It’s not often one can vividly recall the defining moment in which they saw the path their life would take.
Rapper Bri Steves did. In a small South Philly recording studio, Steves, 23, then a junior at Temple University studying public relations, saw what her future could become. It was in that moment in a room filled with dedicated producers and engineers, Steves decided to pawn the viola she’d played since high school for studio equipment.
“The lane has definitely been open for female artists to emerge largely because of social media. I think [Cardi B.] is a good example of showing that there is a door for anybody to come through…You don’t have to [portray] yourself as a particular type of woman or rap a certain type of way to get success.”
–Philly hip-hop and R&B artist Bri Steves
Fast forward almost three years and it’s proved a smart decision. After signing a deal with Atlantic Records, Steves finished recording her third album, currently on Urban Radio’s Top 15 and has embarked on her first nationwide headlining tour in promotion, wrapping later this month. One of the stops on her tour was in Philly late last month at Franklin Music Hall, a venue she recalled many a night watching her favorite artists on stage dreaming of one day being on it.
We caught up with the East Falls native in the aftermath of that Philly stop to talk her rapid rise, aspirations of it taking off from here, all the while making sure she stays grounded.
You finally come to Philly on your first solo tour. Explain to us what that feeling – and atmosphere – was like.
That show was amazing, there was really good energy from the crowd, the audience was super dope. It was a feeling that was different because I had fans that were familiar with my music and familiar with me personally so the energy was just different than the other city.
One of the hallmark moments of your career, as we know, was getting pulled up on stage to perform with Kendrick Lamar. Nervous? And segue … how do you handle nerves on stage now?
Oh, the [nerves] come back every now and then before a super big show. I remember how nervous I was and right before my first show on this [“Jealousy”] tour. But for the most part, the nerves were gone and I think that came especially after the Kendrick performance. Since then, everything has just felt kind of natural at this point.
Who would you say, or hope, people would say your music sounds like?
I guess I would say J.Cole in terms of storytelling and Lauryn [Hill] in terms of the sound vocally.
You mention storytelling as an art in hip-hop. With all the other types of rap there are out there, why is keeping this original, purist form so important?
Well for one, I think you need balance. There’s a place for the mumble rap, and in some cases it’s actually really fun to listen to. But I think music, good music, is about storytelling and that isn’t going to go away. You need someone to occupy that land at the same time and provide a balance to the other sounds within the genre.
You juggled a career as full-time student and a professional artist prior to graduating from Temple. Can you even put into words the stress of something like that?
That experience was tough. At the time, I was juggling a lot of things at once but it was one of the best experiences, and one I really feel made me the artist I am today. That was where I started recording in my room and teaching myself how to engineer and mix, while I was going to school and going to classes during the day. I lost a lot of time and sleep but it was really the place where I discovered how I want to sound on the microphone. It was the starting point of where I got into this game professionally.
In the two years since Temple, you’ve emerged as the next great female hip-hop artist to come out of Philly. Do you still get surprised?
I definitely saw myself getting to this point, but not as fast as I did. There’s still a very long way for me to go, but I didn’t expect to be doing a nationwide tour just one year later [after graduating], or doing a BET Cypher one year later, or coming on stage with one of my idols [in Kendrick Lamar] one year later. It’s been a dream.
Do you feel with success and popularity you’ll get thrust into “mainstream” label?
I don’t feel like success makes you more mainstream. I feel like, if anything, I’m getting more eyes. There are more people discovering my music rather than just people from Philly that I know. It’s expanding and now people in California and Nashville and Raleigh [North Carolina] and Atlanta are connecting with it. So I just see it as my reach getting bigger as I grow.
The state of the female hip-hop artist. Go.
The lane has definitely been open for female artists to emerge largely because of social media. I think [Cardi B.] is a good example of showing that there is a door for anybody to come through. I think right now everybody has the potential to win in this game. You don’t have to [portray] yourself as a particular type of woman or rap a certain type of way to get success, you can be whoever you want to be and that again is largely due to the strength of social media.
How happy are you with all the music you’ve put out to date?
I’m really proud of how it all came out and I wouldn’t change anything. Before I put my old stuff out I was already on a lot of other [artist] records for a least a year. But now that I get to do it my way, I have the right partnerships and people behind me and really can take my time to make sure it’s all perfect. So far, yeah, I’m really happy with the result.
With all of that said, I have to ask the quintessential cliche question of where you see yourself in the next five years, especially consider just how rapid your ascension in the game has been?
Well, I definitely want to continue to grow and see my brand become a household name. I also see myself getting into acting, I see myself touring more. [Laughs.] You know, because it’d be nice to say that after all of this hard work, you can pocket $100 million on tour.