Artists like Maxine Ashley don't come along that often. The 21-year-old singer-songwriter has been involved with music for as long as she can remember, but launched into the public after posting videos of her covers on YouTube when she was a young teenager. The Bronx-born Ashley's hustling paid off when she was quickly signed by the industry's ultimate tastemaker, Pharrell Williams, and in 2014,
she released her debut
Since that whirlwind of a career start, Ashley has slowed down a bit. She's no longer signed with Williams, but it's hardly a setback; now completely independent as an artist,
Ashley has kept her name out there in a way that's authentic to who she is as an artist.
Following the recent release of her Paranoid EP, the pop star landed a campaign for Raeana Anaïs' conceptual luxury womenswear
brand R A E A N A.
Feast your eyes on this exclusive lookbook for the ARTHROPODA series, and learn more about Ashley while you click through the gorgeous gallery, below.
Hair: Jayme J
Makeup: Lakeisha Dale IG: @Keeshology_Mua
Styling & pieces by: Jamie McCarty
Creative Direction & pieces by: Raeana Anaïs
Photography: Idan Barazani
Cinematography: Raeshon Roberson of BBR productions
Maxine Wears fur and leather pieces by R A E A N A from the series A R T H R O P O D A + Two toned black and yellow looks from the Jamie McCarty collection.
What's your earliest memory of music?
It depends, 'cause I go way back with music. I guess when I saw my mother perform, 'cause she used to sing salsa, she used to be in like a band and shit, and I used to just go with her all the time to her rehearsals and dance with her. I grew up around it. It's definitely become my blessing and curse in a way.
How did you finesse moving to London at such a young age?
So I put my first video ever on YouTube, and it was forced, because my mother wanted me to do a video for her so she could show all her friends like, "Oh look my daughter can sing." I have the biggest attitude in the video, it's still up on my old page called Damn04 and it's this cover from this movie
called "Here's Where I Stand." The first video I put up got a lot of attention, and that's when people from London hit me up and they were like, "You ever been there?" And I'm like, "Nah." They're like, "Well come in, we want to work with you." And I moved out there. I was back and forth—I lived on a plane mostly going from New York and London month to month. I was out there for awhile until I was 17 years old and then I changed my YouTube channel, and the first video I put on my new YouTube channel got attention from Pharrell as soon as I landed in New York. Everything was really fast.
It must have been interesting to compare your drive and motivation in pursuit of your passion to what your friends at that same age were doing.
Like I said it, it really was 100 percent a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because I got to do what I wanted. It was a curse because I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. It's like giving a child a credit card too early and by the time they're old enough to understand what they had, they're already in so much debt. I was so happy that I'm able to do what I love and I had the support from my family and friends, you know? Obviously, people talk shit, but I never gave a fuck 'cause I was in London. I was like, "Fuck outta here, y'all all the way over there. I don't care." But at the end of the day, I got shingles at 15. I didn't understand the stresses of anything that I was put in, and then I kind of got stuck into this music industry world that was glamorized, and I thought that it was something that was going to help me push me forward and little did I know I was a child being used by these companies.
What were some of the most challenging things that you had to face being so young and in the industry?
Not being taken seriously. They were like, "Yeah, you don't know what you're talking about." They tried to not make me be myself, and then they tried to over-glamorize the fact that I was Latina from the Bronx. Of course, I was always proud of who I am, but there's so much more depth to me than just being from the Bronx, and Puerto Rican, and Latina. There's so much more to a person than just that, and they just tried to glamorize that way too much. And then I had no money, so I had to like pick up pennies and try to scrape my way up to London. When I first moved there, I wasn't even in London, I was an hour or so away in Kent. It was just countryside for old people. But I had fun. I was able to do things that I would never be able to do in America for sure.
Could you tell me about your relationship with Pharrell? It's pretty incredible to have been scouted by him.
It definitely was. It was unbelievable, to be quite honest, because it wasn't just Pharrell--it was just a bunch of labels. I even met with Roc Nation, Jay Z, and all these people. It was a huge interest at the time and honestly I still don't understand why to this day, because I had nothing out. I just had videos on YouTube. I guess it's something that I won't really understand. But he was the only one that I liked generally as a person. You know what I'm saying? I had no idea who he was—I was too young to really understand producers or what they did. They didn't really glamorize producers at the time that I was going, I just cared about the artist. So meeting him, I was like, "I don't really know you, but you're cool. You seem really cool and you really want to work with me."
