The Education of Snoh Aalegra

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Back in July, I took a trip out to Chicago, right around the time when Common released Nobody's Smiling. Coincidence, or fate? Maybe both. Though I attended the Pitchfork Festival, saw my oldest friend, and visited DJ Z's lair, where he plots internet dominance, the highlight was discovering a brand new artist (in fact, I did so in Z's living room). To me, Common's album was highlighted by the unique, interesting guest spots. While Herb and Cocaine 80's were important additions to the veteran's album, it's Swedish crooner Snoh Aalegra who jumped out the most. She sounded like something special, and the fact that I discovered this No I.D. mentored artist while in the Chi only added to my obsession; it actually had to be fate, right? While I was perfectly happy slapping that replay button on "Burning Bridges" like it owed me money, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't fiending for more.

So I waited...

And waited...

Fast forward a few months, Snoh's There WIll Be Sunshine EP is blaring through my speakers, and I am feeling good that my hunch she would be one to watch for proved correct. Granted, saying that Snoh Aalegra is dynamic is like predicting a Peyton Manning touchdown, but I felt fulfilled. And yet, I had about a zillion more questions, so I reached out and we chatted about Lauryn Hill, No I.D, and of course her music.

Meet Snoh Aalegra.

You have been "raised" in a way by No I.D. He has taken you under his wing and even produced your EP in full.  How did that relationship start?

"It wasn't something that just happened. When we met, we didn't talk about working together. He set me up with other producers  and would say, ' I know who you should work with,' but I would always think. 'Damn, but I want to work with No I.D. Why can't I just work with him?!" He's very special and tricky, he doesn't work with just anyone. He really tries to get to know what people are about, what they stand for and what they want to do.

That's what happened, I started to work around him and he saw how hard I worked, listened to the material, and was really impressed. After a while he asked, 'Can I jump on this' and I said 'Of course! That's what I wanted from the start.' It happened organically and now it's been a couple of years. He's been a mentor to a lot of artists and I see why. He has over 20 years of experience and he's really taught me a lot and helped me believe in myself. You just learn a ton from him every day. He's very wise."

No I.D. is known mostly as a hip-hop producer. How has his background in hip-hop helped define your sound?

"When you hear the name No I.D. you associate it with hip-hop, but he actually posses a lot of musical talent. He's very musical. He surrounds himself with real musicians even when hes doing rap albums. He totally understood what I was doing. It became this cool vibe of me, a singer, singing atop his beats. Since I was a kid I've always been into big choirs and strings and things that make me vibe, and I've been very hands on in creating my sound and we created this together. It just happened organically.

It was right; he understood everything I wanted to do. He arranged the strings on my songs, he's very musical like that. He's more musical than people may know.He even vocally produced me on "You Always Knew." When I recorded it on the demo it sounded very different and when I was in studio to re-record it, he was there with me. I vocal-produce all my songs myself, but with that one he guided me and really made me sound very different. He brought out a totally different vibe."

You are from Sweden, not exactly an urban music mecca and yet you work so well with No I.D. Are you a hip-hop fan? What did you listen to growing up?

"When I grew up in Sweden I was influenced by Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince and Stevie Wonder. I was more into soul than hip-hop and hip-hop came later."

If you had to pick one album to listen to for the rest of your life - it's the only album you can listen to - which would it be?

"Wow. That's difficult. It's probably The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. Her miseducation was my education. She's my queen. I've learned a lot from listening to her. " 

The lead-single off There Will Be Sunshine was "Bad Things," which featured a verse from Common. It's pretty remarkable to have an emcee like Common on the lead single off your debut. How did that come about?

"That was amazing! He was recording his album with No I.D. at the same time as me, but I was in Sweden. I went to visit my family while No I.D. was working on the beat and finessing it. What I heard was Common walked in the room, heard the the beat and my lyrics and said, "I love this!" and he wanted to jump on it, right there. So it just kind of happened you know. They called me and said 'Oh by the way, Common jumped on your song...just so you know.' I love how it happened. A lot of people assume, that because I work with NO I.D., I would have a lot of features, but I always want them to happen organically. I don't want to call in any favors; I don't believe it will turn out the right way. I want to do it if the person I'm doing a feature with really wants it; then there is good chemistry."

You also managed a feature from Cocaine 80's. I know James and No I.D. are the faces of Cocaine 80's, but it's more of a collective. Can you shed some light on what exactly 'featuring Cocaine 80's' means?

"Cocaine 80's is No I.D., James Fauntleroy, and Steve Wyreman. I know Common used to be a part of it, but I'm not sure if he still is anymore. They do features with so many artists and they did a lot with Common so he was almost like a part of it. But No I.D., James and Steve, the guitarist are the core members. They are so amazing! On my song, it was those three. No I.D. on the beat, James singing and Steve playing guitar on the outro."

Now that the EP has been out for a quite some time, and you've had time to reflect, how, if at all, have your career goals changed?

"My goals haven't changed, but I've definitely gotten more inspired. The reaction has been so positive and my goal is to make more people hear it. So this is the beginning and I need to get out there and perform and interact with my fans. I need to start doing gigs. That's how you really grow as an artist. My goal is to always grow. I'm never going to be like, 'Yes. I'm done.' I'm forever going to be a student."

Between "Fire's All Around You" and "Burning Bridges," fire seems to be a theme of yours. Going off that, if there was a fire and you could only save one song off the EP, which would it be and why?

"That's a tough question! I guess I would say 'There Will Be Sunshine' because it's one of my most personal songs. There is a lot of emotion behind that song."

To keep up to date on this yet-to-be announced tour, be sure to follow Snoh at @snohofficial, and for more music, be sure to check her DJBooth artist page religiously and if you haven't already, be sure to buy There Will Be Sunshine. If you don't want to take my word for it, you can stream it right here on The DJBooth.

Also, you should totally check out this "Bad Things" remix featuring Killer Mike because Killer Mike and Snoh sound amazing together.

[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]

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