By Nyasha Drakes and Cheyenne Tobias

Stone sat down with 5senses to chat about intersectional identities, moving to New York at 18, and being forced into specific genres.

On a sunny December morning in New York, Tangina Stone decided to spend her time at Driven Society headquarters chatting with us about her journey as a musician thus far. Her most recent success stems from her dynamic debut album, Elevate — now streaming on all music platforms including, but not limited to, Tidal, Spotify, and Apple Music.

The Ohio-native was candid about her family as well as her internal battles as an artist, just as she is in her music. Her bluesy rock ballads passionately exhibit issues that millennials often face and can relate to. From the incarceration of her father to working through anxiety, her unflinching words parallel the  issues she fights for as an activist. Stone’s move to the big city at at the early age of 18 tested her drive and determination, but she has remained true to her unique identity as an artist. Hunched over a table overlooking the New York City skyline with the heat blasting, there was something that Stone and the overlapping skyscrapers had in common: history, purpose, and years of building and rebuilding. She walked in, hair slicked back and ready to go, white Dr. Martens and all.

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Nyasha: Who are some of your musical influences and what inspires you to write?

Tangina: Stevie Nicks was probably my favorite singer. Also, Lauryn Hill, Nelly Furtado, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Billie Holiday, and Janis Joplin. Those are all my influences, I’d say. My identity is really what I think about creatively all the time. Who I am to me, but also who I am to the world. What it means for me to be a Queer Black Woman, a millennial, and identify openly as a lesbian. Before writing this album I didn’t want people to think, oh I’m listening to this lesbian singer, but I think with this current political climate, I can’t afford to not be me. So I draw a lot of inspiration from all those things.

Cheyenne: We saw your tweet recognizing that “Anxious” recently went Gold on Spotify. Where are you at right now? How do you place yourself with artists like Kehlani and SZA who are breaking the boundaries of genre?

Tangina: I’m grateful that we have a SZA, a Kehlani, and a Solange. It’s opening up the doors for so many other women to come through and express their art. I’m in tune with their art because their experiences are so similar to mine yet unique in their own way. I don’t know where I would place myself but I have their backs and I support them.

Cheyenne: Are there any artists that you would love to work with ?

Tangina: One was definitely Nelly Furtado. She’s amazing. People think we had an email chain going between our management but it was much different. We met in person randomly outside at a concert at Kinfolk.  I was trying to just be chill but she kept coming over to me and starting conversation. I told her I make music and we went to Miss Lily’s and had jerk chicken and rum punch. Then she invited me to a session the next day to hear my music. I thought she would forget about my music so I just hoped to be a fly on the wall, but she kept her promise. So I show her my music and I was very nervous. She loved it and wanted to hear the stuff I hadn’t finished yet.  I was like, “Who asks that?” I played her the record ‘Exposed’ and she had an idea and asked to lay it down. I was trying to be professional at the time like, “Yeah, let me just check with my manager but I’m sure it’s fine.” It was hilarious cause she could totally see through it.  

Cheyenne: You’ve worked with some dope people. From Crystal Caines, Kenneth Whalum, Eddie Vanz, and WOLFGVNG and individually they bring rap,  jazz, and rock vibes to your music. What is your vision when working with other musicians or does it just kind of come along?

Tangina: Yeah, it kind of just came along. People have called this project Alternative R&B. There are certainly R&B vibes but in the beginning of it all I just wanted to make songs that I liked. I want to do this without the pressure to find a genre before I even make the damn song. It was a really big deal for me because Black Artists often get shoved into R&B and Hip-Hop [genres] and there needs to be space for us in other genres. Especially ones we created like Rock & Roll or Jazz.  I listen to some projects put in this category and think, “What about this project is R&B?” I do a little research on the act and find out  they’re Black and that’s why they’re here, no other reason. It irks me a little bit so when I initially made this project I didn’t want to think about that so much. I didn’t set out to make an R&B project. I set out to make a project that felt true to my vision and who I am so I’m really happy with it.

Cheyenne: So, pre-Elevate, could you tell us about moving to New York City? How has it contributed to your growth?

