Taken from the June Issue of Dazed & Confused:
Hip hop king-pin Timbaland: “When I heard ‘Gangsta’ the first thing I noticed was Kat’s tone. It’s sooooo incredible. And then when I saw her picture, I was like, ‘Yo, I need to meet this girl!’ I look at her as this generation’s Nina Simone. She’s that powerful. Her rasp and her whole swag game is just incredible.”
Her debut single was called “Gangsta”, but Miami-born R&B singer Kat Dahlia insists that big pimpin’ isn’t on her agenda. “The song’s not too symbolic,” she says from her New York home. “It’s just there on the plate for you to digest.” The socially conscious, Mary J-esque piano-driven midtempo is inspired by Dahlia’s upbringing, and paints a gnarly picture of “a one bedroom South Beach lifestyle” in which “they just paying for the view”.
“Of course it’s autobiographical!” the 22-year-old laughs. “In Miami you just stew, smoking weed all day.” On the track she rages like the South Beach midday sun through purple haze, speak-rapping about the guardian angel who urged her to put down the blunts and start singing. “His name’s Candy Warhol!” Dahlia hoots of her friend, who cameos in the line: “I spliff it hard / Candy says to stop, my voice is getting too harsh.” “He used to be on an MTV show (From G’s to Gents) but I met him working at a restaurant and he started unofficially managing me.”
Dahlia is currently signed to Epic-backed label Vested in Culture, run by legendary exec Sylvia Rhone, who masterminded the rise of everyone from En Vogue to Nicki Minaj. It’s a long way from her days as a “bridge and tunnel” girl commuting into New York from New Jersey, waiting tables to get by. “I was pretty much on my ass,” she says. “I got into a fight with my manager, so I just sat down at the bar and wrote ‘Gangsta’. I was so pissed at the world. It was one of those moments when you’re like, ‘Why is this shit so fucking hard?’” Is “Gangsta” a modern day “No Scrubs”? “In a sense,” she says. “Don’t even try stepping up to this if you’re gonna be that!”
You’d be a scrub to underestimate her. She recently hopped over the pond to work with London producer Naughty Boy, and has laid down “a dope melody” for Timbaland’s new album. “I’m definitely thinking worldwide,” she says. “I have such a plethora of sound and emotion on my album.” Such self-assurance might seem arrogant in a lesser artist, but Dahlia owns her vision for dominance. “I’m putting out a Spanish album too. Why not stay in touch with my Latin roots?” One thing’s for sure – she’ll never have to wash marinara sauce out of her shirt after an evening shift again.
Photography by Jeremy Liebman
Styling by Alison Isbell
Follow Owen Myers on Twitter here @owen_myers