Everyone loves a rule-breaker, and in the world of R&B, one of the most buzzed-about disruptors isn’t the latest singer discovered on YouTube or the artist with the most liked thirst traps on social media. Instead, it’s Sevyn Streeter, a self-described “simple girl from Haines City, Florida,” who is switching up the game with her unexpected, throwback style.
Rather than inflating her tracks with Top 40-driven, house-y beats, the singer-songwriter taps into classic ’90s influences, like Aaliyah and Faith Evans, to guide her sound. In a move seemingly out of step with our current era, Streeter puts conviction above profitability. (She once opted out of singing the national anthem at a 76ers game rather than change out of a “We Matter” tee). Never mind Insta-fame: The singer has patiently chipped away in the music industry for an unbelievable 15 years. During this time, she has opened for Queen Bey while touring as part of a girl group; released a slow but steady stream of her own singles, including her 2015 smash, “Don’t Kill The Fun,” which has racked up over 12 million views on YouTube; and endured several album delays—all while writing chart-topping singles for other artists, like Ariana Grande (“The Way”) and Alicia Keys (“New Day,” “Limitedless”).
After so much success in the music industry, how is it that the Grammy-winning songwriter is only just now releasing her debut, full-length album, fittingly titled Girl Disrupted? We talked to the R&B stalwart about doing things on her own terms, learning Zen-like patience, and the divine kismet of releasing her long-awaited “debut” album on her birthday—the seventh day of the seventh month—and in the year 2017, no less.
The first single you released was in 2012 with “I Like It.” Finally, five years later, you’re releasing your debut full-length album, which seems like it was a very long time in the making. Is the album name connected to this long gestation period?
It has been a very long time. When I say “Girl Disrupted,” it’s about different vibes. It’s about love, loyalty, and liberation. Through writing about these three different topics from my perspective, I found that I was starting to disrupt things within myself that needed to be disrupted. It disrupted a girl-like mindset—a very naive mindset that didn’t think certain things could happen. [At one point,] I thought, I’m a nice country girl from Florida. People will love and respect that and appreciate that I’m a simple, sweet, nice country girl from Florida. But no. You’re not exempt from going through shit.
I was in a public relationship [with rapper B.o.B] that ended publicly. I’ve dealt with depression on the craziest level over the last year and a half. I’m a Christian and a God-fearing woman. All my life I thought, Just pray about it and won’t worry about it. But over the last year and a half, I was struggling with throwing certain things away and letting them fester and bother me. This entire industry began to take a toll on me. So whether it was dealing with love or friendships that were falling by the wayside, career setbacks, or feeling like I was stagnant in my career, I began to write about it.
The first song on my album—which was the last song I actually recorded—is about a guy that I’m dating, but we’re not quite together, yet I can’t quite stay away from him. Another song is about liberation and empowering myself and forgiving my enemies. The pieces of the album... it’s just my life, my story. Just the same way that I wasn’t exempt from some things, women who are going to listen to this album will be able to pick and choose which song describes exactly what they’re going through.
You’ve cited Aaliyah as a big influence and have traditionally released songs that are very purely rooted in R&B. Is the sound of this album similar or does it have a more dance-y feel, like a lot of the singles that are running the charts right now?I’ve always been fans of certain artists, and I watch them put out mixtapes and EPs, and then by the time they release their album, it feels nothing like what I fell in love with. So I wanted to be really mindful of that. When it came time for me to do my album, I was like, “Don’t you do that, girl. Just because you have an album finally, all your records don’t need to be four-to-the-floor and pop.” No, there’s a time for that and we will get there.
This album is a celebration of my relationship with my fans. It’s a gift for them on my birthday for being so patient, so I want to make sure that the core of it was what they know me for. I don’t want them to think that I’ve left them. The core of it is very much grounded and rooted in my R&B in cadences.
I have a song called “Present Situation,” that comes in with this heavy guitar lick, and the drums are really hard and the cadence is crazy; it borders a little bit with an Aaliyah song called “I Can Be.” I feel like if she were here, she would cut it. And then I have a song where I pay homage to Faith Evans and her song “Soon As I Get Home.” Then, “Everything In Me” is kind of country, and that fits because I’m country AF. It’s still grounded in the R&B that I love, but there’s an element of growth and evolution in there. So I do experiment with different sounds, but I didn’t shove it in my fans faces; I sprinkled it in places.
As you’ve mentioned, this album has been a long time coming. It’s got to be hard to see projects get pushed, and I know you’ve talked about depression on social media. But you also post about the value of patience, trusting in the process, and sitting with things on Instagram. How do you achieve that level of Zen?
I’ll be honest: It’s not easy. It does not come without real tears and real depression. My mother can tell you that there was a time when I wished that there was a magical way to make it all pretty. But last year, she had to come out for months at a time because I dealt with depression. When you’re working nonstop as hard as you can for a dream, and it’s seemingly not coming when you want it to come, well, the only thing that got me through that is a whole lot of prayer, a whole lot of family, and that’s it. Faith and family and tears. I believe in crying. I know it sounds crazy, but I think it’s therapeutic. And I make sure I stay busy. Idle time is the devil’s workshop. You have to stay busy, so I continued to write and work on the album. God is a God of completion and perfection; I was born on July 7 for a reason. He wants my album to come out on July 7. There’s no way to explain it; it’s divine intervention.
If part of staying busy is writing hit songs for others, is there a particular artist you’d like to write a record for?I really want to give Selena Gomez a smash record—and I know I can. I love what she’s doing. She’s not putting herself in a box, and I think that is effing awesome. I can hear the melodies she sings in her songs, and they’re rooted in a lot of R&B. I know I can write her an incredible record. She’s really big on melodies.
You’ve also said that you’ve admired Aaliyah’s sartorial style, which was both a little tomboy and a little sexy. How has your style evolved since you put out your last EP?I don’t think my style was in a place I wanted it to be in the past, because I think my confidence wasn’t in a place where I wanted it to be. I look back on certain red carpets, and I’ve been in Balmain dresses worth thousands of dollars—and the dresses were beautiful!—but I didn’t feel beautiful, so that’s how it read. Now, I’m very comfortable, and I’m very much in a good place.
You’ve talked to NYLON before about standing up for what you think is right. How does activism continue to play a part in your work?
Anytime there’s a particular group of people, gender, race of people being treated unfairly, everyone should be in an uproar. Everyone should stand up. For a long time, it has been the African-American community. You can see it in our history books. We see it all the time. Especially around the time that I wore the “We Matter” shirt, every other day, it was another black person being killed—and it still is that way. It hasn’t stopped. I will always use my music and my platform as an outlet for anything that’s authentic, genuine, real, and links us all—which is love, life, and relationships. What we go through as a people is what I pull my creativity from.
Sevyn Streeter’s debut album, Girl Disrupted, is out now.