Mashonda: My Turn

You heard her on Eve’s “Gotta Man” and Jay-Z’s “Girl’s Best Friend,” saw her in Cassidy’s “Get No Better” video, and you probably know she’s married to former Ruff Ryders producer Swizz Beatz. But after blessing numerous hooks with her saintly vocals and songwriting skills, it’s finally time for Mashonda Tifrere to hold her own. […]

You heard her on Eve’s “Gotta Man” and Jay-Z’s “Girl’s Best Friend,” saw her in Cassidy’s “Get No Better” video, and you probably know she’s married to former Ruff Ryders producer Swizz Beatz. But after blessing numerous hooks with her saintly vocals and songwriting skills, it’s finally time for Mashonda Tifrere to hold her own.

These days you can find the 24-year-old Harlem native in her debut music video mingling in the “Back of the Club” while checking out rising actor, Rick Gonzalez. Although the songstress is signed to her husband’s label, Full Surface, Mashonda insists everything is equal game in the studio and at home.

The longtime singer/songwriter gets personal about Swizzy with Alternatives, and speaks on stepping into the spotlight with her debut album, January Joy. Alternatives: Obviously for debuting artists, choosing a first single is crucial. Why’d you decide to use this club song “Back of the Club” as your introductory single?

Mashonda: Well, everybody’s doing a club banger right now or trying to do something that people can dance to or that’s easy to sing along with, so we definitely wanted to keep with that trend and not go too left because when we did go left, it tended to not work. Before “Back of the Club” we had another first single [that] was more of a singing, real vocal, soulful joint, and it didn’t pick up as fast at radio. So we had to switch it up and come with the joint that did, so whatever works.

AHHA: In the video for “Back of the Club” Rick Gonzalez plays the leading man. I hear you personally handpicked him for the role.

Mashonda: Yeah, I like Rick because of the movies I’ve seen him in—Coach Carter and Biker Boyz. I liked his personality in those movies and how he came across so that had a lot to do with me picking him.

AHHA: You’ve been in the background singing hooks for awhile. How is the experience now being able to create your own songs as opposed to helping other artists?

Mashonda: It’s great. Writing for other people, different artists, is something I always did from day one. So when it came time for me to record full length songs and actually perform them, it was pretty easy ‘cause it’s already in me and it’s what I do, so I felt really comfortable and really good about it.

AHHA: Who was your favorite artist to work with in the studio?

Mashonda: Probably Eve. That’s my girl. We kind of grew up together, and she’s a real cool friend so she’s always extra fun to work with. We’re actually doing some stuff on her new album.

AHHA: You guys grew up together?

Mashonda: Well, not like since we were little kids. But you know, when she first started with the Ruff Ryderz, before she came out, before I even started too much of my stuff. So it’s like we both were on the come up together.

AHHA: You were quoted somewhere saying that your album won’t sound like anything anyone is doing right now. Why is that?

Mashonda: I named it January Joy because January being the first month of the year, everybody’s making new trends and starting off fresh, and the music is all of that. It’s a new sound, it’s a fresh sound, it’s definitely something you have not heard in a long time and to the younger generation, you probably never heard it before. So I’m really confident in saying it doesn’t sound like anything else out. It’s just showing different styles of music and it’s very soulful.

AHHA: How are you different, as far as your sound and your style, compared to the batch of R&B females that are out right now?

Mashonda: I’m really singing. I’m performing a lot of vocals. I’m not concentrating too much on what people are doing right now. I’m more of what people have done before—the legends like Chaka [Khan] and Anita [Baker], people like that. It brings it back to a real sound of Hip-Hop, like Hip-Hop R&B—a real sound of real soulful R&B. So I think that alone separates it from what everybody else is doing. And even when I perform, I do a little dance here and there but I’m more on performing the vocal instead of not singing and doing a dance routine. So it’s more real.

AHHA: Are you at all concerned with your image as an artist?

Mashonda: No, not really. I feel like my music is who I am on a day-to-day basis. I’m from Harlem, so just growing up there gave me a sense of style already in what I wear, how I walk. So image, to me, is probably the easiest thing right now. I’m more concerned with, like I said, the vocals and being able to come across the same way I sound on the record.

AHHA: Right. But being a female R&B singer, do you find that your looks are always judged before your talent?

