll always experiment.

Evolution and experimentation, I see! How would you describe the type of music that you create?

Alternative R&B/Neo-Soul if I had to choose, but I’m actually not big on genre. I often get comparisons to Sade, SZA, Jhene Aiko and Erykah Badu, so I’ve come up with a standard answer to the genre question, but I think genre is more for the listener than the artist. I don’t feel the need to be classified!

Is there a particular group of listeners that you hope to connect with through your music?

People like me! Young, Black people with provocative ideas. Young, Black people who aren’t afraid to push boundaries. Young, black people who may find themselves ahead of the curve sometimes. And people not like me, too.

Who are your major influences?

Jill Scott and Alicia Keys were some of my earliest influences, and are still two of my biggest to this day. Jill for her lyricism and Alicia because I played the piano growing up and wanted to be just like her. Nina Simone, Prince, Solange, and Beyoncé are also some of my favorites.

Your music is relatable and has a range of sounds from upbeat and carefree to emotional. Are your songs a reflection of your reality or a depiction of relatable experiences shared by the masses?

They’re definitely a reflection of my reality, but with my new music I’ve been experimenting with writing from other perspectives. I used to feel like it was inauthentic to do so, but some stories need to be heard and if I have to be the one to tell them in order to give someone else a voice, so be it.

That’s an interesting way of approaching it. What do you hope to achieve through your music?

I’d love to have a platform that allows me to shed light on the issues I care about such as: equity for disadvantaged people, unification across the diaspora, more empathy for one another, etc.

Most Black people don’t come from generational wealth or have access to the same resources as white up-and-coming artists, which isn’t to generalize and say all non-Black up-and-coming artists have the perfect setup, but a certain level of privilege definitely exists.

What has your experience been with navigating the music scene, considering the type of music you create and how you identify as an individual? 

It’s been tough at times, because I’m independent and doing this with no real blueprint. Most Black people don’t come from generational wealth or have access to the same resources as white up-and-coming artists, which isn’t to generalize and say all non-Black up-and-coming artists have the perfect setup, but a certain level of privilege definitely exists.

At the end of the day, coming from a place like USC I know plenty of non-Black artists and creators who have families who pay their rent, own the property they live in, and throw tens of thousands of dollars toward their work, whereas for me I use the funds that I make from working a full-time job to invest in my music. And it’s a huge risk because the payout isn’t immediate. It’s resulted in a lot of long hours, exhaustion, and frustration but it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I just pray that I make my family proud.

How would you describe your growth over the years?

I learn so much every time I take a step back from overworking and I love that. One of the most important ways I’ve grown as an artist is that I’m no longer trying to sound like the artists I admire. I truly think I’ve found my own niche.

There are various forms of expression, music being one outlet, but what does music mean to you?

I think music is the one thing that everybody in the world loves. It’s a universal language, it’s brought me closer to people, and it’s carried me out of my deepest holes and elevated my highest moments. In short, music means everything to me.

What have you learned along the way that can serve as advice for other artists?

Rest is important, and necessary to fuel creativity! And you are enough.

Something that stood out to me prior to indulging in your music is the artwork for your projects. What’s your creative process with pairing cover art to a single or body of work?

I love hearing this! I put so much time and effort into collaborating with the right artists for my cover art. All of my art has been executed by Black designers and photographers. The majority of it by Black women. I’m blessed to know so many incredibly talented people, and I usually send them a mood-board, some images of myself to emulate if we’re going for an illustration, and then I let them take it from there. Sometimes I just scroll through my art over the years because I’m so proud of the work.

Tell us about your latest single, “What’s Up”.

It’s about the first pop out after spending time laying low and recharging. A daydream about our first night back out on the town! I wrote it with a Brooklyn rooftop fantasy in mind. One of my favorite places to be!

You released two EPs: Nebula (2015) and I Feel Like Color (2017). What do these two EPs represent and where were you as an individual at the time that you created them?

Both were created during periods of massive change in my life! Nebula literally comprises the first pieces of music I ever wrote while I was in college in Los Angeles, on a trip to Uganda, and while interning in New York, and it very much encompasses my philosophical and activist side. I wrote I Feel Like Color while living in New York as a young adult and quite frankly I think it’s the segue I needed to come into myself as an artist.

What can we expect from you in the coming months?

I tend to make promises and then the world goes to sh*t and I have to push things back [laughing], so I’m just going to say follow me on all platforms and you’ll see!

How can we stay connected with you, Courtnie?

Follow me on InstagramSpotify, and subscribe to my mailing list!

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