Kat Dahlia has been here before. The press runs, the rollouts, the promo, it’s nothing new for the Miami artist who signed to Epic Records in 2012. From her signing, Dahlia quickly became a media darling, following the release of her first single, “Gangsta,” in 2013. With looks from everyone, including Billboard and Complex, it appeared as if Dahlia was an unstoppable force in the industry. But as most stories go, there had to be a twist.
“Me and the label were rocking for five years, and we tried, we tried to make the relationship work,” Kat tells me over the phone. “We tried to make it work, and it just didn’t. So, at some point, I did ask to be let go, and thankfully, it was not like this big drama. It wasn’t this awful split, at all.”
For those unfamiliar with Kat Dahlia, her music is razor-sharp and affecting. Her runs are seemingly endless, and her flows are breakneck and cutting. Dahlia’s swagger comes only second to the sheer power of her uniquely cataclysmic vocal. The world stops when Kat Dahlia opens her mouth to sing—or rap. Look no further than her earth-shaking 2015 debut album, My Garden, as proof that her soundscapes will leave you quaking and amazed.
Finally, with her split from Epic behind her, Kat Dahlia is back with a new single and a fresh take on the sound that first broke her. “I’m Doin' Good” is true to its name, equal parts spacey and pulsing. The single, with verses in both English and Spanish, trumpets Dahlia’s triumphant return. The gumption to leave your label and return after a two-year hiatus, forging an indie path, is admirable. But as we’ve seen from Kat, little can stop her.
“I am so excited!” she beams. “I’ve been working on music for a year and a half. I’ve been really in the cut, doing it and not releasing much of anything. To finally come out and have this work, and everybody’s excited about it, it just motivates me to keep going. I got a few festivals lined up. Also, just getting out on the road. Start doing shows; start singing for my fans again. I’m in a time where I’m more in love with my career than ever.”
Our full conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Let’s start with your deal with Epic. At the time, what made you want to sign a deal with a major label?
Kat Dahlia: I think, at the time, I was just so young and green. I probably was recording for six months before I got the offer. The second song I ever recorded in the studio was “Gangsta,” so I don’t think I even knew what [the deal] was, but people around me were hyped. I knew it was exciting, and I knew that it was something that was a big deal, but I think I had no idea what I was getting into at the time. I was just so green.
You dropped My Garden on Epic. Was there anything that happened throughout that process that was an indication you might want to forge an indie path?
Man, this is an investigation! Are you wearing a wire? Um, I will say that the label has a lot of moving parts. It definitely, at times, can feel like a game of thrones, and sometimes you find yourself being a pawn. The label can make you feel, at times, like a product. Like a Coca-Cola can. As far as being an artist that has emotions and points of view and creativity, it can be rattling for your insides, if that makes any sense.
When did you decide to walk away from the label? Was there any fear?
Me and the label were rocking for five years, and we tried, we tried to make the relationship work. We wanted to make it work, and it just didn’t. So, at some point, I did ask to be let go, and thankfully, it was not like this big drama. It wasn’t this awful split, at all. My point of view was heard and understood, and they let me go. I wasn’t scared, just more so anxious about what the next step was. I think that the anxiety… Anxiety and excitement can feel like the same thing sometimes—the anxiety of the unknown, but also the excitement of the unknown.
I was ready to be an indie artist again, even though I didn’t get the opportunity to do it for that long before I got signed. Everything [about being indie] excites me a lot. And the shit that I don’t know, I’ll worry about later. Right now, I’m just gonna do what I know, and I’m just gonna fucking go.
What is your favorite thing about being an independent artist?
The freedom! It’s the knowledge; it’s the constant stimulation from learning shit.
Having seen both sides of the music industry, in hindsight, would you still have signed your deal?
Definitely would’ve stayed indie for a long time, if not just continued. Maybe would’ve taken a deal later on, once I understood what that was. I would’ve loved to have stayed indie for longer. But, at the same time, I’m so grateful that I learned about the major label system because it’s helping me now. I learned so much.
To trust myself. To say, “No.” Even when there’s a wave coming at you. Put your foot down and do what you believe in no matter what they tell you. No matter what they hit you with. None of that matters. So long as you’re making what you believe in and love, then you’re fulfilling your artistic purpose. Honestly, that tends to pay out more for the soul than any dollar bill. If I’m failing, I wanna fail by my own mistakes, my own decisions. Not by somebody else’s.
Talk to me about releasing music now; how does it feel to be back and see the fan reception to your work?
I am so excited! I’ve been working on music for a year and a half. I’ve been really in the cut, doing it and not releasing much of anything. To finally come out and have this work, and everybody’s excited about it, it just motivates me to keep going. I got a few festivals lined up. Also, just getting out on the road. Start doing shows; start singing for my fans again. I’m in a time where I’m more in love with my career than ever.
What statement do you want your new music to make?
Everything that I’m putting out now, it’s all personal experiences, whether it’s relationships, certain friendships, certain things that I see my friends going through. “I’m Doing Good” is about something that I, and a lot of my girlfriends, have gone through.
Which unreleased song are you most excited for fans to hear?
The next song is called “Mojada.” It’s coming out in the next couple weeks. I made it like a year ago, and I’ve been waiting to drop it. This one, in particular, I’m stoked about. It’s a summer record. I just wanted something sexy and wavy.
If you could give any advice to an artist struggling to find their voice, what would you say?
I would say: Keep going. You have to put in your 10,000 hours. You need to keep going in the studio, working with different people, listening to music, and keep recording. Just yesterday, a dude sent me a track like, “Yo! We gotta put this out!” And it was a song from three, four years ago. I was listening to my vocals like, “Damn,” because I’m always in the process of learning. If you’re always making music and you can look at the previous you, you will see the growth. Keep doing it; keep learning, keep trying out different things. Over time, you’re gonna see the growth. It’s like yoga.