Born in Fayetteville and brought up in Wilson, R&B singer Heather Victoria was raised on soul music, but there’s plenty more than that mixed into her own art. Over her 10-year career, Victoria’s built her own sound, fusing soul and R&B with jazz and funk.
“As an artist, I’m still growing, still learning new things every day,” she told Queen City Nerve.
We talked with the ever-evolving singer in the lead-up to a March 12 stop in Charlotte at Amos’ Southend with Jamla Records labelmates Rapsody and Charlotte’s own Reuben Vincent as part of Rapsody’s A Black Woman Created This tour.
We discussed what Victoria has created for herself in the same vein, as well as how she pays respect to those who laid the foundation.
Queen City Nerve: How did you end up signing with 9th Wonder and Jamla Records?
Heather Victoria: After graduating high school in 2007, I got accepted into both North Carolina State University and North Carolina Central University. Initially, I chose N.C. State. During my sophomore year, however, I recognized that I wanted to transfer to an HBCU — NCCU in particular. I wanted to pursue music.
At the time, I became more knowledgeable about how prestigious NCCU was for their music department. Their Jazz Studies program was quite popular. I also got wind of a History of Hip Hop class there. The professors were 9th Wonder and Christopher “Play” Martin of Kid ‘n Play. Once I transferred to NCCU, I was able to get into the History of Hip Hop class during my first semester. That’s where I officially met 9th Wonder.
At N.C. State, I was singing in the gospel and concert choirs and doing talent shows. By the time I got over to NCCU, I was writing poetry and putting it into songs. Eventually, 9th Wonder allowed me to play him a demo. That’s basically how I got signed.
What do you aim to accomplish with your music, beyond entertainment?
At my core, I’m deeply passionate about pushing the culture forward — Black culture and the art that Black people create. I’m very intentional about being a vessel for that. My particular canvas just happens to be soul music.
Beyond the music, I’m also a family woman and deeply spiritual. When I’m not working, I also like to have a little fun every now and then.
Late last year, you dropped a new EP called Boutique Hotel. How did that project come together for you?
The album came together fairly organically. We took our time with it and worked on it for about a year and a half. We wanted it to be a “feel-good” piece of work from top to bottom. Most of it consists of live instrumentation. It’s personal and authentic. It’s basically me growing as a young Black woman and the raw experiences from my mid- to-late 20s — the ups and downs, self-discovery, self-worth, and the importance of learning to put yourself first. In reference to the project coming together, these kinds of affirmations were critical.
In the beginning, we did most of the recording over tracks. By late 2018 and early 2019, we took the time to have sessions with the band. They would come to the studio, hear the tracks and then play it back live. It can be time-consuming just to facilitate that, trying to strategically get everyone’s schedules together — that takes time, energy and patience. So we knew we couldn’t rush the process. I think it’s that process that made for an amazing project. Sometimes, even when things happen organically, it still takes planning. I’m just thankful everything came together the way it did.
What kind of reception has the album received from fans and critics?
The feedback has been wonderful. It’s a “music lover’s album” and that’s something that people have really expressed — their appreciation for the live instrumentation and the lyrics. It takes time to bring those things together. Much thanks to 9th Wonder, Khrysis, the band members, the Soul Council and so many others. Boutique Hotel was definitely a team win.
Hip-hop, R&B, jazz, soul … you pull from all these genres in one voice. Boutique Hotel is a perfect illustration of this. Was this kind of fusion by design or by accident?
It was actually a little bit of both. There were a lot of unexpected life experiences that brought me to the point of even starting the album. There was a transition period between me working a 9-to-5 and doing music part-time, to now doing music full-time after having worked in corporate America for four to five years.
It was a very shaky experience, shaky times, but when you’re going through things, you learn a lot about who you are, not only as an artist but as a human being. I came out of those experiences more determined, more dedicated. Within that time period, I was able to create new music. I also took two years prior to that to just figure out where I was, who I was going to work on becoming, how I could get better, and where I was going.
Hot New Hip Hop described your vocals on the track “One Love” as ‘’Honey-glazed … soothing and smooth.’’ Do you feel like that’s an accurate description of your specific sound and vocal style?
