First Look Friday: Classically Trained Musician Allyn is Trying to Conquer R&B All By herself...And She's OK with That
As a part of our First Look Friday series, Okayplayer spoke with 22-year-old singer Allyn about her African-American and Indian roots, being truly independent, and the legacy of Nipsey Hussle.
Singer Allyn is here to give you everything she has.
Hailing from Sacramento, but now based in Los Angeles, Allyn has been making music since the age of three. Growing up, she was a classically-trained jazz musician, singing in multiple adult orchestras and symphonies before even entering high school. It was four years ago when she moved to L.A. Music was going to be her career.
One month before graduating Cal State Northridge — where she not only graduated with a Music Business degree but discovered singing and songwriting — Allyn put out her first single “Down,” a jazzy track featuring KB. Since then, she has spent countless time in the studio, crafting her own sound and collaborating with the likes of Casey Veggies, Reason, and Dcmbr.
Last year, she unleashed her debut project All You Need, with standout singles “On & On,” featuring Casey Veggies, and the title track. Each release features Allyn’s musical background and love for instrumentation, paired with smooth vocals and an authenticity to her lyrics. Beyond that, she’s a one-man team, managing herself and remaining completely independent.
As a part of our First Look Friday series, Okayplayer spoke with Allyn about her African-American and Indian roots, her sound, and the legacy of Nipsey Hussle. We are also premiering the video for “Choose Up,” which you can watch below.
How would you describe your sound?
My sound is R&B, soulful. Sometimes it can be upbeat. Sometimes I have jazz samples, or I’ll play my own stuff. I’m a musician too. I play five instruments. I’ll go in and play piano or violin. I incorporate myself in it because I don’t always want it to be just beats. Beats are just computerized electronic sounds, it’s not actual real instruments. I try to put real instruments in my music.
What are your family roots?
My mom’s from Memphis, Tennessee, and my dad’s from Mumbai, India. They met in college. It was different growing up because it’s such different cultures. Black culture, Indian culture. I was blessed to have both sides in my life. I can understand both, but I grew up more in an urban black community, so I didn’t get to learn much about the Indian culture. That’s something I’m trying to do now. In my future music, I do want to do some Bollywood samples. Maybe be in a Bollywood movie one day, that’s one of my goals.
You’re from Sacramento but you now live in Los Angeles. How do the two cities compare?
Being from Sac makes me who I am. I learned the game from Sac. How I move, I represent Sac. Blessed to be from Sac, that’s my city…I love being from somewhere different. Sacramento gave me the foundation. We grew up really different in Sac. We never had all these nice palm trees, nice stuff everywhere. To come out here is a totally different lifestyle. I can adapt to it so I appreciate it more. I didn’t think those opportunities were real or even possible. I was a regular girl from Sac. To be out here doing it is just dope. It’s motivating. I hope to inspire other young women and men.
How long have you been in LA?
I’ve been in LA for four years, originally came out here to go to college. I just recently graduated last year from Cal State Northridge. College is when I first started really doing my songwriting. That’s when I focused more on being an artist. I put out my first single a month before I graduated. Kept doing it, dropped a project, and here we are.
What’d you study in college?
I studied Music Industry Studies and minored in Africana Studies. That definitely helped me just being a young woman. I want to be in rooms with people and know what they’re talking about. Have something to add. Having that degree definitely helped me learn more about the music business and brought me around like-minded people. That was definitely a plus.
Talk about being a classically trained musician.
My mom wanted to play violin at first, then she got injured so she stopped and helped me get into it. I was only three, she was surprised that I would make songs at such a young age and she got me professional lessons, and I was involved in adult symphonies and adult orchestras as a kid. I was only 12-years-old, and the only women of color in the orchestra full of old people, Caucasians, and Asians. To be the only one it was a lot for me. It definitely helped me just grow up.
I played in TV shows and film and that’s another way I got my start in the industry. Sometimes all I do is just play on my friends’ stuff, too. I just played keys on my friend Reason’s album.
It was “State We In,” In the intro playing keys. Reason’s dope, he gave me the opportunity. He just hit me up and we built organically there. Just been cool every since. Besides music, he’s a really good friend of mine. Whenever I see people I know win, I feel like I’m winning. It’s so great, I support him fully. I’m super proud of how far he’s come.
