Priscilla Renea on Forthcoming ‘Coloured’ LP and the Realities of Being a Songwriter
Priscilla Renea hasn’t released an album since 2009, but it’s not because she hasn’t been ready. For the past 10 years, Renea has spent day in and day out putting her pen to work, writing hits like Rihanna’s “California King Bed” and Kesha’s “Timber,” learning the ups and downs of industry and about who she is as a person, writer and artist. Now, on her forthcoming album, Coloured, the artist unwraps her unique perspective.
Coloured, due out on June 22, encompasses the word’s implications and Renea’s personal experiences with discrimination, but, most of all, the LP speaks on the human condition. It’s what she’s been writing about ever since her 15-year-old YouTube beginnings and what makes her songs so relatable — color and genre aside — and has A-listers summoning her to the studio. In her Q&A with TIDAL, Renea talks about her years behind the pen and how freeing it is to finally keep her songs to herself.
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Tell me about your upcoming album. Why did you choose the title Coloured?
Well, I’m from the South, and I’ve experienced a lot of racism growing up. I’ll be 30 this year, and 30 years ago was 1988. My mother had to deal with things that were far more scary. She was a kid when schools were being integrated. I’ve seen and heard so much. I’ve risen above it.
If you were to ask a heart surgeon or a cardiologist about a heart, you’d believe him because he’s an expert, right? Well, I’ve been black for 30 years. You don’t think that I’m an expert? Just little stuff that I have to deal with every day, and you expect me to still smile and still be nice. Now if I say something, if I slip up, I’m an angry black woman.
I have to be mindful because this may be the only encounter that you’re having with a black woman, and I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that you’re instigating. I have to be higher than this moment and realize that if I spazz on you, it’s going to be harder for the next black woman that walks in here. My way of speaking is through this album.
Why did you spell coloured with the ‘u’?
Coloured, the way that I spelled it, is the past tense, so it means that something was coloured. It’s also the English spelling, the Canadian spelling. The most important thing for me is that it’s past tense. If somebody calls me coloured, it’s not offensive to me because I understand the science behind it.
One of the things I said in my last show is that we’re all coloured. I’m not really sure who came up with that because white is the presence of all colors. RGB: red, green, blue. The presence of all primary colors with light. Black is the presence of primary colors with the absence of light. So it’s light and dark, literally. It has nothing to do with pigmentation. If you weren’t coloured, I would be able to see your connective tissues and muscles.
My audience is universal, my audience is just human. That’s what I focus on in my writing, the human condition when it’s in love, the human condition when it feels lonely. Most of my songs are from introspective point of views. It’s not preaching. It’s not victimizing. It’s just describing the moment. When people listen to my album, I want people to step inside my brain and then step back out.
What were these past 10 years like for you since releasing your first solo album?
Over the past 10 years, I’ve been serving others faithfully, happily. At times it was unhappy. I’ve been doing what I love for 10 years. At a certain point, I was writing 10 songs a day doing five sessions a day — writing two songs per session. At one point, I had every studio on one street, literally. I had a session in every room in these studios one day. That was an example of how my days went. I was so determined to not go back to the dirt road country that I was cool with it.
But just because I’m good at songwriting, doesn’t mean you can whore me out. The crazy part about it is, people would say, ‘She’s trying to keep all the songs for herself.’ It’s funny to me because if I walk into your house and say, ‘Can I have your refrigerator?’ And you say no, I’m not going to say, ‘You want to keep all this stuff for yourself!’ You know why? Because it’s yours.
People don’t believe that my gift belongs to me. They really feel entitled to it, and for so many years…It feels like you have money in your pockets, and everyone just reaches in your pockets to see what you have, and you can’t do anything about it. This is what I’ve been going through for the last 10 years. All of that is contributing to my album.
I got discovered on YouTube and I got signed to Capitol Records. I was a product of the Internet generation. Everybody who started on YouTube watched my videos because I was one of the only musicians in the beginning, before all of the saturation. There were only a few of us.
There was a time when I wasn’t the hot writer in the industry, and I had to fight my way around the outskirts and I would land a placement like [Rihanna’s] ‘California King Bed’ or on Madonna’s album or I would pop up over here on Mary J. [Blige’s album] or on Train or Curren$y or pop up on Gucci Mane. That’s the way that I provide, just by being a chameleon.
How was making this album for you different from writing for other people?
Every song I made on this record, I started it in the exact same way I do with everybody else — except I was able to continue the journey. I went to Nashville to make my album because I would have never been able to make it here [in L.A.]. I make stuff all the time that’s personal to me, and artists and producers want that, but I’m like, ‘I can write you 10 more songs just like this. Why do you have to have these?’
This record, we were able to make it because we were aware of all of these things. I knew better than to tell anyone. I knew better than to reach out to the heavy-hitters. This is my vibe, this is my swag. I do not want somebody else doing it. It took me a long time to figure out.
If anybody reading this gets anything from this interview, I want them to know, do not listen to the peanut gallery. If you have a calling in your heart, if something is pulling at you… I made three albums that never came out! I started being a better steward of my gift. The same way I was writing songs on YouTube when I was 15 years old is the same way I write songs today. I’m just able to refine them better. I’m just being myself and refining and refining and refining and refining.
We made this record the way we made it so that people will have a blueprint for how to do this outside of the industry. It’s not easy, but it’s possible, and that’s my thing. Outside of the political [implications], it’s really like I colored outside of the lines.
Do you think you’ll continue writing for other people or just focus on your solo career now?
I’m absolutely writing for other people. I’m just selective about where I give my energy. Mariah has been one of my saving graces, and she’s so gracious and sweet, and she is a beast. She produces. She writes. Her vocal melodies are crazy. She’s a beast, and it’s not because anybody tells her. People like her and Mary J. Mary J.’s been very encouraging.
There are people out there who have been very encouraging to me, and it took me a while to find them. They understand the gift that I’m giving them, and they respect me in the moment in order to pull the best out of me. I only want to [create] where it will be appreciated.
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