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Sevyn Streeter: ‘You have to give yourself permission to speak freely’


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Sevyn Streeter is ready. Actually, she’s been ready. The singer and songwriter from the small town of Haines City, Florida, has taken the long way to stardom. With all of the twists and turns her career took in its earliest stages, it’s obvious that she had to develop a thick skin and a strong sense of self to push forward. But push she did, and now she is closer than ever to fully realizing everything she’s been striving for.

“My journey has been a crazy one,” Streeter admits. “But it’s been great and it’s been necessary. I’ve been singing forever; I grew up singing in church. I did ’Showtime at the Apollo’ when I was 10 years old. I was in a group signed to Interscope when I was 14. I was in another group when I got a little older, we were signed to Jive, called Rich Girl. I met my manager, Tina Davis, and she introduced me to Chris Brown.”

The introduction would prove to be the turning point Streeter had been waiting for. She and Brown immediately found a creative chemistry that yielded several new songs on his albums. “I started writing songs with Chris,” she explains. “I got my first placement with him; it was called ’Yeah 3Xs.’ And I went on to write seven songs with him on his F.A.M.E. album, seven songs on his Fortune album. I’m featured on his ‘She Hate You’ record.”

Streeter is open about how much Brown’s guidance has helped her career. Despite the superstar’s reputation as a bad boy and personal dramas, he’s been a stabilizing force in Streeter’s career. And that is largely due to the fact that he allows her to be herself — even when she’s working with him. And she values the collaboration — because he is as open as any artist when it comes to style and genre.

“Chris is a huge part of my team,” says Streeter. “I learned and still am learning so much from him — from writing songs to dancing. I learned a lot from him and he’s very  encouraging when it comes to me and my life and my career. And I can always expect nothing but support and that’s just great to have. That’s really great to have.

“The creative process when working with Chris and working on his album is crazy, [but] I love it because there are no boundaries and no rules,” she continues. “You’re not put in a box when you go to write for Chris or with Chris. You may want to scream on a track one second, you may want to sing really soft and be vulnerable another second, but you can just throw it all in. You can write from whatever kind of genre because he can pull them all off. Working with him just feels like … freedom.”

From her work with Brown, Streeter quickly became one of the industry’s most in demand writers. She penned songs for Ariana Grande (“The Way,”) Alicia Keys (“New Day”), and Kelly Rowland (“Gone.”) She landed a deal with Atlantic Records and Sevyn Streeter was on her way. But, after penning so many songs for so many artists, there was some apprehension about what it meant to actually put herself out there in her music.

“There are some challenges when writing for yourself,” she says. “Sometimes it’s [easier] to tell somebody else’s story. You sit down and you find out what they’re going through in their life and you write the song based on how they feel. When it comes to yourself, you have to give yourself permission to speak freely and to be free within a record and kind of just tell all your business and be OK with it. Writing for yourself can definitely be a challenge at times, but the payoff is worth it.

“I just like to be truthful when I’m writing songs for myself,” Streeter continues. “No matter what you go through, if it’s the truth, 9 times out of 10, somebody else has been through the same thing or is currently going through the same thing. The emotions that I tap into are my true emotions and sometimes that can get me in a little bit of trouble because I can tell my business along with somebody else’s sometimes. But you have to be as truthful as you can be.”

And being a young woman in an industry dominated by men can be daunting, to say the least. Streeter acknowledges that her work has always carried her through, but when you’re an ambitious girl on the rise, there are snakes waiting.

“I think it’s an age-old kind of double standard,” she explains. “Women in this industry, we do have to make sure that we carry ourselves a certain way. It’s really important. I know for me that I have always been very conscious of how I dress when I go to the studio, I’m very conscious of my body language when I’m working — a lot of times I’m the only female in the room. It’s a very male-dominated profession. I’m always around guys. Guys are going to try you all day and they’re going to flirt all day. But it all comes down to how you carry yourself. Women, we definitely should be mindful. Still do you, but you just have to always know what you’re there for. I was there to write songs, I was there to demo records. I was always about work. If you carry yourself the way people want you to see you, you’re not going to get anything but respect.”

As she readies her album for release, respect and ambition are at the forefront of Streeter’s mind. But the one recurring theme in her approach is freedom. Being free to be Sevyn is everything to her.

“Your mind being free to kind of just be creative and do whatever is crucial,” she says. “It affects every single part of your artistry and the way you write songs or even do photo shoots. You have to be able to tap into whatever your mind wants to tap into. You just have to give yourself permission to do whatever and be OK with that.”

Her biggest influences were all artists who were excellent, boundary-pushing performers. And they held that intangible bit of charisma — which is what kept her attention and sparks her ambition now.

“I love Janet Jackson. I love Beyoncé — I think she’s amazing. I love Michael Jackson. Usher. I’m inspired by a lot of different artists,” she shares. “All of those artists possess something really special. There’s something that makes you not be able to take your eyes off of them.”

She’s released her EP, “Call Me Crazy, But …” and is slated to perform numerous dates around the country this summer. She hit the Summer Jam stage this past month and it’s all coming into focus for that ambitious girl with the big voice from Haines City. She credits her work ethic, but also the people who’ve supported her through it all, for getting her to this moment in her career.

“Having a team is extremely important, because they’re the people that tell your truth. They are the people who tell you ‘Congratulations!’ when you do a good job and tell you ‘That’s not so great’ when you don’t,” she says. “And you need all of that. They just give you good energy. It’s very important. Your team is probably half the battle.”

From Florida to the Apollo Theater. From girl groups to established songwriter. Sevyn Streeter took the long way to get here. She isn’t letting anything sway her now. And even with the flashing lights and late nights in studios and the superstar BFFs; in reflecting on her career up to this point, she still exudes a down-to-earth charm and excitement for the experience.

“I’m just happy to finally have music out and be out touring and doing shows and actually getting to meet my fans in person,” she adds, before smiling to herself. “It’s been good.”


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