She’s the jazzy, soulful voice you heard teasing nicely against the bravado-laced verses from J. Cole on the 2011 hit, “Only Want To Give It To You.” Seemingly out of nowhere, Los Angeles, California, native Elle Varner burst onto radio airwaves last year after making her debut via the latest A&R-busting locale for artists to be discovered – on YouTube.
About her old-soul sound, soon-to-be 23-year-old Varner told AllHipHop.com recently in an exclusive interview, “Ella Fitzgerald is a big [influence], Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Diana Ross, Sade, and even really…Celine Dion!” [laughter]. Artist peers like Adele, Frank Ocean, and Bei Maejor help drive her to be great, she says, adding, “Who wants to be the best when everyone else is just so-so? You want your comrades to be just as great, if not greater.”
The cute and quirky Varner is a New York City chick these days, finding her “place” in Brooklyn and at RCA Records, where she is recording new music and looking forward to fulfilling the rest of her schoolmates’ predictions for her. At the Clive Davis-sponsored NYU School of Recorded Music, Varner was picked as “Most Likely to Get Signed” and “Most Likely to Win A Grammy.”
“I think really it was my songs that made them think that. My dad and I were talking about this…the fact that, in high school, instead of hanging out and going to parties, he’d make me record,” Varner recalls fondly. “He’d be like, ‘Okay, go and finish your song first,’ and what I didn’t know was that, at the time, he was totally grooming and developing me.”
Varner is already halfway to reaching those NYU predictions, and with the backing of her label and breakthrough hits like the J. Cole collaboration, the industry is keeping a close watch for how she’ll fare against female counterparts like Keri Hilson, Ciara, Monica, and others. Her latest single, “Refill” is a sexy, fiddle-laden lament from girl who is “intoxicated” by a guy and needs a “shot.” But more than anything, it shows off Varner’s NYU-trained singing chops over a uniquely-produced track, and it’s worth a refill.
As for her outlook for 2012, Varner seems level-headed enough to weather the pitfalls of the paparazzi-filled lifestyle she may be destined for. She says she’s looking forward to promoting “Refill” and finishing up work on her anticipated, forthcoming RCA release, Perfectly Imperfect. But, can she top her soulful, fun entrance into the limelight? Time will tell, but whatever the masses and the album sales say, the humble, generous Varner says she “only wants to give it to you.”