Story by: Amir Shaw
photography by: Desmond
for Steed Media Service
Styling by: Joe Exclusive
There was a time when Mya Harrison commanded the attention of millions. Women rejoiced over her sexually liberating hit single, “Lady Marmalade.” She garnered street credibility from those in the hip-hop community by holding her own alongside reputable emcees such as Jay-Z, Jadakiss and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Hollywood honored her for acting in the Academy Award-winning film Chicago. And her 2003 lingerie spread in King magazine captivated nearly every man in America. Indeed, Mya was on the verge of becoming a megastar and, for a while, everyone was watching to see what she would do next.
However, the music industry can be merciless to artists who disappear from the limelight. Shortly after releasing her third studio album, Moodring, in 2003, Mya’s conflict with her management and record label prevented her from releasing an album for nearly four years. By the time she was prepared to offer the world her fourth studio album, Liberation, in 2007, her fan base had slowly diminished and the project was eventually shelved in the United States.
But contrary to the sentiment expressed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, some American lives do have second acts. Mya was recently chosen to take part in the ninth season of ABC’s hit reality show, “Dancing With the Stars.” Viewed by nearly 21 million people per episode, the show could enhance Mya’s music career while introducing her to a new audience.
Past contestants such as Emmitt Smith, Warren Sapp, Lil Kim, and Jerry Rice have all benefited from the weekly exposure and experienced a resurgence of popularity.
On the brink of her first appearance on “Dancing With the Stars,” the Washington D.C., native appears ready for new challenges. She may not be as visible on the music scene as she was six years ago, but trust that Mya has never stopped moving her feet.
How did you become a part of the new season of ‘Dancing With the Stars?’
My agent brought it to the table and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
There are two different styles of dance. There is ballroom and Latin dance. There are sub forms and that can go up to 15 dances. I’m not sure what I have ahead of me, but it’s something I’m not familiar with. It’s very structured dancing and you can’t really improvise.
Do you believe that you have an advantage over your opponents due to your history in hip-hop dance and tap?
I think having a musical background gives me an advantage over anyone who is not musically inclined. In dancing, you have to have timing. Being musical allows you to feel the music and know where everything goes. I got that through piano, violin and tap dance lessons. Also, if you’re athletic you have an advantage. But there is nothing that we can do to prepare for the dances. We can’t take classes. We can only watch videos, read books on the dances, and work out.
You’ve been absent for a while on the music front. Why has there been such a long hiatus?
I’ve never stopped doing music. I’ve created a label called Planet 9 and I released an album in Japan. I invested in my own studio and it cut the recording cost down 95 percent. I have my own in-house producers and they are not as expensive as an established producer. The return is greater and now I own my masters. I see six dollars per album sold versus 10 cents. You may not sell as many units because you don’t put as much money in promotions, but the returns are better.
With the decrease in album sales and the popularity of social networking sites, musicians can basically get their music out on their own. Are major labels becoming irrelevant?
Labels are now doing 360 deals and gaining profits off of every aspect of an artist’s career. Labels invest more into breaking artists now. It makes sense for a new artist to sign to a major label for the exposure. But if you’re an established artist with an established fan base, you can produce a record by yourself and create a project from the ground up. The challenge is marketing and promotions. And you have more control of how your music will sound.
What’s the biggest difference between major record labels and independent labels?
Major labels have a system that you have to go through. The people in power dictate how things should sound and where the money is spent. But when you become your own boss, you check every line item and you have to be cautious. It’s a business, and when there’s an investment involved, you want to see a return on your money. It’s definitely worth it. You’re less insecure about your music because you don’t have to answer to the powers that be because you have the power.
What have you learned about the new business model in music and how the industry has changed since you started?
I’ve learned how to draft contracts and language to look out for. I’ve witnessed the transition of the new business model. That requires promoting through the Internet and using multimedia, which is a great thing. Big budgets are not realistic with the decrease in album sales. But there’s a reward in ringtones that was not there when I first started.
You’ve done a lot of recording in the Houston area lately. What attracted you to the city?
I was recording my first mixtape there and it’s called Beauty and the Street. I teamed up with Young Empire and Planet 9. This is basically an R&B/hip-hop album. It’s a setup to keep the streets hot until my album comes out in 2010. So this is to service my fans with music now that I’m in the position to do so. As far as the city is concerned, everyone is on ATL so I went to Houston and I like that vibe. I’ve been working with a lot of producers and rappers. I’m looking forward to working with more people in the city.
Talk about the challenges of dating while in the industry.
It’s like being in high school with people spreading rumors. If you’re seen with the opposite sex, people believe that you’re having sex, but that’s not always true. Life has prepared me for this industry. It’s not much of a challenge. I’m fine with all of the circumstances. There are pros and cons to dating inside and outside the industry. It depends on how busy your partner is and how understanding they are. When you’re in the studio until 8 a.m., your partner may assume because of the time that something is going on. I’ve dated in the industry and outside of the industry. I believe every man who reaches a level of success will have that period when they need to play the field. Not saying they are sleeping with every woman, but they also want to hold on to a good thing. I’m not mad at men or women who want to play the field. But you should be clear and up front about it instead of lying.
Do you think women should have a waiting rule when it comes to sex?
Personally, I usually don’t put a time rule on relationships because it’s all about how you feel about each other. I think women should have a waiting rule if they are looking for a long-term relationship. If she gives it up too soon, it gives the impression of something else. If you want a man to get to know you outside of your body, you have to demand the time. But there are women who are honest about wanting to be physical immediately. You should create your own rules. But if you want to get to learn someone outside of sex and earn his respect, there should be a waiting rule. You should know about their upbringing, their parents, and where they are in life. You need to know all the facts about this person before you take it to that level.