OWO is on a mission to become one of the greats. The singer-songwriter is a self-described “Americanah”, born to Nigerian immigrants. She got her name from her roots in Africa, with OWO serving as a double meaning: her last name and also translation for money. Growing up on the East Coast in Maryland, she describes her name as “easy.”
She explains, “I love it because no one ever knows if it’s a woman, a man, a group, or a band. No one knows, I love it. Surprise, it’s me.”
Serving her own unique blend of sounds coined “afro-electro-R&B,” real name Tracee Atanda-Owo recently unveiled her “THINK YOU ARE” music video, an anthemic record equipped with sharp delivery over a smooth, rhythmic beat. The record sees OWO transitioning from being held down by her ex lover to becoming a better, more beautiful version of herself.
The visual highlights all the intricate parts of a female, as OWO pushes for female empowerment and unity. Self-love is important now more than ever, and OWO delivers the hopeful message in both her music and everyday life. Flaunt caught up with OWO via Instagram Live, who was just wrapping up Youtube university teaching herself how to file her taxes correctly — proving DIY is the key to success.
What are you learning on YouTube?
I learned how to make sure I’m filing my taxes correctly. As an independent contractor, I have to make sure the tax people don’t come knocking at my door. It’s really confusing but at the same time, YouTube is great. It’s the best resource.
I have terrible patience with Youtube tutorials.
Sometimes it’s like that. What I do especially when you find people who are very confusing, I look for someone very simple. Give me beginners.
Being from Maryland, what was the household like growing up?
Maryland has a huge immigrant community in general. There’s a lot of Nigerians living in Maryland so I always felt super connected to my culture. Obviously being in the suburbs, D.C. was the spot. If you wanted to go to any club or do whatever, it’s all D.C. I had the best of both worlds in terms of still having connection to the culture. I have a lot of aunts and uncles here growing up in the DMV area.
Biggest influences coming up?
I really was an old head. I was always listening to a lot of Fela Kuti or Bob Marley because of my dad. They still influence me today with my music. Any R&B I was into: Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child, Lauryn Hill, Beyoncé, Aaliyah. Brandy and Monica for me, I was super young when it was really going on.
I just interviewed Brandy, she’s the sweetest human being.
I’m so jealous! She’s one of my idols. I want to be like “girl, we’re friends in my head.” That VERZUZ battle for me was everything. I still listen to her music a lot lately, her new record and her old stuff. Diving back in, I actually re-discovered stuff I never listened to before. Like Full Moon time, all that was coming out when I was really young. I got it, but I didn’t really get it. I’ve been going into a lot of her catalog, her new stuff is fire too.
How was your experience in New York?
New York is a very tough town. [laughs] It’s crazy sometimes. My experience in New York built me. If you can live in New York, you’re Teflon. If you’re surviving in New York, you’re probably hustling. If you’re hustling and making your way out there, you learn very quickly that it’s not for the faint of heart at all. I like New York because it taught me and exposed me to so many different cultures and people. Most people in New York City or the Brooklyn area are not always from there, so you meet people from all over. I loved that part, the culture is amazing.
When did you realize you could do music for a living?
I was doing music like “I’m just making stuff, whatever.” I met this stranger in New York City and he said “so you do music, but are you fully in it? Are you fully fucking committed to music?” I said “yeah.” I don’t know what it was about that conversation, but something clicked in my head. I’m like “okay now you’re fully committed to this.” That stranger literally made me realize if you’re going to do this, really do it. Don’t play around. Have fun obviously, but take it seriously. Sometimes, it’s the people you don’t know pushing you in the direction you need to go.
You released the visual for “THINK YOU ARE,” who or what inspired this one?
This song was inspired by a relationship I had not recently, but 2 years back. You know when you’re in a relationship and you lose yourself? This is for everybody. You ask yourself after a while “hold up, I’m dope. What am I doing? Why’s this person making me feel like I’m not? Why’s this person making me feel like shit, who do you think you are?” The song is that story realizing that, waking up and coming to terms of “I need to be better for myself. I don’t care about anybody else, I have to do better for me.”
Has the guy heard it?
I think so, because he follows me but I don’t follow him obviously because he hurt me. [laughs] Maybe he knows it’s about him, maybe he doesn’t. I pull from things I see around me, so I love that it’s relatable. It could be for anyone or about anyone. It could be either situation, they don’t know it’s about them unless I tell them.
What was your creative vision with the visual?
It was shot last summer actually in my living room in Brooklyn. I hit my friend up, “we need to create.” He said “dope I have film, I’m coming to your place next week.” We shot it on 16mm film, us 2. We only had 7 minutes of film, so we couldn’t do any cutting. I couldn’t stop, I had to record straight up. It came out this year during quarantine which wasn’t planned, but ended up working out because it was shot inside. I love when you follow your creative instinct and it works out.
You say “you need to be a better me,” what have you discovered about yourself?
I discovered I have to always make sure I make time for myself. Self-care! I put my mask on at least twice a week now. You need it. I wasn’t doing that before, I’d be like “I’m good, I’m fine. Let’s go, let’s move.” I had a very fiery outlook, booked and busy. Quarantine was like “no, you’re going to sit down. You’re not going to have a choice, so you better enjoy and make the best of it.” I learned a lot about self-care during this time.
What does it mean to be a first-generation artist in the States?
That’s a good question. A first-generation anything comes with a lot of responsibility. My parents aren’t shy about reminding me that they’re here because of us, that they left their home because of us. I try to make sure anything I’m doing is a good representation of where I come from. I make sure to not lose myself in any way, always pay tribute to the people who sacrificed for me to be in the States. A lot of people who are first-generation feel that at times. Some people don’t care, to each its own. For me being first-generation Nigerian, I’m always thinking about my family.
3 things you need in the studio?
Privacy, water, and my headphones. I love to listen to the mix of my tracks on headphones, because that’s how other people are going to listen. I need my headphones so I can listen while my engineer’s mixing on my headphones, and not loud. Everyone’s not going to listen to it loud in the studio. I honestly like to record when no one’s there. People are always like “oh but we don’t know if…” It’s fine, I’ll send it to you when I’m done. For me going to the studio when this is all over will be fine, because I’m always alone in the studio anyway.
One thing you want fans to get from Drums and Emotions EP?
I want fans to get an introduction to my sound, I call it afro-electro-R&B. You can call it Afro-fusion if you want to make it shorter. Once they hear it, they can feel the intention behind it.
Goals for yourself at this point of your career??
Get to a point honestly where I can include and hire more people. When that happens, it means I’m already at a level where it’s huge. Of course, I want a Grammy. I want to perform and tour more, collaborate with other artists. Empowering people is great too, that’s a real sign of success when you can empower other people.
What motivates you to do music?
The fact that I have no choice but to let out my creativity through this medium. I can’t help It. I started off writing poetry. I started off as a writer, then music felt so natural as my way to express myself. Of course family, and wanting to be a person who can inspire others. I love music, music’s a great way to do so.