Shawnee Dez makes that type of music that soothes and feeds the soul. You can’t help but close your eyes and let your body sway as her sultry and soulful voice penetrates your mind, body and soul. A Chicago native who’s goal is to evoke raw and genuine emotion from he listeners, Shawnee Dez is truly a one of a kind artist.
How has Chicago influenced your sound?
When I was living in Richton Park, every Wednesday my Dad would get us from school and we’d go to the rink in the city on 87th. At the rink, they played a lot of James Brown and other soulful music. I’ve moved around a lot, but I’d say that era influenced my sound that I’m still working so hard to achieve and get across.
With music and media changing so rapidly, it’s kind of hard to grasp a sound and also have a sound that other people will be receptive to. Being from Chicago helps that, because my Dad is from out South and his family lives on the South and West Side, while my mom’s family is from the South Side; so I think that Chicago in general just makes people real, if that makes since. It makes you like a real person like you’re humble, but you’re also a little witty so you’ll treat somebody. You know what I’m saying?
So how do you feel about this new renaissance of Chicago music? Not just rapping, but singing as well. Because you have so many singers they don’t always get a lot of recognition.
It’s like weird. I don’t know if weird is the right word, but we’ll walk around until I come up with something better. It’s interesting because a lot of artists, especially rappers, have gangs and teams. When you think about the male culture, it’s supposed to be like this strong individual standing alone on top of a mountain with an ax, but a lot of the successful rap artists that are in Chicago right now have a whole community around them.
I think having a team of creatives around you is important, especially in Chicago. Chicago is cliquey as fuck. It’s a cliquey place to try to be a creative in. It’s not like New York where there’s an abundance of resources that you can pull from, and it’s not like Los Angeles where there’s already this industry you can pull from, and where there are people in the industry actively going out and looking for artists.
I think Chicago is super self-made, and so a lot of people build there little empires and clench really tightly on to what little room they have. I think some people are very talented, and some people are very plugged.
The plug thing is real.
It’s real as shit, and that’s the one thing I don’t like about the music industry. A lot of it is who you know, and not about talent or what you can do. That shit is annoying as fuck.
How do you go about expanding your brand since Chicago is known for rap?
It has a lot to do with patriarchy, but at the same time I do think rap music in general is a lot easier to get into because it sticks. Plus, I don’t think a lot of people are directly willing to see themselves and I think that a lot of rap music outside of your more conscious and realistic rappers, like Femdot and Saba, is very instantaneous and in the moment whereas with a lot of singers and songwriters, we’re more abstract and our culture is based around the more instant and in-the-moment type of music.
If you think about 70’s music, they talked about stuff in the moment, but it was different. I was listening to Roy Ayers the other night, and I was just going through the album like “Damn, these niggas was woke.” They were making music that painted colors across all emotions, and tapping into frequencies that were abstract and direct. I don’t think a lot people are ready to deal with that, so I think that singers have it a bit harder.
In a past interview you said that people have to be responsible for their feelings and not shy away from them. Do think people are kind of scared to embrace the possibility of being in their feelings after hearing a song?
Absolutely. Think about music in general, like if you look at any culture, music is apart of that culture. It might not be a major part of the culture, but it’s a part of it. It’s something that people partake in. It’s something that keeps memories alive. I think a lot people don’t want to listen to something that may bring up a bad experience or even a good memory.
I just don’t think people are willing to look at themselves and be like “damn this makes me sad.” For me, it’s different because I get inspiration from being sad or having heartache or any emotion because I’m able to translate it into music but I think we just live in such a different time. People really want to be sedated, they don’t wanna feel.
When did you learn to embrace your feelings, and not shy away from them?
It’s always gonna be ongoing, but I’m a Cancer so I’m hella emotional. I know a lot of people don’t believe in stuff like that, but my Mom was really into astrology when I was growing up so we always talked about stuff like that.
I’ve always been emotional, in a good and bad way. I’ve always been able to express my feelings because my Mom encouraged that.
I really credit being raised in the Church and singing in choir my whole life for pushing me to be in touch and aware of my emotions. Imaging a young kid, 6-7 years old, singing about something that is so deep and moving. When I sing, I feel like I’m escaping and it’s so freeing.
When did you start looking at singing as more than just a hobby?
There’s two moments. The first one that I really remember is when I was living in Richton Park. I was listening to”Understanding” by Xscape and girl, there’s a high-note at the end of that song and I had my little CD player and I was like really on the floor trying to figure that shit out. I was replaying and replaying the song trying to hit that note, and I cried because I couldn’t do it.
I told myself that if I didn’t hit that note, I’d never make it as a singer! I’d also be like, if I don’t finish my homework, I’m never gonna be a singer. Little shit like that motivated me to do stuff, because I knew singing was the #1 goal, and then when I was in 6th grade I had a performing arts teacher that was just so invested in me and my skill, and she helped me see my worth. In High School, just performing in the talent show and just having people not only support me but my art, that’s like when it says something about what you’re doing.
I know you do write your own songs. What’s that process like for you? How do you get all your thoughts and feelings onto paper?
For me, I have a shit ton of voice memos and videos. Someone will send me something, and I’ll just freestyle to it and then build off of that, and turn it into a song. A lot of it is piecing things together.
A lot of the time I’m able to write when I’m in a position that I’m not feeling so easy about. It’s like stuff from that experience that kind of gives me words and brings stuff to me.
How do you allow your vulnerability to strengthen and not weaken you when your singing?
I think that vulnerability for some people can be crippling, but for me it’s my secret weapon and it definitely strengthens me and it gives my music conviction, substance and purpose.
I recently went to Solange’s interview at MCA and she said, “I’m not up here to entertain you,” because you have people that are solely interested in being entertainers, and then you have people that are there to make you recount experiences and think about your life. When she said that I was like “Oh my God, you basically my sister.”
Do you ever write something and say “Ohh this is too personal, I can’t say this”?
Nope, nope and nope.
When you’re performing, does your mind go blank?
It depends on the show, but when I sing songs that are more vocally forward, I completely be out of it. I don’t even be giving a fuck. I don’t be thinking about anything. It’s really situational, because you could have a show where your sound guy not shit, so you thinking about if your sound is good or not.
You released “Day Child” like a year and a half ago; what’s next?
The stuff that I’ll be releasing in the future is gonna be loose. Just single songs by themselves. I’m also putting together a project. The songs “Trouble” and “Control” are what I’m going to release next. I just told you so I have to release them now.
“Trouble” is speaking to a situation dealing with a guy, and how a lot of males don’t respond well to passive behavior and how they need more aggressiveness, and I had to find my way to that conclusion. “Control” is about how specific situations, specifically people in those situations, can have control over how you react to them.
They are two completely different sounds.