Who’s “Choose Up” directed to?
Man, that’s directed towards a couple of people in my life. It’s a situation where one guy I’ve been with for a while, I leave him. This new guy I just met, but he says all the right things. He keeps me happy, interested. I’m young. I’m only 22 years old. I wanna have fun with the person I’m with, so I might have to choose up if you’re not doing what I need you to do. [Laughs]
“On & On” is such a vibe. Talk about linking with Casey Veggies.
That was just another organic thing. I met Casey at the studio a couple of times. Then I met him again at YG’s listening party. After we went there, we had linked up in the studio. Swish sent me this beat, I was like “damn this is super dope, this would sound really dope for Casey and me.” We did it right there on the spot, recorded it. It was amazing, me and Casey vibe really well.
You’re linking with all these LA cats, how does it compare being from the Bay?
It’s just different. That’s what I’m trying to do more, work with more people from the Bay. Because I haven’t worked with that many people from the Bay. I love being where I’m from. I love how different we are. It’s a different culture. We have a different foundation. To come out here and be ourselves, we really unique out here ‘cause we’re not from out here. It’s dope. I love saying I’m from Sac. I’m always reppin’ it.
What is your take on the music industry?
As a young woman, it’s hard. I hate sometimes going to the studio because I’m going by myself or I’ll be in other people’s sessions — as a woman, I’m not even acknowledged. There are so many men in the room, they might think “that’s just a pretty girl in the studio.” Then they talk to you, it’s like “oh she plays instruments, she’s educated. She’s a singer, songwriter, etc.”
Sometimes I feel I gotta prove myself, but I’m not in competition with anybody but myself. That’s one thing I try to keep in mind. The industry itself is changing with the era of social media. Females are starting to come on top. R&B’s making a really dope comeback right now. We headed in the right direction, especially now that I’m in it.
What are some goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
Just to keep making music, do more shows, go on tour, keep collaborating. People have goals trying to be the biggest person ever — that’s what I want, but I really wanna connect to people. I want to impact someone. I want someone to be like “this music really helped me.” It’s about the people at the end of the day.
What’s a normal day in the life? Walk us through.
Wake up, make me a kale smoothie. I love kale. I love being healthy. Make me some breakfast if I’m not lazy. I’ll attempt to work out ‘cause I feel lazy. [Chuckles] I’ll probably go to the studio and write. I have a set up in my crib too. My days are always random. People will hit me and be like “come here, come to this event.” I always just go with the flow. I never know what is going which is crazy. I need to get better at it, need to be more organized. My life’s a movie. I wake up and I might be in a different state tomorrow.
Three things you need in the studio?
Me and nobody. I hate when there’s 30, 40 people in the studio, chilling, smoking, drinking. I hate that so much. I like peace. I need peace. I love candles and smelling good and ambiance. I’m such an ambiance person. Then snacks, because snacks are my thing. I need some fruit or vegetables. Something healthy, maybe some kale. [Laughs]
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
That’s crazy ‘cause people ask all the time, “what do you do for fun? What do you do when you’re not doing music?” I don’t really know. My whole life has revolved around this idea of music. If it wasn’t me playing an instrument, then it was me singing. If it wasn’t me singing, then it was me again getting a degree in Music Business. Maybe I’d do radio.
My dream collab would be with Nipsey [Hussle.] RIP. I really wanted to work with him. I’ve worked with a lot of LA people and Nipsey was my next thing. I was just talking to people on his team about me doing a hook for him or working in general. He’s really close with some of my family ‘cause they grew up with him in that area, so it really hit me hard that happened. Bless him and his family, I can’t even imagine. It’s sick. It’s a cold world we live in.
Being here and seeing everything on social media — I got in my car accident over there too, right when it happened. Seeing how many people he touched and affected, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s bittersweet. He really affected this many people, it’s terrible that he had to go like that. Someone who impacted his community, cared for his people, created jobs, helped the economy, owned businesses. He did so many things I wanna do. He’s such an amazing guy overall. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about him. I wish I got a chance to work with him.
Shirley Ju is a Los Angeles-based writer who grew up in the Bay Area. She lives, breathes, and sleeps hip-hop, and is literally on top of new music the moment it is released. If there’s a show in L.A., you can find her there. Follow the latest on her fomoblog.com and on Twitter @shirju.