Baby Rose’s voice sounds like a warm-toned Polaroid. There’s a classic, jazzy quality to her sound, noir-esque darkness flirting with a deckled light. On August 22, following a standout appearance on Revenge of the Dreamers III, she delivered her debut album, To Myself. Traversing pain and heartache, the push and pull of recovery, and being your own worst enemy, To Myself is a ring of blue smoke dispersing in a crowded room. Its atmosphere brings to mind chesterfield couches, dark liquor, and the heat of disconcerted bodies gathered in search of escape.
Folding into To Myself is an act of self-love and revival. Baby Rose bends time on the album, with the drama in her voice rising to the same occasion as her deft writing. She is a natural star on the rise.
It’s surprising, then, when I find out the DC-born and North Carolina-raised singer almost gave up on music entirely. “I wanted it to serve as a reminder that I can’t forget that I almost gave up, and I almost chose a whole different life,” she tells me of her debut album.
To Myself is a literal resurrection from the ashes of a dead relationship. Baby Rose has more resolve than most artists leagues and leagues above her in terms of notoriety. Baby Rose is miraculous.
“When my mom was sick with cancer,” Baby Rose recalls of the last time it was music or bust. “I had kinda given up [on music]. I wasn’t sure what my purpose was at that point, but when my mom almost lost her life… In the middle of that, I got an opportunity to perform at one of my friend’s talent showcases at the school I was going to... It was the most freeing experience.”
Baby Rose personifies perseverance. Her music harkens back to the classic R&B sound with some of the snappiest writing of the year. She is a marvel, and she’s only getting started. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you realize you had a powerful singing voice?
Baby Rose: I got a piano when I was nine years old, and I started recording songs around that age. I didn’t really think too much of my voice, so much as I thought I enjoyed singing. That was something that made me happy. I realized I had a voice when I was 12, and my mom’s friend heard me singing, and she was like, “Oh, she needs to go to the studio, this is different.” That was the moment that things changed.
What was your very first “It’s music or bust” moment?
I have different instances of that. The most recent was when my mom was sick with cancer. I had kinda given up [on music]. I wasn’t doing well in school. I wasn’t sure what my purpose was at that point, but when my mom almost lost her life… In the middle of that, I got an opportunity to perform at one of my friend’s talent showcases at the school I was going to. It was the most freeing experience from all the crazy shit going on in my life.
When I performed, I remember my uncle flying from DC and my cousins being there and surprising my mom and me giving me her blessing to go and perform. I made a four-minute song last for 10 minutes! I was lost in it, and I remember, at that moment, it was, “Damn, this is the only thing that makes me feel free. That makes me feel worthy. That gives me a purpose in this life.” While I’m here, I have to do what I love to do.
Now, you were on the Dreamville album. What was the biggest lesson learned from the sessions?
I learned a few lessons. Number one: You have to be willing to take a risk. Number two: You have to be a part of a community. If I wasn’t so invested in the community in Atlanta, when I walked in, I wouldn’t have known anybody. But when I walked in, I saw Childish Major, Yung Baby Tate, and others just walking around freely. Tim [Maxey] was with me. I found my place in the live room and did what I know best with the piano. Cole stumbled in the room and saw me wearing a Roses shirt, which is a store that’s only in North Carolina. That was my formal introduction. Ari [Lennox] is the sweetest soul ever. It also taught me a lesson of being willing to trust your first instinct. It’s about being able to trust yourself and go for it.
Pivoting to your solo work, I love the title of the debut, To Myself. What inspired it?
I wanted it to serve as a reminder that I can’t forget that I almost gave up, and I almost chose a whole different life. I have to go for what I know. That’s just referencing the breakup because I was with my ex for four years. He was somebody that I depended on, that I loved and I trusted. In the same breath, when we got into a heated argument, he deleted all of my music. Thankfully I had backups with my management. I had backups with the producers I work with. Those are the only songs that I had left, out of all the records I had made for the album. The primary meaning [of the title] is it’s less about what he was on and the breakup, and more of a reminder to me to always view this as a lesson that I’m never gonna find fulfillment in someone else. Or in something else that’s not my purpose and not aligned with what God wants for me.
You tackle pain with such a deft hand. How do you write about your emotional woes without succumbing to that darkness?
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t succumb to the pain that I write about at times. I’ve had a lot of nights [laughs]. Just low moments in life where it gets kinda dark. And that’s okay, that’s the balance of life. I think what makes [the writing] authentic is it is coming from a real place. There is a definite urge that I have, personally, to be able to find a balance in life where I can write and relate to the lows and highs that I feel, but I’ve transcended acting on those. I want to find myself in a perpetual state of evenness and peace. That’s the ultimate goal. That’s my idea of success. The reason why I’m able to write with such depth is that I visit those places more often than not.
Any worries that people won’t “get” your sound because it’s so you?
I used to have those fears and concerns. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go on stage and perform something that I didn’t believe in because I’m trying to fit in. It’s like wearing a mask. I can’t do that. Being on stage is such a vulnerable, powerful moment where you have an audience of people that are receptive to what you’re bringing. I want to be remembered for being real in my truth, so I can ultimately help people sort through what the fuck they’re going through.
When’s the last time someone tried to discourage you, and how did you overcome that?
I wouldn’t say that someone has tried to discourage me. I haven’t felt that energy in a very long time. But I would say that life, in general, has a way of discouraging me at times. I understand I’m reaching all these heights, but I’m also living a life with bills and things I have to do. With everything happening in a way where I have to make myself available to tour. I have to make myself available to be in different places because this is the first time where I’m at this moment. It’s tricky being independent. Life in itself can be, “Oh, girl, you’re in over your head.”
I would say my friends being as in it as I, and my team, is the most encouraging thing that shuts all that [external] shit out. I’m alive today. I’m here right now. Don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow may never come. Just do what I can today to be as fulfilled and invested in this purpose.