A conversation I imagined to only last for 30 minutes, continued on for over an hour as I sat, enthralled, listening to singer-rapper extraordinaire Shaé Universe discuss her duality as an artist, and reflect on her journey so far.
Shaé Universe, best known for her tracks ‘No Stallin’, ‘You Lose’ and ‘Meant To Be’, is an individual who finds balance in being humble and approachable. Despite living in Hertforshire for most of her adult years, it is safe to say her heart and soul resides in London, connecting with the diversity and creativity of the big city. Released earlier this year, Shaé’s latest single ‘111’ referring to the concept of angel numbers, is a sonically ethereal experience, expressing Shaé’s faith in the power of embracing spirituality.
With a unique perspective on life, Shaé offered some words of wisdom which can be applied to people at all stages of life: ‘Know your worth, protect your authenticity, and be thorough in your art”. With that in mind, we’re ready to step into Shaé’s Universe.
How do you feel about your journey so far?
I feel great, and surer than ever before, this is something that I do not take for granted, because I’ve had periods where I literally have doubted everything. There were times where I would think to myself, am I doing the right thing? Am I making the right type of music? But right now, I feel like everything is in perfect alignment and I’m really enjoying this new kind of sound that I’m carrying with R&B and Drill. The sound I’m creating is bringing a new fresh feel, and is something that people haven’t really had before. I haven’t heard anybody that’s doing it like me, I’m just having fun with that right now.
What was the inspiration behind your name?
Before I was called Shaé Universe, I went through a couple of different stages which included Shaé, Shaé Music, and Shaé Artist. When figuring out a name I realised there were just too many musicians that had the word ‘artist’ after their name, I needed something that would really make me stand out. While brainstorming with my younger sister, who is honestly a visionary – (she also came up with the concept for my Level’s music video, where I paid homage to a handful of R&B icons) – as we were in deep conversation, the name Shaé Universe kept getting thrown around, but at the time I didn’t really realise this was a name I was meant to have. But the way that things have aligned in my career so far, it makes me realise this is really my universe, and the stars aligned effortlessly. I really believe in the power of words; from whatever your name means, to the things that you say about yourself and speak of yourself. Calling myself, Shaé Universe, honestly unlocked another level of something in my career and it’s just been that way ever since.
How would you describe your musical style?
I would describe my style of music as unorthodox. What I’m doing is different, it’s fresh, it’s new inventive. I’m not even on a bragging or arrogant tip, but I feel that my voice is unique. I feel like the sound of my voice and the tone of my voice is unique. Outside of the tone of my voice, the style of my music I’m doing right now as well, it’s fresh and it’s new, I don’t believe people have heard this before. I would say I’m unorthodox, different, peculiar, and interesting. I would also say it’s a part of this new R&B/Drill genre that is slowly rising.
Did growing up in Hertfordshire effect your taste in music?
Hertfordshire is a dead area and lacked diversity while I was growing up, which meant I often found myself in London where I was constantly surrounded by other creatives. Being in and around London, you just meet so many different creatives that are either sharing or creating all kinds of music, that helped me to expand my music taste.
How did you develop your interest in music?
If I’m honest, I started singing in church my mum is a gospel singer and my dad is a pastor, so that naturally kind of influenced my voice. Growing up in the choir helped to tune my musical ear. My mum used to listen to ballad singers like Whitney, Anita Baker, and a lot of similar old school artists. I got to a certain age where I started breaking away from what my parents listened to and started making my own musical choices. My secondary school era was a pivotal time for me as I started to discover a lot more types of music, artists, and genres for myself, after that it just continued to develop. At University I studied American Theatre, which is the American version of performing arts, during my time I strengthened my talents in singing, performing, and dancing.
Did you always want to get into music?
Although I studied American Theatre, music has always been at the forefront, acting has always followed closely behind – but it’s always been music, simply because I grew up singing in the choir at church and it was something I genuinely enjoyed. My first real memory of singing was outwardly in front of an audience at church. Eventually I’m going to find a way to combine acting and singing together. Even if it’s in my music videos, doing little skits or releasing short films alongside my musical projects.
How do you navigate your spirituality vs being someone who grew up in a Christian household?
The older I have become; I have been able to discover God for myself as opposed to religion being something that was mandatory within my household. When you are younger, your parents tell you to go to church and it’s something you just do without questioning. As I got older, I began to see that God really spans further than religion. Like many artists, I’ve touched so many people and even brought some people to closer to God through the music that I make.
At first my mum wanted me to be a gospel singer, I like gospel music, it’s uplifting and gives you what your soul needs, however I feel as if I can reach more people with what I’m doing with my music now. For example, my track ‘111’ isn’t necessarily something I’d call gospel but it’s still giving you soul food, it’s still enriching your soul – it’s still letting you know there is something bigger than us that is guiding us in this life, and taking us to where we need to be. And that’s the main thing that made me realise, okay, I’m spiritual, I’m not religious. These are still conversations I have with my mum, who I know is highly religious but still understands that I will never leave God, and God will never leave me.
Who are your top 3 musical influences?
Although my musical influences are constantly changing, my first artist would have to be Jazmine Sullivan, she’s up there and let me tell you why… This woman can sing her ass off, but apart from that have you seen this woman perform live? One thing about Jazmine is that she quite simply can sing live, which is something unfortunately not many artists can do well. Jazmine Sullivan is one of those artists who sound great on a track and live-in person, she is flawless, this is something I really admire. This woman does not miss a note, what she does with her voice is crazy! The replay value of Heaux Tales is mad, there’s so many tracks on that EP that you could just have on loop.
