Kenyatta Rashon delightfully turns the page to a new life chapter.
The Ypsilanti R&B vocalist and Amplify fellow welcomes a new era of artistic growth, emotional strength and inner enlightenment on her latest album, The Art of Keeping It Real, out now via all streaming platforms.
“I didn’t come up with the title until afterward. The word that stuck out to me was ‘honesty.’ A lot of it has to do with emotional passages whether it’s friendships, relationships or fun; it’s everything that’s deep in your spirit,” Rashon said.
“When I got the chance to work with the fellowship, Rod (Wallace) and I spoke, and he was like, ‘Well, what would you like to do?’ And I was like, ‘I want to put it all out,’ but I explained to him that it’s very hard for me because I get writer’s block. He said, ‘I want you to write everything down,’ so I began to write everything down.”
That journaling process allowed Rashon to deeply reflect on her transition as an emerging artist and expectant mother. She spent five months crafting the seven authentic, insightful stories that would become The Art of Keeping It Real. (The project also features her 2020 single, “Ymmfb.”)
“I found out I was pregnant, and I went through all the emotions you can imagine from being pregnant. By the time it all came together, I’m like, ‘This is a story; this is something interesting that someone can relate to on many levels,’” said Rashon, who’s inspired by Amy Winehouse, Beyoncé, Erykah Badu, Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige.
“I wanted to go with these songs and focus on transparency and honesty, so I decided to go with The Art of Keeping It Real. Everything I’m summing up is art, and the art I’m projecting is keeping it real.”
In Real Life
Throughout The Art of Keeping It Real, Rashon openly shares her creative vision on the tranquil self-actualization anthem, “I Am.” Vivid electric guitars, ringing beats, rhythmic drums, clinking cymbals and bouncy bass bring listeners an immediate sense of personal freedom.
In tandem, Rashon reveals, “If I would’ve known then what I know now/Then I wouldn’t be scared to tell you how/Since you came into my life/You’ve then helped me realize/That I’m fine the way I am/I’m fine the way I am.”
“‘I Am’ focuses on uplifting yourself and being proud of who you are as well as knowing the people around you are perfect for you,” said Rashon, who collaborated with Motor City Mello and Amplify co-fellow London Beck on the track.
The track also features an introspective spoken word poem from Angelina, who reflects, “I only attract what’s for me/People that be like leeches/I don’t need them/I’m figuring myself out in pieces/Focusing solely wholly loving me/Because I’m the only person that can bring me peace.”
“I’ve always wanted a song with some poetry on it. One night I was up, and Angelina had posted a poem that was very intriguing. I contacted her to see if she was interested in being part of the album, and she said, ‘Yes.’ She didn’t live in Michigan at the time, but she coordinated a way to come here to record,” Rashon said.
Rashon strongly carries that self-assurance on her latest breezy, shimmering single, “Free,” as calm, humming synths, serene electronic drums, deep bass and echoey electric guitars allow weary souls to unwind after a chaotic day.
While basking in the summer rays, Rashon sings, “Light as a feather/There’s no hurting me/There’s tranquility and my dignity/I’m free/And I never know what the future holds/Or where I’ll go/There’s just no holding me/I just got to be free.”
“It piggybacks off of ‘I Am,’ and it states that this is my life, and it’s the life I’m gonna live. I’m going to accept everything that’s going on in my life; I’m going to accept my flaws. I love my life – that’s a story in itself,” said Rashon, who sought inspiration from Deniece Williams’ 1976 track, “Free.”
Rashon also dropped a new sun-drenched video for “Free,” which features her strolling and twirling through a park on an early spring day. It’s a beautiful visual to celebrate the upcoming arrival of her now 7-week-old son, Harlem.
Outside of celebrating motherhood, Rashon confronts a burgeoning romantic relationship on “Bluez Cluez,” as glistening acoustic strums, delicate cymbal taps, groove-fueled finger snaps and intermittent electronic drums fuel her self-confidence.
She reveals, “Baby, you should get a clue/I’m down for me and you/Tell me what you wanna do/Just know my love is true.”
“‘Bluez Cluez’ is super sentimental and calmer; it’s showing someone every reason why I’m the perfect person for them. It’s like get a clue because it’s the only way someone is going to figure this thing out,” said Rashon, who named the track after the children’s educational TV show, “Blue’s Clues.”
As part of her evolving musical journey, Rashon partnered with a team of heavyweight producers to realize her vision for The Art of Keeping It Real. Sam Watson, Brxxklyn Beats, Tru Klassick, Motor City Mello and Rod Wallace helped shape her smooth ballads, upbeat anthems and hypnotic odes at Grove Studios as well as Watson and Mello’s studios.
“I was surprised that they were able to give me such good vibes. I have a good handful of people that I’m going to work with all the time,” Rashon said.
The Amplification of Kenyatta Rashon
Rashon honed her musical skills while growing up with a twin brother in Ypsilanti. At age seven, her second grade teacher encouraged her to participate in a school talent show. By high school, Rashon starred in musical theater productions and explored R&B, hip-hop and classical music.
In 2014, she released her first project, the poignant Love; C’est La Vie EP, which launched her professional music career. A series of popular singles and collaborations emerged until Rashon received the Amplify Fellowship in 2020.
Rashon is the second of three Amplify fellows to release her new project this month. Last fall, Leon Speakers and Grove Studios introduced the Amplify Fellowship to provide three Black artists with 40 hours of studio time and engineering and production support for a new project.
Along with her two co-fellows, Ann Arbor vocalist-instrumentalist-producer London Beck and Ann Arbor chanteuse-guitarist Dani Darling, Rashon receives funding and assistance for artist development, performance and marketing. Each fellow also selects a nonprofit to support during their eight-month fellowship, which runs from November to June.
“I’m very grateful for the people I have met and how they’ve added to my artistry. They bring so much to the table of the Amplify Fellowship, and for me to be table to have a seat there … I’m in good company. It’s been a good ride, and we keep each other on our toes,” Rashon said.
“We had a moment where we were able to listen to each other’s singles before they were close to being complete. It’s was inspiring, and I realized I need to get my live instrumentation going.”
Rashon will share that live instrumentation through a June 22 Ann Arbor Summerfest performance at Ypsilanti’s West Willow Park. It’s a welcoming chance to hear Rashon perform The Art of Keeping It Real in its entirety for a growing fan base.
“I feel like that’s appropriate since my album dropped June 18, so while everyone’s still listening and coming to know it they’ll be able to hear it on a different frequency. I just created a band of super talented musicians, and we’re still in the process of the name,” she said.
“For right now, we’re calling them My Gang. I’m also working on a cool introduction with some background singers; it’s going to be a really good show. We’re going to be in a different element that day.”