Honey-glazed makes me think of something sweet, something that is enticing and appealing. So I would just take that as the wonderful compliment that it is and say, “Thank you.” When I think of people that I admire and have studied, I would also consider them to be honey-glazed: Tamia, Anita, Whitney … that’s honey and just damn good vocals. On a side note, you know honey is also a healing component to the human body. So yeah [smiling], I’ll take that! Much thanks to Hot New Hip Hop for the shout out.
You’ve been working with Grammy-nominated, N.C.-based emcee Rapsody for the last several years now. I loved the chemistry between you two on “The Drums.” You also accompanied her on a track called “The Man,” while Rapsody has accompanied you on tracks such as “Not Taking You Back,” “I’ll Always Be Down,” and “Big Momma.” So, are you and Rapsody like real friends or just great working partners who share the same label?
Oh, wow! Rapsody, aka Ms. Marlanna, is definitely one of my close friends. We have a great relationship, one of a kind! She’s like a big sister to me … someone I truly appreciate. It’s no surprise that it shows in the chemistry of our music because we’ve been sisters and friends for over 10 years. We’ve literally grown up together, not only in music but as people and as women. We do share the same label, but our friendship is very real, too. Definitely.
You and Rapsody are actually on a tour together right now entitled A Black Woman Created This — which features a March 12th stop in Charlotte at Amos’ Southend. What’s the goal of this tour and the overall message? How’s it gone so far?
I’ll allow Rapsody to speak for herself on that one at the show and leave a little room for mystery. I would just happily advise everyone to please get tickets and come experience it for yourself. The message is amazing and the experience is unforgettable! This tour has changed my life. I’m so grateful for my sister having brought me on the road, and to have the opportunity to share my music and touch lives.
You’ve been an intricate part of the North Carolina hip-hop/R&B scene for the last decade now. You’re one of those artists like Little Brother and J. Cole who have literally helped to shape the aesthetic here. Have you ever stepped back to process that?
That wasn’t something I even thought of up until maybe last year, and that’s only because I turned 30 and started doing a little reflecting. I was looking back over my twenties. I was asking myself what have I accomplished, and what haven’t I accomplished yet? And what is it that I look forward to doing next? I’m extremely grateful for what I’ve accomplished so far, but I like to stay down to earth. I don’t get caught up in the accomplishments because there’s still so much more to do: continuing to get better at my craft, making more music, touching more lives.
But when I look back, yes, I am proud. Certainly! I’m proud of the journey and who I’ve become on the journey. It definitely requires a certain amount of hard work and tenacity. We’re all still growing right now, though — myself, Jamla Records, my label mates. I’m just glad to be a part of it all.
In a way, you and many others are helping to carry on the tradition of NC Soul music: Nina Simone, George Clinton, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Roberta Flack, Maceo Parker — even folks like Nneena Freelon, Jodeci and Anthony Hamilton. This is Black music straight from the soul. We know this lineage has influenced your music, but how has this history impacted you as a Black woman and human being?
Tremendously! Knowing your roots is important. You need your roots to push the culture forward, to know where you’re going. It’s very empowering knowing that the foundation here is so rich in soul music within itself. In being a fan of this N.C. soul music, it makes me want to help continue it for the next generation. We have to keep pushing the culture forward, from within. Whether you’re in Raleigh or Charlotte, as a community of artists, we have to keep organizing our own events and helping to create opportunities for one another. And we know much of this is already happening … we’re doing it!
Look at what the Dreamville Festival did last year. Young people from all over the state were there. Some of those young people had never even been to a live show before, not to mention an all-day hip-hop festival hosted by someone from their own home state. Before Dreamville, it was the Art of Cool Festival.
I realize now that if we continue to put in what we expect to come out, the culture will only continue to grow here. We want to make Mama Nina proud. We want to make George Clinton and John Coltrane proud. As their descendants, we have a responsibility to continue this history and to build on it. As an artist and young Black woman, I’m very intentional about that now. Yes, very! Consciousness, responsibility … that’s impact.
Lamont Lilly is a political activist, former columnist, poet and people’s journalist. He resides in Durham.