GINETTE CLAUDETTE IN LOOT & RIOT MAGAZINE
Ink Tone Swep
Images James McCloud
Looks James Carroll
Hair Alexander Armand
MUA Melanesia Hunter
Location West Hollywood, California
What compelled an eight-year-old you to venture into guitar lessons and song writing instead of Barbie dolls and cartoons? It’s funny really, because at that time I was singing a lot in church choirs. And I was also singing a lot of different covers, songs by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. So I remember thinking like, man, I need my own original songs to sing (Laughs!). My choir director played guitar, so I knew she could teach me. And I lived directly across the street from the church so it was a 10 second walk. I guess I’ve always just been really passionate about music and drawn to it.
I feel like each performing arts high school is unique in its own way. What was your experience like at the Bronx High School of Performance? What did the institution adequately prepare you for? What it kept in me was my hustle. I wanted to go to LaGuardia High, and I came close but didn’t get accepted. So I attended the Bronx High School for Performance instead. It was brand new my freshman year. I was one of the first 100 students. That first group who experienced everything they were striving to build and establish themselves on from the ground up. We were all crammed on one floor. Immediately I was like, I’m not doing this I’m going to transfer. Buy what I soon discovered is that the Bronx kids had the same dreams, but not the same opportunities, as the Manhattan kids. Whatever we wanted to do we had to find the resources to do it, whether it was a school play, talent show, or putting on a Christmas program. So I learned to always have that hunger in me, and to always hustle to build what I want even if the resources are not there. Find the resources. Or in some cases be the resource yourself if you have to.
You signed with Universal Motown in 2010, then left the label a couple years later. Labels at that time were signing more entertainers than artists. And you are undoubtedly an artist. So you went indie, which at the time was different because everyone wanted a big record deal. Now a growing number of artists are going the indie route, and now labels are signing artists: Jhene Aiko, Kehlani, SZA, Ella Mai, H.E.R. Weren’t you really just way ahead of your time? You know what, that’s interesting. I was doing mixtapes. The first person who inspired me to do a mixtape was Frank Ocean. I heard his “Nostalgia Ultra” tape and I was like, why is he not the biggest artist in the world? Maybe I was ahead of my time, but when I started dropping mixtapes I wasn’t out to get a deal. I didn’t really want another deal, honestly, because at Motown I was recording a lot of musici I really didn’t love. You know, just experimenting with different sounds, cadence’s, different production, but it wasn’t truly and authentically me. With the mixtapes I was under my own supervision and control.
You have always made good music. Your indie vibes like “Hold Me Touch Me Love Me”, really the whole Tainted Emotions project with “Time” and “Better Love”, and then “Options” from All The Way Back. But this new music is next level, “True” and “Twisted” are way up here. Talk about your growth. I think for me it was always simple – keep working. Keep writing. Keep playing. And keep performing. I knew people would one day look back and see all of my material and realize I’m not a new artist, you know. Like people hearing me now for the first time. But time has allowed for the growth and maturation, not solely as an artist but as a human being, as a woman. Finding yourself, and your voice, and your sound, it’s all intertwined. It’s cool to see people who’ve been rocking with me since the mixtape and Motown days. They’ve grown up right alongside me, matured into their emotions as well.
You make modern music, contemporary music, yet is has the young love and relationships, hip-hop themed, 90’s R&B wave. Is that your era? I’m in between. My older sister Natalie was the cooler older sister. She passed away a few years ago. She was five years older. She was like the coolest older sister, she got to do everything before me. Hang out late, date, make her own young adult choices (Laughs!). Anyways, she used to play everything from that 90’s golden era. Brandy, SWV, Fugees’ The Score album. And then that era sort of bleeds into the millennials era I grew up in, more early 2000’s. But I think people go back and revisit that 90’s R&B era because the music of today doesn’t have that writing or those emotions. That era was more about trying to sort through the relationship to make it work, where today’s music kind of says, well I guess relationships don’t work. I feel that my music is influenced by and representative of both eras.
You are a diehard New Yorker. Love your city. How do you feel about the music that is currently coming out of the boroughs? An artist out of New York City who I’m into right now is Cardi B, and she’s Latina too, so that makes me double proud! But there have been so many legendary artists out of here. From the whole Bad Boy movement and everything in between, to now. We’ve seen a lot of talent come out of the city. I’m just trying to be a part of that representation. I love New York, that’s why it’s tatted on my arm (Laughs!).
I want to ask you about these kids. The adolescent population of today, Gen Z. School shootings, suicide rates and drug overdoses are very high in number, and of course the gangs are still prevalent. What’s wrong? If I’m being honest in what I feel, it’s a lack of positive representation. Social media says pull out your phone and record when something bad happens. The people they look up to are adults but they are online trolling kids and others, too. The music and the media are compelling kids to seek negativity and to create it, so they have something to share for likes, and it’s so sad. They are being bombarded by so much that is constantly being discussed 24-7: Music, body image, sexual orientation, equality, poverty, politics, it’s too much. We need to bring more positivity to the forefront. And also more time off line enjoying the arts, hands on at events, chilling with friends and family, and reading, writing, playing a musical instrument, or practicing a sport.
Do you feel that love and relationships are more challenging to maintain in a healthy way because of the internet? Oh my God, yea. Social media is the highlight reel of a person’s life. But people see it and for some reason operate under the assumption that the celebrities they are following are living like that all day every day. But then they know better. Kylie Jenner and Drake aren’t always happy. Everyone is not happy every day like it looks on social media, that’s not even real life. And the same goes for relationships. So here you are striving for something that doesn’t exist. Human beings are not perfect. And they know it deep inside.
In this era of women’s ascension, the decade of the woman, does it elevate every class of woman? I ask in this sense: If we’re saying ‘Think Like A Man’ is a goal for some women at points, I mean, men are competing to take each other down. If anyone is watching we’re not by stereotype the most uplifting bunch. The CEO doesn’t often speak to the janitor, but if the CEO and the janitor are both women won’t society expect some proverbial sisterhood bond to mandate she do so? That is very true. So true. I would say both. And that’s an excellent question and observation, wow. It comes with a sense of relief and opportunity, and also challenges and pressure. The more women are empowered, it will generate more togetherness, but also hatred between women who are envious. It could happen, but the relief and pressure balance is going to be challenging. For so long the world has conditioned us to feel like we are a threat to each other. Women are now realizing how much more we can accomplish together instead of against each other. It’s going to be a growth process and will take time.
Freedom. Free Will. The ability to act at one’s own discretion. As a career artist, a creative professional, it is likely you have enjoyed some semblance of Free Will your entire life. Can a person coming from structure, and a lack of freedom, embrace and thrive with that much freedom? So many say they covet that, but I see many people lost in search of direction once they acquire it. I talk to my sister who works in the corporate world about this all the time. Our lives are totally different. She’s a lifelong 9-to-5 person. She’s very self-disciplined and sticks to all of these schedules and rules and processes that she has put in place to sort of keep her life organized. Me, I’m in the studio until 5am. Not every night. Some nights. Which nights? I don’t know (Laughs!). It changes from week to week. Then I come home and sleep, and then I go out and take meetings, and then hit the gym. I think we all start at the same starting point, the line, but once we cross it there’s like this race to the finish line. And that finish line is at different points for different people. I don’t think everyone knows that.