How Grace — And Heartbreak — Inspired KIRBY's Latest Album

Over the course of an in-depth conversation, KIRBY shared lessons she's learned while in love, what led to the creation of her new album Sis. He Wasn't The One and the state of neo-soul.

Upon releasing her second album, Sis. He Wasn’t The One, soul singer KIRBY realized she had to take an honest look at the lessons she’s learned through her romantic partnerships over the years. 

In that same vein, All About Love, the acclaimed book by bell hooks touches on themes that the Mississippi-raised artist addresses over the course of 10 tracks. A few of these themes include care, affection, recognition, and commitment. KIRBY and hooks’ thoughts on love also align with one particular quote that’s a central point in All About Love, “The word love is most often defined as a noun, yet all the most astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.” The singer’s sophomore release creates an emotional discourse that allows listeners the space to reflect on their own respective journeys.  

Tracks like “Lately” and “Wish I Loved” which are pivotal for the album contain pristine production, KIRBY's soulful vocals, and anecdotal songwriting. Her writing on “Lately” gracefully describes the honeymoon stage of romantic love. Over on “Wish I Loved” she focuses on how she yearns for the companionship and loyalty that often come with healthy, monogamous relationships. Both tracks are a glimpse into what has allowed her to become a fixture within the new era of R&B.

Sis. He Wasn’t The One is a spot-on portrayal of what she’s lived through: emotional situationships that were tinged with blissful moments where a partnership felt title-worthy. Over a Zoom call from her family home in Mississippi (fresh off of touring with John Legend), she said the inspiration for the project’s title came from wanting to highlight a distinct past romantic partnership she experienced. 

“When I wrotethis, I was definitely in a place of giving honor to what I think was one of the purest love experiences that I had as a woman,” she said, adding that the partnership opened her eyes and allowed her to realize healthy relationships — whether they be romantic or not — make your life “flow better.” 

“As a Black woman, I never felt love like that before. But it did end in a very negative way. I wanted to end the chapter authentically [with this new album],” she said.

Sis. He Wasn’t The One is the second full-length in her artistry — she released her debut album, Sis., in 2020 — which is marked by her sharp songwriting. Okayplayer spoke with KIRBY about the album, the state of neo-soul, what it was like touring with John Legend, and more.

How do you feel about the state of neo-soul?

We're in a new era. You have options now: if you want real musicality, you can go to H.E.R. If you want to go and feel like you are at the hair salon listening to your best friend's talk about her man, go to Summer Walker — you’ve got Teyana Taylor. You’ve got me, you got Ari [Lennox] for soul. You've got so many people.

I do feel like there's still enough room for the R&B superstar. Like, these female rappers right now are killing it as far as when it comes to expanding their brand and partnering with McDonald's, partnering with the Popeyes, [and] partnering with these big brands — really just getting their face in the mainstream. I still feel like the R&B and soul acts, we have to kind of fight for those [opportunities].

What was it like touring with John Legend?

It was fun. I mean, we [did] have some hiccups every now and then. But I think the cool part was — it was really me and five other Black women that didn't know each other, and by the end of tour, it just felt like this sisterhood. I really forgot that I was even getting paid to do it. I was like, "Wait, what?" It felt like such a long extended field trip across the country. John was just so inspiring, girl.

They spoiled me of course. They take care of you on another level. I'm sure all tours are not going to be like his, but it was the relationships for me that really made it special. I feel like I realized what I want to do better in music. I never got to tour with Sis., and I never got to sing a lot of those songs in front of an audience. So it's interesting to really see what songs people really gravitate to, what songs people are kind of unsure about, and what songs people immediately get. 

Can you tell me about Sis. He Wasn’t The One and your inspiration behind it?

When I wrote this, I was definitely in a place of giving honor to what I think was one of the purest love experiences that I had as a woman. As a Black woman, I never felt love like that before. But it did end in a very negative way. I wanted to end the chapter authentically and not leave it in a way that might have left an impression like, "OK, this really did work out." Because as beautiful as it was, it wasn't friendship — very much not forever. 

When you made that choice, is that what led you to kind of dig into all of those feelings? 

You know the funny thing is, those records just naturally came out. Because even when I was writing Sis., I was kind of frustrated with myself. I was like, “Why am I writing these love songs?” That really wasn't a space I was in. But I feel like my heart wasn't able to express the happiness of the situation that I was in. I [couldn’t] have started at the end, I had to really honor the good part of it. When I was writing, my heart wasn't able to just start there. It was like, "Wait, but go back to how it started," because it started so pure and so beautiful. I think I just had to lean into that, instead of just going into the heartbreak of it all.

Life really does imitate art. Even though I wrote Sis. He Wasn’t The One about another guy, I am living it right now about somebody else. He was the one, and we were very happy together for a very long time. I'm going to have to just manifest through all these titles. I don't have another Sis. He Wasn’t The One in me. I'm really ready for the happy ending, so the truth is still coming out. 

Kirby Photo Credit: Joey James Salehi

What was it like working with BJ The Chicago Kid on “Lately”?

Shout out BJ, the Chicago Kid. Girl, I've just been a longtime fan of his, and I actually met him doing a Recording Academy thing. I was just like, "Man, I would love to collaborate with him." I was thinking of the best features for that song; his harmonies alone would just make that song so lush and fire. So I sent it over to his management. I actually DM’d him too [on Instagram] because I would shoot my shot on social media. I did thank him in a [Instagram] story, and then I told my manager to reach out.

[After a month] he sent me back that verse, the harmonies, and the bridge. I just was like, "Man, this is a vocal match made in heaven." It's special when somebody who's really high up in their world gives you a layup.

How did you come up with “Blame The Internet”?

Listen, this is why I’m blaming the internet. This is why you got to block people sometimes because you go down that rabbit hole — they’re married, they have kids. You end up being really triggered. It's like, "I haven't even talked to you in six months, and I know what you ate for lunch. This is annoying.”

The Internet makes it very hard to get over a person if you do not completely axe them out of your internet life. You know what I'm saying? For me, thank God for that good mute button, because that's a good way for me to have somebody out of the picture, but technically them not know that I'm not looking at this stuff. I think it's easier to get rid of somebody in your physical life than it is to get rid of somebody on the internet. 

What’s your attachment style?

I definitely [have] an anxious attachment style. I might have a little bit of [the] security [style] but I think [the] majority is like, anxious attachment. I know now when I don't hear from somebody, I feel like [my] anxious attachment system gets activated. Whoever I date for the long term, I need them to know that me needing communication isn't just me being needy. It's a part of my makeup; I need certain things to assure and confirm that we're in a healthy space.

What’s one lesson you’ve learned about love and healthy relationships?

When you are in a healthy situation — that goes for the healthy relationship with your mother, family members, siblings, friends — it makes everything else in your life flow better. One thing I learned, even though my situation hasn't evolved and will not evolve into marriage, I have learned what I need to be happy. It doesn't take as much as I thought it did. Consistent communication, yes. I need that to be happy [and] a person that's willing to listen, show up, and do little things.


Banner Photo Credit: Joey James Salehi