JENEVIEVE & THE RENAISSANCE OF 90S R&B
Y2K hysteria has returned in full effect and, although few are still worried that planes are about to start dropping from the sky, many other elements of the late ‘90s and early 2000’s culture are undergoing a welcomed renaissance as musicians search for a dose of cosy nostalgia to cure the ailments of a contemporary and corporate-contaminated music industry that too often forgets the gems of the past.
Leading this new resurgence of ‘90s inspired R&B/Neo-Soul fusion is Cuban & Bahamian singer-songwriter Jenevieve. Following the release of her debut single ‘Medallion’, a funk-fueled liquid ballad produced by BenziBoy, Jenevieve has continued to blossom a global fanbase that longs for the wistful and sultry sonics and lazy Sunday morning aesthetic that oozes from every one of her records.
Her debut album Division sees the ragtag tandem of Benziboy and Jenevieve exhibit their partnership on an intricate and sinuous level as they unveil their collaboratively crafted sound on a full project for the first time since they first teamed up following Jeneivieve’s move from Florida to LA as a teenager. Tracks like ‘Baby Powder’ & ‘Midnight Charm’ are emblematic of both the wide reach and hunger for original Neo-Soul but also the unfathomable degree of musical maturity and respect for R&B forebearers possessed by this gregarious 22-year-old.
We sat down with Jenevieve in the weeks following Divison’s release to chat about her evolution from a promising dancer growing up in a ballet family to a sincere singer-songwriter, her love of UK hip-hop artists like Slowthai and Blue Room Mafia, and to break down the ins and outs of Divison.
Growing up, who were your biggest creative influences? What music was playing around the house as a kid?
It was a lot of Sade, Depeche Mode and Bary White. I remember my mom told me that she went to a Barry White concert and I was very jealous of that at the time. There were a few central artists in my life that I loved that they played all the time until I began to discover people I loved independently like Bobby Caldwell.
When did that transition from being a fan of music to a creator happen?
I originally come from a dancing background and I started that at the age of three, so my relationship with music began by dancing to it rather than singing. I first started singing when I moved to LA and began singing with a church choir, I tried out and they, fortunately, said that they liked my voice so they really helped me work on my voice. I actually started recording music when I was thirteen which is super young and I’ve sort of just continued since then.
Your background in dance began because your mum and grandma were both ballet dancers right? Is the kind of ruthless dedication and work ethic that you need to become a ballerina a core lesson you’ve learnt to apply to your own creative outlet? How did your mum take your decision to focus more on music than dance?
I actually really think so because the way in which I put a lot of emphasis on making music in my life is very similar to the way you have I put emphasis on my dance. I always want to make sure that things are a certain way and I think that’s something that is definitely universal across both music and dance. Haha yer she was happy, I think she was like “this is interesting…let’s do it, and ill support you no matter what.”
Today do you find yourself drawing more inspiration from your contemporaries or do you draw more on artists of the past? I feel like Division in some ways could have been dropped into the ’80s or early ’90s and found just as big an audience to resonate with.
Division is definitely inspired by a lot of different eras, I love history and I love trying to gain as much knowledge from the past so I try to be as savvy about music history as possible. I definitely love and get inspired by a lot of artists today but I’m certainly drawn more towards classic oldies.
When I’m creating a project I actually really like to just be left totally in my own space. I don’t actually have any music in my iTunes library so when I wake up in the morning and fancy hearing a certain song ill go searching for that specific track.
Focusing more on Division itself, releasing a debut EP is I imagine both incredibly exciting and daunting, when did you begin creating this project? Are there some songs that you had been sitting of for ages?
So Division was made solely by me and my producer and close friend Jonathan and we really just create music together constantly so whenever something good comes up he will be like “OK I’m just going to save that aside for later” and I have 100% trust in his reasonings for why he wants to put that aside for a later date. So we already had some demos and individual tracks done for a while since we have been working together. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the first track created was because everything has been constructed in a very nonlinear way so it’s been passed around and altered in a very collaborative way. Typically ill get to a session and Jonathan will say that we are starting a new track but will always show me little changes to the track we have done in the previous session that has been made.
The production on the whole project is just so crisp in the way it plays with these tones of nostalgia and but also adding a super contemporary twist, particularly how the bass gets used on a track like ‘Blamelss’ for example. As you said, you work with Benziboy (Jonathan) for the entirety of this project, how did you and Benzi come to link up and why was it important for you to have one unified production sound throughout instead of working with loads of different producers?