I was with him for five years. The first three years was the most amazing times. I had so much fun. I met so many people, and I got to really sit down and soak it up, almost like school. I wasn't able to go [to college], but I was able to look around and learn from my mistakes and really appreciate everything around me until I started to want to take the business into my own hands. I started to realize that yes, this experience is amazing, but if I stay here any longer I will not get anywhere. I will not be anywhere because at the end of the day, like I said, anywhere that I will go they will just try to glamorize one thing and make me do one thing or just put me into a box and just not let me be an artist.
Could tell me more about the creative process that went into the Paranoid EP?
I'm independent so I had to hit up all the producers and really get on my grind to try to get all these songs and being able to put this EP out. It took me a very long time to try to get these songs together and put out a proper EP. I try to get everybody to approve it and all the fucking background and shit that goes to that—man, there's days I wake up like, "Is this even going to fucking happen?" I wanna make it happen, so that's why I named it
too because the closer I got to succeeding and getting this EP together, the more nervous I got because I cared so much about it. I was like, "Oh, this is scary." And it's been so long of me putting music out, I feel like it's just who am I that I had to wait that long to put out music. I wish I was able to keep on putting music out and not have a three year hiatus. I hope it was good enough for the wait.
I love the artwork for this EP. Why did you pick that image, and how did you get
connected to the artist February James?
She hit me up on Instagram and she was like, "I wanna be you, I wanna collaborate with you in any way." I looked through her Instagram and her paintings, and I was like, "Damn, this shit is amazing." So we went back and forth... I had the name for the EP at the time too. She didn't hear any of the songs but it makes just so much sense. I was like, "This is perfect."
It's just nice to see something original and out of the box. I feel like so many people get a little too caught up with making all of this digital artwork.
That was another thing too. There's so many ways to put yourself out there. There's so many amazing people on the internet, and artists, and things like that. I couldn't make the cover of anything my face. People have already seen my face—it's all on my Instagram, it's all everywhere already. I want to put out art. I want people to just look at it and love looking at an artwork. Almost like a museum, like when you look at art and you're listening to music at the same time.
I was scrolling through your Instagram earlier and you're pretty active on it. What are your favorite social media platforms that you actually enjoy using?
I hate all of it. I hate all of it, honestly; I like Instagram 'cause I follow funny stuff. I like laughing, it makes me laugh like crazy. I send all the memes to my best friends and my boyfriend and shit and we just be laughing. Being independent, there's no really other way to like, put out your shit and keep people updated. So like, this is the best platform for me to be like, "Hey listen I have music, click here please." It's really the only platform that you're able to show yourself, your artistry. You can use Instagram and any of these platforms for any work reasons; you can use it for artistic reasons. That's why I like Instagram so far.
I think I'm ready for everything to just be irrelevant, minus Instagram and Snapchat.
Pretty much, pretty much. Like, straight up. I think everyone's on the same wave. I love YouTube though. YouTube is where I got my start, YouTube is where I did everything. And then I love visuals. Like, moving, you know what I'm saying? Video is my favorite.
So what else do you have going on for this year?
Oh I'm doing everything in the book, girl. Like, I'm literally creating my own... how do I say this, like, my own empire in a sense. Like, I'm getting everything together, I'm putting everything in control. I just put out this EP, I've got music videos and more music lined up, and performances, tours, and things like that. It's time to get the ball rolling now that I have music. 'Cause at the end of the day, I wasn't able to do anything if I don't have music out because I'm a singer so what the fuck do I look like doing anything else, you know? The thing that I do is I sing. I sing so I can't really do anything else if I don't have my music out or if I'm not doing what I'm meant to do. It's like having a job and you're not working.
How do you feel about fame? Do people recognize you often?
I ain't shit, like I go everywhere. Like, it's not, I'm not like, you know, I'm nothing. Not that I'm nothing, like, you know, I'm a fuckin' artist and shit, but like, there's people that recognize me here and there, but the people who recognize me, they just come up to me and they're like, "Yo your art is dope. I appreciate it." That's what makes me happy; people in person, when they go up to you, like they generally fuck with you.
Do you have any resolutions for 2017?
No. Honestly, every year is starting to become the same thing. Honestly, it's like the same shit. Nothing is going to change from yesterday, you know what I'm saying? Like, always try to be better every day instead of for a new year, 'cause then that's when your body stresses out even more 'cause you're putting too much high expectations for that stuff. That shit will hurt you mentally. I do it everyday. I have a new resolution every day... I have the same god damn goal every fucking year. I'm doing music. You know what I'm saying? It's always to be better.