Asia Graves deals in vulnerability. The North Carolina native finds solace in spilling her emotions over wax through a series of classic R&B tunes.
Her debut EP, Big Girls Don’t Cry, co-Released by The Upperclassmen Music Group and BeatRoot Music this past February, features eight emotionally forward songs, each more piercing than the next. Self-described as the “perfect girl next door,” Asia’s tender vocal and gentle deliveries give us the impression she is singing from the pit of her heart. Her honest songwriting harkens back to the spiraling writing of ‘90s R&B. It’s a pleasure to hear “Head Games” and instantly imagine the Asia Graves lineage come to life, nodding along, proud of her. Currently signed to duo Ayo N Keyz, Asia, 23, is taking all the necessary steps to further her career and make sure the world knows R&B is healthier than ever.
“It became a career about three years ago,” Asia explains of her leaping into music. “I was in college, just trying to figure [it] out… I kept switching my major. From biology to criminal justice to nursing, because I didn’t know what I [wanted to] do in school. I leapt out on faith, like, ‘Let me just do what I love.’ That’s when I started taking [music] seriously.”
“You filled my heart when it was vacant,” Asia sings on “All I Need.” She then weaves images of ice and vibes in amidst her homages to classic R&B themes. That’s the Asia Graves secret weapon: her ability to blend the classic with the new school. Standout song, “Solo,” features Atlanta-based Asia skating across a guitar-forward instrumental. Her voice flits and flings about in the pockets of percussion, with her talking about the love game as if it were the music game. It’s got the most delicate touch of bragging with an equal bit of emotional sincerity. “Solo” is the perfect Asia Graves song.
“I was going off girl empowerment,” Asia says of her debut EP. “A lot of girls let guys hold them back, and they deal with this thing I call ‘struggle love.’ The title is strong because it tells girls, ‘Don’t let guys feel like they can treat you, however.’ That was personal to me, because I’ve dealt with relationships where guys do what they do, and then I’ll forgive them. It’s enough of that. Put your big girl pants on and keep it moving.”
“R&B is not dead, and it’s not dying, and it never will!” Asia concludes. “It’s a lot of R&B artists out there that are amazing. Underground and mainstream. Find your niche! You have artists that will take you back, and artists that do the new-age R&B. You just have to find what you like. It’s a lot of talented artists that work hard to get this music out [and] to get noticed. A lot of people feel like they can cancel out R&B altogether, and I don’t agree with that.”
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did music first come into your life?
Asia Graves: Music first came into my life when I was about two years old. I lived in Japan for three years. My dad was the type to play R&B all around the house, [in] the car. Being over in Japan and moving around so much, music is all that we had. I never kept friends, because I knew I was moving. When I was 19, I started taking [music] seriously. I used to write songs throughout school, little kiddie songs.
You’ve got such a classic sound, who were your early influences?
I’m influenced by Brandy, Stevie Wonder, I love Mario…
When did you realize you could make a go at this music thing full-time?
It became a career about three years ago. I was in college, just trying to figure [it] out… I kept switching my major. From biology to criminal justice to nursing, because I didn’t know what I [wanted to] do in school. I leapt out on faith, like, “Let me just do what I love.” That’s when I started taking [music] seriously.
Was there any fear, making that leap?
It was! I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have direction, but I ended up meeting someone that believed in me, and I built a whole team off of that. It was pretty scary because I heard stories about how a lot of people get messed over, and a lot of people don’t believe in artists trying to come up. But I did it anyway.
Your song, “All I Need,” was chosen as the winner of Audiomack’s STAMPED contest. What did that mean to you?
I did that song in two different sessions. “All I Need” built off of a vibe. Me and my friend started writing it, did the hook in five minutes, and pushed it to the side. I didn’t think of finishing it, but I ended up coming back to it [like], “Let me just do two verses.” When I [played] it for my team, they were like, “This is probably the best song on the project.” When I won the contest, it meant everything to me. I needed a new home studio—we’ve been inside the house. I need a new laptop, a lot of stuff, to go ‘head and get back to recording. I can’t sit here and wait months until the studios open back up.
Right before the contest, my MacBook crashed. I needed to get a new mic, everything! When I won that contest, I felt like it was meant to be. I manifest a lot of things over my life. At the beginning of this year, I wrote I wanted a new home studio setup. That’s what I was working towards, praying over it, and I ended up winning!
Your debut EP is called Big Girls Don’t Cry. What inspired the title?
I was going off girl empowerment. A lot of girls let guys hold them back, and they deal with this thing I call “struggle love.” The title is strong, because it tells girls, “Don’t let guys feel like they can treat you, however.” That was personal to me, because I’ve dealt with relationships where guys do what they do, and then I’ll forgive them. It’s enough of that. Put your big girl pants on and keep it moving.
As I said, your voice is classic, but your writing touches on themes new and old. How do you balance both eras of influence in your music?
Classic R&B is all I listen to, and of course, I listen to new R&B, too. That inspires me as a new artist. The classic R&B is what I grew up on. I don’t know what goes through my brain, but as soon as I hear a classic song… I just automatically get taken back. I know how to balance the new-age R&B with it and mix the two. I just want people to get that feeling; still, that old R&B feel.
What song was most vital for you to release from this project?
“Maybe” was the most important to me. I sat in my room and poured my heart into that [song]. I was going through something, so when I wrote “Maybe,” I was in my feelings. It was special to me because, through music, I let that person know, “I’m not the one. I am Asia, and you can’t get over on me. You can’t play me.”
On Twitter, people love to say R&B is dead, but listening to your EP and looking at artists like Ari Lennox, Lucky Daye, and more, it’s evident that’s not true. What would you say to those people?
R&B is not dead, and it’s not dying, and it never will! It’s a lot of R&B artists out there that are amazing. Underground and mainstream. Find your niche! You have artists that will take you back, and artists that do the new-age R&B. You just have to find what you like. It’s a lot of talented artists that work hard to get this music out [and] get noticed. A lot of people feel like they can cancel out R&B altogether, and I don’t agree with that.