It’s really because we have built the sound together in front of the ground up so it’s not just my sound it’s always been something that we have constructor as a team. It’s hard to find a producer that genuinely loves the music that you like and actually grew up around the same musical environment. Jonathan legit grew u in the era of music that most inspires me, he’s also super cool with my mom as he is French-Moroccan and my mum speaks French so it really feels like we are family, as if he is the brother that I never got to have you know? It’s a genuine artist-producer connection and we love making the same music so it was always going to be just him that produced Division.
We first met after I had moved from Florida to LA and we got introduced through a family friend who I had known for a long long time but just happened to never have met Jonathan before LA. He was doing his own thing as an artist at a time and then we met it was just a very natural switch to start working together.
My personal favourite track on the album is actually ‘Nowhere’, the transition from this elegantly simple watery bass guitar to your vocals is really nicely put together. How did this track come about, did It start with the instrumental or did the whole track form around a lyric or concept you wanted to explore?
So ‘Nowhere’ is actually the perfect example of what I was saying earlier because it started out as a totally different song that was changed and altered so much overtime but ended up benign totally right at the end of the day. That track was really about reflecting on the journey of our careers and everything that has happened. I feel like with me, in life, everything is always the ‘last thing’, kind of like in that movie Letters To Juliett, it’s always the last person that you meet that will always work out and for me, that person was Jonathan because I had been working with loads of different producers since I was thirteen and it just wasn’t working. So these songs on this project really mean a lot to me and are just very true to me which is something I’ve wanted to create for a long time. ‘Nowhere’ is the perfect representation of that whole process and it always being the last person you find that works out.
Have you had a chance to perform a lot of the tracks from Division to a live audience over the last few months?
I’ve actually only got to perform once since the pandemic and that was at the Echo in Echo Park. That was really a very cool experience because I got to do quite a few tracks off Division. However, I honestly can’t wait to perform at Day N Vegas in November so that I can perform more tracks from the new project.
I was having a little comb through your Spotify playlist and noticed you’re a fan of one of the UK’s leading artists at the moment…Slowthai! How did you come to first hear of Slowthai and what is it about his work that you like? Is that a collaboration you would love to explore in the future?
I love how Slowthai’s music always focuses on really genuine and honest topics to them. I know all the words to ‘Northampton’s Child because it’s just so raw and real and goes into things that he has personally been through. The way he says certain things in that track like “Son, wait here I’ll get you a juice quick” is so clearly something that he has seen his mom do for him and his siblings”. I love artists that manage to find a way to convey and talk about their own stories in a way that’s super original and different and he is the epitome of that. I would absolutely love to work with him at some point.
How has hip-hop from the US or UK influenced your writing style? Sometimes in your writing, for example on a track like ‘Mellow Eyes’, you can hear a flow pattern that is more free-flowing and in the pocket, like a hip-hop verse more than a typical R&B song structure.
Much in the same way that rap and hip-hop are influenced by R&B and signers, like how Tupac’s ‘America’s Most Wanted’ is sampled from a Micheal Jackson record, artists including myself can often be influenced by any genre as long as there is a lot of feeling in it. There is a lot of rhythmic emotion and melodic meaning in hip-hop that is just super appealing to me and rap with a good melody is something I always need and look for, Slowthai again is someone who gives good melodies that way.
Is there something in particular that you like about the European style of hip-hop production or rapping?
My mum used to listen to a lot of French artists like MC Solaar and Stromae and she really got me into listening to a lot more European hip-hop than you would imagine growing up in Florida. Amy Winehouse was also a big impact on me and the style of UK and French music, even though I know they are both very different, is just so different and powerful. Even with something like Drill, I absolutely love Drill, its so different from American rap but both are so dope and influential for me but in their own unique way.
If you could experience the music and fashion of one era in history first hand which would it be and why?
I would probably have to say like the times of Chris Cornell and Kurt Kobain, back in the days when Amy Winehouse was still alive and Russell Brand was doing interviews all the time. I also really love the times when New Edition was just starting out and The Jackson Five & Soul Train were at their peak and all that stuff. I think that the late ‘90s era would be the same for my favourite fashion era too because Cher and Dianna Ross were incredible and their costumes were always so beautiful and retro.
If you were building your own ‘Astroworld’ style festival, who would the three headliners be?
Ooooh, that’s hard! I’ve never even thought about that! Maybe The Bee Gees? I think I would try and make it like Woodstock but then also put a load of funk in it. Steven Tyler and Micheal Jackson would also have to make an appearance at some point.
If you had to pick one track off Division to go in a time capsule that best summarises you as an artist, what track would you pick?
I would probably say ‘Baby Powder’ because I’ve had people tell me that’s going to be the track that I’m going to be playing at my concerts when I’m old haha!
Lastly, have to ask, if you wanted to show someone the real heart of your home town, where would you take them to get some good food?
In Florida, I would definitely take them to Little Havana to get some croquettes!