Mashonda is an artist that R&B fans got to know during her time with Swizz Beatz’s label Full Surface, but unfortunately it was brief as she seemingly disappeared from the music industry after the release of her debut album “January Joy” in 2005. She released two mixtapes in the 2010s but it wasn’t until the start of the pandemic that we saw her big return to music. She first released the single “KING” and most recently put out her brand new EP “Note To Self”. We had a chance to talk to the her about her creative process in the studio, her challenges in the industry as well as her business ventures outside of music.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You had put out songs like “KING” two years ago. Take me through the journey leading up to this EP because that song has a different sound than what’s on this project.
Mashonda: At that time when I put “KING” out, I was really testing the waters and trying to understand how this new music industry works. I was also trying to figure out my sound and what direction I wanted to go in. When I did “KING”, I did something that was familiar to the type of music I grew up on. It was a good Faith Evans sample with a Mary J. Blige vibe. It was that Hip Hop/R&B genre that anybody that grew up in the 90’s was a part of. That was ingrained into me, but I also knew in the back of my mind that it wasn’t something I wanted to create as far as a whole body of work. What I had been feeling and listening to over the past 10 years was more so world music and meditation music. It was artists like James Blake and these really progressive contemporary sounds that don’t only embody R&B, but there’s also this healing sound wave that resonates in their music. I wanted to incorporate that into what I was doing because it aligned so perfectly with what I was going through in my life and my healing journey. With “Note To Self”, it took me years to actually connect with producers that understood that I was trying to say. I would send them references of different songs and tell them that this was the vibe and a lot of people didn’t get it. I finally connected with two musicians that I love. They helped me put this EP together, so the sound was mastered to the way that I envisioned it and heard it in my mind.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You came from a time in the industry when it was very single driven and everything had to be a hit. Was it tough to deprogram yourself from that mindset and just make music that you wanted to make?
Mashonda: I mean I think I’ve been deprogramming and unlearning for the past 14 years. Music definitely was a big part of that. When you are unlearning habits and trauma, you’re also unlearning culturally what you’ve been a part of your whole life like the way you eat, I definitely eat more healthy now. I watch more documentaries and learning tools and that also played into the music. Not to say I don’t still love Hip Hop and traditional R&B, I do and it’s my foundation but I also wanted to embrace this new sound that I felt was becoming a new part of me. I refer to this as a new era for me because lyrically and melodically it sounds that way. The production sounds brand new to me. It wasn’t hard to unlearn what I was accustomed to musically because it was naturally something I was doing anyway.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your song “Complicated” was the perfect introduction into this era because it had a familiar sound from you but with a new twist.
Mashonda: When the producer sent me the track, I was like “Yeah, this is my homage to Prince”. As soon as I started writing it, I kept thinking about my “Purple Rain” moment. I’ve always wanted to do something dedicated to my experiences as a young child growing up on Prince. “Complicated” is full of that emotion. It’s that dark, sexy, edgy, sensual and rock star vibe. it’s also vulnerable and Prince was super vulnerable and transparent. That’s what made him the iconic legend and artist that he is. “Complicated” is also my favorite song on the EP. It’s one of the most significant records on the EP. All of the records mean something to me and an experience or relationship that I’ve been in over the past ten years. “Complicated” is definitely the most complicated relationship that I think I’ve experienced over the past ten years and I’m definitely speaking to someone directly. I think that’s what makes it so relatable to people because it’s a universal thing. We all end up in these relationships that we can’t figure out and we can’t leave alone.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s also cool to see the amount of effort you’re putting into the visuals. Even though you’ve been gone from the music for so long, it looks like you still want to take this seriously.
Mashonda: This is my body of work and my legacy. This is something that I’ve dreamed of doing for many years and I felt like I work and make money so that I can do this. Every artist understands how expensive it is to create. You can have an idea about a song, the lyrics and maybe even a producer that won’t charge you for the beat, but you still have to pay to get it recorded, mixed, visuals, editing, publicist and a marketing person. It’s a never ending payout. Once you commit, you commit and I knew that I wanted to give the world something that meant a lot to me. I created music that I wanted to hear. I never cared about if it would do well or trend. I really just wanted to give the world something that I created and love. I love listening to these records and listened to them for two weeks straight before putting it out. This is very personal project.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Was there any fear in putting out this new project?
Mashonda: Of course, but for a hot two minutes. The week leading up to release, I was like “I’m giving my child to the world and I’m sharing my stories and experiences”. Then you just don’t care because that’s why we do it. We do it so that we can share it. The music that I was making before did not represent me. I did it because I was told to do it and that’s what happens when you sign to a label. I did it because it would be the best thing to do, but it never felt right. I never felt like I was part of it. This music is a million percent Mashonda. It is my soul, life and you’re also getting a sense of the human evolution. A lot of people know my story, where I come from and what I’ve gone through, now they get to see the parts of me that the media never spoke about. I love that about artists. I love that we get to create these things and then share them. We can potentially help other people and their lives.
YouKnowIGotSoul: When your debut album “January Joy” came out in 2005, it didn’t do the numbers you were probably hoping for. Reflect back on that album and how that experience shaped you into the artist and person you are today.
Mashonda: I’m resilient and my bounce back is crazy. My sister always says I’m the most relentless person she knows because I don’t give up on myself. When I want something, I go super hard. My superpower is manifesting what I want. “January Joy” was a first step and now I feel like I can run a marathon. It’s because of all the knowledge I learned from 17 years ago. That seems like a lifetime ago when you think about it. I don’t regret anything about that album or that time. I got to be around the greats like Clive Davis and made records with some amazing producers. It is what it is. It’s one step that led to another and now I’m here. I feel super blessed.
YouKnowIGotSoul: One thing that has always stood out to us is that you’ve been able to do is pivot into different avenues throughout your career. Where did that mindset come from?
Mashonda: The pivot is important. Every creative mind whether you’re a painter, chef, musician or designer, you have to know when to step back and get into something else to get your mind and juices flowing. If not, that energy becomes stagnant and then those words that I don’t like such as depression and anxiety start to creep in. I’ve always managed to explore this world and myself as often as possible and to never give myself one title. I know I’m so much more than just a singer or songwriter, there’s so many things I love to do and that I can do. That’s pivot culture. We’ve created this new term to bounce from one version to myself to another. I feel like I’m many different women. I have to make sure every woman in me is satisfied creatively. I think that’s what I’ve been showing the world for the last 15 years.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Do you see yourself putting out more music in the future?
Mashonda: I love putting out music. I want to do one more. Maybe a full length album, but I will start working on that at the top of 2023. Knowing me, it won’t be ready until the end of 2023 because I don’t rush those things. I love creating in the studio and that whole vibe. I’m going to give the world another solid eight songs.