Some people cry when they’re broke, but 20-year-old Maya B decided to write a song about it. The California native who grew up between Pasadena and Santa Clarita took the less than glamorous life she was living and prophesied about the future she wanted. “I just want to be balling / New coupe, drop top, just flossing,” she sings. The line that follows, however, drips in the nonchalance of her west coast upbringing and is probably the most important message from her latest song: “What’s a dollar to a diamond?” Even at her lowest, Maya B knows that a depleted bank account doesn’t detract from the potential she knows she possesses.
Today, Maya B is premiering the new visual for “Dollar to a Diamond,” where she shows a glimpse of what life was like before being discovered by Soulshock and Karlin and signing to Capitol Records. Directed by Diego Andrade and BRZY, “Dollar to a Diamond” is an endearing mantra for better days. Maya B doesn’t just wish she was balling, she’s looking to help those around her too. “If she had some extra change / She would pass it out like candy canes / Spread the energy double A,” she sings.
A brief look at her Instagram will reveal her affinity for roses and middle fingers, which she confirms as her aesthetic to me over the phone. “I’m obsessed with beautiful things, like roses, but I’m also obessed with not giving a fuck,” she says. “It’s what I said on the first page of my zine, I love the contrast of things.” The declaration that greets you at the beginning of her zine, My Art, My Pain, My Brain, is simple. She wants to pair chaos and sophistication, and urban with the elite.
“I love mixing highs and lows. I love mixing ghetto with poise. What someone thinks is ghetto I would put inside of a museum.” The 48-page zine is a compilation of years of Maya B’s illustrations, but “Dollar to a Diamond” is the clearest way she brings her message full circle.
Noisey: I saw you as an opener for Summer Walker’s Girls Need Love Tour. You won over the people who weren’t familiar with you by the end of your set. That’s a testament to your talent because New York is a hard crowd. How did you enjoy touring?
Maya B: Before I got signed, I hadn’t been out performing my music, ever. That was the first tour I’ve ever been on. People were like, “Summer’s looking for an opener.” We sent the music, crossed our fingers, and I guess she fucked with it. I think it was the perfect first tour for me.
I recognized that it wasn’t exactly what people came to see, but I’m glad they were open enough that by the end of it they were like, “I kinda fuck with this.” It was great to see how people react to the music, because most of the stuff I was performing isn’t even coming out for a couple of months so it was cool to give it a test run.
You’ve lived in California for most of your life and I see the video for “Dollar to a Diamond” is in the La Brea neighborhood. Is that where you grew up?
I grew up in Pasadena and then my family moved to Santa Clarita so I got the best of both worlds. The “Dollar” video is interesting because I wrote the song during a really difficult time for me. I was in the process of signing a deal but I was dirt broke and didn’t know what to do about anything. I wanted the video to show taking the bus, all the stuff my sisters and I had to do, but also get into this weird dream-like place. I wanted it to be like, “Why is she shooting a money gun?” But it’s like, I don’t know… in my normal dreams there’s a bunch of random shit going on too.
I want to get into some of the songs you have on Spotify. Some of these date back to 2017. How would you say you’ve changed musically since “River?”
“River” is 100 percent me. A part of me feels like I’m still there when I get into my moody moments. I still make records like “River.” I feel like there’s been so much said and done with me since then that I’m just constantly evolving the palette that I use.
It’s different now. Then, I was in my room in Santa Clarita with GarageBand. Now, I have amazing people who know how to use Pro Tools and I know how to play guitar now. One thing that’s important to me as a musician is to continue to learn new things. I’m learning how to play guitar. I’m doing all of these things with my hands and getting dirty with it so when I do want to put it in a record, it’s more of a moment for me and I’m not just picking a sample. By next year, if I’m not making punk rock, I’ll be mad.
How did you come up with the phrase “What’s a dollar to a diamond?”
I never really know where I’m going when I write. When I started, I was like, “What’s your high to your lowest?” At that moment, that was the lowest I’ve been ever. Thinking of those high moments and those unexpected triumphs those were the only thing else carrying me through the hole I was in.
I was comparing things in reverse. Then I was just like, “What’s a dollar to a diamond?” For me, “dollar to a diamond” is more about self-worth and a mentality. What’s who are you to who you could be. I could be a dollar, but if I work hard enough I could be a diamond.
You’ve said: “‘Dollar to a Diamond’ is an ode to all things cocky and unrealistic.” Do you remember what made your dreams feel too big?
I’ve been writing songs all my life and with that comes sharing them, eventually. I would share songs and I’ve had close family members say, “You should just be a writer. You’re not that great at singing.” That really hurt me. That was something I had to overcome. I’m very ambitious so I was like, “No, I’m gonna do this.” But I’m not going to lie, that pushed me down a little bit.
In high school I was friends with these guys who were also artists. They had all these sessions and I was excited to just be around. They’d say they’d get me on the track and get me a session but it never happened. I started getting insecure. It made me wonder if I wasn’t a good enough singer, or writer for that producer. That’s when I started producing because I didn’t want to wait around for anyone.
There was a time when I was really insecure about my music to the point where I made a fake Soundcloud with a different name, a different photo and was just releasing whatever I wanted. I would produce it, record it, and then I’d just post it. I wouldn’t even do anything about it. When I met with Soulshock and Karlin, I was like, “My name’s Laylow.” They were like, “No, you can be you here.” That was really important to me. That was a big lightbulb.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.