New York-born, New Jersey raised MAAD is the singer-songwriter, model and DJ we want in 2017. Full of determination and savvy business sense, the entirely self-funded, independent pop and R&B star has developed an enviable skill set and an approach that leaves nothing to luck. She’s already collaborated with A$AP Ferg and Ro James and worked with some of the most revered producers in the game. Following up her Lé Funk EP with sleek new single ‘New Religion’ MAAD’s had a triumphant start to 2018.
Beginning her career as a model, by chance, thanks to her mother entering her into a beauty contest without her knowledge, she’s gone on to feature in publications including Elle, Nylon and many others. Using her platform as a model and a confident approach, she’s introduced her music to all the right people and used her success as a launch pad for her funk-infused sound. “I was 19, and my mum entered me into this contest” MAAD reveals. “She did it really sneaky, and I ended up being one of the models in the contest. One day I was telling everybody at one of the photoshoots that I sang and this woman was like ‘I have a friend who’s an A&R at a record label’, so she called him, and I sang for him. It went nowhere, but I was like ‘yeah I did this!’ Even now, when I do certain modelling jobs, I tell the people that I’m an artist and I start to work on how we could integrate my music. I learned how to talk to people and make more opportunities for myself from what I’ve been given!” Notion caught up with her in the middle of packing up her home on the East Coast (she’s moving to LA to escape the winter freeze) to discuss being in charge of her art, the politics of being female in music and how her New York roots helped transform her into the entrepreneur we see today.
Starting out as a model, how did that experience prepare you for being on the public stage?
Modelling is always like you wake up you go to this shoot, you meet another random group of people, and by the end of the day, you’re done. But it’s good to learn more about the business. School doesn’t teach you how to go out in the real world and meet people. I remember when I first started getting into things I would be like ‘Mum could you call and introduce me, I’m really nervous?’ but sometimes I feel like I’m teaching everyone else around me how to do business.
As an artist, do you have more chance to be known as an individual? Can being a model make it hard to be yourself?
I still do modelling jobs here and there, and people don’t really have an idea of what you do outside of the jobs, you go there, and they want a very specific thing. Luckily, I’m starting to get more work which is geared towards me just being myself and as an artist. Some days you just don’t want to have a face of makeup on that’s super heavy, and it’s not you.
How do you think growing up in New York shaped your identity?
I was in New York ‘til I was ten then moved to Jersey, so part of me is very much a Jersey girl. I think the hustle is a little different. Everyone I know in New York usually has like 4 or 5 different hustles to get by. I think you have to. There’s this whole slash generation thing – for me, I did the modelling thing to pay for studio time, and then I got into DJing to help spin my music at events and things like that. I get the same vibe from you guys; I think that’s why I love coming to London so much. I think that’s why people from London come to New York and they survive just as much as a New Yorker coming to London. Your tube is so easy to understand!
What issues inform your music?
As corny as it sounds, people always want to be happy, and I just want to make music that puts people in that place. Even with ‘Wonderland’, the message was just me trying to communicate to the people that I love that I’m working and there’s a tonne of things happening around us. I still wanna be in that place with people where you can love & appreciate them. Obviously, I love to turn up (laughs). I love trap music, but I also love making music that will inspire people and make people feel good, so you need that balance in life.
What is your experience of being a black woman in music?
There’s a conversation that often happens especially with black females. How to put this into words… sometimes with black women [people] automatically look at you as an urban artist. I get the word ‘urban’ constantly even though my music is more pop/R&B. They always put you in the ‘urban’ [bracket] until you make some noise then it’s like oh she’s a pop star! I think for Beyoncé & Janet [Jackson], people probably looked at them as urban artists but then once you become worldwide, you can’t put people in those brackets. They generalise artists… sometimes it kind of sucks because people just want to make music instead of having all these boxes.
Is there a responsibility for artists to speak up about issues that affect the industry?
I think [some artists] are afraid to speak up on political issues because they are afraid of losing their fan bases. I think we do have a bit of due diligence to be like ‘hey, this is really important’ but not everybody uses their platforms in those ways to shed light or to assist people. But it’s also not in the job description for an artist – like you have to be on top of world issues. I think some of them probably think just to stay out of things, but sometimes you’ve got to speak up. If you have a platform, if you have a trillion people following you, sometimes it’s good to have some say in what’s going on. Michael Jackson did a great job of that; he figured out ways to bring up political issues.
Is there a pressure for women to conform to a hyper-sexualised image within music?
Men get away with so much in this business. I feel like as female artists, we’ve figured out ways to own our sexuality. I say be whatever artist you want to be and do it well. My whole last project Lé Funk, there were lines of sexual innuendo all throughout it, but it was casually written. I never wanna be a raunchy artist, it’s more so hinting at things, but it’s ok to be sexual, it’s ok to be comfortable.
So there’s not going to be a Christina Aguilera Stripped phase for you?
I only listened to that album the other day! You know what though, she was speaking up, she felt like men always get away with so much shit, it’s like come on guys. It’s been inspiring to see what has come out of the #MeToo campaign bringing the topic into the public domain and encouraging people to assess their behaviour. Weinstein is not the first and not the last to make women feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, if I go to specific sessions, I bring people with me coz you never know. You need to feel very comfortable with people because it is a very intimate space. It sucks for a director or someone that is supposed to be doing their job taking advantage of that situation. There’s no one to be like ‘hey, help me!’ I think it’s great that all these women are coming forward.
When can we expect new music from you?
I’m getting ready to release a record off of my upcoming project; it’ll be an EP. I’m releasing next year, and I’m excited to keep putting out music and some visuals, and I am praying for a tour, so that’s one of my main focuses. In the meantime, it’s all about the music! Just enjoy it and dance to it and have the best time.
This article originally appeared in Notion 78. Available now.