Tangina: Who I was then and now — two different versions of myself, honestly. When I moved here I was this 18-year-old country kid. I had to spend time in the places that my inspirations have been. I had to do that for myself. I came here and attempted to do those things but got caught up with the fact that, “Wow, I’m an adult.” It was overwhelming. I had my first apartment here and I didn’t grow up with money, so when I got here it was all on me.  Every day, I would wake up, go to class from 9:00 a.m. to noon. Then I would go to Harlem for work at 2:30 and I’d work at the afterschool program with kids. From there, I would leave at like 7:30 p.m. and take the one-hour commute to the Bronx. So I would go to the strip club and then I’d be in the Bronx clocked in by 8:30, working there until 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning.

Nyasha: Wow, so, between classes and long commutes, how were you doing all of this?

Tangina: I don’t know, it was like, I was averaging 3 or 4 hours of sleep. It was bad, but it’s what I had to do. I transferred a couple times– Medgar Evers, Brooklyn College, and City College. Then, out of the CUNY system, period, because I wasn’t happy there. I went to the New School and that’s where I got a full ride and graduated from. With all those experiences, I’ve been a lot of different versions of myself. I was super impulsive back then. Some people have to touch the fire to know that it’s an actual fire. For me, I had to get burned up by the fire to know. Now I’m super cautious– I protect myself a lot more. I wasn’t fully aware of the way that my anxiety and depression functioned back then either. I was totally in denial because my family kind of raised me to be that way. My family didn’t really– it wasn’t something that they acknowledged at all where I grew up, so I just dismissed it. “I can’t afford to not be ok. I’ve always got to be ok. What do you mean?” Not taking the time I needed to care for myself had really deep repercussions. I think now that I’m aware of all these things, I have to do better, you know?

Cheyenne: What has helped you cope with your anxiety? Does it ever affect your music process?

Tangina: Oh, for sure. It’s something that I’m always figuring out because my anxiety may manifest itself in different ways. I remember as a kid, I had bad test anxiety. That’s how it started for me. I was a straight-A student and when it came time for exams I would lose my mind: like, hand-shaking, having a full-blown panic attack during the test. Lately, I even started listening to podcasts sometimes instead of listening to music because it will start making me critique my own. There will be something that I can identify. I figure out how to deal with it, and it pops up somewhere else, so it’s something that I’m always going to be adjusting to and combatting. As of late, what’s helped me a lot is to make sure that I have days to myself in which things are not timed. I think time restrictions can be very stressful for me. My fiancé has started me on this new thing: Every day, I wake up I write my wins. When I’m feeling anxious and on the verge of having a panic attack, grabbing my notebook helps me calm down.

Nyasha: Considering you came here at 18 and you’re now a successful artist– What advice do you give to other artists that have had similar experiences as you? When they ask for advice, what do you tell them?

Tangina: People ask me this all the time. Yesterday, there was an artist who was supposed to perform at a brunch event, but  because the turnout wasn’t what he anticipated, he decided not to perform. My first bit of advice to him was to never let that happen again. I played a bunch of shows – and there was a specific week. I was working almost 50 hours a week, it was crazy, it was bizarre, and going to school full time. So I was really tired. Finding time to rehearse was rough, but I would rehearse at night time. I didn’t know a single person when I moved to New York. I had to play every single show that I could possibly play. People think that a break looks one way. Even if it’s a small crowd. I’ve had some of the most supportive fans of my music be one person that was in that very very tiny crowd. You have to take every single opportunity that comes your way. Because that week we were tired, and we almost couldn’t accept another show, someone actually from Driven Society reached out to my friend Naraiah, and was like, “Hey, do you know any artists?” Naraiah asked me to do the show and I was like “Naraiah, I can’t really fit another show.” They’re like “Oh this publicist from RCA records is going to be there.” That’s how I got looped in. So we do the show and afterwards, the publicist was my manager, Anastasia. That was my first break because we’re a team, we’re family now– we’re doing this together. That’s elevated my career so much. But I feel like you’ve got to put all the feelers out that you can. That’s the first bit of advice I would give to any artist moving to New York city. To take every single opportunity that comes your way. I’m sorry, you may not want to play the hole in the wall shows, you may not want to play at the random club that booked you to play a show, you may not want to do all those things but in building a fan-base, you don’t know where you’re going to find fans. You don’t know how your music will resonate with every single person in that room. You never know whose hand you’re shaking either.