Mashonda: Definitely. It doesn’t bother me. I feel like I bring pretty much enough style to the table for people, young kids or even grown people, to be like, “Oh that’s nice” or “I like the way she put that together.” It’s not something that I dwell on, but I feel like I bring something for them to look at.

AHHA: How long have you been working on this record?

Mashonda: It took us three years because we had a lot of time to do what we wanted to do. We didn’t have a date, so we just worked and worked and did a lot of songs. And at the end of the day we just picked out the hottest 13. It’s a golden album. When I say golden, I mean it was well put together. It wasn’t rushed. To me, it’s perfect.

AHHA: What was your favorite part of the process—songwriting, recording?

Mashonda: My favorite part was actually playing the songs for other people and watching their reaction. Sharing it was my favorite part.

AHHA: You actually started your music career as a songwriter. How did you make the transition into singing as a profession?

Mashonda: That came with me just demo-ing songs for different artists and everybody loving how they sound with me singing them. And then when the artist got to sing it, it didn’t sound as good. So everybody was like, “You know, you just need to start doing some songs for yourself and let’s try to get this deal. Let’s get a deal.”

AHHA: When did you discover your love of singing?

Mashonda: When I was little, probably around seven or eight, singing in church.

AHHA: What other skill do you have that people might not know about?

Mashonda: I do some designing. I like to cook. I do interior decorating as well.

AHHA: Really?

Mashonda: Yeah, a couple of things. I stay busy.

AHHA: Let’s talk about your relationship with Swizz. What’s the chemistry like between you and him when you guys are working creatively?

Mashonda: It’s good. I mean, he’s the producer first, and I’m an artist, I’m a songwriter. So it works well. We met at a studio so we both understand what it is and how to work around it and make it work, so it’s not work at all. It works really well actually.

AHHA: Did you guys click instantly when you met?

Mashonda: Yeah, we did. We talked for a long time on the phone before we actually met in person, so that gave us a lot of time to just break things down and get to know each other on just a vocal point before we even saw each other.

AHHA: With Swizz producing songs for you and also handling you as an artist and a wife, do you ever get tired of him?

Mashonda: [Laughs]. No, not at all because we’re both so busy that it’s hard keeping up with each other. So it’s not a situation where we’re up under each other every day 24/7 so it’s good.

AHHA: Being signed to his label though, does that ever cause conflict since he’s the boss?

Mashonda: Yeah, it’s normal. It does. I mean, it does but it’s nothing that we can’t get over. It’s not like—it’s just normal, record deal stuff, you know.

AHHA: So who’s the boss at home?

Mashonda: Oh, there’s no boss at home. [laughs] It’s equal.

AHHA: Right. You guys have been pretty much open with your relationship as far as not keeping it a secret, like with your wedding. Is privacy something you’re concerned about?

Mashonda: Definitely. We try to keep it—we don’t openly bring it out in conversation or talk about it unless it’s brought up. It’s not something that we deny or that we won’t admit to. But we also don’t dwell on it because it is personal and I especially like to have something that’s a little tucked. Like everything I just said to you I have no problem saying, but that would be like the line.

AHHA: About your clothing line, usually artists get their music career going and then they get into the clothing business. But you did the opposite with your ‘January Joy Intimates’ line already up and going before you’re recognized as an artist.

Mashonda: Right. I think that with me, the line itself was just so hot that I didn’t feel like I needed to be an artist first, to have people feel it. That’s usually the case, so it was pretty easy just doing what I do with the pieces and people loving it. So it was accepted and it’s doing pretty well. It’s gonna be in a lot of boutiques this summer. It’s intimates and bathing suits, bikinis and stuff. A couple celebrities will be wearing it and it’ll be hot.

AHHA: What inspired you to start the collection?

Mashonda: My family in St. Lucia. I went out there one summer and they actually do those type of things. They crochet them by hand, and I was like, “Oh my god, these are crazy.” And I brought them back and then I stud them out with the crystals and make them really exclusive and high-end. It’s like art almost.

AHHA: What place do you think you’ll ultimately occupy in the music industry?

Mashonda: I just know that I want to be like how I look at people like Sade or Mary [J. Blige] or En Vogue, Aaliyah. I want people of the next generation to look at me like that 10, 15, 20 years from now. Not just somebody that came and went, like a legend.