The second artist would be Brandy and that’s purely because of her musical ear and out of this world harmonies? Lastly, I would say Lauryn Hill purely because she plays with that duality of singing and rapping which is something I can clearly resonate with. Do you know how much of a G.O.A.T you have to be as famous as Lauryn Hill after just one project? The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill did what it needed to do, from then until now her debut album is still going strong, I do wish we had got a little bit more out of her though.
What was the process of making your track ‘You Lose’?
‘You Lose’ shifted my space in the UK music scene a bit, due to the fact I sampled the classic Garage track ‘Sorry (I didn’t know)’ by Monsta Boy and UK listeners could obviously resonate with the reference and homage I paid to such a big song. ‘You Lose’ most definitely raised my profile in the UK, but along with the sample, the lyrics are also very relatable. This song came from a place of pain and anger because I had just come out of a toxic relationship with this guy. That song was my redemption and was a self-worth reminder, hence the song title ‘You Lose’. On this track I was also able to showcase my duality as an artist as you can hear me both singing and rapping. Duality is something I believe exist in everyone and it’s powerful to be able to show that in my music. So many of my male friends contacted me saying how triggered they were about ‘You lose’ and said it defo allowed them to reflect on they treated women.
Your songs feel very personal, what’s your songwriting process like?
All my songs are written by myself, so it does make the whole process a lot easier. My writing process involves thoughts and feelings I already have in my heart, it’s kind of like you’re getting an insight into my journal. If I’m thinking about something that has happened or I’m in my feelings about something, I’ve instantly got my inspiration there for my next song. Sometimes I just go into the studio, the producer will make a beat from scratch and the beat will make me feel something then I’ll begin writing according to my mood and the vibe. Writing is something I genuinely enjoy, but I would also like to get into producing my own music one day, I’ve been using the lockdown to get some practise in. I intend to have more input in my production, a hundred percent.
Tell me about your collab with Kojey Radical on ‘Royalty’
Kojey is one of the most inspiring artists I’ve ever met in my life, he’s consistent and passionate. It’s not easy to do what Kojey has done while still staying true to himself and keeping the substance in his music, he’s never sold out and I don’t think he ever will. Another thing I love about Kojey is a fact that he was one of the first artist to work with me, when I was in the very early stages of my career. He literally just worked with me because he believed in my gift and that is a rarity. He worked with me on ‘700 Pennies’, which is one of his own projects, we’ve just been cool ever since. Kojey has even invited me out to perform at some of his shows and stuff like that.
Creating ‘Royalty’ was really a full circle moment as it was the first ever feature on my first ever project. Because we’ve already collaborated with each other, it felt natural as always. As soon as I heard the track, I thought of Kojey instantly as I knew he’d kill it. Literally I just hit him up, sent him the track and the rest is history.
Do you produce any of your own music?
No, but I’m about to start! I’ve been teaching myself small especially during lockdown. When I’m in the studio with producers I will suggest little things here and there. I think my musical is starting to mature in that way, but obviously to produce that means having knowledge of instruments, plugins, at that stuff.
You seem very spiritual, tell me about your latest single ‘111’:
This single ‘111’ is so close to my heart I even have it tatted on my shoulder with little angel wings. Initially I never really knew about angel numbers or any of that stuff. I went to New York in November 2019 for a Rock Nation meeting, this trip was my first time going to New York, something I did solely by myself and the first time travelling as Shaé Universe.
While I was out there, the place that I was staying at was called was called 111 Chauncey Street, this is something I will never forget. At the time I didn’t even deep it, but when I came back from New York and I just start seeing the number one everywhere, it was weird. I don’t know how to explain it. I would go to the microwave to warm my food and the last thing that I see is one minute and 11 seconds, I would see it on buses on cars on the time, I began to trace it back to 111 Truancy Street, which is where I stayed in New York. I feel like angel numbers are a sign that you are entering another level or stage in your life of awareness and elevation. Following that trip from that trip to New York, then I had the BET decipher, Grammy Week and so many more career changing moments – then I had Grammy week.
With this song ‘111’ it was the last session of 2020, I thought I had completed my project and wasn’t planning on adding anything else. It was my first session with the producers of the song, they’re called Sons of Sonix who are amazing guys. I will forever sing their praises. I went into the session with an open mind, I wasn’t too sure about the sound we would create but I knew it would be cool. If anything, I thought we would make a single that would be released later in the year, I really had no idea a single like ‘111’ would be born. From the moment I entered that session, just from the spiritual conversations we were having and the words that were being exchanged, they were saying things that were directly speaking into my life and they didn’t even know me.
When I’m recording in the studio, I usually open my voice notes to record melodies. During this recording I pressed stop but, on this occasion, when I ended the voice note it was my 111th voice note, I was like you know what I need to write about alignment and synchronicity. At that moment I decided to title the song ‘111’, while touching on topics like alignment and synchronicity. That’s literally how the song came about, my 111 tattoo was also done once I realised the significance of the numbers.
Are there any artist UK or worldwide you’d like to collaborate with?
Firstly Giveon, Wizkid, Burna Boy and Tems. I feel like myself and Tem’s on a track would be completely mad, her voice is amazing. UK wise I would say Kadeem Tyrell, Bellah, Jaz Karis, Tiana Major 9 and even Etta Bond who I’ve already collaborated with, but I’d happily do it again.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Global stardom and global success! I’m telling you people will come back to this Noctis Magazine interview and see that I said this. On a serious note, I have an EP coming in October, due to it being Black History Month it just made me realise that what I’m doing is Black History. This EP will be an 8-track project with some very special guest features, regarding my music the long-term goal is to bridge the gap between America, Africa and worldwide, specifically with R&B and Drill.
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Interview: Jadene Rogerson