In today’s generation, female rappers more than ever are rising to the forefront of the music industry. Insert Bri Steves, a rapper and singer from Philadelphia with one hell of a voice, relentless bars, and an equally powerful personality. Refusing to be constrained by the constructs of society, the 25-year-old raps about real-life experiences from the perspective of a strong, Black female—reminding folks of the power that lies within Black girl magic.
Growing up an only child in a single-parent household with her mother, Bri listened to music in the house at all hours of the day. Her biggest influences to date include the likes of Marvin Gaye, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, Biggie, Joey Bada$$, and J. Cole, mastering versatility in both rap and R&B.
While she claims she’s been “lonering it up her whole life” with her and her mom, Bri is an ambivert: a little bit of an introvert and a little bit of an extrovert. After graduating from Temple University where she began exploring her singing voice, the rising star exploded onto the scene with her debut single “Jealousy.” Since then, she’s shut down stages all over the world opening for artists such as H.E.R., Mary J. Blige, Pharrell, and mentor Kendrick Lamar.
Now, the Atlantic Records signee unleashes her new visual for “Anti Queen” (also the title of her forthcoming project), speaking volumes to the stereotypes women have all around the world. Flaunt caught up with Bri via Zoom to discuss her roots in music, college life, getting signed, the creation of “Jealousy,” what inspired “Sober,” her alter ego Ashleigh, the message behind “Anti Queen,” goals, and more!
Talk about being diverse in both R&B and hip-hop.
I started off rapping. I started off listening to Biggie, Kanye, Pharrell. I was at the same time listening to Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah. I love both genres. It never was “mmm, I can’t.” Especially looking at people like Missy Elliott, she’s a jack of all trades. She can do everything. Once I got a little more comfortable with my voice, later down the line when I started recording myself in the house, I embraced both sides. Right now, I rap and I sing, and I love both equally.
What did you study at Temple University?
I was in school for PR. It was at the point in my junior year in college, I’m like “man, I don’t know of anything else I want to do with my life.” Music has always been a constant for me whether I’m always in a session or I’m always taking a show. At one point, I’d rather get paid to do music and be myself if it makes me happy. That shifted everything to focusing on music all the time, even though I had six classes a day to go to at Temple. When I wasn’t in class, it was all about music.
What did you want to do in PR?
I wanted to get into fashion PR, but I didn’t have it figured out. What kid does at 22? [laughs]
How was it getting signed before you graduated and tasting the major label life?
Not going to lie, it was definitely a whirlwind. I remember when I did get signed right before I came into my senior year, I’m traveling, I’m working on “Jealousy” at the time. I’m thinking “man, this is happening so fast. I can’t believe I’m living my dream.” It was my dream to get signed. I didn’t see it happening, being out in Miami recording or me working with Sonny Digital and all these great people. I was excited and happy to have this all happening to me.
Did you think “Jealousy” would be the song that blew up?
Not at all. I knew when I heard the record, what I was doing with Hitmaka, yo I love this song. I’m a big fan of Jon B, it’s one of my favorites. When it came out, it ended up being Top 15 on Urban Radio. I didn’t see that coming. It was always spinning in my city, I couldn’t go nowhere in Philly without hearing it on the radio. Everyone knew that song so man, I guess I chose right. I knew I was supposed to be doing music for a reason!
Fast forward to today, who or what inspires “Sober”?
Honestly, Drake is my biggest inspiration right now. He does both, he’s the standard. He has the bars, he can also dip in and out of the melody. Other than Missy, other than Lauryn, Drake right now is my #1 go-to when I listen to shit on Spotify.
What’s your favorite Drake song?
Hmm, that’s a good question. “4pm In Calabasas,” he’s spitting crazy on there. That’s still my favorite one.
Do you drink? How often are you drunk texting?
Oh yes, do I? I do drunk texting every now and then. I know at the time before I made “Sober,” I had a bunch of bad relationship experiences where you want to let loose, take a couple of shots back. You always end up sending that risky text like “you up?” Or you send that little call at 2 in the morning, I done did that a bunch of times. When I was in Toronto when I made “Sober,” it put me back in that space. Everybody was drinking in the studio, I’m like “man, I want to write a song about this shit because I know how this shit feels.” It’s risky, but it’s fun as hell. That’s how “Sober” came out, in 20 minutes.
Yeah, it was so easy. It just came out.
How easy is it for you to make a record?
It really depends on the record. Some songs take days to finish and get it together. Some come in 20, 30 minutes. “Jealousy,” we made that in 30 minutes.
What does it mean to drop “Anti Queen” on your birthday?
Oh my gosh, “Anti Queen” is such a huge record for me. It’s very deep for me so you know a lot about who I am personally as an artist. The video was nuts. I’m paying homage to so many different queens, different anti-queens. Talking about the state of women in the industry, especially women in the rap industry and turning it on its head. Why do we have to be these types of stereotypes to work and get on?
What’s your experience in the music industry and how do you navigate?
It’s been tricky because sometimes, people don’t really appreciate me as an artist, the quality of me. The industry we live in right now, the toughest part is people pay more attention to the sexual shit over the artistry sometimes. I love Meg, I love Cardi, I like twerking shit in my house too! Granted, I get it poppin’. But me as an artist, I don’t really do that. I want to put more importance on the quality of the artist or the quality of the music. You can be more than a one-dimensional type of being.
