For some, music is more than a song, it’s life. This is the case for Kansas-City based R&B singer-songwriter, Stephonne.
Since birth, music has been a driving force in his life. Starting off singing in the adult choir at his church at age six, to writing songs by the age of 10, and even going into recording studios with his own money at 14.
“Music was and has always been my whole life and I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” Stephonne said.
Having parents with the love of music they had, music filled every space in some way. Growing up with radio, hundreds of cassettes, vinyl and CDs, music was always playing. Watching shows like Showtime at the Apollo, Soul Train and other music award shows would instantly turn into a family event.
“My dad taped a Micheal Jackson performance that he would play all of the time and he wore that tape out,” Stephonne laughed.
With the likes of R&B artists such as Luther Vandross, The Isley Brothers, D’Angelo, Phylis Hyman, Michel’le, Mary J. Blige and many more, Stephonne was exposed to other genres as well.
“The great thing was that we also had Barbra Streisand, Beatles records,” Stephonne stated. “My dad would rave about getting to party with Parliament Funkadelic one time, and my mom loved her some LSG and Keith Sweat.”
With a broad musical background, one could expect being influenced by these artists to a degree. For Stephonne, some of his biggest influences are Prince and Billie Holiday. After watching Lady Sings The Blues, Stephonne looked for everything Billie he could find.
“This feeling came over me seeing her story and hearing her voice,” he explained. “It was like I knew her and she knew me. The pain, the feeling... everything resonated with me from age seven and will until my last day on this Earth.”
His love of Prince was very similar. Seeing Prince be himself fully and the brilliance of the album Purple Rain let him know this was what he wanted to do.
Prince wasn’t a prisoner to gender, sexuality, orientation or genre. When I looked at and heard him, I felt freedom and I felt seen. I am a brutally honest, fiercely emotional, unapologetic and inimitable love child of Prince and Billie Holiday.Stephonne
Other unconventional influences were love and survival. Feeling like love was elusive until recently, Stephonne’s journey to self-love, the feeling of unworthiness, racist reception in the conservative Midwest and what he thought was a need to be loved by someone was the bulk of his material.
“It was kind of my stuck point with writing and music, being lovesick,” he stated. “But there’s so much more to life than that. When I started loving myself, I was able to see that. So now, even if the songs talk about my relationship with my own strength, confidence in the discovery of living instead of just surviving.”
Stephonne’s new single The King’s Gambit, set to be released July 28, takes you on a journey feeling a new flame and the maze of emotions that sometimes comes with it.
“This song was written about feeling those butterflies in my stomach again but being scared to death about communicating my feelings,” Stephonne said. “Heartbreak wasn’t something I thought I could take at the moment so I just wondered if he felt the same way and I relished this fever dream.”
Stephonne recalls dreaming about this song and waking quickly to record the melody and started writing down the lyrics. Even though he says it took forever to find the chord progression, he did and felt a sense of relief and peace in the end.
“I used to live a very heady life where I held myself prisoner with possibility,” he explained. “Hypervigilance, anxiety and imposter syndrome have all had homes in my love life because of trauma.”
It felt like he was playing a game of chess while being head over heels about someone and ultimately he decided he didn’t want to play anymore. Through therapy and a deal of self-work, Stephonne realized cloudiness and confusion had no place there.
“I wanted reality and clear communication so I read the signs and receipts and bounced,” Stephonne said. “It was always your move and you can’t control anyone else’s so make the move that is best for you. That is what I learned. Choose you. Choose clarity. Choose what you really see instead of what you want to see.”
After the release of The King’s Gambit, Stephonne will be working on SIS (Summing Insatiable Spirits): Side B EP and then plans on releasing his sophomore album SIS in January of 2022. In the future he has dreams of collaborating with the likes of Beck, St. Vincent, Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Arts Society, Thundercat, Questlove, Missy Elliot, Linda Perry and many more.
This album for Stephonne is him being set free and finally letting himself be truly heard. He believes that authenticity is your superpower and that following trends and being digestible enough for everyone will drive a person crazy.
“Create things that you are proud of, that tell your truth and make it so you can live with yourself and sleep at night,” stated Stephonne. “Your audience will find you. Choose happiness. Choose to be you because there is some kid out there like me when I saw Prince waiting and needing to see themselves in the world. Someone needs to see you and hear you.”