Tangina Stone pictured above near Union Square.

Cheyenne: How has your experience working with the all-woman team at IMG fueled you?

Tangina: My mom was super young when she had me. So my paternal side of my family – my father’s side – my father wasn’t around but his family was and so they kind of took my mom in when she had me. I was not one of those biracial black kids who had a white mom who didn’t know how to do my hair. [Laughs]. I was raised by mom, my grandmother, my great grandmother, and my great great grandmother. I’ve been blessed with many mothers because of that. So it feels right working with an all-women’s team because I’ve always been uplifted and elevated. Having a supportive team is so damn important. Which is part of the reason why I titled my album “Elevate.” so it just makes so much sense for us to have this team. We’re magical and we’re powerful and we do things differently.

Nyasha: Do you have any advice for other Queer Black Women that want to be in the spotlight. Did you ever have any hesitations about your identity and fame?

Cheyenne: Or even just pursuing what you want to do, for your own sake.

Tangina: I always worried that I’d have to hide who I was. Like, will I have to make music that sounds like I’m a Black Woman talking about a Man? Or can I be a Queer Black Woman talking about another Queer Black Woman when I’m writing a love song. That was always my issue. Eventually, I was like, ‘you know what, I write my love songs about my fiancé so I’m going to make that very clear.’  If you’re okay with making a lot of money and pretending then cool. I’ve enjoyed this ride by being one hundred percent open and honest about who I am, in every way.

Nyasha: So as you’ve grown as a musician, are those the topics that you care about and want to push forward? Are there any others besides Mental Health and Sexuality?

Tangina: On the album there’s a song called, “Matter”, and I was speaking to White people who benefit from White privilege. I wrote that song after being at the women’s march and feeling like, as a queer black woman, I didn’t matter. I identify as a Black Woman first and foremost. Biracial is new. I only go into detail about that if someone asks. Period. If you ask me, I’m Black. I’ve been shocked to find out that cousins who I was raised next to have different perspectives than mine. We have the same blood running through our veins yet you feel safe in situations that I don’t feel safe in. We know that light-skin privilege exists and it’s an issue that has to be addressed all the time but the conversation often starts and ends at just that.  Biracial black folks’ proximity to anti-black racist white people is so close. Sometimes at the damn dinner table! It’s like, “Mom, you don’t get called the things I get called when we walk into the grocery store together.” We’ve been run off the road by racist people in the south. They would call my mom the “n-lover.” My mom is white, but actively pro-black. She’s an ally but not just one of those people whose neutral and sits back. I learned that White People are capable of being allies, if they do the work. It’s absolutely necessary that they do the work. That’s why when people come to me– sometimes with the same complexion– perpetuating the cycles of colorism I don’t let it slide. Not even a little bit. Neutrality is not helpful; it’s not going to help at all in any situation.

Elevate album cover found on IMG Records

Nyasha: What do you want fans to learn from your music?

Tangina: I really want millennials like to ask ourselves the questions I’m posing in the album. Right now in our generation mental illness is rampant. It’s a big problem. A lot of us dealing with mental illness don’t have the confidence that we would like to have to do what we want. It even impacts us in our careers and stops us from accomplishing our goals, why?

Tangina Stone pictured above just north of Washington Square Park.

Nyasha: What drives you?

Tangina: First and foremost my love for music, just knowing that it’s the one thing I could do forever and be happy. The other thing that drives me is becoming a role model for people growing up the same way I did. It has a huge amount of responsibility but it’s something that I’m grateful for. It gives me purpose everyday knowing that there are people inspired by me and my journey. That’s why I have to be careful about what I say and put into the universe and I’m glad that I am thoughtful about everything that I say because I mean it.

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Tangina Stone is signed to IMG Records. Stream her debut album Elevate, with singles Anxious and Exposed ft. Nelly Furtado, everywhere including Tidal, Spotify, and Apple Music. For more information on the artist visit www.tanginastone.com or follow her on Twitter @tanginastone and Instagram @stoneblu.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Photos by Nyasha Drakes.