Angela Hunte is ready. With years under her belt as the architect of some of the biggest hits across over a dozen genres, her debut album is one that's been in the making for years. While many are most familiar with her offering in the realm of soca with songs like "Party Done" with Machel Montano and "Mon Bon Ami", Hunte's work spans back to the 90s when she transitioned from working as a casting director and stylist to writing songs with Salaam Remi. From there, going on to write for and feature alongside artists like Amy Winehouse, Nas, Diddy, Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg, and JAY-Z for her most ubiquitous writing credit, "Empire State Of Mind." The Brooklyn-born artist is well-versed in these kinds of moves, having traveled and worked everywhere from her home in New York to Sweden, her family's native Trinidad and back again to craft singles for herself and others all over the globe.
With work that floats everywhere from R&B and pop and to dubstep and EDM, Hunte digs deep into her Caribbean roots while still creating a sound all her own. The album rests in the roots & culture reggae she grew up on, even enlisting a feature from reggae king Tarrus Riley. The tracks are warm, nostalgic in its lo-fi execution and a refreshing answer to the off-brand "tropical house" that's dominated airwaves for the last two years. Overproduction that would appeal to fans of Chronixx or Jesse Royal, Hunte raises you catchy hooks that couple perfectly with her distinctive vocals. For Angela, she's unapologetically crossing in territory that's both old and new—and it's the perfect sweet spot.Noisey: Your album title R.A.W. is an acronym, but what does it mean?
Angela Hunte: It stands for Reasoning and Words. And it's kind of like a Caribbean thing but it's also War backwards because I felt like I went through a war in my career. People were taking credit and closing doors in my face, telling me I can't be an artist. People overlook you when you're someone they rely on in another area—and it was constantly fighting to get past that. When I moved past that bitterness and became raw again—from the ground up. Being myself has gotten me this far as I just have to continue to do that.
You're a presence in so many genres and do it seamlessly. Where does that flexibility come from?
Hunte: You gotta G the fuck up. Somebody asked me that before and I gave such a political answer because it's hard to explain. That's the feeling. When somebody throws something at you [ as a songwriter] you have to do it. There was no question. Salaam never pussyfooted around with me. If a country artists came in then that's what you did—you wrote a country record. When I first sat in the room with DJ Zinc and he throws me a record at 155 [bpms], I was hyperventilating. I was like how? But you just find a way to to it and get into it.
What was it like working with a legend like Tarrus Riley?
Hunte.: When I wrote "King & Queen," I always had him in mind but it was like dream never thinking he'd actually be on the record. I remember coming off stage once, sick and sweating, and he was standing at the side of the stage with his arms open and he's like "I really want to work with you." It was crazy! Once we got into the studio we mentioned that we had this record and he went in the booth immediately. He's honestly like Marvin, Donny, Stevie—all wrapped up in one so for him to feel the way he does about my voice is surreal.
Do you ever know for sure when you write that you have a hit on your hands?
Hunte: Anyone who says that is full of shit because when it's happening, you truly don't know. When "Empire State Of Mind" came out, I remember waking up that morning and my publisher calling me going, "The Yankees just won!" and I was like "So?" I didn't realize that this was their song. I didn't get it until I turned on the TV and there's Jay Z in the parade with the mayor and the team and I was like "oh shit." I don't make music with expectations.
Is there a particular genre that gives you the most undeniable energy?
Hunte: Culture [reggae] music is number one because it's in my veins but I'm a huge pop lover. That's what gets me going as a writer but I also love Latin music, African music, Caribbean music—any global music that really gets me energized and makes me feel like I can write anything.
As a Brooklyn-born Trini, did you ever feel like it was hard to break into the soca scene?
Hunte: It was very hard and something I didn't think was possible at first. They kind of look at us like "yeah, whatever," but some of us grew up Trini than they did! They don't know certain things until they give you a chance and I'm looked at like "What are you doing here? What do you have to offer? " But eventually the guards came down once they got to know me.
Do you think people were expecting more soca from you on this album?
Hunte: You have your die-hard fans who will always want that, but I think most people didn't actually know what to expect because they may not have known I was even putting out an album. I didn't even know what I wanted to do at first, I just did what my heart told me to do. Everyone was expecting the next "Party Done" or "Mon Bon Ami" and it's like I'm here now. I'm in the business of giving people what they don't know they want yet.
What do you want people to take from R.A.W?
Hunte: I want people to get to know me. I want them to take away that it's just the beginning of my musical journey. People know the songs that I've written but they don't know me, and I'm a person who just loves music and doesn't want to be put in a box. I want people to know that anything can happen with Angela Hunte.
R.A.W. is available on all music platforms.
Sajae Elder is a writer who is bright, based in Toronto, and rude. Follow her on Twitter.