I’ve got my baggy clothes and I’ve got my dreads, people look at me like “ummm, I mean… I can or can’t listen to her. Whatever.” That’s the reason why I’m paying homage to these queens in the video because they’re all disruptive. It’s about the focus on the artistry and the music. I got Missy who I’m featuring in the video, I got Left Eye who they turned me into in the video, Aaliyah, Eryka Badu, Lauryn Hill. They turned me into all these different queens. Each one of them was disruptive and rebellious. When you looked at them, yeah it was dope. They’re all pretty, they’re all beautiful, but the focus was their music was tight. They’re so cool, they’re so into the culture. What I want to get out with “Anti Queen” is man, you can be whatever you want to be. Focus on the music, the quality of the artist.
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Talk about keeping tomboy sexy, still sexy!
Yes, it is sexy. Look, I’ve got a bunch of different sides. I showed Ashleigh on my Instagram, she’s a different side of me. I’ve been trying to show the complex side. I’m still a chick, I have a feminine side to my tomboy side. I like to wear baggy clothes as well. I like to be comfortable, I like to fuck with sneakers. I like J’s. I’m a crazy sneakerhead, but it’s still girly. I’m still a chick. I may have a little titty showing out, a little midriff out.
When was Ashleigh born? I know she’s your alter ego.
It’s funny because Ashleigh is actually my middle name. Ashleigh’s the feminine side of me, she’s the nasty side of me. She’s the softer girl with the tats, wear all the lingerie with the hair out. She’s as much a part of me as she is a layer of Bri Steves. Bri Steves is still Ashleigh, that’s why I put it up. You’re seeing these two different people, people say “oh my God, this is a different side of you. This is a different person, this is an alter ego.” Once you get past that, I’m still the same bitch. I’m Bri Steves and I’m Ashleigh at the same time.
Who are your biggest fashion influences?
Fatima, Rox Brown, Aleali May, that’s my top 3. They embody everything that I want. They have the girly side, the feminine side, but also the tomboy side. They get culture. They really get sneaks. They’re perfect, they execute every time.
3 things that you need in the studio?
I need some type of liquor, preferably Patron. It depends on the day, I take back Patron. Some type of liq, I need food, some really good food and some crazy ass beats. That’s it, I’m low-maintenance.
What producers do you like?
My favorites like Nabeyin, he’s a producer out in LA. Supah Mario, Boi-1da. I don’t want to offend somebody like yo why you ain’t mention me? [laughs] Anybody that gets drums. Sonny Digital gets drums, Don Cannon gets drums. Anybody where their shit just punches is for me.
What inspires you the most musically?
It’s like a diary entry to me, it’s a way for me to release. Especially now with this pandemic going on it’s like man, I’m writing even more music than I’ve ever written before. When I’m feeling sad or I’m going through something in a relationship, music is a way for me to escape. That’s my poetry, that’s my outlet. It inspires me to put it down and let it out.
Talk about getting celebrity cosigns from the likes of Pharrell, Snoop, Kendrick.
My guys! Each time I got love from each one of them legends, it was an out-of-body experience. I was somebody who grew up idolizing these people. To have me meet Snoop and he says “yeah I know you, I love your music,” this is Snoop. What?! To have Kendrick even bring me on stage at Made in America and fuck with my music so much that he’s like “yo man, you’re so dope.” Man, I remember watching videos of you. I grew up listening to you, it’s crazy. Pharrell, In My Mind is my top 3 albums of all time. I grew up listening to that, listening to my n*gga, “You Can Do It Too”! I got inspired and thought I can do it, because he said it! So when I’m in the studio working with him, I can’t believe this is happening. I gotta keep my cool because I don’t want to be acting crazy, but each time is a blessing.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
I guess I’d be on the other side of the music industry because I can’t see myself getting away from it. Maybe an A&R, who knows?
What’s the best encounter you’ve had with a fan?
When I was on tour with H.E.R., they sent me a picture of it the other day. Making “Jealousy,” I was traveling for the first time in Denver. When my little homie met me, they were crying. They knew all the lyrics to all of my songs, stuff I’d put on SoundCloud before I got signed to the label. I remember it fucking me up, yo you really love my music. You know all my words, you’re really touched by what I do. Me doing music has such an impact on you like Pharrell and all them legends had an impact on me. To see I had an impact on somebody else, that’s the first time for me. A lot of people like my music, but to have somebody say “yo man, you touched my life. That song you talked about with your dad, that helped me heal.” Damn I put that on YouTube as a snippet, you fuck with me for real. That was a beautiful time for me.
Any goals for yourself at this point in your career?
Absolutely. Once this pandemic is over, I’m trying to go my own tour. I’m trying to tour globally at that, get into some movies, build my brand, expand my network. Especially in the short-term, I want Anti Queen to really be the project that introduces me to the world. Okay, this is who Bri Steves is. This is her as an artist, this is what she’s trying to say. Man, I’m a rebel. I’m trying to be disruptive. I’m making up my own rules for this shit in terms of what it means to be a queen. I have a lot of quality in my music as an artist. I have something to say. I want people to finally live with the music, live with the project. Have that respect like man, she’s dope. That’s all I care about.
What are you most excited for in the new year?
Honestly, putting this project out. Anti Queen gotta come out, it’s been a long time coming. People have been harassing me: “where’s the album?” Y’all gonna have it now. But first, “Anti Queen” the visual comes out on my birthday, paying homage to all the queens.